Sunday, January 22, 2012

MLK and church

I had thought that I might fill last week with blog entries reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr. and the holiday honoring him, a post each day, but as it happened, the same sorts of things that kept me from blogging earlier in the month kept me from this dream as well.

Last Sunday, our Unitarian church's service was devoted to MLK, and it occurred to me that in all my years going to Christian churches--and in one of the most liberal denominations, at that--I can't recall a single service dedicated to Dr. King.

Of course, the Martin Luther King Jr holiday is not a religious one, and so perhaps I shouldn't expect a church to devote time to it. But then, neither is Thanksgiving a religious holiday, but there always seemed to be a sermon on thankfulness in late November. Startling coincidence or staking a claim? Right.

So why not MLK? He was a Christian who was driven by his beliefs to act. Shouldn't churches be eager to claim him?

Is it because he's black and the churches I've known have been predominantly white? While I certainly wouldn't be surprised if predominantly-black churches embrace the man and the holiday more readily, I also can't help but suspect that there's more to it than that. King, as someone who was driven by his beliefs to challenge the status quo, really calls on people--especially religious believers?--to make of belief something far beyond attending church on Sundays: to work for social justice with a passion that won't be quenched short of achieving justice (which, given the world we live in, probably means lifelong struggle). While we can all admire those who fight for change once the change has been achieved--or, anyway, once we've settled into the change and achieved a new equilibrium--people are generally much less comfortable with the process that it takes to achieve change, preferring stability. Every crusader--and King is a prime example--has had to fight as much against those who value stability over everything else as against those who actually have a stake in maintaining injustice.

I'm just throwing out ideas here; if anyone has another explanation, I'd be happy to hear it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Dispatches

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog since the end of Holidailies, then you know that there hasn’t been anything to pay attention to. This isn’t so much because Holidailies ended as it is because the winter break ended. Yow. 

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like they were about as busy as could be, but this first week back has done everything it could to give those weeks a run for their money. Over the course of this week, we’ve had to sort out our seniors into positions for the “second make” (we’re a military school, and at intervals throughout the year, our cadets are eligible for new positions and new rank). Our seniors have two makes, which means they interview for and are promoted to a position at the end of their junior years and then again halfway through (their rank can change at other intervals, but they don’t usually change positions). As a side note, the sophomores and juniors have three makes. This has to be one of my least favorite times of the year. You see, I like my boys. Some of them do a great job in the military system, some of the struggle, but I really do like them all and appreciate them for who they are. But right now, although I’m by no means solely responsible for the promotions for my unit, I am the face of promotions, and since there are so many leadership positions available, and since this is in a real way the “last chance” for these seniors (sort of—they can still be raised to higher rank, even though their positions won’t change again), we’re bound to have disappointed guys. Sometimes it’s a matter of a guy underperforming in his job and so not getting the next position he wants, but at least as often it’s a case of some other kid doing a great job and elbowing him out or having to make difficult decisions between guys who have similar credentials. We agonize over these decisions, but we’re still going to have guys who are disappointed and we may very well look back in a few months and discover that we “made mistakes.” I put that in quotation marks because I’m not comfortable with the terminology, because it seems to imply that we “should have” known better, but the reality is that we try to make the best decisions we can, and for one reason or another, those decisions may not work out. 

Did I mention that this is not my favorite time of the year?

And then, so that our New Cadets don't feel left out, the end of this week marked our invitations to "First Boards." The Boards process is the process through which New Cadets become full members of the unit, by passing some tests, following the rules, etc. We have several invitations to Boards throughout the spring, but of course there's a certain prestige to being chosen for First Boards. In the long run, it's not that big of a deal, but right now it probably feels huge to the guys who are invited... and for some of them who aren't. 

That's right: we find all sorts of ways to disappoint kids around here!

On top of all that, for myself I have to prepare and submit my “Annual Performance Review” self-reflection, documenting what I’ve been up to for the past year. At the same time, we’re coming to the end of the semester, so we’re trying to push all of our cadets to finish the semester strong, getting in any missing work, preparing to the best of their ability, and all that. Plus all the usual day-to-day stuff. 

Not surprisingly, blogging has had to take a back seat to work and home life, especially given that the home internet service which was supposed to start working for us last Tuesday has not, in fact, started working. We didn’t even have time or energy on Wednesday to look into it, and when we did on Thursday, we were told that someone was supposed to call us about it. Sorry about that! Turns out there’s something wrong with our lines (our money is on the DirecTV guy hitting the phone cable when installing his own) and they’ll have to send someone out to take a look at it. That should happen by the end of this week. Ugh. 

