Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Special Anniversary

This is a special anniversary for me.One year ago, I woke up not feeling right. Everything on me – especially my legs and lower back – felt sore, stiff, heavy and tired. The soreness and fatigue lasted throughout the day, and while I didn’t feel sick, exactly, I must have sounded it. Everyone I spoke to asked if I had a cold.

At first, I thought I had simply overexerted myself, since I had been packing up my family’s things in a move to a new house. But after two weeks of constant fatigue and soreness – which had spread to my neck, shoulders, arms and hands – I realized that something more serious was going on. Then, after work one evening, I took the socks off of my aching feet and saw that both my ankles were swollen badly – as if I had swallowed two whole oranges and each had dropped down to an ankle. To me, ankle swelling registered as a heart/circulation problem. After a terrible and sleepless night, I called my doctor.

It turned out that I had come down with an acute form of Sarcoidosis, which is basically a lung disease. Swelling in vessels of my lungs caused arthritic symptoms and fatigue. Fortunately, the prognosis was good, and with medicine and rest, I recovered in about 6 months. The disease will most likely not return, but I am always paying attention to my body now and certainly don’t take feeling good for granted.

This past March, I had a different kind of “just woke up one morning” experience. Seemingly out of the blue, I got up and felt totally committed to being more fit. The interesting thing is how the decision and the dedication were there before I even opened my eyes. Of course, I had been frustrated for some time at how heavy I was getting, how bad I looked in my clothes, how slow I had become, how fragile my back and neck always seemed to be, how easily and often I seemed to come down with sniffles and headaches, and how meek and unconfident I always felt.

But that morning, it was as if I had always been prepared to eat clean and exercise. I immediately started making better choices in meals and food shopping, and I started a home strength and conditioning routine. Every day, I followed along with videotapes of abs and either an arm or leg toning workout. Eventually, my workout needs grew and I got some dumbbells, a bench, a jump rope, a standing punching bag and gloves, and some new running shoes. I have since lost 25 pounds, run 2 road races, and improved considerably in strength and stamina.

This weekend, my two-and-a-half-year-old just woke up and said that she wanted to wear underpants and no more diapers. Just like that she became a big girl. Honestly, I am a little sad to lose another of the baby aspects of my daughter, but I am more proud of her than anything. Who knows what other decisions she’ll announce in mornings of the future.

I guess that momentous changes and life-decisions can happen by just waking up.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Diet and Cancer

Nothing really surprising here, interesting nonetheless.
Study: Diet may help fight prostate cancer
By Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer | August 11, 2005

WASHINGTON --A radical ultra low-fat diet and other lifestyle changes may help keep early-stage prostate cancer from worsening, says the first attempt to test the theory.

It's a small study that tracked men whose tumors weren't aggressive. Still, the research, published in the September issue of The Journal of Urology, promises to increase interest in whether diet might really help battle cancer.

The study was led by heart-health guru Dr. Dean Ornish, and used his famously strict regimen, where people become vegetarians, limit dietary fat to 10 percent of total calories, exercise regularly and learn stress-management techniques such as yoga.

Ornish's studies show that regimen can help heart disease, but why try it on prostate cancer? There is some evidence that diets high in fat increase the risk of prostate cancer, and that certain foods -- such as broccoli, or the nutrient lycopene from cooked tomato products -- are protective.

So Ornish and fellow researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recruited 93 men who had decided against treatment for early-stage prostate cancer, a route known as "watchful waiting."

Half were randomly assigned to the Ornish diet and lifestyle regimen; the others weren't asked to vary their usual routines. The researchers sent participants' blood samples to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to measure PSA, or prostate specific antigen, a marker used to track prostate cancer growth.

After one year, PSA levels had decreased 4 percent in the diet group -- unusual for untreated patients -- while PSA levels rose by 6 percent in the control group. That difference wasn't big but it's statistically significant, and the researchers plan to continue tracking the men to see if it really signals better health.

Also, six of the non-dieters had undergone cancer treatment in that year after all, because their disease was progressing. None of the dieters were treated.

Other cellular tests suggested the diet wasn't just affecting PSA production, Ornish said.

"It's hard to get too excited about these results because you took a population of men who, frankly, are likely to do well no matter what," cautioned Dr. Durado Brooks of the American Cancer Society. But, "this definitely should open the door to more research."

"This report undoubtedly will excite the aficionados and devotees of lifestyle changes for cancer but it should also give pause to the skeptics," wrote Dr. Paul Lange of the University of Washington in an accompanying editorial.

Indeed, it comes just months after another study suggested low-fat diets might help women avoid a recurrence of breast cancer.

Ornish stressed that his study, partly government-funded, doesn't mean men should opt for diet over conventional therapy.

But these men weren't getting conventional treatment anyway, allowing a clearer test of dietary effects, he explained. The diet may help men undergoing therapy, too, he added.

"I always find it amusing" that people call the diet hard, Ornish said. "Compared to having your prostate removed? ... The only side effects are you feel better and it helps prevent heart disease."

More than 230,000 U.S. men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and 29,500 will die, the cancer society estimates.
Imagine, good dietary habits can help keep you healthy and poor ones seem to have the opposite effect!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

I'm sorry, but this is just funny. I just imagine half the dads in America seriously asking their "kids," Who the fuck are you, anyway?

Many Dads Unknowingly Raising Others' Kids
Increase in paternity testing reveals 1 in 25 men raising children not their own, study says

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDayNews) -- Calling it a Pandora's Box with broad health implications, British researchers say genetic testing is informing about 4 percent of fathers that a child they are raising is not their own.

The implications are huge, the study authors noted, because such revelations often lead to divorce and increased mental health problems for both the man and woman involved, including the threat of violence by the man.

In addition, children whose lives are changed by this genetic information can struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, and increased antisocial behavior, such as aggression.

And the problem will only grow more serious as genetic testing is used for more and more purposes, including screening for organ donations and checking for genetic-based diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and heart disease, the researchers said. In addition, such testing is becoming more common in police investigations.

What's needed, the researchers said, is clearer guidance on when and how to disclose such information. They believe individual and family support services and counseling should become part of paternity-testing procedures.

"At the moment, people are often receiving the results of paternity testing through e-mail and post," said lead researcher Mark Bellis, a professor of public health at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.

"People are receiving what can be pretty dramatic information without being linked into health or counseling or support services," he added. "In addition, people are coming forward in more and more numbers each year to have paternity testing done."

The report appears in the August issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The authors said they based their findings on international published scientific research and conference abstracts released between 1950 and 2004.

The study found that rates of "paternal discrepancy" range on average from less than 1 percent to as high as 30 percent, depending on the group of people looked at. For women, those who are younger, poorer or have multiple sex partners are more likely to bear a child who wasn't fathered by a long-time partner, the researchers said.

An average paternal discrepancy rate of 4 percent means about one in 25 families could be affected, the researchers said.

To determine the extent of the problem, Bellis and his colleagues collected data on increasing rates of paternity testing in North America and Europe. For example, in the United States, rates more than doubled to 310,490 between 1991 and 2001, they noted.

In Great Britain, about one-third of pregnancies are unplanned, and about one in five women in long-term relationships has had an extramarital affair, the researchers reported. These are similar to figures in other developed countries, they noted.

Yet there is a lack of support services to help people who find out about a parental discrepancy from a paternity test. "Finding out a child does not belong to them [the fathers] can have effects in terms of breakup of families and issues of safety and well-being of the child and women," Bellis said.

Bellis believes that giving counseling and support to these families needs to be considered. "We need to think about how that can be delivered," he said.

He added, "In genetic testing for health conditions, in police investigations, all these can identify discrepancies in family genetics, but there is no consideration if it is a good thing or a bad thing to let the families know about those [discrepancies]."

One expert thinks the study highlights the social downside of emerging technologies.

"Not surprisingly, the disclosure of information about unsuspected paternity comes with potentially devastating effects," said Dr. David L. Katz, an associate clinical professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

"But does that mean such information should be concealed when it is a byproduct of testing for other reasons? When should paternity testing be permissible, and at the request of whom?" he added.

New knowledge means new power, but not necessarily the power to use it correctly, Katz said.

"Bellis and colleagues suggest that genetic testing has provided the power to lift a lid off Pandora's Box," he said. "As they rightly point out, it will take something other than power -- namely wisdom -- to respond productively, fairly and compassionately to all that comes flying out."

More information

The American Pregnancy Association can tell you more about paternity testing.

SOURCES: Mark Bellis, Ph.D., professor, public health, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., associate clinical professor, public health, director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; August 2005 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Last Updated: Aug-11-2005

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Learning From Lance

Interesting article. So interesting, in fact, that I won't comment.
Published: July 27, 2005
There is no doubt that Lance Armstrong's seventh straight victory in the Tour de France, which has prompted sportswriters to rename the whole race the Tour de Lance, makes him one of the greatest U.S. athletes of all time. What I find most impressive about Armstrong, besides his sheer willpower to triumph over cancer, is the strategic focus he brings to his work, from his prerace training regimen to the meticulous way he and his cycling team plot out every leg of the race. It is a sight to behold. I have been thinking about them lately because their abilities to meld strength and strategy - to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow - seem to be such fading virtues in American life.

