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Mid-Year Course Correction

New Year Sunrise

Happy New Year. If you live in a part of the world that follows the traditional Gregorian calendar.

January 1 has always seemed like an odd place to put this particular dividing line. The Romans and other ancient cultures positioned the start of their calendars in the spring when nature seemed to be waking up from the winter. March 1 would be more hopeful date following a hard winter.

Of course all of that is based on the Northern Hemisphere, Eurocentric view of the world. Just imagine how celebrating the start of a new year would be different if we were using a calendar created in another part of the world.

I’ve lived and worked most of my life in an academic calendar, so somewhere around September 1 was more the start of a new year than today. This point has always been a welcome break before continuing with the second half (more like two-thirds) of the year.

But, if you think about it, midnight last night was just an artificial dividing line anyway. Today is really not different from yesterday (unless you’re a tax accountant). We divide life into chunks – months, quarters, semesters, years – for convenience and consistency. Life itself flows rather than restarting at particular intervals.

Many people use the start of the new calendar as motivation to make major alterations in their lives: eat better, exercise more, develop better habits. Not me. Certainly not because I have nothing that needs improving. The list seems to grow as I get older and more critical of myself.

However, I’ve lived long enough to know that big changes, executed on a fixed schedule rarely work. For most of us, New Year resolutions are largely abandoned before Groundhog Day.

Better to set goals for ourselves whenever we realize they’re needed, and then make smaller course corrections as required. Like on New Year’s Day.

Anyway, thank you for reading to the end of this random ramble. Let’s all make the next collection of 365 days better than the previous one.

The photo is of the sun rising on the Potomac River, as seen from the Alexandria waterfront, January 1, 2012.

Some Thoughts for a New Year

New Year Sunrise

Although I’ve always thought September 1 would make a much better New Year’s Day, western society has decided today will be that largely artificial dividing line. So, here we are in the year designated as 2018.

So, how will today and the ones that follow be different from the 365 that came before? Unless you came into a big inheritance when the calendar clicked over, I suspect for most of us the answer is not very.

However, after the chaos of 2017 in the US (which spilled over into many other parts of the world), something needs to change. As I wrote in any earlier rant, resistance to negative change can only take you so far. If successful, it really only maintains the status quo. Even with the small positive steps that occasionally pop up.

In 2018, we can continue to complain about what has happened in the past. Or we can plan and work to improve the future. Only one of those is worth the time and effort.

I hope we can find good people to run for leadership positions, at all levels, not just Congress, who understand this. Because real progress is only going to come from clear, creative, positive ideas for improving government and society. Not from trying to scare people. Not from asking for support simply because “I’m not that guy.”.

Maybe in this new period of time known as a year we as a society can move forward instead of ranting in place.

The picture is of sunrise over the Potomac River as seen from the Alexandria waterfront, New Year’s Day, 2012. As I recall, the temperature was much warmer that morning than it is currently.

This I Believe

On this day when the United States inaugurates a new president, one elected by a minority of eligible voters, using a constitutional loophole, through a campaign based on hate, ignorance, and fear, I thought it might be a good time to take a personal assessment. It has been a while since I wrote something like this, and I’m not a very philosophical person to start with, so take that into consideration as you read.
This I believe.
I believe in the power of learning. Open-ended, open-minded, uncensored, take-it-where-you-will learning. When that ends, so does life.
I believe in public education. Because every child, not just those with money, influence, or luck, deserves a solid foundation for the rest of their life. That’s power that comes from a strong system of public schools, which is also the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
I believe in science. Not because scientists have all the answers, but because the scientific process is committed to always looking, always asking questions.
Related to that, I believe in curiosity and the art of asking questions. Because anyone who claims to have all the answers is wrong. And possibly an impediment to human progress.
I believe that any real change in this world comes from progressive, positive, committed optimism. Working to recreate the past, one that likely only existed in the mind, is a waste of time and energy. That attitude probably comes from being an educator for most of my entire adult life. I still don’t understand how anyone can teach children and not be optimistic about the future.
I believe in travel, both physical and virtual. Especially to places that are very different from wherever I am right now. The best way to understand other people, and foster peace in the world, is to visit them where they live, listen to what they have to say, and talk with them honestly.
I believe in humor. Not the kind that tears down, belittles, and diminishes people, but humor that exposes the flaws of life and makes me think as well as laugh. Plus the just plain silly stuff, of which the members of Monty Python were masters.
Finally, I believe there is much good in the people of this country. But also that our greatest problem remains the indifference shown by most of them when it comes to the larger society and our very fragile participatory democracy. I have an expanded post on this topic, should you care to read it.
Well, that’s it. Or at least all I can think of at this moment. As with most of my opinions, I reserve the right to change my warped little mind when new evidence is presented. Except for Monty Python, of course.