So yeah, no way blogging was happening for me. 

We had an up and down Sunday. The weekend as a whole has been a nice recovery period. Then today we went up to church for the first time since before break started, and we went to Fiddler’s Hearth afterward, which as a revelation for us. Wow! We had heard of the restaurant, but we were super impressed. The food we had was all great and we loved the atmosphere. While we were there, a guitar player/singer/harmonica player and a hammered dulcimer / improvised percussionist were performing, and they were great. The place is small enough—and the tables large enough—that we ended up sitting at one end of a table that was already occupied by another couple when we arrived. Actually, it was kind of nice. We could hardly help interjecting ourselves into each others’ conversations, which was no bad thing. I mean, sure, it could have been, but it wasn’t. And when they left and a family with a baby a few months younger than our daughter took their place, that turned out well too. 

Unfortunately, we both spent much of the rest of the day feeling ill, and we never did figure out why. Something we ate? Are we coming down with a  bug? We still have no idea. 

MONDAY UPDATE: Still no idea what had us down yesterday, but I'm feeling better. Lauren doesn't seem to be, but so far she's soldiering on.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back in the Saddle(s)

Although I actually spent all yesterday evening in the barrack on duty, today marked the official return to school. I had blogged earlier about the way that break takes us out of our routines, so I guess now it's time to blog about getting back into routines.
I won't be writing about work, but the habit I'll spend my time on involved getting my fix of exercise. Even though my phone alarm failed to go off (I refuse to believe we didn't hear it at 5:30, since we certainly heard the 3 am "nature sounds" alarm on the radio out in the living room), I did get a workout in this morning. I continue to tinker with the routine, trying to find (decide) what fits my goals and constraints. Although I enjoyed my 90 days of P90X, now that Lauren and I need to either drive in to work together or else take two cars, I have trouble with a lot of the P90X workouts, because they tend to run to an hour and fifteen minutes or more. Anyway, I'm also very taken by the 4-Hour Body ideas of a "minimum effective dose" when it comes to exercise, and I suspect that P90X almost over-does it sometimes. So I think what I'm looking at will be something like this:

Monday: a pared down workout that focuses on exercises that work several muscles in a major group (bench press, deadlift, lat pulldowns) plus an ab workout with the dreaded Torture Twist. After three weeks off, they were, in fact, torturous.
Tuesday: yoga (I haven't done yoga in months now because of my shoulder injury, and I miss it), probably the P90X DVD.
Wedhesday: either similar to the Monday workout or some kind of shoulders and arms workout (maybe the P90X workout, but I'll probably cut it down to fit my schedule)
Thursday: I lead a plyometrics class, which is [ever more] loosely based on the P90X program.
Friday: an exercise routine that looks very much like Monday's
Saturday: P90X Kenpo X workout
Sunday: P90X X-Stretch

Day 1 back on the wagon is in the books. Assuming the scales haven't been recalibrated while I was gone, it looks like I haven't put on any weight in the past month, despite spending the holidays eating like the pig that we ate for Christmas. I'm back in the saddle and--so far--have no sores to report.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review: Zone One

A few weeks ago, we heard an interview with Colson Whitehead, talking about his zombie novel Zone One. I haven’t read anything else by Whitehead, but I was intrigued by a zombie novel written by a writer with credentials as a “serious” “literary” writer. I also saw figured it was the perfect gift for a couple of English-teaching zombie-fanatic friends, so we bought a copy, read it, and passed it on (yeah, we’re those people).

Considering that I identify as a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction as well as an English major and former high school English teacher, this had the potential to be a great read by combining two great tastes that go great together. Unfortunately, it was only a good read.

The basic premise is this: the zombie apocalypse has come and decimated civilization, but the remaining humans have come together to push back the undead tide and reassert civilization. Our protagonist, called Mark Spitz, has survived and works for the government as a sweeper in New York City, working with a team to clear out the remaining “skels” and "stragglers" in Zone One of New York City after the marines--the real soldiers--have been through. As part of Project Phoenix, they will pave the way for the resettlement of America's greatest city by the other survivors, who are currently holding out in protected refugee camps. The novel follows him and his team (Gary and his squad leader Kaitlyn) as they go building to building, with frequent flashbacks to life before “Last Night” and his life in “the Interregnum” before the government (in Buffalo, of all places) started picking up the pieces. In some ways, it felt reminiscent of the literature of the Viet Nam war, soldiers just slogging through, suffering from the effects of their horrific experiences, but continuing on with their routines as sweepers. Their lives, either in the present or in flash-back, are not particularly heroic or action-packed, except for brief moments that are almost over as soon as they’ve begun (this is especially true since the zombies we see are mostly your typical slow-moving horde zombies, as well as a number of totally passive zombies who just sort of stay put, lost in some routine or memory, basically doing nothing).