Sadly, those are the virtues we now associate with China, Chinese athletes and Chinese leaders. Talk to U.S. business executives and they'll often comment on how many of China's leaders are engineers, people who can talk to you about numbers, long-term problem-solving and the national interest - not a bunch of lawyers looking for a sound bite to get through the evening news. America's most serious deficit today is a deficit of such leaders in politics and business.

John Mack, the new C.E.O. at Morgan Stanley, initially demanded in the contract he signed June 30 that his total pay for the next two years would be no less than the average pay package received by the C.E.O.'s at Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. If that average turned out to be more than $25 million, Mr. Mack was to be paid at least that much. He eventually backed off that demand after a howl of protest, but it struck me as the epitome of what is wrong in America today.

We are now playing defense. A top C.E.O. wants to be paid not based on his performance, but based on the average of his four main rivals! That is like Lance Armstrong's saying he will race only if he is guaranteed to come in first or second, no matter what his cycling times are on each leg.

I recently spent time in Ireland, which has quietly become the second-richest country in the E.U., first by going through some severe belt-tightening that meant everyone had to sacrifice, then by following that with a plan to upgrade the education of its entire work force, and a strategy to recruit and induce as many global high-tech companies and researchers as possible to locate in Ireland. The Irish have a plan. They are focused. They have mobilized business, labor and government around a common agenda. They are playing offense.

Wouldn't you think that if you were president, after you'd read the umpteenth story about premier U.S. companies, like Intel and Apple, building their newest factories, and even research facilities, in China, India or Ireland, that you'd summon the top U.S. business leaders to Washington to ask them just one question: "What do we have to do so you will keep your best jobs here? Make me a list and I will not rest until I get it enacted."

And if you were president, and you had just seen more suicide bombs in London, wouldn't you say to your aides: "We have got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. We have to do it for our national security. We have to do it because only if we bring down the price of crude will these countries be forced to reform. And we should want to do it because it is clear that green energy solutions are the wave of the future, and the more quickly we impose a stringent green agenda on ourselves, the more our companies will lead innovation in these technologies."

Instead, we are about to pass an energy bill that, while it does contain some good provisions, will make no real dent in our gasoline consumption, largely because no one wants to demand that Detroit build cars that get much better mileage. We are just feeding Detroit the rope to hang itself. It's assisted suicide. I thought people went to jail for that?

And if you were president, would you really say to the nation, in the face of the chaos in Iraq, that "if our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them," but that they had not asked? It is not what the generals are asking you, Mr. President - it is what you are asking them, namely: "What do you need to win?" Because it is clear we are not winning, and we are not winning because we have never made Iraq a secure place where normal politics could emerge.

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that's the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Media Fraud and Puppetry

Injustice and unfairness take many forms, but at an intellectual level they are particularly (ob)noxious when given the form of journalistic essay. David Gelertner, Yale professor and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, commits several acts of intellectual injustice in his commentary on reported statements by Woody Allen.

Gelertner’s “Woody Allen's History Goes Nowhere ... And It Doesn't Explain Natan Sharansky” begins the assault by labeling Allen along political-ideological lines:
Woody Allen (liberal) and Natan Sharansky (conservative) are celebrity Jewish intellectuals who offer radically different worldviews for your contemplation. Allen’s is more popular with intellectuals worldwide. Sharansky's whole life says that Allen is wrong. Allen recently explained his view of history to the German magazine Der Spiegel. And Sharansky was interviewed by Jay Nordlinger of the National Review. If you understand their disagreement, you will grasp the main spiritual question facing Americans today.
Don’t be fooled: this is not about the real Natan Sharansky. The “Natan Sharansky” here is a rhetorical puppet used to represent correctness, propriety, and value. This is not even about Woody Allen or his worldview. It is, really, about Gelertner and a spiritual answer he needs to have, an answer he must know to be right.

Through the Allen-Sharansky puppet show, Gelertner first seeks to minimize Allen and glorify the ideological position represented by Sharansky:
Allen, 69, is a filmmaker from Brooklyn. Sharansky, 57, was a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag; today he is an Israeli politician.
Notice how provincial Allen looks next to Sharansky, a man of two nations. Notice how mercantile Allen seems beside the stately Sharansky. Gelertner deftly sets up Allen as a clown whose time has passed, as a relic and a Jewish Uncle Tom to the Europeans. Indeed, Allen’s popularity in Europe must surely make any statement of his wrong, Anti-American, Anti-Israel, and Anti-Judaism.
Allen got famous as the anti-hero of his own movies, the schnook who invites the world to laugh at him while he gets the girl anyway. He has become the master comedian of the age, so funny he hasn't found it necessary to make a joke in 30 years. During this time his movies have dispensed with mere humor in favor of gentle, carefully-crafted tedium. He is especially popular in Europe, where people enjoy well-written films, prefer literate irony to childish comedy, and never object to a Jew making a fool of himself.
Here, then, is the conclusion: Allen is a fool, liberals are fools, liberalism is foolish. Now that this has been firmly established, Gelertner gives us Allen’s statements from a recent interview in Der Spiegel. More importantly, we get Gelertner’s take on the statements:
"The history of the world," he told Der Spiegel, "is like: He kills me, I kill him." (Of course he was speaking casually, off the cuff.)" Only with different cosmetics and different castings: So in 2001, some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again."

If history is merely a bad movie endlessly repeating itself, then history is meaningless. If all killing amounts to the same thing, you can't possibly save the world by fighting wars. Allen doesn't say these things but plainly implies them.

These ideas are important: Americans must decide whether they are fools to fight for other people's freedom. The Iraq war was partly inspired by none other than Natan Sharansky — who passionately preaches that free people must battle tyranny militarily. Referring to Sharansky's "The Case for Democracy," President Bush said: "If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky's book."
Notice that Gelertner first challenges (what he takes to be) Allen’s view of history by caricaturing some of the view’s implications, which Gelertner says are “plainly” made. This is an interesting tactic because it keeps intact the core premise of Allen’s statements on history. If Gelertner can establish that the implications are logically or morally wrong, then he can more easily discredit Allen’s statements, which are of course already suspect because Allen has been made a questionable character.

But even if Allen “plainly implies” them, the critical ideas – the ones that get bashed – are in fact those that must actually be attributed to Gelertner: “If history is merely a bad movie endlessly repeating itself, then history is meaningless. If all killing amounts to the same thing, you can't possibly save the world by fighting wars.” The only thing that’s plain to me is that these statements make no logical sense. What is the connection supposed to be between the historical fact of repeated human warfare – and history is as much the history of wars as anything else, is it not? – and the meaning that this or that Herbert ascribes to it? In other words, why would the repetition evacuate the meaning from history? Nietzsche suggested that endless repetition actually made life meaningful.

The second statement is pure theatre -- rhetorical thunder, but too ridiculous for comment. Clearly, Gelertner needs history to have meaning. He needs to believe that the world can be saved, and that wars are one way to do it. I cannot answer why he has these needs, but I think I understand them. Nevertheless, emotion and ideology seem to have overwhelmed Gelertner’s logic and intellectual rigor; otherwise, sweeping terms such as “meaningless” and “save the world,” which are utterly vacuous in context, would never have made it to print.

Gelertner certainly displays keen insight in connecting the “endless repetition of killing and retaliation killing” to the current conflict between Americans and terrorist insurgents in Iraq. Unfortunately, Gelertner apparently forgets that we went to Iraq under the pretense of an imminent threat to America: Saddam Hussein had, or was taking clear steps to obtain, nuclear warfare capabilities. Fighting “for other people's freedom” may be the official agenda now, in addition to preventing all of America’s new and old enemies from taking power in Iraq, but I don’t see how this contradicts Allen’s statements at all. Gelertner, of course, disagrees:
Allen's theory implies that we are crazy to fight in Iraq. True, Saddam Hussein and his rape rooms and torture shops and killing grounds have been washed away like gore off a butcher-shop floor; all the same, history is going nowhere. Whether you kill a man while liberating his country or because you are Saddam Hussein just fooling around, he is equally dead. America had no better excuse than Hussein to kill Iraqis.
Argumentatively, this is the essay’s heart. The monumental question is whether America’s military presence in Iraq has a unique, differentiating validity – in other words, if it’s justified. Gelertner is obviously trying to steer us in the direction of “we are logically and morally correct to be in Iraq.” And he attempts to get us there through some philosophical bullying: do you prefer to see yourself living in a world where history is going "nowhere" or "somewhere"?

This, however, is where Gelertner commits an important injustice against Allen. Forget that history is not, in fact, "going" anywhere and that Gelertner has let a metaphor overtake him. Forget also that if "Allen's theory" describes a cyclical, repetitive history, then it too depicts history as going somewhere. Based on the one quote of Allen’s that is provided, “Allen’s theory” does not evaluate the political questions behind individual wars against each other, it states that relative to many thousands of years of human history, these questions are unimportant. “Allen’s theory” comments on what appears to be an endlessly recurring human theme of military attack-retaliate-attack-retaliate, but it doesn’t suggest that some attacks and some retaliations are not more justified, more necessary, or more moral than others. In other words, “Allen’s theory” does not match with Allen’s quoted statement, and this is unfair.

