Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Annual Resolutions Wrap-Up

Almost the only thing I still do on this blog is post my New Year's resolutions.  But at least doing so puts them all in one place for future reference.  The tradition continues....

Let's just say that I need a good fresh start in 2014.  I didn't do well at all with my 2013 list.  My Bible study and prayer habits have been a hot mess, I had my first-ever DNF in the Charleston Marathon, my personal disciplines and organization have been a shambles, and my goals involving personal health habits were basically non-starters.  Somehow, in the midst of all that, I was awarded the Gibbes Award for excellence in teaching at the end of last school year, and we won our third-straight state title in track, by the largest margin in league history.  We also won our 4th consecutive cross-country state championship, and my school's alumni magazine ran a feature story on me as if I were doing a lot better than I feel like I am.  Go figure.  This new school year has been one of the most challenging of my career in the classroom (lots and lots of change--my oft-repeated one-liner of the semester has been that if we could have picked any 3 or 4 of the big changes this year, I could have handled them well, but a dozen at a time was a bit much).  On top of all of that, my athletic director (and good friend), Ed Steers, is retiring at the end of the school year, and I have put my name in the hat as a possible replacement.

So here I sit, unsettled and anxious.  I am possibly entering my last semester of classroom teaching, but I don't know.  We have the opportunity to win state again, which is good, of course.  And I am ridiculously proud of my family.  What's more, I came across some of the goals I wrote back in about 1997 and look at them now with a sense of pride.  Although I haven't been the runner I once was, I quietly logged another year of over 500 miles, and take some pride on being in significantly better shape than lots of guys turning 45 this year.

So--looking ahead, what will I resolve?  I can't really resolve to win the AD job; it's a goal, but one I have no control over.  I will go ahead and claim the goal of winning a 4th straight boys' track title.  The more difficult one, but what I really hope to do, is add a girls' title to match.  I think we're close.  Obviously, the athletes have to do their part, and I cannot do a thing about the quality of other teams. But I will be very satisfied if we can pull that off.  It will definitely take my best work.

I do want to read the Bible through again, as well as get back in the habit of "aerobic kneeling" (serious prayer).  This will require more discipline with my mornings.  I really, really want to regain that element of control over my day.  I also want another 500+ mile year.  It gets harder and harder to be consistent, but those are big ones.

Whether or not this is my last teaching semester, I want to do a better job than I feel like I did last term.  Lots of folks have said nice things about the results, but I have not been satisfied.

I also want to do a better job managing our family budget and my time with family.  Neither have been that bad, but both could be better.  And what these items all share is the same sense of "winging it," being out of control, and accepting the good rather than insisting on the best.  And the answer is the same for all of them: discipline.  So that's going to be the watchword in 2014.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Just A Thought

I had written most of this on Facebook and then thought, "nope." I'll just write I here where nobody will read it anyway.

Deep thought regarding the filibuster modification in the house.  My brother-in-law, Tommy Brown, is home for the holidays from Nicaragua.  We have talked a bit about Daniel Ortega's Sandinista power grab down there.  But the short version is that, for most folks there, they prefer the services the Sandinistas provide to a relatively theoretical notion of freedom.  In reality, the constitutional changes are merely making official what has been de facto for some time.  And the remaining Contras who would like to fight are clinging to a hope that is no longer there: the Cold War is over, Reagan is long dead, and nobody is coming to their aid.

Big disclaimer: I am not saying that Harry Reid is a communist dictator.  But isn't the parallel there?  A very few teachers of government and civics, a few political junkies, and some talk radio listeners really care about the role of the filibuster in our checks and balances.  But times have changed (really beginning with the 17th amendment, but that's even more geekery). There are no Scoop Jackson Democrats nor Rockefeller Republicans, and most voters on both sides are just fine with that.