Genre fiction is caricatured as being more shallow than “serious” fiction, particularly in terms of characterization and what we might call significance or meaning. The reality is that genre fiction can be every bit as deep, though it can also be every bit as shallow as its detractors think it is. But in any case, you would expect that Whitehead would be bringing something a little more to the zombie novel. And sure, he spends time on characterization and reaches for significance. The problems, as I see them, are at least two-fold. First, the zombie genre is pretty well developed in film and print, and the zombie as symbol has been pretty well mined. Whitehead touches on those interpretations of zombies, and sometimes he makes clever uses of the genre’s tropes, but he doesn’t really show us anything particularly new. And at the same time, as he makes the novel more “literary,” he makes it rather painfully slow at times. Say what you will about genre fiction, the plot typically moves along at a good pace, and even the writers who are striving for depth in their writing can typically keep a plot zipping smoothly along at the same time. Whitehead really doesn’t: call the process plodding more than plotting. Not—I hasten to add—that this was a deadly flaw or I ever considered putting the book aside. Whitehead did, in any case, do enough to make me care about the characters and the world he was drawing, and at times he displays great cleverness or perfect phrasing; in large measure these elements compensated for the slower plot.

I feel like I'm being quite critical, when the truth is that I enjoyed the novel well enough... just not as much as I hoped. And all that said—spoiler alert here—I did rather like where Whitehead takes it at the end: instead of a resurgence of humanity, the bastions of resurgent civilization crumble, plunging those who escape its fall onto their own individual and small-group resources. Forget the happy ending, forget any sense of the inevitable resurgence of civilization. Mark Spitz and others like him may survive past the end of the novel, but it's a zombie world now, not a human one, and the old paradigms don't apply.

Why they’d tried to fix this island in the first place, he did not see now. Best to let the broken glass be broken glass, let it splinter into smaller pieces and dust and scatter. Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn’t ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before.
 Whatever the future will be like, it won't be like the past, which is what the human characters have more or less universally been trying to do. There's a sense that Mark Spitz may be able to make it, there's a sense throughout that this very average man (throughout his life, he was a B student, an average employee, excelling at mediocrity and never standing out for either competence or incompetence) is about as well-adapted to the new world as anyone could be, especially here at the end where he's realized the truth about the world he inhabits.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

7 January 2012

As noted earlier, we have been without home internet since moving. We had some good fortune as we figured out which neighbor had internet and optimized our computer and iPod placement in the house to pick up the signal. Then the last two days, the wireless was broadcasting but for some reason it wasn’t connected to the internet. Hey! Neighbor! We’re counting on you here! Reset your router! 

Add to that the fact that we’ve been too busy to go seeking out internet at our offices or the coffee shop, and you have the reason why I haven’t been posting the last several days. Even when we went somewhere to check e-mail, I didn’t have time to put together a coherent blog post.

Finally, at the end of last week, we got a call from AT&T telling us that they had finally figured out that, in fact, they could provide us internet. And they could get us hooked up… next Tuesday. Night. Ah well. We’ll take what we can get. One thing they could do for us: give us their fastest internet connection for less than we used to pay for their standard speed (for the first year—we’ll see what it looks like in 12 months).

Today, the neighbor’s internet has started working again, as much as it ever did for us, but we’re looking forward to getting our own going Tuesday night. As it is, we’ve been pretty busy anyway: Friday, family started showing up to spend the weekend with us and then today was our daughter’s second birthday. For her party, she had 3 grandparents, 2 aunts, an uncle, 7 children 5-years-old or younger, plus 9 of their parents. Most exciting of all, she had a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cake (Lauren did most of the work, though I helped).

In case you're not familiar, this is not some kind of Van Gogh take on Mickey Mouse--it's the Clubhouse, in which different buildings (it's more the Mickey Mouse Compound than a single clubhouse) are in the shape of different parts of Mickey's anatomy.

