Friday, January 28, 2005

Losing weight, losing my mind

Jan. 29, 2005

I've been eating an awful lot of spinach lately. That, or pecking on low-fat cheese sticks and, from time to time, my left arm. This is not a result of a newly developed obsessive compulsive disorder. I'm just awfully hungry.

Dieting has a way of doing that. Day 1 you tell yourself, "This is going to be easy. It just takes discipline." Day 2 your stomach starts to suck inward; it feels sort of like curdled milk looks. By Day 3 you gaze wistfully at every bite, caressing it with your eyes, willing it to last, wishing it would leave you feeling just a bit satisfied. (Perhaps you remember the old ballad, "I dreamed of pasta with its light brown sauce?")

Between meals, a radish never looked so seductive. And that's 20 minutes after clearing the dishes.

My current eating regimen is the South Beach diet, an eminently sensible approach developed by a heart specialist. It includes three meals a day and snacks between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner. The food is healthy -- vegetables by the bushel, fish and meat in whatever quantities keep you from going insane, salads galore. After a week I've lost 14 pounds, nearly halfway to my goal of 30. And I'm losing my mind.

For those of you who diet, I know you hear the same little voice: "There's got to be a better way." Even if I make it, I fear that the day I tip the scale at 190 pounds, my target weight, I'll lose myself in a vat of hot fudge sundae. Or down a dozen baked potatoes with butter and sour cream. Heck, fruit salad sounds awfully enticing right now. Or a piece of bread. Or a cracker with cheese. They're all forbidden.

"Don't you love all the fresh ingredients?" asks Kathy, head chef, cheerleader, my partner and taskmaster for 33 years.

No dear, fresh cilantro doesn't give me the chills.

Dieting must be done one day at a time. The first day we were in our conversational French class at Alliance Francais, the French Cultural Institute of Boston. Our teacher, a quintessential Parisienne from her carefree scarves to her brightly colored heels wrinkled her eyes just a bit before catching herself. "Diet?" she asked. "And why would you do that?" I'm too polite to probe, but I get the impression dieting in France carries the class of, say, drinking Coca-Cola with coq au vin. It's not the height of style. But just how do the French manage to eat great food, drink great wine and remain "les tombeurs" (the heartthrobs) of the civilized world?

One day at a time. Exercising helps. So, if you are a compulsive muncher like me, does locking the refrigerator and cabinets. This year I joined a gym closer to home. I'm going tomorrow, I promise. After two years of losing weight in spring and summer and gaining in fall and early winter, I'm determined to stay lean year round. And I'm doing this for a higher calling -- my longevity, not my waistline. At least I think so. For the past two years, my general practitioner has told me my cholesterol is fine but my triglycerides are high. This is what he told me about triglycerides: Absolutely nothing. He did, however, get me out of the office in four minutes.

Thankfully, the Internet provided what modern medical practice can't be bothered with -- a translation. Triglycerides, as far as I can figure, can sneak up on you. They've been linked with a higher rate of strokes, and I'm pretty brain dead already. So when I discovered the South Beach diet could lower triglycerides, I knew I could embark on it with virtue, not vanity..

Then a member of that troublesome French class put a boulder in the middle of my high road. Somewhere on the Internet, she discovered this bit of wisdom about health and dieting:

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.
4. The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than
5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausage and fats and suffer fewer heart
attacks than Americans.

CONCUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Thankfully, we all know the Internet's facts are suspect. And radishes can be ravishing.

Monday, January 24, 2005

When winter lets us pause

Jan. 22, 2005

The wind howled outside, pressing urgently against the living room windows. The blizzard drove temperatures to single digits, dropped visibility to near zero, carved ghostlike snowdrifts on the bushes and cars outside. And we relaxed, snuggled with a glass of wine by the fire, content to know that there was no place to go and that, with 2 feet or more on the way, life would be slow to resume its frenetic pace.

