Reviewing My Goals for 2020: A Retrospect

After taking break for the holiday last week, especially since I had reached a natural cesura in the content I was translating, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to look back on the year I’ve had. Particularly, I want to look back on the goals that I set out last year. Last year, I basically set out four pairs of objectives, trying to replace one superfluous or more negative behavior with something better. So, let’s review.

Quitting Facebook in Favor of More Blogging

In my post one year ago, I said that I would delete Facebook by January 31st, 2020. That didn’t happen, and my final deletion of Facebook did not occur until November. That being said, I only viewed Facebook maybe three during those ten months, so I achieved my goal in spirit, if not literally for several months. But what was the impact of disregarding and ultimately leaving Facebook? Has this increased more meaningful interaction between me, my friends, my colleagues and my family?

This is a mixed bag. I have probably had more regular and deeper contact with my family during this period. The contact may not have been as often, since I didn’t see pictures of them or posts from them, but our interaction was certainly more meaningful, since we actually made the effort to call and catch up rather than merely click a blue icon of a hand with its thumb raised. Part of the greater contact surely also resulted from the pandemic and the transition to a life lived in the virtual universe of Zoom. Nonetheless, the family aspect must be counted as a win and a great point against Facebook.

On the other hand, I essentially lost access to a number of people that I enjoyed hearing from, even if only indirectly. This lost access applies to both colleagues and friends. For that reason, I have no real insight in to the things that many respected people are involved with or working on. That’s an unenviable position to be in. It also tends to make me feel a bit lonely sometimes, particularly in academic contexts. I imagine that there is networking going on among other scholars that I am missing out on. Mind you, I have no evidence to support this, and I personally never made any concrete plans for cooperation on Facebook, but the pessimist in me just assumes that others are doing this. Missing out on friends and colleagues is certainly a negative aspect.

On the other hand, I did get to hang out with this tiger.

The deciding vote is unambiguously in favor of my leaving Facebook, however. I am seriously glad that I did not receive or view any content related to the election in the United States on Facebook. I didn’t see the ignorant posts of raving lunatics on Facebook. For that, I was still on Twitter. As far as I can tell, most of the people who made me rage on Facebook have not discovered Twitter yet, which means that I could peacefully network there socially (and even academically).

The objective of leaving Facebook was more blogging, which I certainly achieved. While I did not fulfill my goal of writing every week, I did do pretty regular writing on this site. This included two series about my work, neither of which has been concluded: one on the general textual history of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament and one translating the different versions of the biblical book of Kings. At the same time, beginning in the autumn, I accepted a position on the editorial board of the Digital Orientalist, which I published two pieces (with three more to come in 2021). The first was on trustworthy online resources for studying the Bible, and the second was on biblical manuscripts available online. None of this online publishing got the kind of traction that I was hoping for, but there is a small core of supporters who read this material regularly. To you, I say “thank you!” Since I hope to expand my audience, if you think that someone might enjoy what I am doing, pass it on. Or if you or someone you know might have questions about biblical studies you’d like more information on, reach out and let me know. I’d love to cover things that you want to read about, particularly ethical and theological issues! In conclusion, I made some big steps in this regard this, but there is still room for improvement in 2021. Stay tuned!

Less Meat and Sugar /
More Vegan Meals and Walking

This one turned out to be pretty easy in the beginning, but grew somewhat tougher as the year dragged on. At the beginning of the year, I committed to eating vegan almost every breakfast (overnight oats). This still had a lot of carbohydrates in it (maple syrup and dried fruit) and not much protein. After my annual physical, I got a recommendation from my doctor about a different kind of cereal and reducing the portion size dramatically. That led to me eating a special kind of overnight oats for both breakfast and lunch almost every day. At the same time, I cut out all snacking and sweets, particularly between lunch and dinner. At dinnertime we generally reduced our intake of meat, but often did not eat vegan. Sometimes we did.

My Sweet Potatoes are Legit (though not vegan because of the cheese).

At the same time, I increased my amount of movement substantially, which mean that I did a good job getting rid of some weight. I kept this up for a while, but once the amount of work that I had to do increased dramatically and our working conditions became significantly more difficult due to the pandemic, the amount of walking that I did really tapered off. The snacking crept back in as well, especially as summer turned to autumn and autumn to winter. I need to get back to the basics again in the new year and am recommitting myself to this.

What “Home Office” Looks Like with a Two-Year Old.

