31 January 2006

One of my housemates frequents a certain coffeeshop. There's an employee there with whom she's recently exchanged pleasantries with a couple times. Today said employee gave her a mix cd. Now there's a move you should try some time Alec.

The verdict of the people hanging out here was that it was pretty cool for him to do that, but she should run in fear if the first song was a love song.
Come to think of it, the absence of any acting nominations for The Squid and the Whale probably qualifies as a major injustice. (I'm sure that I'll figure out more things to be annoyed about soon.)
I was secretly hoping that Steve Carrell would get a Best Actor nomination, but otherwise, I don't see any massive injustices in this year's Oscar nominees. One surprising omission: James Horner's spectacular score for The New World. I'm also a little astonished at the acclaim that William Hurt has received for his supporting role in A History of Violence, because his appearance at the end of the film radically upsets the movie's tone. (Maybe I was just distracted by his little goatee.)

30 January 2006

The best movie that I saw last year was A Canterbury Tale, which was made in 1944, and the most entertaining was Contraband, which was made four years earlier. Even if you didn't end up at the Michael Powell retrospective at Lincoln Center, though, this was the best year for movies in a long time, with superlative movies of every size and genre, and a handful that rank among the best ever made. It was so good, in fact, that there isn't even room for Batman Begins:

1. 2046. The tip of a pen hovers above a sheet of paper, unable to write, and a beautiful android stares silently out the window of a futuristic train. Hours later, the pen is still motionless, and the android's face is unchanged. These are emblems of the emptiness that remains when love is gone, and only two of the images that make this the most visually beautiful movie I've ever seen.

2. Ballets Russes. Dance is the most evanescent form of art, because it perishes not only with death, but at the end of every performance. The men and women who devote their lives to dance are what Pindar called epameroi, or creatures of a day, and this miraculous movie is their dream of a shadow.

3. Munich. The ultimate thriller, a movie so technically accomplished, so complex, and so problematic that it makes most other action movies look lame. It recalls the great atmospheric thrillers of the 1970s, but couldn't have been made until last year, with the world's most gifted director drawing upon unlimited resources and the accumulated craft of decades.

4. King Kong. In 1971, when trying to raise funding for Napoleon, Stanley Kubrick wrote: "It’s impossible to tell you what I am going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made." King Kong is the first movie in years that seems to have been conceived with the same sort of audacity. The result is jaw-dropping, but also tender and generous, and not nearly long enough.

5. Brokeback Mountain. A cosmically absurd movie, yes, but absurd in the way that love always is, especially if it happens to be tragic. In the end, it isn't the absurdity that stays with me, but the genuine sense of loss and regret. "This life came so close to never happening," says Brian Cox at the end of 25th Hour. This is a movie about the life that never happened, and its closing shot will haunt me forever.

6. The Squid and the Whale. My favorite moment, out of dozens, is when Jeff Daniels quotes Breathless (and pauses to explain the reference) while being loaded into the back of an ambulance. This is a movie like High Fidelity, so smart, funny, and observant that a lot of dissimilar people will insist that it is all about them.

7. The Aristocrats. When Bob Saget is dead and gone, this movie may seem as melancholy as Ballets Russes. In the meantime, we can enjoy Robin Williams and Drew Carey telling the same dirty joke in parallel ("Know it? I wrote it!"), and Sarah Silverman, who, with a single perfect punchline, enters the pantheon of the immortals.

8. The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Comedy is hard work, and most movies are content to settle for the easy laugh, which is why this humane and lovingly observed movie is such a treasure. It's a lowbrow comedy with a cerebral spirit, made by people who cared, and as a result, it's about eighty times better than it had to be. The world is a happier place because it exists.

9. Match Point Like Closer, this is a tragedy made bearable by beautiful people, textured cinematography, and marvelous interior design. It's also terrific entertainment, a parable about the disconnect between good manners and moral behavior, and a gallery of perfect, unobtrusive supporting performances coaxed out by a director whose craft, in its modest way, is as accomplished as Spielberg's.

10. Grizzly Man. A model of restraint and understatement about the weirdest story ever told. The movie's defining moment is a shot of Werner Herzog listening, through headphones, to the death screams—unheard—of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend. His advice to Treadwell's friend: "You must never listen to this tape."