Winter can grind. Cracked hands, wet feet, slush to plow through, inches to shovel, aching back, runny nose. Yet it also offers one of life's delicious pleasures: the unannounced day off, a day to read or strum the guitar, to write a sonnet (if a sonnet-writer you are) or tread silently and bouyantly on snow shoes over the whitened landscape. Not that I did any of these. But opening an eye at 7, I rolled over and slept in. It sure felt good.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom: Another word for someone else to fool

Jan. 20, 2005

George Bush spoke of freedom today -- 27 times in one speech by National Public Radio's count. As police pepper-sprayed demonstrators, his rhetoric soared. Who noticed the contradiction? This administration has turned the practice of saying one thing and doing another into an unparalleled art form.

Life is increasingly surreal in America. While corporate executives, who bought their way into the inauguration, danced the Texas two-step, Boston police and FBI were scrambling two steps behind a reputed gang of Chinese chemists heading to our fine city to allegedly explode a dirty bomb. Let's hope it is just one more color-coded frenzy. (Where are you Tom Ridge when we need you?) While the President's rhetoric boomed over the historic buildings of Washington, the author of his policy on how to ignore the Geneva Conventions when committing torture awaited the end game of his confirmation as Attorney General.

America is on a roll, embracing increasingly repressive regimes from Saudi Arabia to Russia,
Uzbekistan to Egypt. There are no bad guys in these countries; they are our guys. And it looks like we'll need plenty of them. Seymour Hersh writes in The New Yorker that the Bush Administration is cooking up the next war in Iran. By that time our troops may need to take up metallurgy because all of the "hillbilly armor" dug out of landfills to bolster their fighting vehicles will be spent, along with our troops. Which leaves me worried. Will our covert operations be spread so thin that we won't have enough Deep Black bullies to torture the next haul of possible/maybe terrorists?

Buried deep inside The New York Times this week was a picture of a Iraqi child, perhaps 3 or 4, blood and tears streaming down her face. Her parents had just been gunned down at a U.S. military checkpoint because they did not stop their car fast enough. It was a stunning photo, if you were lucky enough to find it. The news business, it seems, doesn't want to make too much of the down side of war: The fact that innocents account for many of its victims.

"It is hard, maybe impossible, to fight a war if the cause is viewed as bankrupt," writes former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges in his edgy and powerful book, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." "The sanctity of the cause is crucial to the war effort. The state spends tremendous time protecting, explaining and promoting the cause. And some of the most important cheerleaders of the cause are the reporters."

Beyond the fanfare of today's pageantry, freedom does have real meaning. But only when those who actually have it, reporters for example, use it.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

When travel suspends time

This piece ran in the Feb. 7 Christian Science Monitor. This is the original version as submitted to the paper. It didn't appear on this blog until Feb. 7.

Jan. 16, 2005

In the heart of Boston's South Station, you'll find an open air bookstore called "Barbara's Bestsellers." There, you can buy anything from the much-discussed "Against all Enemies" by Richard A. Clarke to such literary works as V.S. Naipaul's "Magic Seeds."

Across the room at the newspaper stand, the relatively highbrow Wall Street Journal is advertised in gilded letters. This says something to me: Reading America still rides the rails. Maybe that's why trains are going out of business. Because like train travel, reading America is well past its prime.

No matter to me. I'll be one of those on the last train to pull out of the station. Where else but on Amtrak does a voice come over the loudspeaker and announce, "Please throw out all your paper plates and bottles in the receptacles at the end of each car. We'd like to help, but they fired all
the janitors."

Where else does the cafe car man correctly pick out the woman giving him instructions as a teacher and then tell her, "Ma'am, I know you teachers like to help us all live life right but I've been doing this job for 30 years. Thir-ty years. I was a platoon leader in the Army. And you
know what. I believe I can do things right all by myself."

Where else do you see a stylish woman decked head to toe in expensive leather and a
full-length Pendleton coat sitting across the aisle from a guy with a two-day growth and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes?

Amtrak's trains are always ready to surprise. They'll be on time one day and four hours late the next. You'll fall asleep one hour to the steady rolling of the car over the clickety-clack rails and awaken sometime later to see a swan floating pristinely by on a pond near the Long Island Sound.