It’s pretty amazing how much has changed in the last two years (or in one year, for that matter!). Two years ago, we drove to the hospital in the middle of the night. By morning we had 9 inches of snow and a beautiful baby girl. Now we have an even more beautiful 2-year-old. She’s chatty and amusing and amazing, and thanks to Christmas and her birthday, she’s amassing quite a load of toys around here. One year ago, she couldn’t feed herself, couldn’t really walk or talk—now she’s more or less unstoppable. I’m sure by the time she turns three, she’ll be even more amazing to us—and by then she’ll be a big sister, which will represent an even bigger change in our whole family.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Darker Kiddie Lit

Before Christmas, as we let our 2-year-old watch various holiday specials, we noticed something. She is a big fan of Mickey Mouse, by way of The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Naturally, then, we TiVoed the Disney special, which was a bunch of the old shorts (which we both remembered at least vaguely from our own childhoods. In one, Pluto chases around Chip and Dale, who have entered Mickey's house; Pluto's feelings toward the chipmunks are, well, about what you should expect from a dog toward rodents. In another, Donald Duck--in his usual cranky form--wages a fierce snow war on his nephews. What stands out for us is how, well, nice all the characters basically are to each other on The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The main characters are always friends to each other; Pete sometimes acts as the "villain" of the show, but he's always brought around by the end, and everyone is always nice to him no matter what he does to them. The older shows have a much wider range of feelings and behaviors, particularly with regard to more negative emotions.

And then there's the Charlie Brown Christmas special. You know, one of the most-beloved animated holiday specials of all time. But wow. I'd forgotten just how mean the kids basically are to each other. Lucy bullies everyone around, characters call each other "dumb" or "stupid." At times, they're just plain mean to each other. Yet, it has endured--will any of the nicer, gentler animated features that are being produced today?

The thing is, much as we would like to think that it's otherwise, kids really are mean to each other (sometimes). They really do call each other names, even from a young age. It was the same when I was a kid in the '80s, judging by Charlie Brown, it was true of kids in the '60s, and I have no doubt that it's true today. It would be a better world if it weren't so, but it is, and perhaps that fact speaks to the special's staying power (and that of the Disney special I referenced earlier). Some people are jerks, sometimes even good people get frustrated and upset, and sometimes imperfect people see the error of their ways and sometimes they don't. File it under "art imitates reality." We can and should discourage our kids from treating each other so poorly, but that's not the same as insulating them from its fact.

Related to this, we recently heard little more than the fact of Peggy Orenstein (author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter) on The Diane Rehm Show. I heard perhaps 2 minutes of the broadcast and Lauren heard a blurb for it, but I mentioned it to her again later and she saw and picked up the book at our local library because it spoke to concerns she herself has had. Lauren read to me portions of one of the chapters, comparing the sanitized versions of various fairy tales to their original versions. She read a few, and she also pointed me to this passage from Orenstein's book:

if you believe the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, we avoid the Grimms' grimness at our peril. His classic book The Uses of Enchantment argues that the brothers' gore is not only central to the tales' appeal, it's crucial to kids' emotional development. [...] According to Bettelheim, fairy tales and only fairy tales--as opposed to myths or legends--tap into children's unconscious preoccupations with such knotty issues as sibling rivalry or the fear of an omnivorous mother. In their tiny minds, the fearsome giant may be transformed into the school bully, a menacing wolf into a neighbor's put bull. Fairy tales demonstrate that hardship may be inevitable, but those who stand fast emerge victorious. What's more, he wrote, the solutions to life's struggles that fairy tales suggest are subtle, impressionistic, and therefore more useful than either the spoon-fed pap that passes for kiddie "literature" these days or the overly concrete images of television (and now the Internet). He goes so far as to say that without exposure to fairy tales a child will be emotionally stunted, unable to create a meaningful life. 
This speaks to me of the same issues I looked at above. Children may not be able to work through or understand all the nuance of the darker stories, but perhaps in the end that will be part of their appeal, part of what keeps drawing one back to them. What we acquire without effort is often not valued highly or really internalized.

There's surely something to be said for "age appropriate" material, but being sensitive to that probably shouldn't mean avoiding darker, more difficult material that is more challenging for children and adults as well. In the end, our job as parents is to prepare our children for life, and "Therefore, since the world has still / Much good, but much less good than ill," part of our job is to prepare our children for the difficult realities, and we can't do that without some exposure to the darker side of life, and stories allow them--and us--to do that in a safe(r) manner.

Your thoughts?