The shame of it is that Gelertner’s support for American involvement in Iraq could have been articulated within the actual parameters of “Allen’s theory.” But this would have required acknowledging that Iraq is both a retaliatory and an initiatory military engagement. This would have required accepting that we are killing Iraqis, some of whom are very bad people.

Unfortunately, Gelertner chooses instead to construct, using Sharansky, a more palatable view of history:
But Sharansky knows that as language expresses human thoughts, history expresses deeds — which (like thoughts) are sometimes nonsense and sometimes meaningful. The collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, meant that innumerable freedom lovers had struggled and suffered and won.

Sharansky himself spent more than 10 years in Soviet prisons — because he was a dissident, had worked with other dissidents and yearned to go to Israel. Nordlinger writes about Sharansky's imprisonment: "More than 400 of those days were spent in punishment cells; more than 200 were spent on hunger strikes. His refusal to concede anything to the Soviets was almost superhuman."

Sharansky was prepared to die for freedom. He saw fellow dissidents die. Don't tell him that all killing is the same, that history is going nowhere. He rode history's bucking bronco from a Soviet cell to a Jewish state that is strong enough (physically, spiritually) to fight off insatiable enemies in war after war and never surrender.
Notice that by this point, Gelertner has not given us one word of “Sharansky’s theory,” only testimonial from President Bush and some anecdote. It’s the lowest point of the article, Gelertner as snake-oil salesman. Then, of course, Gelertner completes the character assassination of Woody Allen, with a Sharansky quote brought in for good measure:
I don't know Allen's view of religion. But the idea that history repeats itself endlessly, that no utopian "end of days" will ever come, that existence is a grim, meaningless merry-go-round nicely compliments atheism. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called this view (which he also held) "the eternal recurrence." Nietzsche was the wisest atheist of all. But again, Sharansky disagrees. As a Soviet prisoner he invented a prayer: "Grant me the strength, the power, the intelligence and the patience to leave this jail and reach the land of Israel in an honest and worthy way." The prayer was granted. For Sharansky, his personal history means nothing less than that G-d is listening.

Is that meaning enough for Woody Allen?
There is an interesting theological question in here: if everything we believe about G-d and Judaism and the world/universe is true, but there is no afterlife, is history meaningless? In other words, do our lives require an afterlife for meaning? Is the fact of living not meaning enough? Dayenu?

This article is a glaring example of journalistic irresponsibility. Gelertner had a topic of merit and substance, and chose a rhetorical path of manipulation and obfuscation. In America, we trust that those giving commentary on current events will provide fact-based insight and perspectives that transcend political trends. For whatever reasons, David Gelertner chose a less distinguished approach for this essay. It’s the kind of writing we can only hope does not get repeated endlessly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Hardest Part

As Tom Petty sang once, "the waiting is the hardest part."

I sit here, tired of my job, waiting on UJAHS and "Hannah's Moon." I feel really good about the decisions for both, where I sent them. I think sending them to bigger publishers improves my chances of having one or both accepted.

I am also waiting on the decision from the Worcester Business Journal, whether I have been selected as one of the 40 under 40. That would be a nice award to have.

So too do I wait as I figure out how to pitch Adam, Monica, Josh and Melody about going into business with Becky and me. My parents raise a good point about not having an actual business to picth, but I think starting from total scratch can work to our advantage -- if they don't think negatively and laugh me out of the room.

Tick, tock, tick, tock ...

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Next “Big” Diet Thing?

I predict that the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet, soon to be released as a book, will be the next ubiquitous diet sensation in this country. It's distinguishing focus is on a "healthy narcissism" that leads the way for the practice and performance of the diet principles, which are themselves very similar to other currently fashionable plans (e.g. South Beach).

People love pop psychology and self-visualization. And legitimation of narcissism is probably too good to resist.

Seriously, my initial impression of the diet is cautious approval. The principles seem reasonable and sound, but some of the terminology puts me off a bit. What I would like to see is a basis in research and published studies.

Something else that makes me skeptical is this this article that feels too much like an advertisement, like a one of those Bush Administration-funded "news" reports:

John Murray says you can
with the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet

By Jane Daugherty
Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, July 07, 2005

One of those rude, middle-aged awakenings punched sports psychologist John F. Murray right in the solar plexus.

There he was on network television being interviewed as an expert who resurrects star athletes' careers. But watching the replay, Murray realized he looked like, well, the Michelin tire man.
What is the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet?
It's a state of mind, a way of motivating yourself, and a diet plan. Principle No. 11 of John F. Murray's Palm Beach Narcissism Diet is, 'Remind yourself several times a day what weight you want to be in four months. That probably involves thinking about yourself more than you are accustomed to, but it is healthy narcissism.'

The Palm Beach Narcissism Diet book will be available later this year at, but 12 key principles from the program appear on page 4E of original article or by scrolling down below. Color photos from Dr. Murray's office by Palm Beach Post staff photographer Bill Ingram appear on the top of the front page and in the ACCENT section.
From the pain of that moment, the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet was born. Murray, 43, who lives in Jupiter, applied the same motivation he used on flagging tennis and football careers to reshaping his own body. He calls it "healthy narcissism," a focus on loving yourself enough to make lifestyle changes and stick to them because you'll look and feel better if you're not fat.

Murray is not alone: An estimated two out of three adult Americans are overweight or obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April released figures attributing more than 100,000 deaths a year to obesity. Being overweight also is blamed for contributing to adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and some forms of cancer.

But with Americans already spending $33 billion annually on weight loss foods, products and services, according to the American Dietetic Association, is another diet needed? Current popular plans include the Atkins Diet, Suzanne Somers' Get Skinny on Fabulous Food, The Zone Diet, and, of course, the still hot South Beach Diet.

Murray decided none of those diets would work for him in the long run because they lack the mental focus that makes sports psychology successful for star athletes.

"It wasn't just my food intake that was messed up... I was jetting to London to do a seminar, hopping out to California to give a speech, running down to Miami for a coaches meeting," Murray recalled in his West Palm Beach office just off the Intracoastal Waterway.

"I'd grab some ribs for dinner at a great restaurant, eat fast food for lunch in my car, consume way too many calories for breakfast, and the only exercise I got was walking to my car."

Murray, almost Ken-doll handsome when he is trim at 175 pounds, went from looking like the ex-tennis pro he is to a middle-aged pudge who tipped the scales at 261 in January.

So he stewed, brooded and went through some self-loathing — none of which was productive, Murray says in retrospect.

Then he began to mentally convert some of the principles he included in his book, Smart Tennis, to winning his battle with the bulge.

Murray recalled his work with tennis pro Vince Spadea. In the middle of a huge slump, Spadea came to Murray for help. Ranked 19th in the world in 1999, Spadea had lost 21 matches in a row and, by 2001, his ranking had fallen to 229th.

"I had to convince him that as tough as things can get, the mind is tougher," Murray said, "Spadea was ready to quit tennis. The thrill was gone. He lived for a year and a half in a cellar. He seriously needed to believe in himself again."

Spadea, 30, won his first ATP tournament last season in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating Boca Raton's Andy Roddick in the semifinals. Spadea ended last year ranked 18th in the world.

"In a way, my experience in confronting my weight was similar. I had to finally admit that I was the one who was doing this to myself," Murray said, "And on some level it was, because I cared about everything else more. My work, my family, my travel arrangements, all were more important than what I was eating and drinking."

His doctoral work at the University of Florida introduced him to various modern-day pathologies, including narcissistic personality disorder, in which normal development is arrested and a person comes to focus all their efforts on gratifying and aggrandizing their false sense of self.

"It dawned on me that if you could focus in a positive way on your health and weight to cultivate a healthy narcissism, it could lead to dietary and exercise choices that make you feel better about yourself," Murray said.

He also decided that he had to cut off excuses and escape paths.

"I set a very ambitious goal to lose 2-2.5 pounds a week and posted it on my Web site and sent it to my newsletter audience of over 15,000 people," he said. "That's pretty much hanging it out there along with my 'fat picture.' If I fail to lose weight, it will be very public. A little fear of failure comes in handy. I post my weight on my Web site every Wednesday — that public exposure helps keep me motivated."

Murray's approach is dramatically different from the high-protein, low-carb Atkins diet, and has a much larger psychological component than the very successful South Beach Diet.

"Contrary to what most other diet programs say, I think you should weigh yourself daily at the same time in the morning," he said, "By weighing each day you will know how hard to be on yourself each day, which is better than waiting for a whole week to weigh again."

He advocates enlisting family and friends to support healthy eating and exercise and getting an informal coach who will check on your progress two or three times a week.

"Your family has to be on your side in this — and in the end they benefit, too," he said.

Diet experts weigh in
The intellectual approach of the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet makes a lot of sense to Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D. and president and CEO of Shape Up America!. Moore heads the national nonprofit initiative designed to raise awareness of the importance of healthy eating and increased physical activity founded by former U.S. Surgeon C. Everett Koop in 1994.

Not much has been written about the psychological areas of successful weight management that Murray is talking about, Moore told The Palm Beach Post, "One, weight management requires the right mind set.

"Attitude is everything... Not nearly enough information is available about the right mind set. For example, consider the typical attitude that demands instant gratification: It took years to gain the 30 pounds you are carrying around, but you want to lose it all in 30 days? Accepting that slow weight loss will probably characterize your journey is part of the process of recovery that Murray seems to allude to."