The country has grown more and more small-d democratic, for better or worse.  I think worse.  Our founding fathers would probably agree. But they made a system that could be changed.  Dr. Franklin was asked in 1787 what sort of government we had.  The answer was, "a republic, if you can keep it."  Perhaps we don't want to,

Monday, January 21, 2013

Marathon Post-Mortem

Well, it's over.  Unfortunately, not a happy ending. I started the Charleston Marathon, and I looked great through 13 miles, good through 16, not too bad through 19, and by 20 knew that my hopes of a decent time were long gone. I ended with a DNF (Did Not Finish), which I am not sure if I have ever done in a race before.  To be honest, I am still not 100% sure how I feel about that.  I definitely could have walked/shuffled the last 6 miles and finished the race, but I gave up.

That sounds really bad.  But it's not like I bailed out as soon as it became obvious that my hoped-for time of 3:59 was going to be 4:01.  I was physically toast, and it was going to be upwards of 4:20 before I limped in.  Had I never completed a marathon before, or even if I could have salvaged a 4:11 and claimed an "age adjusted" sub-4, I would have soldiered on.  But I already have a marathon finish.  Indeed, I already have a marathon failure.  Looking at another 70+ minutes of agony to produce an identical twin of my previous disaster was just more than I was willing to do.

When I raced the USMC marathon in 1996, I was 27, but I really did not train adequately.  I thought I had this time.  However, in every training run over 16 miles, I suffered.  Even when I completed training runs of 19 and 20 miles at a good average time, that average ALWAYS was including everything past 16 being a death march.  I told myself that this was probably a nutrition issue; I never took in enough calories or fluids while training.  But on race day, with Gatorade every 2 miles and carbohydrate gels every 5, I thought it would be better.

In the end, it wasn't.  At least I was consistent. I can honestly say I have had the exact same outcome of every run over 16 miles in my life.  The weather was perfect, my pacing was good, I took in fluids and gel at every stop, without even breaking stride.  Yet I crashed anyway.  People talk about hitting the wall in marathon running, and pushing through it.  Somehow, I never have been able to. I don't know if what I feel at mile 17 is the same as everybody else and I am just mentally weaker, or if physically I crash worse than the next guy.  That's the thing that hurts worst of all.

Several folks have asked two good questions: "Do you think your time goal was too ambitious? Will you try another one?"  Those two are related.  Regarding the first, maybe.  Had I run my goal pace, I would have been top-20 in my age group (out of 72 finishers).  Maybe that's a little over my head.  I feel very confident that if I "ran" slower, took walk breaks, and set out to just finish, I could do so.  But like I said earlier, I already knew that I could do that.  I finished in 1996.  But I wanted to see if I could run under 4 hours.  Apparently, the answer to that is no.  And that being the case, I currently am not at all interested in doing this sort of training again to chase a lower goal than that.

That may sound pretty defeatist.  But I really did not/do not enjoy marathon-style training.  I think after this race, it's safe to say that my body is cut out for something else. I am in great shape; my resting pulse rate was 49 this morning.  I can run 5k, 10k, and even half-marathon races and enjoy them more than this.  So, for now, I am done with the marathon.  However, several years ago, I took about three years totally off from racing after being disgusted that my aging body could no longer cash the checks my brain wrote.  Eventually, I mellowed, and have come back with a different attitude.  I won't rule out the possibility that I may one day find a way to toe the line in a marathon and take pride in just finishing.  But not yet.  And not soon.

I will carve out one little exception to my "no more long stuff" resolution.  I will continue to crew for my brother-in-law, Adam, as he runs ultramarathons.  I actually am beginning to understand better why he enjoys them, and although I don't care to actually run them like he does, I don't mind putting in 30-40 non-consecutive miles in a weekend if it's part of one of those.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me well throughout this 5 month process. I do wish it had ended more successfully, but I am very, very glad it's over.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What I Really Think About the Fiscal Cliff Deal

Ok, let's get the preliminaries and disclaimers out of the way.  First, let's stipulate that I would prefer that taxes be raised on no one, and also that we actually balance the budget.  Let's go further, still--I wish we would even PASS a budget at all.  Let us also agree that the deal passed last night does nearly zero about the deficit.  It really doesn't, $620 billion over 10 years is a rounding error when we're looking at annual trillion-dollar shortfalls.

