The Big ‘Mo. R.I.P.

satchAlso known as Satch, his full name was Satchmo. No particular connection to the first one, but I like to think of both our Satchmo and Louis Armstrong as gentle giants. Certainly, Big ‘Mo was. When he would encounter a small dog who would be afraid of ‘Mo’s 90 lbs. of muscle, Satch would lie down to get as low as he could so the small dog wouldn’t feel threaten. And often he would roll over on his back to submit himself to some 10 lb. toy dog.

Not that he couldn’t defend himself if needed or if his adopted brother Duke would get into a scrap, Satch was there with him, but somewhat reluctantly so. Mostly, he just wanted to love on you and be loved in return, which he was.

Satch was mostly boxer but we suspect with a touch of Bull Mastiff, which infused his gentle spirit. Like most boxers he couldn’t comprehend his size or strength. He would often come up to you sitting in a chair and put his front paws and then his chest in your lap—a 90 lb. lap dog—while his hind legs held up the rest of him. And yes he would occasionally see if he could get his entire body up there.

Boxers look fierce, but they are not aggressive. Our daughter Kate tells the story of when a drunk college kid broke into her apartment. Satch heard the broken glass and immediately started—whining. He wasn’t about to confront the spooks in the night, though in a real danger, I know he would have fought to the death for any of us.

Kate, her sister Hunter and Zack regularly broke my rule that dogs not be allowed in the bed. Whenever they could they gladly relinquished most of their bed to Satch and sometimes Duke, too.

When we rescued Satch, then ironically named Sugar Ray—again, he was not a fighter, he was a bit timid, thin and didn’t know how to climb stairs. He bulked up, learned about stairs and spent his life giving our family lots of love, though he wasn’t much for kisses. That was fortunate if you’ve ever seen a boxer with a long slobber drooling for his lips.

But like many boxers, he succumbed to cancer yesterday. We were able to relieve his misery with all three kids connected by Skype to say goodbye. He was one great dog. So long, Satch.

Ever Have a Bike Fall Off Your Car?

My wife and I went on one of our monthly treks to see our new home state, the lovely pancake flat and sandy Florida. This past weekend included Sanibel Island near Fort Myers and the summer homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. (Quick: What invention first made Edison a rich man? The phonograph? The light bulb? Nope, it was the Universal Stock Printer in 1871. Wall St. investors loved its synchronized printing of the same info. at the same time. He made the equivalent of $500,000 on it.)

Sanibel Island was a disappointment, only because we didn’t get to see its main attractions, a preserve that has a five mile bike path through it and the lighthouse, which was closed for repairs. We were hoping to see our first crocodile or alligator or whatever they have down here that we didn’t in Virginia. But the road was closed for construction and not expected to re-open until Oct. 1. It was apparently a federal project that the greeter at the Chamber of Commerce visitors center derided as evidence that the federal government is slow. Never mind that his little community was making big bucks off the preserve. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to bash the feds, something a lot of Floridians like to do.

We had taken our bikes with us, so we just rode along the bike path for a little while until we decided that all there was to see other than the beach were condos. So we left for the mansion tours. (Actually, they weren’t mansions at all. Certainly nice homes but they looked like outhouses compared to the John and Mable Ringling estate in Sarasota.) I should say that what we saw of the beach was nice as far as beaches go. But alas, it had a lot of sand and water, making it a dubious pleasure at best.

After dinner in another very forgettable tourist stop, Punta Gorda, we headed home over Interstate 75. All of sudden, Karla, who is driving, says “My God, the bikes!” I thought she had just seen a motorcyclist go down. “The bikes fell off the car,” she said. I looked back but couldn’t see them. I imagined them a steel pretzel and hoped that no one ran over them causing drivers to lose control. No, we were dragging them along the highway at 70 mph.

We have one of those bike racks that attached to the trunk of the car. I use it usually once a year for our annual trip to the North Carolina beach (also with way too much sand and water). For years I tied the bikes down with a half dozen bungee cords and then tied the rack’s straps around the bikes as an added precaution. This time I used only two bungee cords, and after our Sanibel Island ride I didn’t tie the straps around them. However, when we went to dinner, I tied a lock around the bikes and the rack, figuring that most bike thefts are ones of opportunity and the lock would complicate things a little.