Moore, a former professor of nutrition at Rutgers University who headed program development for Weight Watchers International, worked at the National Institutes of Health on government weight-loss promotion efforts immediately before joining Shape Up, America!. She said one of the things she likes best about Murray's approach is toughness.

"Discipline is not a dirty word," she said, "It is essential for weight management." Murray likely knows a great deal about that because discipline is essential in sports performance.

"Mental toughness is needed to stay focused and to say no to the distractions that will encourage you to make bad choices... Murray gets that."

The food consumption recommended in Murray's diet "seems fundamentally sound," said Dr. Beth Reames, a professor of nutrition at Louisiana State University's AGCenter Reames has researched and written extensively on fad diets.

Asked about the key components of the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet, Reames said, "He's not going for the quick fix, it includes regular exercise and healthy foods in reasonable portions."

Reames said her research shows that most American adults need an hour of physical activity a day to maintain a healthy weight.

"There's no easy solution," she said, "It's a lifetime commitment and diets that recognize that can be successful."

The skinny

Specifically, Murray advocates eating three balanced meals a day with little or no snacking and little or no alcohol consumption. He doesn't drink, but says for those who do can have an occasional glass of wine with dinner if their weight loss progress is good.

Like South Beach and Atkins diets, Murray regards refined sugar, potatoes and bleached white flour as enemy combatants which can be virtually eliminated from adult diets with no ill effects.

He favors fruit, especially melons, berries and tomatoes, as part of a healthy breakfast with egg white omelets or yogurt for protein. Lunch should usually include plenty of fresh greens in a salad topped with grilled chicken or shrimp. Broiled fish, lean beef or skinless chicken with ample portions of steamed vegetables, especially broccoli and carrots, are his usual dinner.

Use olive oil for cooking, he said, and avoid butter, cream and sauces with high sugar or salt content. Mustard, balsamic vinegar, lime or lemon juice and a little low-sodium soy sauce add flavor without significant calories or salt, he said.

Murray said he also discovered that his weight loss has been hastened by drinking lots of water and dramatically reducing consumption of coffee, tea and soft drinks, which contain caffeine that stimulates appetite.

Does the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet really work? So far, Murray is down to 215 pounds, a loss of more than 45 pounds in less than four months. The real test may come on Sept. 15 when he promises to tip the scales at 185. By Christmas, he wants to be back to his pro tennis-playing weight of 175 — "that will be my Christmas present to myself," he said with a narcissistic wink.

Principles of the The Palm Beach Narcissism Diet

1. Love yourself enough to give yourself the gift of health and fitness. Do not condemn yourself to obesity if you can control your weight through an improved lifestyle.

2. Imagine the benefits of weight loss vividly. Visualize yourself as extremely fit and healthy.

3. Set very specific goals for weight loss with a deadline date and exact weight to reach. Set goals to lose anywhere from 1-2.5 pounds a week - men lose weight faster than women. Contrary to what most other diet programs say, weigh yourself daily at the same time in the morning on a good scale.

4. Make your goals so conspicuous that you have absolutely no escape route! Tell people your goal. A litle fear of failure here comes in handy.

5. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Do not deprive yourself of any important nutrients or minerals. But stick to 3 meals a day - period! Cut out unhealthy sugars and keep overall carbs low. Do not snack, or if you do, keep snacks rare and healthy.

6. Drink lots of water and eliminate or dramatically reduce your intake of coffee, tea and soft drinks, which contain caffeine that stimulates appetite and may also have additives that cause water retention. Eat mostly egg whites cooked with vegetables or unsweetened yogurt for breakfast with fresh fruit. Have chicken or shrimp salads for lunch with fat free dressing. Make your dinners modest meals with occasional lean steak, fish or skinless chiecken with steamed vegetables and brown rice. Eliminate alcohol except for an occasional glass of win with dinner.

7. Gain the support of your friends and family. Let them know your mission so they can support you. Be clear that you may not be eating as much at big family get togethers. Avoid the mental trap of saying, "Oh, just this once!" But if you do make a mistake, make up for it the next day by being harder on yourself = without starving - but cutting back your food intake and/or exercising more.

8. Appoint one very positive person to check in with you several times a week to make sure you are on track. Find someone who can be consistently upbeat and encouraging, but also tough in terms of making sure you are avoiding snacking.

9. Walk, walk, walk! Try to walk at least 30 minutes at a brisk pace at least 4 times a week - more often is better. Make sure you are healthy enough to do this by checking with your physician first. Make sure to drink enough water to avoid dehydration.

10. Keep your mind focused on your goal. Remind yourself several times a day what weight you want to be in four months. That probably involves thinking about yourself more than you are accustomed to, but it is healthy narcissism.

11. Don't stop! After you lose the weight, continue in your lifestyle changes to keep your weight below a certain fixed number. Looking good and feeling good will motivate you.

12. Utilize the principles of sports psychology: bring passion, hard work, resilience, focus, confidence, emotional control, imagery, and goal setting to your diet.

There is more information on this healthy program at:

Palm Beach Narcissism Diet Principles Copyright © 2005, John F. Murray, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Dr. Murray can be reached by telephone at: 561-596-9898

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Which Ten Commandments?

This is an interesting article, from The big, unasked question concerns whether a public display of one "version" of the Commandments -- if "version" is the correct interpretation -- effectively or implicitly grants government sanction to one religious denomination or faith.

Posted on Wed, Jul. 06, 2005

Which faith's Ten Commandments is court talking about, and does it matter?

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - Which Ten Commandments are at issue?

After all, there is not one version of God's historic instructions to Israel, but at least four.

This multiplicity of texts, noted in the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on posting the Ten Commandments in public places, gives rise to a theological and biblical dilemma at least as ambiguous as the high court's legal ruling.

The version of the Ten Commandments usually cited is in Exodus 20 in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament.

It was written after 586 B.C., after the destruction of Solomon's Temple and when Israel was in its Babylonian exile, said Jerry Sumney, professor of the Old Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary, operated by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

There are similar versions of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 and in Exodus 34, although the latter is mentioned less often.

From this have developed versions of the Ten Commandments for the Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Lutheran traditions.

Probably the biggest difference is in the First Commandment. The Judaic version reads: "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

The Catholic version says: "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me," while the Protestant text says: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

The difference is crucial, said Rabbi Sharon Cohen of Lexington's Ohavay Zion Synagogue, a congregation of Conservative Judaism.

The First Commandment is the "ultimate statement of faith" about God's "unimpeachable, sovereign authority," Cohen said.

"You cannot have these other rules until you acknowledge that God is the force behind it," she said. "Then, everything that follows in the Ten Commandments makes sense."

Bill T. Arnold, director of Hebrew studies and professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, agreed that the First Commandment in Judaism was needed "to combat the polytheism" of the ancient world and to connect Jews to God's deliverance of them from bondage in Egypt.

But Arnold, who earned his doctorate from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, said the omission of "I am the Lord thy God" by Protestants was not intended as a slight to Judaism.

"We assume that is in the prologue" in the Protestant text, Arnold said.

Another big difference is in the interpretation of the Sabbath.

Sumney noted, as did Walter Brueggemann, a retired professor of the Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and one of the world's foremost scholars in his field, that for Judaism, the Sabbath means Saturday, or technically from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

"Christians celebrate the saving act of God in the resurrection of Jesus, which was on Sunday," Sumney said.

This difference is puzzling and ironic, Sumney said, because the people most in favor of posting the Ten Commandments believe in a literal reading of Scripture.

The debate about the Ten Commandments is not likely end soon.

Said Brueggemann: "The Ten Commandments are non-negotiable and endlessly negotiated," he said.



Art Jester is a reporter for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Movin' On Down the Road

Here are the results from Hingham’s 2005 July 4 Road Race, a 4.6 mile tradition:

Me: 44:36, 9:42 split
Adam: 43:44 9:30 split

So, I didn’t beat Adam, even though he did not train for the race – as far as I know. Nevertheless, I am very proud on several counts.

I wanted to come in under 48:20, which I did. I wanted to do better than 10-minute splits, which I did (much better than my 10:30 splits for the Westford 5K). I was afraid of my calf cramping up, and it didn’t. I was afraid of shin splints, and I didn’t get any. I was afraid of having a stupid injury, a back twinge or a neck pull, and there was nothing there. My mind and body held strong, so this race was a great success for me.

What’s next?

I think I am going to train for a 10 mile run. That would be a great accomplishment if I could train for and complete that sort of race. Doing better than 9:30 splits would be simply awesome – confirmation that I am undoubtedly in the best shape of my life.

What’s more, I have an idea to present to my brothers and their wives. I think the six of us – Melody, Josh, Monica, Adam, Becky, and Me – should commit to creating our own company and going into business. What sort of business? I don’t know. But what I do know is that between the six of us are a lot of experience, knowledge, creativity, skill, and brain power. As a group, we can only succeed if we decide to go for something and proceed systematically. I don’t see how we could so anything but succeed.

My plan this week is to develop a rough plan to propose to them.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Blah, Blah, Blah

I am absolutely amazed at the load of crap that is my occupation. Not that I hate it or my company, but sometimes I just realize that I am a man in a cubicle just kind of passing the time away.