There were also a lot of good pieces of flawed movies, especially the first half of War of the Worlds, the second half of The New World, and the good parts of Elizabethtown, which consist of roughly half the movie, passim. (Elizabethtown is the new Beyond the Sea, which means that it's a movie of questionable quality that I would sooner watch again than many of the movies listed above.) Movies I regret having missed: Serenity, Shopgirl, In Her Shoes. And yes, I did finally see Crash...but that's a topic for a whole other entry.

And the worst movie of the year? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory certainly qualifies as a major disappointment, but in terms of sheer waste, nothing comes close to the last two-thirds of Eros, which, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, is the first movie I have seen that did not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time.

29 January 2006

I suspect that many people will be tempted to walk out during the first half of The New World, which is the most willfully unconventional Hollywood movie in years. The ads don't adequately prepare you for how strange it really is—a blissed-out version of Aguirre: The Wrath of God that is almost insolently elliptical and mysterious. I was alternately dazzled, bored, and confused by the first hour, which tells the story of Jamestown with a few muddled flashes of narrative and a lot of intoxicating images, mostly involving Q'orianka Kilcher as...well, you know who. (She's great, if a trifle too pretty.) But the second half crystallizes beautifully, and the movie as a whole leaves you overwhelmed with extraordinary images and feelings, tied together by James Horner's incredible score. The New World isn't for everyone, but I have a hunch that it will be intensely important to certain viewers for a long time to come, if they manage to get through it.

26 January 2006

[I apologize for the long post. For those of you who don't know, my younger brother is a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. He recently returned from Taji, Iraq.]

The past couple of days were some of the most interesting days in a while, and I wish I could have been live blogging them.

It all started late Sunday morning. Some Sergeant from Fort Riley called and said that Jon was coming home Monday and that there would be a ceremony for the families at Fort Riley on Monday afternoon. My dad suggested that we drive out to the ceremony. Wary of missing classes and whatnot, I told him no. But an hour later, I thought to myself, what the hell am I thinking? Why shouldn't I go? What do I have to do that's more important, exactly? So I called my dad back and after I tried haphazardly to tie up my loose ends, we were off. We spent the first night on the Colorado-Kansas border (about 20 miles from Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas) and arrived the next day at Fort Riley with a couple of hours to spare.

President Bush was delivering a speech at Kansas State University, which was about ten miles away, and we thought maybe he'd come over and join the ceremony, but (as he explained to his audience) Laura was preparing dinner for Alan Greenspan and she'd be upset if he were late. He did have the effect of holding up the returning soldiers, however, since their busses weren't allowed to move until the president (who had been using the same Topeka airport as the soldiers) had taken off.

The ceremony took place in an airplane hangar that was similar to a Home Depot with everything taken out of it. I entered the building to the sound of Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing blaring from loudspeakers. There were homemade signs draped on all the walls welcoming soldiers home, and there were a few bleachers holding about a thousand anxious relatives and friends. The mood was festive but kind of quiet, like it was the world's biggest surprise party waiting to happen. Kids wore shirts saying "I get to hug my daddy today," and volunteers passed out breath mints to wives and girlfriends.

When the soldiers marched in, the place erupted, but the soldiers were straight faced and seemed calm. I wondered why that was, and when I looked closer, I realized that they were too exhausted to break into smiles. The "ceremony" itself took all of five minutes; as the soldiers stood at attention, a prayer was read, the national anthem was sung by everyone in the building, and an officer said a few words that no one could understand. Then, on some unseen cue, the crowd jumped from the bleachers and mobbed the soldiers. I couldn't see where Jon was until he took off his hat, and then I jumped in too. One can imagine the amount of joy and relief in that building, and to be able to observe it up close was unforgettable.

These soldiers and their families will doubtless face a lot more trials and tribulations in the future, but everyone in the room put that thought aside to enjoy one brief embrace free of worry or fear. I can't imagine anywhere else I would have rather been.

23 January 2006

One of my Noah-style new year's resolutions for this year was to go to a nice restaurant in San Francisco once a month, where "nice" is defined as having really good food and being at least $30 a head. SF is the greatest place in the world to eat (except perhaps for New York and Paris, but I don't think the sushi's as good in Paris), and I hadn't been taking enough advantage of it. I'm pleased to report that I've doubled that goal so far: Torrey took me to Rivoli for my birthday; we went to Hayes Street Grill last week, Aziza tonight, and we're going to Millennium with Torrey's dad on Saturday. Rivoli is still the best eating experience I've had since I've moved to the Bay Area, and since it's in Berkeley it's not even outrageously expensive.