It's more than a way to get from here to there. It's a way to journey from now to then, too -- a place and time to dream. My memories drift to a street in New York, where I'm headed for the first time in about a year. Each Christmas as a boy, I'd go to that street -- East 86th -- with my father, a street in the heart of the old Yorkville area that died with the old Germans
who'd fill its bakeries and delicatessens in the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s, ordering "cafe und kuchen," schnaps and the rich dark chocolate sold by three generations of candy makers at the Elk Candy Co., the magical store with the 4-foot gingerbread house in the window, inviting December shoppers in.

It's there no longer. Nor is the schmaltzy violinist, with black tails and white gloves, who would entertain the diners at Cafe Geiger, where my Dad, in his glory, would spread his white napkin and eat beef tartar -- raw hamburger with capers and a raw egg on top -- to make the day's purchase of calories galore complete.

The train rolls along and I dream not just of times past but times that never did happen, the roads not taken of my life. But there's a gentleness to the rails that takes the sting out of "what if," that simply let's the mind wander and wonder why not. I believe a book title is taking shape as my brain rocks to the train's rhythm. "Sidetracked: A Journey Across America by
Rail." I like it. Now all I have to do is figure out the story.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A contrast in ethics

Jan. 10, 2005

The contrast takes my breath away.

One headline tells the sad story of CBS News. The co-president of Viacom, its parent company, today fired the longtime CBS producer who prepared Dan Rather's flawed special report during the election campaign on President Bush's National Guard record. And the Viacom executive called for the resignation of all three CBS News executives who had overseen the segment, right up to the division's senior vice-president.

Like it or not, Viacom clearly took tough action. It didn't stop with a single scapegoat even though no one in this case was accused of making up sources or intentionally distorting the news. But an independent investigation did find CBS' once-vaunted news division was incredibly sloppy in rushing to air an erroneous report about Bush's already disputed record of service. Its special report severely undermined the network's credibility and allowed the Bush campaign to deflect criticism away from itself and onto CBS news during the closing weeks of the campaign.

Now for the other headline, the one you likely didn't ever read. "White House has nothing to say about the actions of Armstrong Williams." You likely didn't read this because few in the news media bothered to report it. You recall the story of Williams. He was paid $241,000 by the U.S. Department of Education to promote the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" law. The problem is Williams was posing the whole time as a journalist, a syndicated columnist, a position from which he's been fired as well. What hasn't happened is any kind of reprecussions at the Department of Education. The White House has said nothing. It hasn't issued an apology for acting as if journalism in this country is routinely for sale. No one has been sacked. If anyone has been disciplined, the administration isn't saying.

The day before the CBS bloodbath, the network's chief Washington correspondent, Bob Schieffer, had this to say about the Williams incident: "Trying to corrupt the news media with bribes is wrong. If the Department of Education people haven't figured that out, then the president should educate them. A good lesson plan might include firing those responsible. Then he should promise the rest of us it will never happen again."

Sort of like CBS did. But Schieffer really should know better. Far as I can tell, the White House hasn't fired, demoted or arrested anyone for torture but for a few grunts too stupid to realize they'd been turned into animals by their actions and shouldn't record them for posterity in pictures. The president continues to laud Donald Rumsfeld as a great public servant although he's ultimately in charge of not only the torture apparatus but the entire failed war in Iraq. And he's bestowed a huge honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on George Tenet, the former CIA chief whose agency's flawed intelligence got us into this mess in the first place.

No Bob, I wouldn't expect an apology from the White House. My guess is it's too busy concocting its next propaganda campaign and assailing the news media for their lack of ethics.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Buying off the news media

Jan. 8, 2005

He is a one-time aide to Clarence Thomas, who himself has reported accepting more than $40,000 in gifts while meting out supposedly impartial justice on the nation's highest court. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when the Department of Education sought a little free publicity from the media it turned to Armstrong Williams. That's right, the U.S. Department of Education bought the rights for good news, paying this ostensibly fair-minded columnist $241,000 -- real money -- to make No Child Left Behind look real good.

Don't you love the ethics of the righteous Republicans leading this nation. Just where do their family values begin? With the Republicans in Congress taking steps to ensure there won't be any more ethics investigations of sitting members? With the presumptive new Attorney General dodging Senate Judiciary Committee questions about his past endorsement of torture with the dexerity of a nimble-footed running back dodging tacklers in the open field? With government-produced propaganda videos that Republicans seem to be shipping with increasing frequency to the news media? Or with the more overt payola directed at Williams?

