Sunday, December 30, 2007

Underlying Visions

For the first time in a while, I got to show a visitor my city Sunday afternoon. Accompanied by not one, but two, lovely Japanese citizens, I drove through the city's neighborhoods, from the financial district downtown, past Chinatown and through North Beach, the wharf to Fort Mason.

After lunch at Greens, our tour continued through the Marina Green, Chrissy Field, and down to ancient Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

This is one of favorite spots in San Francisco, where the sounds and smells of the Bay surrounded us on a cold, sunny day. It is easy to imagine the life of the Civil War soldiers stationed here among these drafty old brick walls, with arches and stairways and lookout towers and cannons awaiting enemies who never arrived.

All the military bases in the immediate Bay Area have been returned to the cities and state of California governments, and they've been transformed into national parks, universities, or centers for NGOs.

Eventually, we made our way through the Presidio, and over to the Pacific Coast just by sundown, past Baker Beach, Seal Rock, Land's End, and the Cliff House, overlooking the wide expanse of ocean beach. Hundreds of people were still walking the beach at sunset.

Then, back through Presidio and Pacific Heights and Lincoln Park to the Richmond, along Clement Street with its Cantonese markets with signs in kanji script, which both my companions can discern meanings.

We then proceeded over to the Haight, and the Castro, Noe Valley, Dolores Park, 24th Street, the Mission, and the Valencia corridor, which its many used bookshops, restaurants, and salons.

Finally, down through the outer Mission and lower Potrero to China Basin, where a flurry of building activity harkens the arrival of UCSF's biotechnology complex spreading all the way from 16th Street on the bayfill to the Third Street Canal, and the Giants' stadium.

Through Mulimedia Gulch and South Park, past the former offices of Rolling Stone and the once-and-present office of Wired, we re-entered downtown at the financial district and drove our friend up to her boutique hotel near Union Square.

It was a nice way to survey the city on the last Sunday of the year. Meanwhile, as I write this, it is the last Monday of the year and in fact the last day of any kind for 2007.

With that in mind, may I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, joyous, sexy, funny, sustainable 2008! Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

When writers to movies...

Today I ventured out to watch the deeply disturbing film based on the book, The Kite Runner, in the absurd venue of "Century 20 Cinema" in the equally disturbing Daly City, the town captured in the classic folk song, "Ticky Tacky," by the late Malvina Reynolds.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

The Kite Runner, is, of course, a story spawned in Fremont, across the bay from Daly City, where so many Afghan immigrants have settled. And, as such, it raised for me so many memories from my own time in Afghanistan, which actually overlapped with the first year portrayed in this film, 1971, before the Russians, before the Taliban, a time when Afghans experienced a rare peaceful interlude between centuries of violence.


Back home, afterwards, I discovered that the even more disturbing documentary, Grizzly Man, was playing on TV's usually reliable "Animal Planet." I've seen this twice before, and the insanity it portrays of a fellow American still cuts me to my core.

Why are we, the most privileged people on earth, given to so many scary excesses and strange insanities? Could it be, perhaps, that no humans deserve to be so safely rich? Are we perhaps collectively in a state of denial as to just how unsustainable our American presence has become in this, a desperately poor, hungry, and vulnerable world?

I hope not. But, nothing in these two films helps to dismiss those concerns.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Clement Street

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, including places our many tourists rarely visit. Several years ago, a Chinese friend took me shopping to the markets along Clement Street in the Richmond District.

In those markets, we encountered exotic items like marinated duck eggs, pig balls, and liquors that can knock you senseless after a drink or two.

Tonight, we returned to the scene of these crimes. Our first destination was the great independent bookstore, Green Apple, that anchors Clement Street and defines the tone of the neighborhood. There, I found a used copy of one of my favorite books, the brilliant "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," by Philip Gourevitch.

Eventually, we found ourselves in one of the small food markets where the ingredients we were seeking for tonight's dinner (baby bok choi, buna shimaji, daikon, and ginger), were available. The price for all of the food pictured above?



Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Cold Wind Blows

A day of contradictions, as so many are. It starts with an early trip to the airport, driving my young children to their flight to visit their grandparents on one of my favorite places on earth -- Sanibel Island, Florida. I think the most recent time I have visited there was Christmas 2001.

On the way to the airport, the awful news that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated after a political rally in Rawalpindi, a stronghold of the Pakistani Army and intelligence services that many suspect have been less than vigilant in guarding the opposition political leader since she returned to her home country earlier this fall.

Somehow, a gunman on a motorcycle with an AK-47 penetrated her security and shot her in the neck, then detonated a bomb that killed at least 22 other people. She was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. There is no information yet about whom the assassin was, or why Ms. Bhutto, the only woman ever freely elected to lead a Moslem country's government, was killed.