That lock is what kept the bikes dangling off our trunk as if we were two just married cyclists headed for our honeymoon. Now, how much damage can one do to a bike using it as a road sweeper at the barely sub-sonic speed Karla drives? Well, damn little, as it turns out. These were our mountain bikes, both heavyweight Mongooses thasaddlet are at least 15 years old. Both have a few scratches on them but I could not find any new damage to the frames. When I got home, they both rode fine. In fact, the only visible damage was to my saddle, which apparently served as the sled that dragged along the ground.

Chalk one up for dumb (really dumb) luck.

Mount Evans & the Descent Through Hell

Climbing Mt. Evans is a rite of passage for Colorado cyclists. It is not a steep climb but the road to Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in the U.S., topping at 14,000+ feet. I took the route from Evergreen, where we have a home. The climb from there is about 7,000 feet.

on the way to Mt. Evans

On the way to Mt. Evans

Admittedly, I was apprehensive about the climb. I didn’t want to die of a heart attack above the tree line, and I certainly didn’t want to have to call for help because I couldn’t make it. Most intimidating about the climb is the altitude. For the last 25 years I have lived at or near sea level. The past four months I’ve been in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the biggest climbs are over the various causeways. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in a while, thanks in large part to the members of the St. Pete Bicycle Club. Daily rides with some of the members, where I inevitably get dropped on the aggressive “second loop” of our morning rides, have made me stronger. But we’re at sea level (and sometimes under it during violent storms) and the closest hills are an hour away.

So I talked to folks in Colorado about the climb. One guy was trying to be encouraging but then said I should eat Clif Bar gels with caffeine because, “If you don’t have your food intake just right, you can hallucinate in the upper altitudes.” I could see myself prostrate on the road communing with the spirits. Others said to start early, especially in early September when, as one guy put it, “They get a lot of weather atop Mt. Evans.” I once had a backpacking buddy who used to love it when we “got weather” on the trail. Once was at 11,500 ft. when we were hit by a blizzard and then tried to hike through it to the top of the 14,000-ft. mountain. We didn’t succeed, but more importantly, we didn’t die what I and many others would think a foolish death. Starting early for the Mt. Evans climb, I was told, meant 6 a.m. Hell, I have a hard time making the group rides in St. Pete that start at 8:00 and I live only 10 minutes away. So I compromised: I would shoot for 7:00. I actually started the ride at 6:45. Those 45 minutes proved costly.

Over planning as I often do, I made a list of what I needed to bring. Warm clothes for the descent were first on the list. It is 20-25 degrees cooler at the top than in Evergreen, which meant that it would likely be in the 40’s this past Monday. I didn’t put on the list things I bring on every ride, so I got to the parking lot where I would start and discovered I left my riding sunglasses at the house, so my prescription glasses would have to do.

The climb went as well as I could expect. I had arrived in Colorado five days before and rode three times, one less than I had hoped. But I was encouraged that the altitude didn’t seem to be a big problem. I wasn’t fast up the hills but my heart rate stayed low and steady. I had actually planned on riding Tuesday, but learned on Sunday that the road would be closed for paving, so I pushed it up a day.

There were a couple of miles of dirt sections where workers were preparing to pave the next day, but they were packed and easy to navigate. After that, new pavement went up to Echo Lake at Squaw Pass, at 10,600 ft. above sea level and 18 miles from the start. I stopped by the lodge, which was small and quaint.  I asked the woman there if she knew the conditions at the top. “You should be fine,” she said. “Just don’t dawdle up there and watch for weather.”

I then started up Mt. Evans Road. Within a few feet there is an entrance booth and learned that they no longer charge cyclists $3 to enter. I mentioned that at the very beginning of the climb a sign said Mt. Evans was open “to Summit Lake.” (The entire road closes for the winter around October 1.) “That’s right,” the woman in the booth said. “It’s five more miles to the top of the mountain. You can go up, but be aware, there’s nobody up there if you get in trouble or have weather.” (I had the sense that these people, like my hiking partner, loved “weather.”) She also asked if I had the proper clothing because “I see a lot of cyclists go up as people and come down as popsicles.”