Less Listening to Respond / More Listening to Learn

As part of the process of bettering myself, I decided that I should spend more time listening without trying to always insert my thoughts into the discussion, just learning from what others are saying. In particular, I decided to strive to hear more voices from women, people of color, and others who have often been excluded from power and decision-making processes. To this end, I did a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, and following people on Twitter. The undertaking has thus far been enlightening, so I also plan to continue this in 2021 (and beyond). I have to take this opportunity to recommend the book How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (I want to write a full-length review of this in the future) and the podcast Scene on Radio (which David Loti recommended to me). If you want to critically reflect on what racism looks like and how it impacts power dynamics and history, these are good places to start.

Less Working Time Alone / More Collaboration

Alright. This was a seriously good intention, but there is nothing I can do about how this developed. I did not get to cooperate with others as much as I had hoped.

I would’ve loved to share this veggie burrito with a colleague or two.

But I need to qualify that: I still began more cooperation with others than at any point in my academic career thus far. It wasn’t the way that I had expected, meeting up and discussing texts and interpretations. Rather, we did it all online. This has led to some exciting results that will hopefully be published in the not-too-distant future. Here’s a preview: we taught an artificial intelligence to decipher ancient Greek handwriting. So, the Terminator may not find John Connor, but he will be able to engage in the exegesis of Codex Vaticanus. I still want to do some entertainment-oriented podcasting, vlogging, or blogging cooperation, so contact me to make a plan and make this happen, if you are interested.

In conclusion…

For most of us, I imagine, 2020 was a more trying year than just about anyone could have anticipated. I didn’t publish all of the articles I wanted to. I didn’t lose all of the weight I needed to. I didn’t get to travel hardly at all. Nonetheless, I wanted to take this opportunity to look back on what I wanted to do with the year and evaluate my progress. All in all, I think I did pretty well. There were a lot of setbacks, but also real human connection and progress, in spite of and sometimes even resulting from adverse conditions. I hope that you can find some silver linings in 2020 and that you can progress in your endeavors in 2021. Let me know how you did and how you’re doing. All the best!

A Brief Review of “Star Trek: Picard”, Episode 2

This is not a rant. This comes from a place of love and concern. Also, it’s barely about episode 2 of “Picard”, rather more generally about contemporary Star Trek.

“I never really cared for science fiction.” I’m pretty sure that the writers of “Star Trek: Picard” have shown their hand with this phrase, said by Picard in Episode 2 in the eponymous series. And maybe not in the way you think. I heard comments that this was a way of trolling Star Trek fans, but I honestly heard Picard’s comment on sci-fi as a candid admission of what Star Trek used to be and its divorce from what it has become. Picard’s reaction to science fiction was perfectly in character, as far as I’m concerned. He’s always looked to the past (archaeology) and focused on the present (“The line must be drawn here! This far and no further!”). And this is precisely the problem with “Star Trek: Picard”, unless it takes a radical turn from the direction it is developing.

For a bit of context and my take on what has happened in “Picard” thus far: the first episode of “Picard” was about fighting and action sequences. The second episode was about (new) conspiracies. Somewhere in the background, there’s something about androids and neural disease. And Romulans and Borg. I suppose all of these things have some tradition in Star Trek in varying degrees, but none of them was ever really the point of Star Trek, and I think that’s why I’m not very excited about “Picard” right now.

I love action sequences and they certainly have a place in Star Trek. Don’t believe me? I’ll remind you that my favorite Star Trek series is “Deep Space Nine”, which I would assume has the most action sequences because of the wartime plots that dominated the final four seasons of the series. I don’t have the statistics, but am just generalizing here. Correct me if I’m wrong. Apparently Kirk was created to be a more action-oriented captain than Christopher Pike was in the pilot of the original series (you know, when Spock still had emotions). Some of the greatest episodes of the “Next Generation” feature excellent action (“Best of Both Worlds”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, anyone?). “Voyager” with all of the Borg stuff? Right on! “Enterprise” was also apparently a Star Trek series. “Discovery” featured so much action, it had no discernible plot that I felt like following. So, action certainly has its place in Star Trek, and always has.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are fun. At least, they were until 2016. They’ve been around in Star Trek for a long time. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”. The end of “The Next Generation”, season 1. The Tal Shiar in TNG and DS9. Section 31 in “Deep Space Nine”. The constant tension between the Star Fleet crew and the Maquis in “Voyager”. “Enterprise” was also apparently a Star Trek series. “Discovery” probably is a conspiracy, full of conspiracies and conspiracy theories. But I haven’t had the patience to figure it out. So, conspiracies have an important place in Star Trek lore. That’s great! But do we really need to add another conspiracy to the Star Trek canon? A multi-millennial Romulan conspiracy behind the Tal Shiar… is that not really just overkill? I would say yes; the writers of “Picard” appear to think, “no”. My knee-jerk reaction is that’s it’s totally superfluous. The Star Trek optimist in me hopes that it will turn into something that adds a new, exciting contextual layer to its predecessors. More likely, I fear, it will turn into a silly or embarrassing retcon. Still, conspiracies have always had a place in Star Trek.