All that said, fine.  We are dealing with the possible here.  As I have said elsewhere and repeatedly, I'm not a big fan of utopian fantasies, whether of the progressive or libertarian flavor.  If you allowed me dictatorial powers, I would do LOTS of stuff different, but that's not an option.  And in terms of the POSSIBLE, this deal is about as good as it gets.

Here's why: it locks in the Bush tax rates PERMANENTLY for everybody under $400k per year.  Admittedly, that does zip to reduce the deficit.  But that's a spending issue anyway.  And since we apparently are not serious at all about paying the bills, why screw over most of America?  I'm happy to share some sacrifice, if we get serious.  But this whole tax charade reminds me of nothing so much as the old "global warming" deal--asking America to drive cars made of tinfoil and pay gazillions in carbon taxes while India and China keep on churning out coal smoke and make those sacrifices meaningless.  With those rates permanently locked in for over 99% of taxpayers, the whole issue of holding everybody hostage every few years while we argue over what rates should be on those making upwards of $400k goes away.

But wait, you may say.  I thought you were a supply-sider.  How can you be so nonchalant about jacking up taxes on small-business owners, job creators, etc.?  Well, I am (read my post from a couple of days ago).  And I think it's a dumb idea. But it's a dumb idea that my side cannot defeat.  ALL the     rates were going up.  And had we gone over the cliff, I have zero doubt that the endgame would have been a restoration of low rates below $200 or $250k, with even more damage done.  And let's face it--$400,000 is nothing like $200,000 in the real world.  I hate class warfare, and have no desire to stick it to "the rich."  But that's what the country voted for.  And a case can be made that $200k is not rich--it's a high school principal married to a police lieutenant.  And particularly in areas with a high cost of living, after you pay taxes on $200k, it's hard to live "rich."  If you tithe, put a kid or two in college or private school, and live in a nice (but not ridiculous) neighborhood, it's easy to imagine a married couple at that level driving a used Benz or a new Honda, but not a brand-new Lexus.  Those guys may live a lot better than most (better than me), but they are not the yacht and caviar club.

On the other hand, at $400k, you're talking real money.  At that level, even after taxes, you can live on water.  You can vacation almost anywhere.  You can pay sticker price if your kid gets into Yale.  You might not can do all three at the same time, but you are in an entirely different ball game at that point.  Now, I happen to believe that raising those taxes is a dumb idea, will detract from economic growth, and will likely hurt small businesses and cost jobs.  But such an idea is not sellable to our current electorate.  Maybe if they see the consequences, they can learn.  I doubt it, but it's possible.  Regardless, it is impossible to have that discussion so long as everybody else is held hostage over the rates in the other brackets--least of all when the party that (allegedly) champions tax cuts is in the minority, and also in political disarray.

So what should the GOP do from here?  If Hemlock is not on the menu, I suppose they can use the debt-ceiling ad the sequester to get some spending cuts.  With taxes now permanently off the table, the battleground is more favorable to them on those two--just like the rates were going to rise if nothing happened, giving any tie to the tax-hikers, on the other two items a tie goes to ending-cutters.  Actually, I kinda like the sequester; for all the and-wringing about draconian cuts, spending still goes UP.  If you let me be in charge, I would do a true budget FREEZE.  No cuts, but nothing goes up, nobody gets a raise, you just have to find a way to only spend what you did last year (the horror)!  Sounds tough?  No tougher than what many families (mine included) have done the last few years.

But again, that's future stuff, and assumes a fact not in evidence: that politicians can do math.  For now, this tax deal was about as good a deal as we were going to get.