The thought of being alone the last five miles gave me pause as I started the final 14 miles with about 3,500+ feet of climbing. The road is not in good shape. There are many cracks in the asphalt that jolt you as you cross them. But at 8 mph, they’re tolerable. In short order, I’m above the tree line, but the work keeps me comfortable as the temperature drops. The final switchbacks culminate at the parking lot. Turns out that I wasn’t alone. There were some park employees there as they were surveying the mountain goats that had developed some disease. One guy offered that he thought we cyclists were crazy. Another cyclist was also there and we take each other’s pictures. Only later do I find that my lens has fogged up and I look like I’m literally in the clouds. There were some moving in but at this point, no “weather.”

I figure the hard part is done. I’ll need to be careful on the descent, especially on the narrow Mt. Evans Road, but otherwise, I like descending so I was looking forward to it. Well, the climb may have been uneventful. The descent was anything but.

First off, those cracks were annoying at 8 mph. At 30-40 mph they were life threatening. I had to ride the brakes all the way down to Echo Lake. My neck and shoulders were tense and tightening with every curve in the road. My hands were cramping from squeezing the brake calipers. By the time I arrived at the lodge I was grateful for the smooth road ahead. Alas, the surface may have been smooth, but it wasn’t a smooth road ahead.

I had a little glitch in my shifting that I tried to fix my adjusting the rear derailleur. Whatever I did didn’t work. When I got back on the bike and shifted into the top gear, it locked up. My chain was jammed between the frame and the cassette. The chain had come off the derailleur pulleys. I thought I would have to call my brother to rescue me. But I got the chain back on. However, I couldn’t use the smallest cogs on the rear cassette. But then, it was all downhill. I’d be coasting most of the way. Again, I didn’t “coast” home.

It started to drizzle. I was 17 miles from the car. Then I heard thunder in the distance. Then it came closer. Then a thunderclap had me doing an involuntary bunny hop with the bike. I wasn’t sure whether my heart skipped or I had been given a heart shock by Mother Nature. It started to crackled in stereo, beginning on my right shoulder and over to the left. Now I was praying I wouldn’t get fried on the way down. It rained harder.

I then arrived at the section of the road being prepared for paving. The guys were still at it and had to limit traffic to one direction. The guy with the Stop/Slow sign said I couldn’t go because cars were coming up. Then the rain turned to pea and marble size hail. Lots of it.

I leaned up against a red van on the side of the road, hovering over my bike to protect it from the hail. By this time I’m soaked to the bone. The guy with the sign owned that van and said I could get in it but my bike couldn’t . I took refuge and hoped that my recently refinished frame would survive.

As I sat in the van I started to shiver, uncontrollably. I had hypothermia once before, on a camping trip with “weather.” The hail came down for about 15 minutes. When it let up, I told the guy I was going down even though it was still raining. There was another stretch of dirt road ahead. “It would only get muddier,” I said. He nodded, as I didn’t have much choice. My phone had died and I didn’t want to use the guy’s phone and have him witness my humiliation of calling my brother to rescue me. I was determined to get back on my own.

As I continued the descent I saw hail on the side on the road. It stuck to the trees and shrubs. I hit pavement again and was flying as fast as I thought safe as I was still shivering. Then I stopped in my tracks. As I turned a corner the road ahead was covered in hail. I pulled over. Could I wait until it melted? After a few minutes I realized that was fantasy. So I learned how to ride a bike on hailstones. Fortunately, the hail on the road was for only a few hundred yards. The last three miles were just wet. But I was very wet and still shivering.

I got to the car and threw the bike in the back and stripped of all clothes that wouldn’t get me arrested for indecent exposure, not that anybody was around in the rain.

The 5-mile ride home was an exercise in concentration. When you are shaking as hard as I was you don’t have all your faculties.  I rode the first mile with the emergency brake still on. I passed an accident scene where two motorcycles were down among the hailstones.

When I got home I did what any ignorant ass would do: I jumped in a very hot shower. But afterwards, I was still shivering. I looked up online how to treat hypothermia. First rule, don’t try to heat up quickly—like taking a hot shower—as it can cause heart arrhythmia. I put on thermal underwear and a puff vest and shivered for another half hour before it subsided.

Of course, all this except for the derailleur problem I would have avoided if I left 45 minutes earlier.

I feel accomplished in achieving my Colorado rite of passage. And I feel damned lucky to live to tell about it.

Hassan Accused of Being Confused

This from an AP report this morning: “Hasan faces a possible death sentence if convicted of the 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated.” I guess he tried to think about his murders beforehand but was largely unsuccessful.