"We believe that the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy," Democratic senators Reid, Lautenberg and Kennedy wrote to the president. Seems plain as day to me.

What's more, I'll wager that if there's one bought-off journalist who has been caught, others likely are still in the business of promoting the administration's agenda. I only hope someone will continue to look for them. Still, it seems odd that anyone would bother to buy reporters off these days. Because, with some notable exceptions in the elite press, most journalists have become as much lapdogs of the Bush agenda as the Democrats in Congress. Not that Democrats or reporters are standing and cheering. But in most journalistic and political quarters the silence is deafening -- on torture by American military and spy agencies, on repeated ethical transgressions, on the erosion of civil liberties, and on an overall agenda of debt and war that leaves us far more vulnerable to terror than ever.

Journalism's job is not to represent any political party or any political ideology. But aggressive news organization's used to stay with a substantial story of government transgression until something was resolved, until something changed. I'll guarantee you that when they started covering Watergate, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were not popular in much of the media (and most definitely not in the White House). But neither they nor The Post let go. I've yet to see the same tenacity applied to this administration on anything.

Bravo to columnists like Dowd and Ivins, Krugman and Herbert, among others, for trying. But though their musings, unlike mine, are read by a real and sizable audience, it's an audience that these days appears to have no recourse. I could scream. But let me instead be a good solutions-oriented citizen. Consider. Ending any continuing payoffs to journalists might be a small first step in making a dent in that gargantuan budget deficit. A step with bipartisan support at that.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

'We are all torturers now'

By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make us ... For America, torture is self-defeating; for a strong country, it is in the end a strategy of weakness. After Mr. Gonzales is confirmed, the road back -- to justice, order and propriety -- will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.

-- Mark Danner
New York Times opinion piece, "We Are All Torturers Now"

Jan. 6 , 2005

Finally someone has told it like it is. The word is torture. And by shrugging, and endorsing as Attorney General the author of America's "torture but not really" policy, the U.S. Senate and, by extension those who elected it, are all guilty. A harsh judgment you say. But is it really?

Listen up Democrats. Your candidate, John Kerry, said this about Abu Ghraib and torture on the campaign trail: Absolutely nothing. Once more. Absolutely nothing. Nor did you complain. And today, with the Alberto Gonzales hearings on tap, what are liberal blogs filled with? Quixotic efforts to get Barbara Boxer to challenge the election results on the Senate floor. Wrong concern, partisan conspiracy theory, hopeless quest.

Some serious people are very worried about Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. Start with a dozen high-ranking former military officers who took the unprecedented step of voicing these concerns publicly. They understand that when we torture others, our troops are assured the same treatment. More than 200 religious leaders sent a letter. They understand that morality is not wrapped in a flag but defined by a country's actions. Maybe it's time for the left to understand that as well. This is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of our country's founding principles. Torture has no place in America. As it becomes more deeply imbedded, we stand on the ede of a path that has led others to self-delusion and, ultimately, dictatorship. This is the issue around which Americans must take a stand, not replaying the November election.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The illusion of security

Jan. 5, 2004

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee begins its confirmation hearing tomorrow for Alberto Gonzales, whom President Bush has appointed the new top law enforcement official of the United States. Even before the first question is asked, Gonzales' confirmation as Attorney General is being considered a foregone conclusion. The obvious question is, "Why?"

As President Bush's personal counsel, it is Gonzales who oversaw a series of memos that attempted to inoculate this administration from having to follow Geneva Conventions barring torture (yes, torture ... let's stop dancing around the word as the media have). On Jan. 25, 2002, The New York Times reports, he sent the president a letter laying out how the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." And as another set of hearing begins this month -- the courts-martial of four enlisted men and women charged in the atrocities of Abu Ghraib prison -- it seems increasingly absurd to throw the book at them while ignoring the actions of a man who played a central role in providing the rationale for misdeeds like theirs.