Opportunities, Not Resolutions

It’s a new year in most (but not all) of the world. A passage point I’ve always felt was in the wrong place. But who am I to argue with four or five billion other people.

For K12 teachers in the US, this is more like half time, a break between the real learning of the fall semester and the test preparation of the spring. Ok, maybe a little cynical but certainly a reality for many kids in the past ten to fifteen years.

This is also a point at which many people offer up resolutions, not unlike sacrifices to the gods of winter, to change something about their lives. Exercise more, eat better, spend time on more worthy pursuits. But one thing I’ve learned over my many new years is, that approach doesn’t work for me. And, I suspect, many others as well, based on the many of those resolutions that are abandoned before the Ides of March.

I think most people rarely submit to substantial internal change without some kind of major outside force demanding that it happen. Something other than an artificial social convention like the beginning of a new calendar.

The most recent instance for me was leaving Fairfax County schools (aka the overly-large school district)1last August after many years in their bureaucracy. In addition to continuing personal projects over the past few months, I’ve also thought a lot about other things I want to do. Getting into a regular routine has been harder than I expected and something that will require more effort.

One goal I set for myself was to do more writing in this space. I thought that would be easy with the extra time available but the process appears to require more than time. I finally decided to make an effort to post something every day in December. Most of the entries probably would have been better if they sat in the draft folder a while longer (and at least a few should have been deleted before hitting publish), but it’s a small start to getting into a new rhythm.

Anyway, enough rambling for now. Whether you view January 1 as the beginning of a new year or just another check-in point on a longer road, I hope the coming 12 months are good ones. Full of new opportunities to take advantage of, not resolutions to be abandoned.

Twitter Droppings

Being a small collection of links from my tweets of the past week that deserve a few more than 140 characters.

The Bootstrap Myth, an episode of the always interesting DecodeDC podcast. It’s all about the fact that “as compelling as the story is, the data show it’s not nearly as common as we’d like to believe”. Or that lazy  and/or deceitful politicians want us to believe. Go listen.

The Post headline begins The U.S. has more jails than colleges. Unfortunately, the article is mostly statistics and an infographic about where those prisoners live, not about the much larger issues of why we have so many Americans in jail. Another big issue, however, is why the Post spends so much of its energy on trivia instead of covering issues.

Air travel is not a fun experience any more and has become much worse in just the past five or so years. A writer in The New Yorker says that change is no accident. Airlines want basic passengers to pay additional fees (which is largely pure profit) for a better experience, and are willing to make the basic one crappy to do it.

To go with that downer about air travel, an essay explaining Why Americans Are Terrible at Vacation. For one thing, “America is the only advanced economy in the world that does not have government-mandated, paid time off”. But there’s also the fact that 41% of us who have paid time off don’t even use it all.

And finally, for many decades we’ve heard all kinds of predictions of how artificial intelligence (AI) is coming. Now some big thinkers (like Elon Musk and Steven Hawking) are afraid it’s here and we aren’t ready. What kind of ethics can be built into self-driving cars and stock trading algorithms? And who decides?

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