Where art the copy editor?

Second Impressions of St. Pete

Home is where you make it, and it’s beginning to feel like home here in the tropics.

We’re doing an OK job of finding new things to do, though not all of them fun. Karla decided we needed to ride paddle boards, those things that look like oversized surf boards. And believe me, they’re no easier to stand on without the waves. I can say that even though I’ve never tried to surf. After about 20 minutes of frustration in a fairly calm Gulf, I gave up and sat on the beach to let my chest burn to a crisp. It was one of the adventures we had while Kate was here a couple of weekends ago. Another was Kate and I going on our first bike ride together. I had the “Wannabees,” a group from the St. Pete Bike Club that helps mentor new folks to the sport, take us out. She kept up pretty well. The next day she and I went out alone and she had a much harder time keeping a slower pace. After about 15 miles, we were just a few blocks from home when she mentioned she heard a thumping as she rode. She had a flat—for how long I don’t know.

We showed her thbirchwood-SPe town, including having a drink at the Canopy, a bar atop The Birchwood on Beach Drive. Very happening place. And plenty of the women there could have been my daughter and a few at least close to my age. Well not really close but on the north side of 35. Didn’t matter. At a certain age we become invisible to any woman under 40, maybe 50.

All Politics is LocalSP pier
I have not carried out my threat to get involved with politics here. The biggest issue in town now is what to do with our aging pier. This competes with most tired of tourist attractions, a 1970s era idea that doesn’t have much to offer except little Mom and Pop shops selling trinkets and memories, overpriced food and plenty of vantage points to see pelicans posing with tourists or dolphins passing through the bay. The city council had this great idea to replace it with …ta-da…the Lens.

LensI’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, other than a more modern looking pier. It may have at one time been nothing more than what the critics called “a sidewalk to nowhere.” In response, the designers have added a restaurant, snack shack, an amphitheater and something we don’t really need here—more fishing spots. In any case, it’s the hot topic here and will impact the mayoral primary August 19. The current mayor seems to be back peddling furiously his earlier support of it. But the problem now is that they’ve closed the current pier without a clear plan for what follows. The old pier apparently has structural problems that are more expensive to fix than replacing it. Which, come to think of it, is true of a lot of things these days, including old people.

And of course the Trayvon Martin murder is a hot topic, with George Zimmerman having a lot of supporters. This is Fla. after all, where folks seem to be competing with Texans for who has the quickest draw. The Stand Your Ground law, otherwise known as Shoot First and Ask Questions Later Law, passed with bi-partisan enthusiasm and few are re-thinking that vote. And then there’s Gov. Scott, the Tea Party favorite who has been trying to impersonate George McGovern (or at least a Floridian vision of him) given his sorry poll numbers and the lurking of former Republican, former Independent and probably temporary Democrat Charlie Crist who will likely run again Scott next year.

And then there’s this: Seems the local energy company, since bought by Duke Power, conned the legislature into having customers pay in advance for a nuclear power plant that Duke is now abandoning. The power company gets to keep the money. Customers don’t get any refund, as many critics feared when the gift law was passed. This guy is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore: (It’s refreshing to have columnists who aren’t looking to impress you with their erudition [see George Will].)  In other words, the Florida legislature is in the tank like all other pols. Do I really want to be part of all that? I may restrict my volunteering to working a soup kitchen. The patrons at least have a modicum of dignity.

Rest of the Crew
Zack has also visited us. He has moved from Duluth to Decatur, increasing his commute by about an hour in trade for a small house instead of an apartment. He and Chelsea seem to like it. They just repossessed Lexie, their dog, from two weeks at an Atlanta dog whisperer compound where she presumably was cured of her separation anxiety. That was plan, but after the first night when they were able to leave her for 25 minutes in a crate without her inflicting damage on herself, they have refused to give us an update. That does not bode well.

Hunter still works to pay for her rugby addiction. She made the regional “sevens” team. The chief benefit of that game is there are eight less players on the other side to harm you. Next stop, national team tryouts. She’ll also be in Orlando in Oct. to play in a national and international “touch” rugby tournament. I guess that’s like flag football but with more beer.