My second resolution was to go to Friday night services at least once a month. We're running behind our projection on that one. Torrey really wants to try out this synagogue. What the heck; it's San Francisco.

My third resolution was to blog more.

20 January 2006

This morning I was unable to come up with the correct reason for why lawyers shouldn't lie, and Almea was kind enough to provide it to me. (Answer: because it's only a warped view of justice that says we can arrive at just results by lying.) The rationales I came up with were much lamer, and I'm too embarrassed to share them right now.

Worried about my eroding integrity, I read Michael Kinsley's observations on the supreme court nomination process with interest. He arrives at an interesting Catch-22: either Roberts and Alito were lying in their internal Reagan administration memos advocating stricter conservative positions, or they're lying today in saying that those memos didn't represent their personal positions (despite explicit language implying that the views were those of the author). Kinsley concludes, tongue-in-cheek, that lawyers are duty-bound to lie. The more obvious conclusion, of course, is that politicians and those seeking political positions are the ones who seem to be lying. I think he's pretty much right on about that.

Kinsley also takes on the fetish that the media and the political establishment have with Supreme Court nominees refusing to pre-judge cases. This is an absurd standard that anyone who has seen a trial will recognize has no place in actual legal practice. Jurors are asked before trial if they have any views that might prevent them from being fair arbiters. When they say they might, they are then asked if they could set those views aside and follow the law. The same standard can apply to judicial nominees. They can (and should) give their views on issues, and then say that they would still be able to follow the law. This is important not only so that we can stop this ritual of nominees lying to the world, but also because the Supreme Court is, in limited respects, unavoidably a policymaking body (which is heresy to some, and which is a source of discomfort for many others, including me. I will try to lay out what I mean in greater detail some other time.) We deserve to know what our policymakers think. That's not to say that philosophy or political views should be paramount, but they deserve to be part of the discussion.
Observation from Almea: Maybe butter knives were invented by the butter industry. They're so dull that you end up taking more butter than you need (assuming the butter isn't soft), and you get a clump of butter that is very hard to spread on bread. For hard butter, sharp knives are far better, since you can slice thinly and spread the butter more evenly. But, this means no butter is wasted - hence, the conspiracy theory.

18 January 2006

I'm proud to say that I actually solved this puzzle, at least in an earlier form, and with some time-saving tips from Noah. Here's a clue: that isn't Jim Carrey.

17 January 2006

As most of you know, I've spent much of the last year of my life on the M.I.T. Mystery Hunt. It finished last weekend and was, by most accounts a smashing success. Almost nothing went wrong, people generally enjoyed themselves, and the hunt ended on the right day. (Just barely, we were half an hour away from the hunt ending on Saturday.) Here are all the puzzles. Solutions and more details should be up soon. Here are the puzzles that I wrote or cowrote:
  • A Pile of Picture (cowritten with Ben Balas and Erin Conwell)

  • Just Follow Directions

  • No Silver Lining (cowritten with Matt Cain)

  • Second Times The Charm (Jeff Cohen's idea, my grid fill, Aaron Dinkin's clues)

  • Sixteen Blocks

  • Connect Four (cowritten with David Speyer)

  • 783658 (cowritten with Malia Jackson)

  • Lounder Than Words (cowritten with Chuck Snyder)

  • Mysterious Cry; Quiet Habit (idea by Reid Barton, I wrote about half of the clues, several other people did photoshopping)

  • Table For Four (cowritten with Chris Luhrs)

  • Xanadu

  • Pipe Dream (cowritten with Iolanthe Chronis)

  • Wry, Ergo Dead (cowritten with David Speyer)

  • All Work and No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy (cowritten with David Speyer)

  • The Cock Conundrum, or the greatest joke ever told (I somehow got roped into cowriting the Conundrum portion with Joel Corbo, the cute boys are by Joel Corbo and Allen Rabinovich)

  • Twenties
  • I also cowrote a few metas, and a bunch of endgame (links as soon as they appear).

    Now I have to figure out what to do with myself for the next year, any suggestions? I'm thinking maybe write a thesis.
    Lim Keng Yaik has been the president of the Malaysian People's Movement Party since 1980. Why do I bring this up? Well, maybe I'm just having a silly day, but the picture on his Wikipedia page made me laugh until I cried.