I have made a few inquiries into the topic of being a Dietician/Nutritionist. I am not so hot on the idea as I once was, mainly because I am reluctant to go heavy into any new educational ventures. I also think I have a preference for sports nutrition. I have contacted one Dietician, so maybe I’ll get a good sense from her.

I decided to pull “Hannah’s Moon” away from Stunt Publishing. The process was taking too long. I submitted this morning to Henry Holt. I know it’s a good text; at least, I believe in it. It’ll get published right and I don’t think I’ll stop until it does.

UJAHS went out again also, this time to Putnam. I feel optimistic that the big publishers will be able to use the manuscripts more than the smaller ones, who have niche markets.

I weighed in today at 163.5 pounds, which I haven’t seen in many years. I feel very good and strong overall, but I have to get better-fitting clothes now!!

On the other hand, Becky still has her depression. I am not exasperated or disheartened by what seems to me to be a lack of any real improvement over the past year. What bothers me, though, is feeling that there’s a part of Becky I cannot access or reach. This sounds like a selfish statement, but that’s not how I mean it. I feel as though my ability to “break through” to this part would mean I could help. But I suppose this is selfish, after all. It’s not about me, really, even though Becky says she feels as if she’s a bad mother and wife.

It reminds me of what they say about anorexics/bulimics: no matter how thin they get, they persist in seeing themselves as fat. No matter how excellent a wife and mother she actually is – and she is, in fact, the best of both – she continues to see egregious flaws, mistakes and disappointments.

I can’t say I have a coherent strategy or process for doing what I can to help Becky, or at least not make the situation worse. But I am thinking about it all the time and I know that productive conclusions will come.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Seasons of Change

For my first post of the just-arrived summer season, I want to reflect on the season that passed. In only three short months, life has become different and, I would say, better.

Weight, fat hopefully, continues to be shed from my body. I have weighed in at 165.5 at my lowest, and under 160 seems possible as a summer goal.

My diet continues to become refined and stable. I eat lots more protein than before. In fact, I am a little concerned that I eat too many eggs and too much steak. This concern and my positive curiosity about how healthy I actually am has made me want to schedule a doctor’s visit. How’s that for a change?

Related to diet, I am cooking more often, which has somehow translated into my doing dishes more too. My wife certainly appreciates both of these. We seem to be happier together, not that we have ever been unhappy together.

Life this spring has not been all smiles and progress. Plus, we have some serious work to do in my household in terms of saving money, making home improvements, working on being good parents and not just nice parents, and so on.

All in all, however, this spring has been a re-birth for me. I noticed this morning that neither my back nor my neck was stiff or sore. How often before had I felt that one or the other was going to “break” and put me in pain and out of commission? Certainly, some things about me are new now, new again.

Summer is the time when that which is new blooms fully and reaches its highest potential. This season I will be looking to have the processes and progress in my life mature to an unprecedented extent. I have never really taken care of myself for longer than three months, so this season will be the test and the confirmation of who I really am and who I really want to be.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On Reaching Goals

Today is the day I am calling it, the day I am saying that I reached my goal.

This morning, I weighed in at 170 pounds. On Saturday and Sunday, I saw 169 on the scale, but I was also running heavily, so it’s not the same as today.

On Monday, March 21, I was up to 185.5. It was just before the trip to Arizona for Joyce’s wedding. I thought that trip would be the catalyst of a change. Here I am now, nine weeks later, more than 15 pounds lighter and getting stronger every week.

The real surprise, however, has been my diet. I remember those days of eating nothing all day or bringing just a Special K bar for mid-day. How foolish I acted.

Now, during the workday I have five mini-meals of good stuff: nuts, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, veggies, and more veggies.

Now, in the evening I have a sensible meal of something good. Last night it was chicken and veggies. The other night it was beans, brown basmati rice and ground turkey breast. Another night it was rib-eye steak.

Now, I read labels at the grocery store and better understand what I am feeding my body, and how to feed my body well.

I have light yogurt often. I love fruit smoothies. I have discovered chicken and peanut butter.

I have learned to make meals for the week. I have learned to shop at two stores and to save money on groceries.

I avoid sugary snacks, high sodium foods, sodas and other foodstuffs that just do nothing for me.

I have run a 5K race faster than I expected. I joined a running club and had the guts to go out with them. I have entered a July 4 race and started training.

I have moved up from the 8-minute toner tapes to a real dumbbell workout. I have increased my strength and endurance.

I have bought a real weight bench and a heart rate monitor. I have used my jump rope and punching bag.

I have been educated and encouraged by online support groups, tools, and articles.

I have seen new goals, new challenges, and new possibilities emerge. Not just in fitness and nutrition, but in everything.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Rejected But Not Dejected

Hachai Publishing returned my UJAHS manuscript yesterday, rejected. They did say it was a "cute idea," but there was no substantive feedback beyond that. I'm disappointed and pessimistic about "Hannah's Moon."

On the up side, my weight is at 172.5 pounds. Of course my goal this week is 171, but it's nice to be under 175. Middlesex Community College offered me an English course to teach on Saturday mornings in the Fall. I think I'll take it.

I am very negative at work and about work. It's a sad state for me here. I am trying to manage the situation by using one of those "tips for success" books. The way I am going to use the book, though, is to develop a kind of workout plan: four weeks of eight principles that I'll try to execute well. In a few months, I hope to be much happier at work, be a better employee, more promotable and more secure.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Picking Up the Pace

I am very happy to say that I completed my first-ever 5K road race on Sunday. My goal had been to finish under 36:10, but I smashed that time by finishing in 32:25.

I had a pace of 10:28 per mile. Since I liked being involved in the race, I think I’ll sign up for a 4th of July race. My goal now is to finish at 28:57 or better. That’s a 9:30 per mile pace.

Speaking of goals, my weight goal this week is 174 pounds. This will be a milestone for me if I can do it. I think it will truly signal that I have indeed changed my lifestyle.

My book-publishing goals are still in a sweet limbo. I haven’t heard back from Hachai, and it’s too early to get a message from Stunt. I am optimistic about Stunt and hopeful about Hachai.

Looks like I need a new car. The poor Mitsubishi has entered a dangerous state. Dangerous, that is, to me.

Let’s see what happens, as always.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hannah's Moon

Yesterday I mailed out a new idea for a children’s book. Titled “Hannah’s Moon,” I think it’s the most complete artistic statement I have ever made. It can, of course, still use some tweaks, but overall it is not bad.

This is the text:
Her room softly darkening with sunset, Hannah shines a flashlight. She calls the circle of light on the ceiling, “Hannah’s Moon.”

Hannah’s Moon glows one-two-three on the ceiling, the wall, and the floor.

Hannah’s Moon beams out the window and into the autumn winds.

On her hand, Hannah and her moon are one. In her room, Hannah and her moon are one.

Hannah turns the flashlight off, then on, then off. She loves the light and the time just after dark.

An autumn wind rushes across the window; Hannah’s Moon cannot catch it.

Hannah’s Moon slides around her feet, like a dancer.

Hannah knows a tune; Hannah’s Moon lines and shapes it.

Hannah’s Moon darts and flits everywhere in Hannah’s room. Glittering traces mark the path.

Hannah’s Moon washes the purple and the stitches of her blanket.

Hannah says “Oh!” when a teddy bear in the corner casts a wide shadow, because of Hannah’s Moon.

Hannah’s Moon stays very still. Hannah must be sleeping.

Hannah’s Moon is put away gently, gently. All through the night, the autumn wind promises that snow will fall soon.
I also sent the publisher what I hope is an effective cover letter:
Please consider the attached manuscript, titled “Hannah’s Moon,” in which a young girl transforms a flashlight spot into a cosmic lullaby of sight, sound, and imagination.

Evocative, rich, and serene, “Hannah’s Moon” will touch children and parents alike. A talented illustrator will be inspired and challenged by the two bound narratives of play and autumn nightfall. Together, text and images will create a cherished work for all ages and many years.

The text came about after my two-year-old daughter, Hannah, actually shined a flashlight onto the ceiling of our living room. “Hannah’s moon!” was what she called the spot of light. I loved her phrase and that special moment, so I went about trying to fashion verbal images around both. When by chance I came across “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens, I used the poem’s world as a palette for bringing out the world of my story.

Currently, I have a children’s story called “Uncle Josh and His Shmate” being considered by Hachai Publishing. I have also published several academic papers, book reviews, business white papers, and web log articles. Having interned at Perseus Books, I understand something of the publishing business. I assure you of my personal commitment to the total success of “Hannah’s Moon” in the market.

If “Hannah’s Moon” does not meet your publishing needs at this time, please return the manuscript in the self-addressed, stamped envelope I have enclosed.

Thanks very much for your consideration.

Larry Tanner
One thing I didn't mention to them is that the last statement of "Hannah's Moon" is derived obliquely from the end of James Joyce's "The Dead." Not that it matters, but it's interesting.

Before I submitted the manuscript to this publisher, I had emailed an inquiry to Ms. Dar Hosta, who does a collage art that reminds some of Eric Carle. Her work seems a little too light for my taste, but that’s why I thought she might find the darker hues of “Hannah’s Moon” intriguing. This was Dar’s reply to my inquiry:
Hi Larry,

Yes, I get a good many inquiries like yours. Unfortunately, I am in the business of being both an author and an illustrator myself and also work as an editor, a separate responsibility, for an Italian children's book festival publication. This doesn't leave me much time for other projects and Brown Dog Books remains as it was originally intended--a platform for my own work.