Grooves and ruts

"I'm in a groove now, or is it a rut?" -- "Face Up," Neil Peart (Rush)

The simple fact is that we are creatures of habit. That's good when we can get ourselves "in the groove," but it's something else when we're in a rut and we can't seem to get out of it. The standard advice--and it's good advice, as far as it goes--is that we break bad habits not by resisting them directly but by replacing them with new habits.

Into this, add the experience of being an educator. One of the realities of being an educator is that we live on a peculiar calendar that we share with kids but not with most other adults (except, tangentially, parents). It's hard, of course, to overstate the positives of a 2 or 3 month summer vacation, not to mention up to a week at Thanksgiving (some schools, of course, have only a few days), 2-3 weeks at Christmas, 1-3 weeks in the spring... the vacations are nice. From the perspective of habits, these breaks can be blessings and curses. Throughout the years, I've found breaks to sometimes be just what I needed to break out of a rut.

Right now, though, I'm feeling the way that a vacation can break up good habits. During the fall, I formed some good habits in terms of diet and exercise. Not only has this winter vacation thrown off those habits, but the fact that we moved is going to make it more difficult to reestablish good habits. The primary way this manifests comes from our new distance from school. Formerly, we lived on the edge of campus. I could walk/jog to the gym when I woke in the morning and I could easily go home for lunch. When we start back to school, the routines are going to be different: we live a mere 2-ish miles from school now, but that will mean driving in the winter, and while I may bike to school in warmer weather, that too will be a very different schedule. If I drive in to work out in the morning, do I just stay on campus after my workout, showering and dressing there? In that case, I have to figure out a different approach to breakfast, and we'll be driving two vehicles to get Lauren in to work too. If I drive in and then drive back home, the timing will almost certainly be different. I already arrive more or less when the gym is opening, so I can't go earlier... will I need to shorten my workouts in order to get back in time to shower, eat, dress (in whatever order) and get back to work?

And then there's lunch. Do I go home for lunch, driving two ways (and risk losing my parking space)? Do I plan ahead in a different way to just take my lunch along with me? Eat more meals in the dining hall? With a little planning, I might manage some kind of hybrid plan, bringing some portions of my meal and foraging the rest at the dining hall. The new situation, I suppose, presents opportunities, but in some ways I'd rather just stick with what I already know works!

How are you seeing grooves and ruts playing out in your own life in the new year and the old?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Film Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I am one of the approximately dozen Americans who has not read either this novel or its sequels. Thanks to my in-laws babysitting for us, I have see the film, and Lauren and I both quite enjoyed it. (Wrote this review back in 2011).

I haven't read the novel, but something about this film gave me the distinct impression that it's awfully hard to transpose a mystery novel to the big screen. I read a writer once who claimed that a film is about a 120-page novel--meaning that anything longer than that had to be edited down. Certainly, we're all familiar with that tendency to pare a novel down to the bone to get it to a reasonable film length. The problem in the context of a mystery is that mysteries thrive when we have a slew of characters all with plausible motives for the murder in question and at the same time we have more than enough information to find the killer (which is to say, we have evidence of the actual killer and red herrings that lead us to suspect others). In a novel, a writer has a lot of space to do that; in a film, not so much. In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, although we had a large enough cast of potential killers, it didn't seem like we ever saw enough of any of them--or their possible motivations--to have any idea which of them did it, much less why or how. And that takes away some of the pleasure of a good mystery. I have a suspicion that the best film mysteries are the ones that were written for the screen in the first place, because they are written to fit the form. In adapting a novel, there are so many other things to do, as the writers decide what to keep and what to lose, how to balance the needs of the fans of the book with the needs of the film-only audience.

From the standpoint of writing a film mystery, it doesn't help to develop the characters as much as they were here, but of course, that's also one of the compensations we get--the fact that our characters have a real sense of depth to them, which takes time to develop (and I suspect that this, too, may have been short-changed from the book to the movie, because such things almost always are, but it was here).

Another thing really helped: the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The did a fantastic job of building tension through the notes they played--and the ones they didn't. As Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) are putting together the pieces of the mystery, the score is ratcheting up the tension, and then in the following scenes, as the stakes are getting higher and higher, there's no music. It isn't needed. They've already done their job, putting us on edge, and now the action can speak for itself. Masterfully done, and that's just a representative example.

Okay, from here on out, be prepared for all sorts of spoilers.