    16 January 2006

    24 is finally back on the air, which is great, and they've cast some of my favorite actors in supporting roles, which is even better: Sean Astin, obviously, but also Jean Smart (who played Peter Sarsgaard's mom in Garden State), Mark Sheppard (who was my favorite villain from The X-Files) and, wow, Sandrine Holt. To quote distinguished New York Magazine critic John Simon: "Sandrine is the hottest, naughtiest thing on the planet!" Well, fine, John Simon didn't write that. I did. But in his review of Black Robe, Simon did say that Sandrine had "a wonderful toughness under her exquisite exterior," although she was "a trifle too pretty." Yeah, right.

    15 January 2006

    Surprise of surprises, Democrats in the Senate are wringing their hands that Samuel Alito is getting a free pass from the American public. What were they expecting? That they'd be able to trap him with razor-sharp questions into breaking down and admitting that he's a fake? Well, they made his wife break down. Or maybe they thought that the American people would hear the words "unitary executive" and spontaneously rise up in opposition to this constitutional abomination.

    C'mon, guys (and gals).

    They should know better than that. If they wanted to nail Alito (and I think there might have been enough to nail him on), the debate needed to be framed long before the actual hearing took place. No, timid New York Times articles and Washington Post articles don't count as framing the debate. Television ads do. Right away, groups like NARAL should have been running ads saying that he's a weasel and an extremist. I thought that was what NARAL had been raising money all these years to do. They tried running ads against John Roberts, but they got in trouble because they misstated his positions. I didn't hear of any ads they ran against Alito. Did anyone else?
    Munich is an extraordinarily well-made movie, an international spy narrative so accomplished that it makes most other American thrillers look lame. At age twenty-five, Spielberg was already a genius, but now, after thirty incredibly productive years, he's internalized so much craft that no other director—not even Scorsese—can match him when he's in the zone. Munich is a little hollow at the core, maybe, and it's unclear how well it holds together as an argument (if it is one), but as a textbook of suspense, I've never seen anything remotely like it. Some of you are probably dubious, but trust me—this isn't a movie that you want to miss. This is the real thing.

    14 January 2006

    Quote from yesterday's Constitutional Law lecture:

    [after stating that the Articles of Confederation threatened to lead to Balkan-type conflict between the states]:

    "It's never a good thing to be compared to the Balkans."
    I spent most of the morning paging through my new copy of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, which may be the most physically sumptuous book I've ever owned. The overwhelming reaction is one of awe—not at the book, so much, but at Kubrick, whose ambition was so vast that it demands a ten-pound book to do it justice. His amazing run arguably began with Lolita, and as I was looking through the book this morning, I was reminded of Shelley Winters, whose performance in that film was, for a long time, my favorite performance by an actress in any American movie. Winters died yesterday, along with Charlotte Haze and Willa Harper, who once said to Robert Mitchum: "I feel clean now. My whole body's just a-quiverin' with cleanness."

    Reading the book, which consists mostly of big, beautiful stills from the movies, is like taking a rapid tour through Kubrick's career. In the end, even though my professional opinion is that Barry Lyndon is Kubrick's masterpiece, I'm somewhat relieved to discover that Eyes Wide Shut is still the Kubrick movie that means the most to me, maybe because it's the only one I was able to see on its original release. (In fact, I saw it four times that summer, which is still a personal record.) In the face of almost universal opposition, I've often wondered whether my emotional connection to Eyes Wide Shut outweighs its actual merits as a movie. Well, maybe. But I'm watching it right now, and it still knocks me flat.

    13 January 2006

    I spent New Year's at John's house in Tahoe, where it rained (ick) and were stuck inside and reduced to jumping on each other. We did this until just before midnight, at which point we held an impromptu countdown using Vince's cell phone. Shortly thereafter we decided we were tired and went to bed (or actually, some of us went to bed and others stayed up until 3 playing Settlers of Canaan (an ancestor of Puerto Rico)). As we were dispersing around 12:20 am, I made the comment, "This is the lamest New Year's ever!" since we were going to bed so early. But I totally didn't mean it -- I had a total blast and wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

    This leads to my New Year's resolution. Last year I made a nice Noah-type resolution: "Eat more fish." Which I did. This year the only thing I've come up with is, "Think about what you're saying before it comes out of your mouth, because it might not sound so good to other people." But that might be a little ambitious.