Kate’s documentary on the Kennedy assassination is going well. The network (Military Channel) is thrilled with the rough cut. She hopes to wrap up production in mid-September and then head out to Hollywood, though she’s working connections on another possible documentary that might keep her in DC and another opportunity for a reality series that might have her travelling the world to capture drug deals on video. That cannot turn out well.

Like father, like daughter
kate in erAnd her bike riding has not turned out well so far. She bought a bike recently. Yeah, she crashed landed going down a hill and broke her collarbone. But look at it this way: She’ll get a new helmet out of it! It’s really unfortunate in several ways. One, we were planning to ride together starting Saturday at the beach we go to every year. Two, she’d been training hard for a Sept. 8 triathlon and was feeling really good about it. Three, she just bought the bike, which was a big deal because she’s always had a negative experience with bikes. This, of course, can’t help. The most surprising thing, however, was Karla of all people responding to Kate saying she might not ride again, that it was like falling off your horse (something Karla knows about) Kate needed to get back on as soon as she can.

I learned that lesson last winter. Karla didn’t have anyone to ski with one day. I hadn’t skied in a couple of years since I broke a vertebra on the slopes. Frankly, I was scared to do it again. But not wanting her to be by herself, I said I would go, thinking at the very least I’d win points. Turned out I had fun. We stuck to the greens and an occasional blue, and I even fell once or twice, but at a slower speed than I once would have. I do hope Kate will ride again.

The Washington Post is not delivered here. The New York Times is. Yes, I have left the paper I’ve known since 1970, just before, apparently, it was to leave me. Bezos has a bigger mouthpiece. I read where some think he bought it for a tax write-off. I understand that most of us, upon learning we could legitimately deduct something from our taxes, would. But when you have $250 billion, let’s hope it wasn’t, at least, his principal reason.

We also get the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times.  It’s owned by the Poynter Institute, a reputable owner, for sure. And the paper does a nice job of covering the local scene. And they do what I think The Post should start doing—run AP stories about politics. Every time the House of Representatives passes a bill that is just for show, The Post wastes its dwindling resources writing a story about it. The Tampa Bay Times runs an AP story, if anything, and saves its resources for local stuff. Meanwhile, I’ve come to appreciate how the NY Times writes more in depth than The Post about issues, deeply enough that you can learn something besides that Congress is dysfunctional.

I think I can say that St. Pete is definitely a better climate than DC, except that I’m told DC has had a beautiful summer this year. Here we still have a breeze and almost daily rain showers. It’s 9:30 p.m., dark and gray outside. We’ve had rumbling thunder and rain today. It’s like living in a warm sponge.

Another evening in the new ‘hood.

Night Blooming Sereus

It wasn’t quite like watching grass grow, but it certainly wasn’t mud wrestling event. As my wife and I walked the dogs at night yesterday, we came upon a group of neighbors sitting in their driveway gathered around a tree. What they were admiring wasn’t the tree but the vine wrapped around it. It is the night blooming cereus. You can see for yourself what it looks like. night blooming sereus-tight night blooming sereus-med Its story is unclear. The neighbor who owned the tree and the vine (if anyone ever owns nature) claimed that it only blooms once a year. Maybe I misunderstood him. This source claims that it blooms at two week intervals from mid-summer to autumn in frost-free areas, but this one says one night a year and it’s done. I should have first-hand knowledge later this summer. One source says it has a powerful fragrance, but that wasn’t obvious last night. Enjoy.night blooming sereus-wide

Denverites love to perpetuate the myth that it’s cold there during the winter. The more people think November to March is nothing but frigid temperatures and snow drifts the more people will stay away—and they can have the city to themselves. They especially want Texans to remain Texans, I understand. Denver actually has quite mild winter weather.

I think the folks in St. Petersburg, Florida, too, have their tongue in cheek when they say it’s hot here from March to November. It’s too early to be definitive but from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been told by long-time residents is that the weather may be hot and humid come the dog days of summer, but for someone from Washington, DC it will seem like a spring day.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but the weather has been a pleasant surprise. I write this on a day when it is about 80 degrees here and projected to be 93 in Fairfax, Va., my old hometown.  I’ll take even 90 here. Humid, indeed, but not oppressively so, which is what it usually is in DC. And the evenings are lovely, cooling nicely by 8:00 with a breeze off the bay, about three blocks away. But don’t tell anyone. Let them think it’s miserably muggy.