But such is America today. We live in a world of fear. And too many of us -- a majority judging from the election -- are willing to dismantle the civil liberties on which this nation was founded to construct an illusion of security. Look at recent polls. Just a month or so after the election, the Washington Post published a poll showing the U.S. public didn't like where the president was leading us in Iraq, on Social Security, on education and on health care. And he's the man the public elected. Why? The Post offered a big hint.: 60 percent still like the president's leadership in the unending war on terrorism.

This is the same reason, undoubtedly, why Americans today sit back while the government soberly discusses how and where to hold suspected terrorists, potentially for life, without trial, without counsel, without any vestige of due process. The excuse: The same has been done with other prisoners in other wars. Only this is a war without end. I won't bore you with the litany of reasons why George W. Bush hasn't done a good job of fighting the war against terror -- from diverting our energies and resources away from Osama bin Laden to cutting back aid to cities that can help bolster security on the home front. No, instead, I'd like to remind you of something we really all should know. Life ends. It's unpredictable. Stuff happens. We need to learn to deal with it.

Take this last week. At least 150,000 people, many on vacation at some of the world's most beautiful beaches were killed by a tsunami, an act of nature. Thousands of Americans are still unaccounted for. My cousin Steve was on some of those beaches in India during much of December. He returned home on Dec. 23. Much of life is that way, a matter of chance. This fall, my department lost a student. She was killed, shot through the eye by a "less-than-lethal" pellet from a police revolver for doing nothing more than standing with the cheering crowds after the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of their championship series.

Life and death. In many respects, if not most, we can't control our path short of barricading ourselves in a closet -- until we die of light deprivation and boredom. We can, however, control life's quality, as individuals and as a society. We can be a civil society, a society of law, a society of giving, a society that exercises its strength by setting standards rather than stooping to exercise its power just as viciously as those we righteously oppose. But that can't begin to happen, and that won't begin to happen, until someone -- religious leaders, Democrats, the news media, moderate Republicans, the Supreme Court -- shows the guts to speak out, consistently and unwaveringly. So far, that has not happened.

Among those who clearly understands the dangers is Chris Hedges, the former New York Times war correspondent who touches on the distorting effects of the war on terrorism in his book, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." He writes: "As the battle against terrorism continues, as terrorist attacks intrude on our lives, as we feel less and less secure, the acceptance of all methods to lash out at real and perceived enemies will distort and deform our democracy."

It already is.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

And that's the way it is ...

Jan. 2, 2005

On most days, I consider Frank Rich required reading. His column in today's New York Times is no exception. "So the soldiers soldier on, and we party on," he writes. "...We have our tax cuts, and a president who promises to make them permanent. Such is the disconnect between the country and the war that there is no national outrage when the president awards the Medal of Freedom to the clowns who undermined the troops by bungling intelligence (George Tenet) and Iraqi support (Paul Bremer)."

As is the way in my house, I'd heard half the column before I managed to pick it up. My wife Kathy read it to me while I tried to focus on Page 1. "Frank Rich is talking about how everyone is so mealy-mouthed," she said. "Nobody stands for anything anymore."

And might that include the vaunted free press? I caught the tail end of Tim Russert's interview with Colin Powell on this morning's Meet the Press. Powell didn't care to say a word, thank you, about reports that the United States is planning to hold prisoners in Guantanemo Bay for life -- that's right, life -- without any trial. His non-answer seemed OK with Russert. Why should the Secretary of State have an opinion on the desecration of American law and the Constitution? TV is an entertainment medium, right? Minutes later, Russert's star-studded, four-person media panel started its year in review by agreeing to the man and woman (it has one) that all the grousing about America's slow reaction to the tsunami just didn't make sense. Case closed. Boob box banned.

Which is why Frank Rich gives me just a glimmer of hope. He may be back in the Arts & Leisure section of The Times again, but his message is political and, in a sort of New York cultured way, in your face. On the flap over America's unprotected troops in Iraq, he writes: "When Mr. Rumsfeld told Specialist Thomas Wilson in Kuwait that the only reason the troops lacked armor was 'a matter of production and capability' he was lying." Thank you, Mr. Rich, for a bit of truth.