I am thrilled you and your family enjoy my books. It makes what I do clearly the right choice. I don't usually give personal replies for manuscript inquiries, but maybe it's the moon in your book any case, I wish you the best of luck with your project and have included my form reply below because it has some of my typical advice for people such as yourself, interested in joining the world of children's picture books.

Thanks for writing.

Dar Hosta
I have high hopes for “Hannah’s Moon.” There has been no word yet on “Uncle Josh.” I wonder if this is a good sign. The waiting is difficult for me.

I discovered yesterday that “Uncle Josh” uses almost exactly the same narrative pattern as a short story I had written in college. I forget the name of the story, but I remember it won second prize in a school contest. Both stories have a sensitive protagonist who makes choices based on instantly gratifying sudden desires. Both have a victim that the protagonist actually cares for. Both have this kind of shadowy id character who helps precipitate the bad moral decision of the protagonist. I was stunned to realize the similarities between the two stories and wonder if I have some psychic baggage I need to unload.

I am maintaining 176 pounds these days. Need to lose half a pound. The road race is on Sunday, but it looks like it will be a rainy one.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Wicked Cancer in the Passover Seder

In every Passover Seder, my family has debated that part of the service concerning the four different types of child. This is where we consider how to teach the meaning of Passover and its Seder to each type: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.

Each type is identified by the manner in which the child queries the leader about the Seder's meaning. The wise child asks, "What is the meaning of the testimonies, statutes and judgments commanded by G-d?" In contrast, the wicked child asks, "What is the meaning of this service to you?" Because the wicked child distances himself from the service, the leader's reply excludes him: "Because of what G-d did for me, in taking me out of Egypt."

My two brothers, it seems to me, dislike that one of the sons is called “wicked.” To get even a little more particular about it, they feel that the so-called “wicked child” is unfairly labeled and challenge whether he has truly done anything to merit such a strong condemnation as “wicked.” Again as it seems to me, they view him as a potentially spiritual individual whose inquiry from a place of independent thought brings down a harsh anti-intellectualism upon him.

There is much to admire in my brothers’ defense of the wicked child. If I have characterized their sentiments correctly, I share many impulses and thoughts with them. For example, we all understand that it is a disturbing and terrible thing to call a child “wicked.” At one time or another, all children behave wickedly, but this does not make them through-and-through wicked. It is hard to imagine any child as an essentially wicked being – as if a child were born evil, independent of his education and environment. In fact, this is such a strain on the imagination that I think my brothers and I agree that no child is born evil or wicked.

However, my brothers and I begin to part ways sharply when we consider a second point, whether the so-called wicked son’s behavior warrants being identified as wicked. What is the behavior that offends? It is a question, and it is question phrased in a way that communicates condescension and trivialization. In cruder, more colloquial terms, the child has stood up and asked the room, “What the hell are you all doing?” The form of the question implies the child’s ideas that the Seder ritual is beneath him and silly.

Is this behavior wicked? Certainly. To disdain and disrespect people, and to make them and their practices out to be inferior – these are evil acts because they attempt verbally to destroy the Seder, its origins, the current and past events that have made it possible, and the spirit of its participants.

However, if in his question the child has performed an act of profound wickedness, can it be said that the child himself is wicked? After all, we might resent the behavior but still be able to excuse the child. “He was just trying to be funny,” we might reason. “It was just an error of judgment,” we might conclude.

But at this point it’s critical to remember that “the wicked child” is not an actual child and does not refer to a particular person. The wicked child represents a personality type, just as the wise child, the simple child, and the child who does not know how to ask are personality types identified by the sages. At different points in a life, in different contexts, each one of us approaches a situation from the standpoint of wisdom, wickedness, simplemindedness or dumb silence. From earliest childhood and into adulthood, we hope to establish wisdom's standpoint as our default approach to the Seder, and also to Torah, Judaism, and living generally.

This is partly why it is misguided to defend the wicked child. To advocate for the wicked child is not to protect a vulnerable innocent, it is to justify wicked deeds themselves. It is to legitimize and intellectually permit behavior that degrades other people and defiles their customs. It is to rationalize destructive actions and to refuse to take any kind of stand against them or their perpetrators.

So also is it misguided to suggest that the rebuke of the wicked child’s question intends to quell dissent and suppress a healthy community dialogue on different spiritual points of view. The response to the wicked child’s question makes explicit just what he had implied: the child implicitly removes himself from the Seder in the question, and the child is explicitly removed from the Seder in the response. The obvious intent in responding this way is to help the child realize on his own that the Seder does apply to him, but the application is not a mere given. It is fulfilled by one’s meeting the obligation to study the Seder and its "testimonies, statutes and judgments commanded by G-d."

What about multiple, different, and even conflicting spiritual views? If the wicked child or his question represents some alternative spiritual view, I do not see it. It certainly is not expressed in any positive sense. But make no mistake, the Seder – and Judaism too, I believe – fully supports inquiries, disagreements, and theories on "the testimonies, statutes and judgments commanded by G-d."

I fear that ideas that this is not so are becoming irrevocably entrenched in my brothers' hearts and minds. What's more, I detect a cancer in their offered and implied positions on the wicked child, a serious philosophical and spiritual issue that is turning them against Jewish observances, history and texts.

I fear also that this stance is becoming more pervasive in Jewish families across America, and I believe that it is not a good thing. If my fears are true and this cancer is real, Seders of the future will be conducted without decent and intelligent Jews, those who passed over Judaism without recognizing that it always already explored and expressed their humanist ideals.

My brothers have a wisdom that makes them deserving of an appropriate reply to their questions. Have I given this reply? I don't know, but perhaps this, my expression of what I desire to understand, will help all of us have a new Seder next year. The Seder itself can be seen as wisdom asking a question. My family, and perhaps many Jewish families in America, can benefit from examining how we have responded to this question.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Personal "Exodus"

Passover, Pesach, begins tomorrow evening. It is truly one of the great celebrations of the world. Or, perhaps "commemoration" is a more apt word than "celebration."

One must always rememember that G-d led the Hebrew slaves, the nation of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt. Part of the Exodus story, however, is the visitation of plagues upon the Egyptians. These plagues include G-d causing the deaths of the first-born in Egypt. What's more, the Exodus story also encompasses the drowning of the Egyptian military in the un-parting Red Sea.

These last two events are difficult but important to deal with. I think many of us, myself included, would have preferred that the liberation of the three million Hebrew slaves without any harm befalling the Egyptians. Pharoah, of course, was a man of a hard heart. He was stubborn, vindictive, and mean. His death would have saddened no slave, but he lived. Who were those who died? Egyptian children, in the case of the tenth plague, and Egyptian soldiers. Innocents and pawns.

One must think carefully about these deaths and make sure that they are included and addressed in the annual Passover experience.

To deal with these deaths, we might consider first the easier case, that of the Egyptian soldiers. They were hand-picked by Pharoah and sent by him to attack the emigrating Israelites. These warriors were going out to make war, and soldiering is a high-risk enterprise. They were going out to kill or be killed. We can respectfully be relieved that our lives were spared and the lives of those coming to attack us were not. There's no rejoicing in the loss of life, but the situation created by Pharoah's sending out the troops was one in which someone was going to die. Regarding the tenth plague, though, I think the critical context is truly the fact that Pharoah himself had previously ordered the killing of the Israelites' first-born male children. Pharoah, it seems, determined the specific affliction across his own land.

In both cases, we have a turnaround or transformation. The attacking soldiers become the victms. Pharoah's command becomes visited upon his own house and people. Action begets circumstance begets reversal.

For me, then, Passover means something like this: As motion and transformation, G-d creates the events determined by our actions. Pharoah's order of infanticide is transformed and set in motion against him and all of Egypt. The leadership and strength of Moses are transformed into the physical exodus from Egypt and inscribed in the miracles that become revealed to all of Israel.

During Pesach, we remember that we ourselves were lifted from bondage by G-d. We remember that the unjust and cruel actions of some created death and misery for others. We finally acknowledge again that each of us performs actions that G-d inscribes in the universe and transforms into the events we witness.

At the seder table we have the opportunity to make a personal exodus. The non-Hebrew term "Exodus" typically refers to a mass of people. Each of us is mutli-dimensional and a composite of many people: Jewish man, Father, Husband, Son, Brother, American, Russian descendant, English descendant, Employee, Manager, Volunteer, and so on many times over.

The Passover commemoration is a time for all of these people to recognize and follow a leader -- maybe it's an outside person, an internal yearning or a guiding principle. It is a chance for these multitudes to be brought into a world of transformation. They will come to liberation if the actions that bring them into the world are neighborly and constructive. They will be undercut and utterly shattered if the actions embodying them are hurtful and vicious.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Coasting and Brewing

I am at 177.5 this morning. I am looking for 177 even, which I hit on Tuesday, but I am thrilled that my pants fit more loosely and that I am showing signs of increasing strength. I went through nearly the entire abs workout without stopping. I also upped the dumbell weights for the arms workout.