Robots and brain stuff in Star Trek. The original series: robots come up repeatedly and the mind meld. Androids and brain issues are certainly most firmly embedded in “The Next Generation”. That’s because of Data, but also because of Picard’s living someone else’s life in “The Inner Light” and his suffering from a neurological disorder in “All Good Things…”. “Deep Space Nine” explored this in some different ways, with Dax’s different personalities, Doctor Bashir’s genetic enhancement (making him like an android, in some respects), and repeatedly putting the viewer into Bashir’s unconscious mind (in episodes of markedly diverging quality…). Tuvok fulfilled both of these roles in “Voyager”. “Enterprise” was also apparently a Star Trek series. On “Discovery” they featured a robot crew member, who’s name I may have never heard and who’s being an android or robot or weirdo in a wonky costume was never explored in any episode I made it through (at least that I can remember). So, androids, brains, Star Trek: check.

I’m not going to go into Romunlans and Borg because that would be totally unnecessary. Anyone who doesn’t know that Star Trek features Romulans and Borg in important ways probably hasn’t watched much Star Trek produced since the 1980s. So, Romulans and Borg are fundamental features, particularly to more modern iterations of Star Trek.

Each of those things is part of Star Trek. But none of them is sufficient to be Star Trek on its own. I would argue that all of them together still do not suffice to make something Star Trek. So, what do I think Star Trek was, or – at least – should be?

Sometime in the mid ’90s I went to a Star Trek convention (yeah, I was one of those guys) and saw John de Lancie. You know, Q. He spoke about what Star Trek is and what it is not and it really resonated with me. In terms of genre, Star Trek is not really science fiction. Star Trek is a morality play. That was at least the way John de Lancie described it, and I think that’s accurate. Star Trek has always had an optimistic vision of the future and a strong ethic, a moral(izing) center. In that sense, Star Trek never was entirely sci-fi, certainly not sci-fi for the express purpose of writing about potential scientific developments. It wasn’t really ever merely a vision for the future; it was always prophetic in the classical sense: it was about criticizing the present by looking to the future, grafting the present onto the future and contrasting the disparity. The moral center and optimism about the future are the defining characteristics of Trek. They haven’t shied away from difficult issues, particularly as the times have changed. Star Trek has always had a homiletic character, encouraging things like justice, equality, and peace.

But this optimism and moral grounding is something that the newest series seem to lack, while attempting to make up for it with better (digital) production values, plenty of action, and extraneous violence. There is no real moral compass. The only character that seems to have any moral interest in “Picard” thus far has been Picard himself, who peripherally at least, was interested (14 years prior) to saving the Romulans. Nobody else really cares about anything like that, and Picard’s only other motivation, thus far, is personal: connection to his deceased friend Data, through any connection, regardless of how thin or marginal. To that end, Picard’s statement in the eponymous series just points toward this developing chasm in the contrast between the newest series (“Discovery” and “Picard”) and the classical versions. Picard was never really a fan of science fiction; even the character Picard recognizes, perhaps even subconsciously, that Star Trek is now something it hadn’t been before: it is moving away from well-packaged morality tales towards dystopian science fiction.

Does that make “Picard” bad? Not necessarily. It just makes it hard to recognize it as Star Trek.

But perhaps I’m too quick to judge after only two episodes. I’m a junky, so I’m sure I’ll be watching it again next week. Maybe I’ll even write more about that, if you’re interested. Feel free to leave a (moderated) comment or drop me a line in some other way (if you know me IRL).

A New Beginning (?)