I wish there were more like him. Remember Abu Ghraib? Early on, Seymour Hersh made a compelling case in the New Yorker that the torture there was part of a Deep Black operation approved to the highest levels of the Department of Defense. Subsequent articles in the New York Times and Washington Post connected the dots of abusive interrogation policies all the way to the White House. I leaned forward and waited. I still am, but I'm slouching now. The President blamed all those yucky photos on a few bad apples. The media, with cable television taking the lead, dutifully took note. The Republican-led Congress held a few pro-forma hearings. And Democratic nominee John Kerry -- handed one big opportunity to build a campaign around American values of honesty, democracy and fairness said ... absolutely nothing about Abu Ghraib in his campaign.

A few reporters still are nibbling around the edges. But do editors and other media decision-makers care? I found this story in my Boston Globe today on Page 14, prime real estate right next to an ad for The MBA Program at Simmons School of Management. It was a shortened version of the story Russert got no answer to from Colin Powell. The lead went like this:

WASHINGTON -- Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.

Page 14. Below the fold. To which I can only say -- !*$#@!!!!!. Does anyone out there have a pulse anymore? Because if the government can decide to hold anyone it likes for as long as it likes without representation, without trial and without any rights -- and nobody says peep, we are all screwed.

Golf anyone?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Musing on America 2005

Jan. 1, 2005

The President announced today that American flags should be lowered to half-staff. I'm glad we have a decisive leader. One whose staff seems to be following the daily news and then scrambling to play catch-up. Sort of. Throughout Europe, New Year's eve celebrations were cancelled or curtailed. The world is hurting. My guess is that by the time all the news filters in, something approaching a quarter million people will have died in the tsunami that struck Indonesia and Sri Lanka and India and Somalia and Thailand. That great leveler that also left shattered families in Sweden and Italy, Denmark and Norway, Germany and Belgium. And yes, even a few in the US of A. So W. has been playing catch-up. First he promised $15 million. (Hey, it's half of what the inauguration will cost, not chicken feed considering W. and the boys from Texas believe in the power of big parties.) When the world squawked, W. stuck to his guns. Talking to the press in Crawford, he raised the ante to $35 million. Yesterday that number jumped tenfold to $350 million. W. is getting it. Slowly, mind you. But the man is compassionate. He will confirm that. And he will tell you that America is the most generous nation on Earth. ("We create our own reality," one GOP operative told The New York Times magazine sometime before the election. And for now, anyway, America is buying it.) Maybe, too, someone has let W. know that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Aren't those the guys we want to win over to our side?

Please excuse my cynicism. Today is Jan. 1, the start of a New Year and, soon, a new administration, merely a more Neocon model of the old, will take over. Last night at Boston's First Night, I saw some Democrats running around with a sandwich board demanding a recount in Ohio. But beyond the quixotic, this election is long over. Which means that 2005 will be the year that America ....... Um. Beats me. My Tarot card reader has moved Arizona. But this blog will comment on the year as it evolves, nonetheless. It'll range from thoughts on the guy on my street who wouldn't share his snowblower with an aging neighbor shoveling his walk to thoughts on the politicians and media circus leading and commenting on leadership in Washington. As a perennial hypochondriac, I may occasionally throw in thoughts about corns or the endless battle of the aging against nose hair, so please forgive me in advance.

It seems a good year to get back to writing regularly (if only for myself). Call it the year of the 5s. I'm 55 myself, a Long Island boy who has wandered through at least 45 states, although I confess my image of some doesn't go too far beyond pumping gas. I've worked as a bell hop and desk clerk in the Rockies, lived a few years in Colorado, taught in small town central New York. To be honest, however, I'm one of those left and right coast guys -- seven years as an editor in California, 11 in and near New York City as a reporter and then professor, another seven in Boston, where I now teach journalism at Emerson College. If that doesn't add up to 55, well, just call me a slow starter. Back to the five thing. It is the fifth year of the 21st century, the 25th anniversary of my father's death and the fifth of my mother's. Which all means exactly nothing other than that everyone likes to scratch a message in the sand sometimes.

This blog will be my scratching. Just as I struggle to lose weight again by exercising my decaying muscles at the gym, I'm going to try to exercise my mental writing muscles here. So if you stumble in, drop by from time to time. Send me a post. And let me know what you think.