In nutrition, I have experimented with substituting fruits, veggies and nuts for snacks instead of breakfast bars. This is fine with me, and probably a cost saver. I plan on sticking with it.

I wonder if I can improve things on both the wellness and savings fronts by reducing my daily coffee production. I now make 24 ounces of coffee every morning -- that's five (5) tablespoons. I think I can go down to 16 ounces, since I usually have coffee leftover during the day.

This would be the second time I have made a coffee change. I used to have six (6) tablespoons of coffee, always Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut. Besides reducing the number of tablespoons and amount of water, I started to make one scoop a hazelnut coffee from an el cheapo brand. Very cost clever, no?

I figure with the extra money saved from my new coffee and snack plans, I could work towards a decent weight bench and more equipment. Eventually, I will outgrow the tape-worlout routines. I'll need equipment to help me keep going. A gym still isn't really in the cards.

Spiritually, I have kind of let things slide. Passover is coming soon, though. I want to have a nice seder at home and start over again, as it were.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Nourishing My Life, One 12-Minute Mile at a Time

Had a busy time at the end of the week, and a busy weekend as well.

I currently weigh in at 178 pounds, My goal this week is 177, which has been kind of a barrier for me in the past. If I can get to and stay at 177 for a few days, I'll be very happy.

I continue to learn about nutrition and about the foods I have been putting into my body. The low-cal breakfast bars have been OK, but I have switched this week to dried apricots and almonds.

As I go along, I find that nutrition is much more important than I ever imagined. Healthy eating more and more seems to be at the center of a fit life -- and I mean "fit" in a number of senses -- and yet, this fact also seems to be a bit of a secret. It's not the kind of point that's really stressed in advertising, media, entertainment, and so on.

It's funny. We get these fad diets that target one thing (e.g., carbs or fat). We also get pummeled with exercise routines, methods and equipment (e.g., Pilates, Tae Bo, Bowflex). But generally, healthy eating really seems to be more fundamental and important. Maybe it's the fundamentality that keeps it under wraps in our daily lives; it's just not that sexy.

Having registered for the Westford 5K race, I went out on Sunday to train. I did "run" three miles, but my first mile was almost 12 minutes, and my second was only about 10 seconds faster. I walked the third mile and had a 15 minute split.

I was absolutely shocked. Somehow, I imagined that I did an 8-10 minute mile. On the positive side, for the second mile, I incorporated four 100-yard dashes. With each one, I tried to increase my speed.

My children's story, UJAHS, will probably arrive to the second publisher today. I feel confident that this time will work out. We'll see, though.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Yesterday, I said that I hoped the publisher rejected my children's story manuscript. They did. I know it's what I truly wanted, but it still hurts a little.

No crying here, though. I have readied materials for the next publisher, and I think this one has a much better chance of success. The books they publish are more in line with the story I have. Their art is better. I have "proposalized" the manuscript submission in order to make more of an impression. And lastly, I have made another few modifications and tweaks to the story. So, I feel confident about this submission.

I weighed in at 178 even this morning. Pretty good! I did decent 8-minute Abs and Arms workouts this morning. My abs are still weak, but I am making improvement. I have decided to do the 8-minute Abs every day.

Lots going on at work today, so I can't stay and tell the interesting story about being cut off by a truck yesterday evening on my way home from work. Naturally, it's a story with absolutely profound moral implications and resonances, but it will have to wait for another time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Halfway Point

Weighed in at 177.5 this morning! I worked darn hard yesterday to get there, too. It makes me worried that I am going to jump back up one or two pounds too easily.

OK,OK. I will not worry about it. My goal this week is 178.5. I will just keep focusing on eating right and getting in better shape. I am really not in very good shape at all. I am not even sure that I have made much improvemrnt over the past week or so.

Again, I am not going to worry about it. I know that the activity and the eating are right for me, so I will simply stay the course and continue to visualize my goal.

Nor much sleep last night. And not a very good sleep, anyway. Very stressed yesterday and today. Work has got me down.

Regarding my children's book venture: I took a good look at the publisher's Web site. I don't think it's the right place for UJAHS. I have a better publisher in mind. I hope this first round, I get a rejection letter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Forty-Seven Percent

Very happy this morning to weigh in at 178 pounds. My target this week is 178.5, so I am ahead of the game. This puts me at nearly 47% of the way to my weight goal of 170 pounds.

With my diet getting stabilized, it's becoming more and more important to step up the intensity and duration of my workouts. While I have not figured out all of the details, I know I want to do abs every day. During the week, I want to focus on arms, legs, back and cardio. Weekends might be freewheeling time; I’ll do anything that comes to mind, or nothing.

One small setback: my back has been sore since Saturday. It started bothering me when I tried to force my daughter's new jogging stroller into the trunk of the Corolla. Stupid of me to jostle it aggressively like I did. I was overconfident in the toning that I had been doing. It’s almost fortunate that I have had a bit of a chest cold as well. Not working out yesterday was probably beneficial.

Time to get to work. I have a busy, stressful day ahead of me. Still, I fully intend to walk for 30 minutes in the afternoon. At almost halfway to my goal of 170 pounds by June 5, I expect the last 8 pounds to be tougher, especially the final 3.

Still anticipating April 29: the 3 week mark for when I sent out UJAHS to the publisher.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Common Sense Nonsense, Part 2

One of the more disturbing elements of the media-government partnership discussed in Part 1 is that media commentators and/or political pundits are working together to attack intellectuals.

What's most objectionable is that the attacks are made as these zero-sum arguments that champion the attacking speaker rather than the ideas/position. Many of these attacks seem based on nothing more than 1) a dislike of the intellectual posture/image and, more fundamentally, 2) an unwillingness to acknowledge ideas that cannot easily be translated into sound bites, buzz words or catch phrases.

As a case in point, read below how Jonathan Gurwitz just gets Derrida and so-called “Deconstruction” wrong:

Jacques Derrida is dead — maybe
By Jonathan Gurwitz
‘Deconstruction’ and the death of common sense The protagonist of Friedrich Nietzsche's seminal work "Thus Spake Zarathustra" declares, "G-d is dead." But it was G-d, or at least nature, that had the final say in the matter.

A clever epigram puts the issue in stark relief.

Nietzsche: "G-d is dead."
G-d: "Nietzsche is dead."

Nietzsche predicted that the decline in traditional beliefs, such as the belief in G-d, would undermine the cultural foundations of morality and set mankind on an inevitable journey toward relativism and nihilism.

After Nietzsche's death, one of the great captains of that journey was Jacques Derrida, an Algerian-born French philosopher whose signal contribution to the relativistic effort was deconstruction, the theory that no ultimate truth or meaning can be found in a text or work of art.

Jacques Derrida is dead. Maybe.

The object here is not to make light of Derrida's death from a painful disease. Rather, it is to demonstrate how such transcendent events can be rendered meaningless by his own theory.

News reports suggest that Derrida succumbed to cancer this month in Paris. Yet those reports may have multiple meanings. Our traditional way of understanding an obituary may be based on false assumptions. The fact that reporters have declared Derrida to be dead may not mean that Derrida is, in fact, dead.

All this may sound like a nonsensical game of semantics to the average person. Which only demonstrates that the average person has more common sense than the great minds of academia seized by the whimsical notion that, for instance, when Thomas Jefferson wrote, "all men are created equal," he quite probably meant precisely the opposite.

Deconstruction has led to some fanciful efforts, stripping meaning from the likes of Plato and Shakespeare and adding it to indolent streams of free verse consciousness.

The prospect that one's own words could be meaningless was of particular interest to Paul de Man, a Yale University professor who was deconstruction's most ardent advocate in the United States. In 1987, four years after de Man's death, the rediscovery of pro-Nazi, pro-collaborationist and anti-Semitic articles de Man had written as a young man in Nazi-occupied Belgium created a deconstructive scandal.

That's the attraction, and the artifice, of deconstruction. On the one hand, it turns literature — and literary criticism — into an intellectual free-for-all where any notion, no matter how outlandish, has merit. In fact, the more outlandish, and the more peppered with sexual references and progressive political causes, the better.

On the other hand, it means — as Derrida demonstrated in his defense of de Man — that what you write or say ultimately has no meaning.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal set out to demonstrate the intellectual vacuousness of deconstruction by submitting an article intentionally devoid of any meaning to the journal Social Text. In writing "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," he sought to test whether a serious academic journal would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."

Sokal's opus sparkled with deconstructive-sounding gems: "These criteria, admirable as they are, are insufficient for a liberatory postmodern science: they liberate human beings from the tyranny of 'absolute truth' and 'objective reality,' but not necessarily from the tyranny of other human beings."

The editors of Social Text couldn't help themselves. "Transgressing the Boundaries" went to print in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue. Course descriptions in the humanities, literature and sociology — to say nothing of gender and race studies — at almost any university reveal the extent to which such deconstructive language is ascendant in academia.

Few intellectual movements have done more to unhinge words from meaning, ideas from philosophical foundations and art from artistry than Derrida's ghastly creation. In 1992, Cambridge University proposed giving Derrida an honorary degree. Twenty professors of philosophy objected that "semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree in a distinguished university." In a vote of the full faculty, Derrida's supporters prevailed, 336-204.