Into our sixth week in St. Pete, things couldn’t be much better, due mostly to the house and neighborhood we’ve inhabited. Built in 1924, the Spanish stucco abode has large rooms and enough archways and decorative touches to make this place charming. It is framed, I’m told, not with two-by-fours, or even wood, but by interlacing hexagonal hollow clay tiles about six inches long over which plaster is laid. It makes keeping this place cool in the summer easy to do. Being the cheapskate I am, I turn the AC off during the day. Unless I’m doing anything physical, which I scrupulously avoid, it’s comfortable. Writing does not require sweat equity, strictly speaking. I turn the AC on about an hour before Karla gets home as she is hot in the summer no matter what the weather.  Being a Texas girl it’s understandable. Cool summer days are unimaginable to her.

The neighborhood is charming. Many of the homes date from the first decades of the 20th century. It’s now called Historic Old Northeast and is marked by many Prairie style homes in addition to the Spanish stuccos. brick streets

Many of the streets are still brick, each with the imprint of Augusta Block, which may have been from the Georgia Vitrified Brick and Clay Co. of Augusta, Ga., though other sources indicated the bricks were actually made in North Augusta, which is across the border in South Carolina.  The homes are of all sizes and there are some apartment buildings, most of them small, older and well-kept. One in particular is beautiful:

Along the bay is a wide concrete trail and park that extends from the Snell Isle bridge to downtown St. Pete. The town has undergone a revival over the past decade and, due in part to the 5,000 students at the St. Pete campus of the University of South Florida, doesn’t feel like a retirement community. In fact, the city seems to attract young and older professionals looking for something Tampa must not offer.

I’ve met quite a few of them through the St. Pete Cycling Club. I figured the club was a good way to meet people, though I was concerned that I would be riding with a lot of young bucks who would drop me like an old girlfriend. Instead, I get dropped by a lot of guys my age and women who drop me like an old boyfriend. But I’m beginning to hang with them, even if my heart rate tells me I’m dangerously close to my last ride, like when I look down and see that we’re travelling at 30 mph. It’s flat, but 30 mph is tough, even when I’m sucking some wheel. We meet weekday mornings at 8:00 on the USF campus about two miles from our house. Usually there are about a dozen or two riders and we pretty much stay together for the first loop, but then a smaller subset takes another loop around for about a 25-mile ride, and it’s in that second loop when the testosterone gets going.

Saturday rides are another story, entirely, with a couple hundred riders showing up at the North Shore Pool at 8:30. Rides are called off a couple of minutes apart, “26 north, 26 south, 24 north,” etc. down to 18. The numbers are the average speed of the group on one of two routes. There’s also a Ft. Desoto ride, called the best ride in Florida by a book my son gave me. Ft. Desoto is usually pretty fast and hence a smaller ride. But the others can be a hundred riders or more.  Though they are supposed to be “controlled rides” at a steady pace, inevitably, some riders catch a traffic light. It’s hard to keep together, and even harder to keep it controlled. And if Ft. Desoto is the best ride in Florida, the place can’t compare to Virginia. The water is nice to see, the palm trees swaying, but the countryside, partly because it’s so flat, is uninspiring.

My son Zack was here for the weekend and rode three days with me. Memorial Day was a Ft. Desoto ride with more than 200 cyclists. We broke up by the second light and once we got to the park a large group stopped and from there it broke apart again. Zack, I and a young woman soloed home.

Much too early for a final verdict on St. Pete. But so far, so good, at least for the body.

Back in the saddle, and riding off into the sun

Sometimes life throws you a curve that actually looks like a fat pitch to hit. That’s happened to my wife and me. We’ve been in northern Virginia for nearly 24 years. It’s been good to us, but the only changes we contemplated were moving into DC or spending summers in Colorado. Then came the offer for her to be the COO of a company in Clearwater, Florida. We never expected it but thought it sounded like a great adventure, especially since it could be a limited engagement of a few years. So she, possessing infinite confidence, and I, possessing my new Medicare card, will soon be on the road.

I have no idea what I will do in retirement. My greatest worry is that I will bore myself to death, literally. I’ve seen that happen when after years of fearing starvation, staggering college bills and sparse later years that drives us to achieve, we replace it with nothing of consequence. The mind and then the body become resigned to the inevitable, and, seeing no better alternative, decide to cash it in.