My initial reaction to both the fact of and the speed of the sexual relationship between Mikael and Salander was disbelief. After being violated by lawyer Nils Bjurman (spot-on creepiness by Yorick van Wageningen), I was surprised that she would want to have a sexual relationship with any man... but then, we have seen her jump quickly into a casual hookup with another woman, and in both cases a key component of the encounter seems to be the fact that she is the initiator, she is the one who sets the terms. Similarly, it seemed to me a signal of how troubled she is, that she jumps into what Mikael acknowledges to be "probably a bad idea." And, at the same time, it's telling that she so clearly misreads the situation. When it ends badly for her by the end, it shouldn't have been a surprise: although he's a decent man in so many of the essentials, several facts are incontrovertible: he cheated on his wife to start this relationship with his co-editor, and has still had an on-going relationship with her when he went north to investigate. It's not surprising that he would be willing to have sex with another woman, nor is it surprising that he might do so casually. Recall that we're told his wife left him as a result of the affair--not the other way around. He's a cheater, but not necessarily a leaver.

In a number of ways, the story explores the theme of vengeance. We have Lisbeth taking vengeance on Bjurman; Blomkvist seeks vengeance on Wennerström (and, in a sense, so does Henrik, though his primary interest is in vengeance against whoever killed Harriet. We the audience are tacitly pulled into this, too, because while Lisbeth may make us squirm as she tortures and forces Bjurman to act for her, I suspect that most of us also continue to feel a measure of sympathy for her; we like her even though she's the kind of person who could, rather coldly, extract the full measure of vengeance. And isn't this because we can't help but feel like that bastard Bjurman is, in some essential respect, merely getting what he deserves? He is a horror, particularly as he combines the indifferent cruelty of the bureaucrat with the personal cruelty of the rapist and abuser. But doesn't our culture generally tell us that the right thing to do with such people is to let the proper authorities deal with justice rather than "stooping" to vigilante vengeance? Yet when Lisbeth does it, we the audience tend to want to cheer her on--or at least forgive her entirely. When she later approaches the trapped Martin, we know that she has asked--and received--permission from Mikael to kill him, and we have little doubt that she will do it, probably with no qualms. Fate intervenes and the car blows up, saving her from legal culpability and a moral dilemma which we have to doubt would have been any dilemma for her at all. None of this, though, has caused us to turn against her though, has it? For all that, we're meant to feel sympathy for her at the end when Mikael implicitly rejects her by returning to Berger, and I suspect we do. What does that say about us?

Anyway, I'm rambling. Ultimately, this was a film that we enjoyed watching and that stuck with us after we left the theater. It was also enough to convince me that I should read these novels.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolved: 2012

Last year, my resolution was as follows: "in the next year, I intend not to eat meat that I don't feel good about." I kept that resolution for a little over three months, then in the interest of other goals, I shelved that good intention. Over the course of the year, I lost roughly 35 pounds (at my lowest weight--I put some of that back on before year's end) and got my cholesterol numbers from very high to very good without medication.

With any luck, I can fail my New Year's Resolution just as spectacularly this year.

I'm tempted to just go back to last year's resolution. Even though I put it aside by April, it's not as though I stopped eating meat that I felt good about: all of the meat I ate at home fell into that category, it's just that I ate more dubious meat when I was elsewhere. The point of a resolution, to my mind, is to live more intentionally. We take stock here at the start of a calendar year and make a decision to change some aspect of our lives for the better, to try to put our actions in line with our values in some way or another. Last year, when I went back on my resolution, I did so because other intentions became more important to me, not because I didn't have the willpower. Well, I suppose it could be argued that I didn't have the willpower to reconcile the two. Anyway, the point isn't so much whether I was rational or rationalizing, the point is that I was intentional about what I was doing, and I had good results, even if I didn't stick to the letter of my resolution.

That said, I think my reasons for wanting to make that resolution in the first place were good ones and that's why I'll take this opportunity to try to make that commitment again. So, in 2012, I intend not to eat meat that I don't feel good about, which again means meat that's raised in a humane way (as best I can figure) and sustainable way. More details at the link above.

In more vaguely-formulated goals, I would like to sustain and consolidate the health gains I made in the past year, through continued attention to diet and exercise.

Outside of resolutions, there's a lot to look forward to in the coming year. On or around my birthday, if all goes as planned, we'll have our second daughter. As I'll become twice as much of a father (that's how having a second child works, right?), maybe I should resolve to be twice as good a father (is that even possible?). We're in the process of planning our dream home, and there's a decent chance that it could be built this year (though given the nature of building projects, it's possible it won't be, too).

All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for us, and it's to be hoped that 2012 will be as well. Here's wishing the same to you.