Even Sigmund Freud, another contributor to the relativistic cause, is attributed with saying, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

Jacques Derrida is dead. Deconstruction, however, lives on, carrying forward the insidious tendency toward relativism and nihilism that Nietzsche presaged more than a century ago.
Make no mistake, Gurwitz has a political agenda, and his commentary springs from it. You'll recognize the agenda, it's couched as quasi-moral indignation.

Now, I am no expert in post-structuralism or in Derrida, but I have read enough Derrida to believe strongly that so-called “Deconstruction" is certainly not “the theory that no ultimate truth or meaning can be found in a text or work of art.” This is a conclusion that many try to support using so-called “Deconstruction,” but Derrida's theories really do not lead to such a conclusion, especially as it is formulated by Gurwitz.

Derrida’s theories, as I remember, assert that a text allows many meanings, sometimes conflicting meanings, to be generated. But a text is also self-enclosed. For example, a novel contains the characters “Ronald Reagan” and “Bill Clinton.” The Derridean point is that there is no necessary tie to the real 40th and 42nd U.S. presidents. In other words, the novel's Reagan and Clinton are not the real Reagan and Clinton; what's more, the novel's "Reagan" and "Clinton" do not necessarily refer to the real Reagan and Clinton. The novel's characters are not obligated to be anything like what we may call their "real-world counterparts."

A text allows one great liberty in constructing the identity tied to a name. In the novel, there’s a lot I can do with the identities of “Ronald Reagan” and “Bill Clinton”: manipulate, re-create, re-invent, distort, and so on. Gurwitz' twisting of so-called "Deconstruction" is precisely the kind of textual appropriation that Derrida theorized. But Derrida's ideas go further in suggesting that from the standpoint of my novel’s world, there are no real “Ronald Reagan” and “Bill Clinton” in another world outside. The world of the text is the world, and there is no outside-text. Gurwitz' "Deconstruction" is, within the confines of his article, so-called "Deconstruction." The use of the name is self-serving, ideological and masturbatory.

Gurwitz, I suppose, believes that we find ultimate truths and meanings in works of literature and art. At least, the Gurwitz that emerges in his article seems to have these beliefs. Personally, I think it would be more than great if we could read a book, or view a painting, or inspect a sculpture, and determine from that a final, unchanging truth or meaning that was the same for everyone in every time. But I also think that whenever we look closely at what someone calls an ultimate truth, we invariably find that this truth is a constructed thing – a manipulation, re-creation, re-invention, distortion, of something else. In other words, the ultimate truth may just be that the truth is a fiction borne of another fiction, a manufactured product of an inherited product (that was itself manufactured).

So-called “Deconstruction” did not “unhinge words from meaning.” The nature of language is to hinge words to meaning. It’s why languages are organic. So-called “Deconstruction” is not “the death of common sense.” Indeed, a little understanding of so-called “Deconstruction” helps one to see the manipulation in hinging Hannity to a U.S. flag backdrop and in hinging the secular humanist to a background of the scholar’s bookshelf. We can see the media-driven fabrication of identities, and we can see how the actual topics/issues being discussed are made to be irrelevant next to the conflict-mongering. We are being incited to pick sides, to argue only ad hominem, and to refrain from ever considering the substance of issues. There’s the death of common sense.

Common Sense Nonsense, Part 1

I caught a brief glimpse on the television of Sean Hannity conducting an interview with someone identified as a secular humanist. It was a remote interview, so a split screen was used: Hannity on the left side, the interviewee on the right.

One look at the screen told a viewer all that needed to be known about the interview: Hannity’s full background was an image of an American flag, possibly a waving flag. Behind the secular humanist was a dark wood bookcase filled with impressive-looking books.

This was no interview. It was a conflict of agendas and ideologies made to look like an interview. It was a wrestling match. On one contender's uniform, in glittering gold sequins, we saw the phrase "Common Sense." The costume of the other contender announced the name, "Intellectual." Or maybe "Secularist." Or maybe "Liberal." They're all the same, right?

In most wrestling matches, it's easy to pick the winner before the match even starts: the name-brand wrestler will prevail. Same thing with the Hannity-Secular Humanist match. Hannity was scripted to win. No need to see or hear the interview. The interviewer always wins, partly because the person asking the questions always has an advantage in knowing both the questions and answers beforehand.

The cartoonish nature of this interview just reminded me again what a strange state our country is in right now. Something is definitely rotten, and if the rot can't be spotted directly in the government, it can in the popular media. The news programs -- TV and newspaper -- give us more circus than soleil: just a bunch of vivid images, icons and postures being used to forward vague agendas.

For example, from today’s Boston Globe, here's a story involving media, government, and the trendy collusion of the two:

State employs a Herald columnist
By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff April 8, 2005

Governor Mitt Romney's administration has awarded a $10,000 contract to a Boston Herald op-ed columnist to promote the governor's environmental policies.

The columnist, Charles D. Chieppo, started working yesterday with the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

His job calls for writing op-ed pieces and internal documents ''to support the efforts of senior management to promote education, awareness, and acceptance of major policy initiatives" on the environment.

Chieppo will work two days a week until at least June 30. He also plans to continue writing op-ed columns for the Herald, where he is paid for each article.

Chieppo, who signed his pact on April 2, declined to comment yesterday. In January, he left a six-figure job in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance to start a private consulting business and to write the weekly Herald column.

Joe O'Keefe, Romney's assistant environmental secretary for public affairs, said in an interview yesterday that Chieppo has ''fully vetted" the consultancy with the state Ethics Commission and that ''he can't have any contact with Herald reporters or columnists or write anything that would be published in the Herald on our behalf."

Chieppo was awarded the contract over another bidder when his Herald columns were highly supportive of Romney's policies. His March 21 column, which appeared three days after Chieppo submitted his bid for the state contract, praised the Romney mass-transit plan that was largely authored by Douglas Foy, the secretary of Commonwealth development and the person who oversees the Environmental Affairs office that now employs Chieppo.

Bob Zelnick, who chairs Boston University's journalism department, said in an interview yesterday that the Chieppo contract raised ethical questions.

''I think it is inappropriate, bordering on improper, for a person to be writing a column one day and consulting actively in a paid position for the administration the same day or even the next day," Zelnick said. ''I think that blurs the lines between legitimate journalism and politics [in a way] that serves neither the administration nor the public and certainly not the newspaper."

The White House has recently been under fire for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to columnists and journalists to tout Bush administration policies across a wide array of topics. The most prominent example was nationally syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams, whom the administration paid $240,000. He touted the No Child Left Behind law.

Late last month, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote that Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and several of his subordinate offices have paid more than $100,000 to a Tallahassee production company owned by a veteran television reporter who regularly reports on the administration.

Bob Steele -- a senior faculty member in ethics at The Poynter Institute in Florida, a think tank and journalism school -- said the Chieppo contract is a cousin of those other controversial examples.

''Are his observations and is his writing on the issues and events in any way influenced in reality or perception by those government contract connections?" Steele asked. ''It is a matter of credibility that could be reasonably challenged. And he could argue from sunset to sunrise and back that he is uninfluenced by the contract, but you can't prove that. This intersection [where] he's driven his journalistic vehicle is dangerous at best."

The Boston Globe has four regular contributors who are paid by the piece, said Renee Loth, editor of the Globe's editorial page. Loth said the Globe would not have a regular contributor who was under contract to promote a point of view. ''We want our regular contributors to be offering their own independent opinions," she said.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's communications director, said yesterday that neither he nor the governor was aware that Chieppo was brought on by the Environmental Affairs Office. He referred questions to the Environmental Affairs Office.

Gwen Gage, a spokeswoman for the Boston Herald, said that Chieppo has disclosed his new state contract to the paper's editorial page editor, Rachelle Cohen, who decided to allow him to continue writing his weekly column as long as he refrains from writing about ''those topics he's consulting on."

''We have an agreement that he'll stay clear of that stuff," Gage said.

It's not unusual for reporters to move to government jobs and sometimes back into journalism. In the past month, Herald political reporter David Guarino left the paper to become communications director for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.

But Zelnick said that situation is different from being paid by the government while remaining a paid op-ed writer.

''I think we've become accepting of the existence of a revolving door between the political and journalistic communities, so when an individual goes from a position in the administration to writing a column of opinion, most people take it for what it's worth," Zelnick said. ''They can discount the opinion if they wish. There's a difference between a revolving door and a newsman who wears two hats simultaneously."

Chieppo's contract calls on him to work with staff of the Environmental Affairs Office ''to develop and coordinate strategy and messaging," as well as ''engage external stakeholders" and ''provide writing and editing support" to staff members writing op-ed pieces on pending legislation and other policy areas.

O'Keefe said that op-ed pieces will not take up the majority of Chieppo's commitment to the administration, two days per week.

''We have a significant amount of technical writing that needs to get done internally, so we expect most of his work to be focused on internal reports and documentation," O'Keefe said. ''There will be a component that will be op-ed pieces on behalf of certain pieces of legislation of interest to us, but it would not be allowed to be run in the Herald. He would assist in the writing."
It's just remarkable to me how cozy together media, government and business are. Is this not the relativism and nihilism that the so-called pundits lament?

More on this in Part 2.