    Any other suggestions?
    I guess I'm not above shamelessly posting links to other blogs that mention me. One of the perks of being a part of a group like the Young Democrats is it occasionally gives you the opportunity to meet political candidates (not many of whom have their own blogs like Jim Baca does) in very small settings. I think that tells you a lot more about them than a stump speech. And in New Mexico, it's such a small state that a young activist can fairly easily meet, face to face, almost every candidate for public office before an election. (The downside is they remember you if you screw with them.)

    12 January 2006

    The blog's color scheme is a little ugly, isn't it? I say we revamp the design of this site. Any objections?

    11 January 2006

    It's winter break, which means time to work! I've made an enormous list of things I want to accomplish over these 13 days (I returned to Berkeley January 3, and classes start January 17), and have put somewhat of a dent in it already. The big tasks are:

    1. Revise my paper that I wrote over the summer for submission to a conference in Berlin in July. I've decided that I want to spend a significant amount of time in Europe this summer, and particularly in Germany, since I've been learning German. The Berlin conference and this program seem to be a good means to that end. However, I've also applied to work at Microsoft, which is in Seattle, not Europe.
    2. Fix my Classical CD Guide website so it no longer points to CDs that are out of print. The site and the Spain and Sailing sites brought me and John over a thousand dollars in 2005. It's not quite enough yet to pay for our labor in making the sites, but it is kind of nice.
    3. Clean. This has been divided into numerous subchores such as "Wash windows," "Wipe cabinets," and "Clean up Wiretown" (the area where all the internet stuff is that until yesterday had a year and a half of dust bunnies). Today, for example, I took out all the cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink (including 4 bottles of windex), scrubbed the cabinet, and put everything back. The fun never ends. No really, I'm serious.
    Why do I never feel like blogging? Here are some possible reasons.

    1. My life isn't interesting.
    2. My life is too interesting, and I'm worried about the pressure of internet superstardom.
    3. My co-bloggers set such a high standard that I feel my posts will disappoint.
    4. I'm just not in the habit.
    5. The blog's color scheme is too ugly.
    6. I've been teaching calculus, going to math classes, taking German, doing research, working out every day, singing in the choir, and having a girlfriend.

    In any case, I've decided to try to be a little more active on here in the coming months. Check this space for wacky interesting stuff! Or if you'd like to see what I'm up to, check out Torrey's blog.
    In the future, when you go to the movies, I imagine that the theater will instantly download your memories, dreams, and tastes to a centralized database and adjust the plot, actors, and soundtrack accordingly, providing you with an experience that eerily reflects your inner life. Well, if someone showed me a copy of The Squid and the Whale and said that it was the result of my customized brainscan, I'd believe it. It's almost unfair. This movie was shot down the street from where I live, incorporates cheeky references to Blue Velvet and The Wall, and even stars my cat, as well as my friend T.S., who is allegedly visible somewhere in the background during a scene in a high school gym. Either director Noah Baumbach set out to wow me in particular, or it's synchronicity. Either way, I'm pleased.
    Longtime readers of this blog know that I love index funds, especially the ones offered by Vanguard, which is where most of my net worth currently resides. A few months ago, I even complained that I was "disappointed that John Roberts didn't own any index funds." Well, guess what? It looks like Samuel Alito owns lots and lots of index funds, through Vanguard, no less, which is great! Except that, er, it's not.

    08 January 2006

    Ah, early January and spring is in the air. The landlord burnt all the weeds in the yard with his mini flame thrower, and the ice cream truck drove by today. (Although, as for the ice cream truck, there have been recent incidents of drug-dealing from ice cream trucks, and I guess demand for drugs doesn't go down in the winter.)

    07 January 2006

    Noah and I just got back from Match Point, which is a great movie, and a reminder that comedy is much, much harder to do than drama. A good drama—like In the Bedroom, for example—can be built from a good premise and the right actors, but a good—or even fair—comedy requires a great premise, great timing, a lot of serendipity, and a hundred moments of ingenuity. If it falls short even a little bit, audiences are much less forgiving.

    Now consider Woody Allen. He makes a new comedy every year, thinking up new jokes and building up his craft with the most challenging regimen imaginable—because even a mediocre comedy needs to surprise its audience, in both large and small ways, at least once a minute, hopefully more. As his recent films demonstrate, it doesn't always work. But in Match Point, he applies the same wit and ingenuity to story and character that he usually invests in humor, and the result is flabbergasting.