Each new year, some set goals or make resolutions. While I don’t really consider New Year’s Day to be particularly important, the idea of changing habits is something that appeals to me and the social construct of doing this on January 1st, particularly of a year ending with zero, affords me an opportunity to do this. However, I don’t really like the idea of giving something up for the sake of giving sometihng up. Rather, I prefer to find undertakings or perspectives that disturb me and replace them with habits that will hopefully be better for me, my environs, and those who deal with me or my environs. Here I will try to name a few activities that I plan on eliminating and describing what I hope to achieve in their stead. Also important in this: accountability. If you know me or read what I write and notice that I am not keeping up with my proclaimed intentions, it’s helpful for you to mention that to me. So with that…

A Life without Facebook.

One significant aspect of my online life has really grown to annoy me: Facebook. When I joined Facebook something like eleven years ago, I was excited about a platform that would allow me to engage with my family and old friends from home and childhood now that I live nowhere near most of them. (I grew up in Louisiana and live in Germany.) In the beginning, things were going well and I really felt like I was taking part in the lives of people that I cared about by engaging with their posts, stories, comments, pictures, etc. and through their engaging with mine. With time however, I have noticed a decided drop in the amount of content that I would describe as “interesting” or “relevant”, at least on an interpersonal level. Rather than finding out what my friends and family are up to and how they are doing, I have found myself increasingly exposed to memes (of greater or lesser quality) and propaganda (whether based on fact or complete fabrication). Basically, my timeline is full of junk, and I realized that I no longer hear from the people that I want to hear from on Facebook anymore. Given Facebook’s stance on gladly spreading disinformation (as long as the price is right), it’s time for me to go. By the end of January, I plan to delete my account. While it served a purpose for me for a while, gifting me contact with people I was missing and sometimes showing me that there were people I wish I knew and had known better, that usefulness seems to have passed. I hope to replace the time I spend on Facebook with

More Blogging.

For ages, I’ve wanted to spend more time writing, not only professionally, but also just generally. I think that the time I spent / wasted on Facebook could be efficiently be used to this end. Therefore, I hope to publish regularly (weekly… hopefully…) here. My goal is to cover some things about work, but also things that I enjoy (or don’t) more generally. I would like to write reviews about books, shows, music, and film and probably some recipes, as well as travel, but also comment on my work and the work of other scholars I engage with. These posts probably won’t all be as long (or well-structured) as this one, but who knows?

Less Meat and Sugar.

For environmental and health reasons (respectively), I hope to reduce my intake of meat and sugar. These changes will hopefully also positively impact my resolution to blog more by providing me with relevant content about what I cook and where I go.

More Vegan Meals and Walking.

Rather than merely replace meat with animal alternatives, I hope to eat more vegan meals (though not always) and am thankful for any tips that you might have in this regard. Replacing sugar with movement seems like the best move (pun somewhat intended). I spend an awful lot of time at a desk and need to get up and shuffle about aimlessly more (as is slowly befitting of my age). By increasing my non-animal intake and moving myself around more, I hope to set a better example of living for my daughter.

Less Listening to Respond.

I have a tendency (I think most of us do, or at least more of us than would care to admit it) to listen to what people are saying in order to respond to them from my experience or with my (brilliant) ideas. Particularly in a political climate like the one currently reigning, that is probably generally counterproductive and makes the situation worse.

More Listening to Learn.

Therefore, I want to listen more to learn from the experiences of others and really hear what they say and what lessons they garnerned from their experiences. Through social media (particularly—though not exclusively—Twitter, in this case), I realized that I have a lot to learn from the lives of others. The stories I’ve heard or read about sexism and racism (among other things) have really shocked me into a new awareness. I didn’t realized things were as bad as they are until I really started hearing how the experiences of others sometimes drastically differed from my own. (E.g., I don’t ever have comments on student evaluations that comment on my appearance, a privileged that is apparently not afforded many of my female colleagues. I didn’t even know that such comments were a thing until I heard from these colleagues.)

Less Working Time Alone.

In my discipline, we often—rather ironically, in my opinion— find ourselves working alone, even isolated. Honestly, I don’t think it’s healthy, and I think it contributes to an ever increasing issue with burnout and even the lowering standard of quality in what gets published.

More Collaboration.

Even though I’m kind of an introvert, I hope to get out of my comfort zone and colloborate with more friends and colleagues this year. I would greet the manifestation of such cooperations not only professionally, but also through things like blogging vlogging, or podcasting. Now that it’s 2020, it time for me to finally start acting like it’s 2010…

So, What do you think?

I’d love to hear from you and see who will engage with me on the journey ahead. Leave a comment or drop me a line. Let’s commit to be better in 2020, each in their own way. Happy New Year to you and yours!

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