So one strategy for me is to keep writing, even if it’s just for this blog. They say it keeps the mind sharp, but I’m as interested in its impact on the spirit. Make no mistake, as an independent contractor most of my professional life, I’ve had periods where I had plenty of free time. But the permanence of free time is a daunting.

In additional to the Fourth Estate. expect musings about cycling, politics, jazz, playing the piano, the Great American Songbook and food, as well as what we inevitably leave behind.

Does Fox Lean Right?

In the New York Times story today about Fox News President Roger Ailes being accused of lying  asking someone to lie in a wrongful termination lawsuit, we have this short ‘graph.

Mr. Ailes, a onetime adviser to Richard Nixon whom critics deride as a partisan who engineers Fox News coverage to advance Republicans and damage Democrats, something Fox has long denied.

At what point can a reporter say that Fox News is an organization that advances the cause of Republicans? Journalistic purists may not like it, but Fox News is not unlike many news organizations early in the past century and before. While there are some straight ahead news programs, they tend to lean right in their interviewing and it is better known as advocating a point of view. Just because the organization denies that they work on behalf of Republicans doesn’t mean that reporters can’t make a statement of fact that is obvious to everyone.

Journalism Takes Too Much Time

Washington Post reporter David Hilzenrath called me last week after I sent him an email asking if he was going to look into claims that “regulations kill jobs.” (see also and here) He and Phil Rucker had written a front page story that included a statement by the reporters that no one making those claims could provide any evidence. Yet for about 1600 words Hilzenrath and Rucker allowed mostly those asserting the claim full rein.

In my talk with him I characterized it as a “he said, she said” story. He took umbrage at that, but we did find common ground. Rucker had stated in an email to me that they would conduct their “due diligence” to fact check the claim. But Hilzenrath said that would be unlikely for the simple reason that it would take too much time to examine the veracity of the claim. He also said it may impossible to verify it or disprove it.

I agree it would take some time and no definitive answer may be possible, but what he said speaks to the sad state of journalism today. Even the best newspapers, such as The Post, can’t do their job of seeking truth, as the ethics code of the Society of Journalism sets out as one of the profession’s guiding principles: to seek the truth. They are short-staffed and must stick to reporting what happens with little examination of the claims of either party.

Even on the big issues, fact checking is too slow. As Mark Twain once said, a lie will go around the world while the truth is pulling its boots on. I recalled a conference I attended years ago in which Mike Shear, then a Post  reporter covering Virginia state government, admonished bloggers for reporting rumors. I pointed out to him how The Post  had allowed the rumor, false as it turned out, by the “Swift Boaters” against Sen. John Kerry, to receive coverage in his paper for more than a week before it refuted the rumor. He conceded my point. The best known recent example is Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” still believed to be true by nearly half of all Americans.

Yet it requires “too much time” to verify the truth. Are readers being well served? And is it any wonder that newspapers, where we expect to find the “first draft of history,” are dying. Fewer people trust the information they get from mainstream media. Seventy percent of respondents to a CNN poll said the media was “out of touch” and from 1972 to 2009 those who have confidence in the mainstream media fell from 68 percent to 45 percent, according to a Gallup poll.

So here’s a suggestion for The Post. For national political reporting (its bread and butter), contract with another news organization that covers the back and forth of Congress and the White House. Maybe The National Journal, AP or Roll Call. Ask those news organizations to provide short stories about what happened on the Hill or at the White House briefing. These stories would be no more than a couple hundred words that would say this is the issue and here’s the spin from each side. No quotes, just synopses of the issues and the spin. These stories could be on page 2 or 3 and graphically laid out to be quick reads.

That would free up Post reporters to dig behind the spin. That analysis of the issue may not be produced the same day in some cases, but as issues percolate, reporters could be working on the different issues encompassing the political story. In the “regulations kills jobs” scenario, reporters would be looking at questions such as:

  • Has this issue been studied by a reasonably non-partisan group and what were the findings?
  • Which type of regulations create new jobs and which ones simply cost money?
  • What regulations are truly silly or address a problem that no longer exists?
  • Which regulations seemed to be put in place to help a special interest?

With each hearing or press conference, AP, Roll Call or the National Journal would summarize the tit for tat or any new development and the Post would provide the context.

There are too many smart people at newspapers throughout the country to waste their talents being stenographers of the political process.