    There aren't any obvious jokes in Match Point, but every scene contains the visual or dramatic equivalent of a one-liner. The whole movie is one subtle flourish after another. In a comedy, we'd take these moments of inspiration for granted, but in a thriller, we're delighted. It's as if Allen had been running a marathon a year with weights on his legs, but when they're removed, he runs and runs and runs.

    06 January 2006

    Microsoft just shut down the blog of a Chinese journalist who had the temerity to say that some people working at a newspaper might be fired as a result of a strike. This comes on the heels of Yahoo helping the Chinese government find and arrest a dissident through his Yahoo e-mail address. Cisco has also come under fire for helping crack down on dissidents.

    I think pretty much everyone in America finds this sort of thing abhorrent. The excuses that Microsoft and Yahoo have given basically say: we don't like those laws, but we have to play by them if we're going to do business there.

    I read somewhere that the U.S. Congress could take that excuse away by imposing civil or criminal penalties on companies doing business here that help foreign governments crack down on free speech. That sounds like a good idea to me, but the IT companies might talk about pulling out of China if they were guaranteed to face sanctions from one government or the other.

    Would a pullout really happen? Could China, in 2006, plausibly kick Microsoft out of the country? Could Microsoft pull up its roots and leave town? I don't know enough about China's internet situation or about the internet in general to give a really informed answer, but it seems to me that the Chinese economy would be crippled if Microsoft or Cisco decided that it would cease all operations in the country. I think these companies are so integral to the way the internet works that they have a lot of bargaining power here, and if push came to shove, the Chinese government would make sure they stayed in the country.

    A second issue: If we're going to force Microsoft to disobey Chinese laws we find abhorrent, though, how do we figure out which laws they should follow and which laws they shouldn't? We might imagine that some foreign countries wouldn't want Microsoft to comply with U.S. laws that they find abhorrent. For example, what if Microsoft helped U.S. authorities locate an internet stalker who might face the death penalty? We can imagine that the E.U. might not want this person to be executed, and they might try to pressure transnational companies into not cooperating with capital crimes investigations.

    Or to take a simpler example, would we still expect IT companies to participate in domestic terrorism investigations? Can we distinguish between a Chinese sedition law and a domestic terrorism law in a way that makes sense to IT companies? We certainly can if we make value judgments about the governments in question, but I don't think we want to force IT companies to decide on which laws to follow based upon a subjective (American) view of the legitimacy of who made the laws. Then they're just arms of American diplomacy. It might be possible to come up with a set of norms on cooperation of IT companies (like the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights) that a large majority of countries believes is acceptable.

    04 January 2006

    I also hv a nu blackberry! Cool, no?
    I spent a few days last week in Las Vegas. One observation: in the middle of all the neon and kitsch, every Starbucks begins to seem like an island of sanity. There's something comforting about the fact that you can be in the craziest place in the world and still find a place to buy a soy latte and a copy of the new Beck album in fairly tasteful surroundings. As my brother said, it's like an embassy for yuppies.

    02 January 2006

    Oddly enough, I do have a Noah-style goal for the next year: write (or cowrite with Malia) a crossword accepted for publication in the New York Times.

    As for Haiwen's question of where I've disappeared to, basically this semester all my extra time was eaten up by -yes, dating- and puzzles. Puzzles only have two weeks left. At that point I'll post links to the puzzles I wrote and return to having free time again.

    01 January 2006

    More on New Year's resolutions. I think what bugs me most about them (and about people in the gym during January) is that a lot of them are just different ways of saying, "try harder." My personal feeling is that we sort of have a fixed amount of willpower or energy that we can spend on life. If you want to exercise more or lose weight, you have to find the time and energy for it; if you want to be a better person you're going to have to find excess willpower to do it.

    In other words, there's probably some reason why you're not already exercising much, or you're not at the weight you'd like to be at. It might have to do with any number of other lifestyle choices you've made (like how much you work, where you eat, etc.). If you want to really change something and make a resolution that sticks, you should sit down, write down your priorities in life, and then decide if your lifestyle supports those priorities. If it doesn't, then you have genuine motivation to change your lifestyle.

    As for resolutions to be a better person, I think those are pretty much impossible to meet unless there's some strong external motivation, like avoiding a relationship breakup. Even so it's really, really difficult to change who you are through willpower (yes, I've tried).

    A better type of resolution is the Noah-type concrete goal: I'm going to accomplish X this year (one example: making Dave ditch a class). There, you can devote your energy to achieving the goal, and once it's achieved, you're done and the energy is transferred back to the rest of your life.