So many old painful feelings came up for me, and no doubt, many others -- John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat, and Salvador Allende. Progressives, each in his own way, much as the liberal Bhutto was in Pakistan. She was not close to the powerful Pakistani military, nor to the shadowy intelligence agencies that helped sponsor the rise of the (anti-woman) Taliban that helped ruin neighboring Afghanistan, while harboring Osama bin-laden as he planned his heinous assault on the U.S.

But Ms. Bhutto had many enemies, including the terrorists of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the vicious tribal chiefs in the Pashtun borderlands that neither the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, nor the ever-present U.S. security "advisors" have been able to subdue.

Any of these may be implicated.


Later today, in a morose mood, I packed up the Christmas tree ornaments and set the tree itself outside. As we packed our ornaments into the plastic container on wheels that fits under my daughter's bed, my friend asked what the message on the back of one cute ornament meant. I examined it and realized that it was from my mother to my son Aidan on her last Christmas on earth...2001. She died the following October, on what had been her own Scottish immigrant mother's birthday. So this was her last Christmas gift to her grandson.

Still later, the mailman delivered a DVD, courtesy of my dear friend, of Rollover, the only movie that I ever received any credit for in my years of screenwriting, consulting, and story pitching in Hollywood. I thought about the writers now on strike, trying to gain a fair share of DVD revenues, and recalled that in my day, videos were the new thing, and we had to strike then for the same reasons.

To the owners of the studios, new technology platforms offer an opportunity for profits unfettered by responsibility to those of us who created the story in the first place.

Please remember this, the next time you rent or buy a DVD, a video, or other version of a motion picture. There would be no films if not for writers. Yet writers are among the lowest compensated of all those who collaborate on filmmaking.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Walkabout

The City is quiet, relatively empty for the holiday. Residents who can afford to have escaped to the Sierra, hoping for snow; or to the tropics, to work on their tans.

Chinatown alone was hopping last night; its restaurants filled mainly by Jewish families and atheists, as is the tradition here. We went to one such place ourselves, ordering duck, calamari, shrimp, chicken, green beans, Chinese broccoli, hot and sour soup, and so on.

Walking through the Mission on Christmas Day, we found buildings and corners we've seldom seen before. Somehow, they tended to stand out more noticeably in the silence. At major intersections, no car could be seen coming or going.

I was struck by a different memory -- and an even more profound silence. The supreme quiet of walking home on a wintry evening in Ann Arbor, at 2 a.m. after putting the next day's paper to bed. Snow would be falling soundlessly; the entire world was coated in white, my breath was similarly white, my winter shoes moved silently through the streets where no autos were moving.

I loved these nights, these moments of absolute solitude. They were my Robert Frost nights, the times when his poems came alive for me.

Back to the present tense, I decided to leave the Christmas tree's lights on for one last night. Bereft of presents now, this small pine is destined for the sidewalk tomorrow, where it will be retrieved and recycled by the city garbage company, the euphemistically named Sunset Scavengers.

Only they never come after sunset; instead they come at sunrise, their noisy trucks waking us prematurely, and we curse them, here in the country that wastes more products than any other as we live out our roles as consumers of junk, less than one percent of which lasts longer than six months!.

By day, I am studying Africa and sustainability. By night I am dreaming of those winter nights, so long ago and far awaay, when I was still largely innocent of these inconveient facts.

Monday, December 24, 2007

This Christmas: 12 Groups That Need Our Support

Claywork by Julia

Please consider supporting some of these worthy grassroots efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina two years and four months ago.

1. Mercy Housing and Human Development Utilizing integrated strategies to provide housing, community and economic development for low-income families of Mississippi.

2. North Gulfport Community Land Trust Dedicated to providing permanently affordable homeownership to residents in North Gulfport.

3. The Steps Coalition The mission of the Steps Coalition is to promote an equitable recovery and healthy, just, and sustainable communities in South Mississippi.

4. Back Bay Mission Founded in 1922, the mission has always kept the impoverished and marginalized at the center of its concern.

5. Mississippi Center for Justice An organization dedicated to advancing racial and economic justice.

6. NAACP Biloxi Branch

7. Living Independence for Everyone (LIFE) The Southeast's Regional disability resource center offers a wide range of resources, education, and advocacy to the community to help level the playing field for people with disabilities.

8. Moore Community House MCH works with the east Biloxi community assisting low-income neighbors with quality child care, family services & local economic development.

9. Sierra Club Mississippi My informant tells me: "All environmental orgs are really struggling down here, kind of hung out to dry. With oil and chemical companies making the people down here die of cancer, confused by intractable poverty/need for "job creation" and the good ol' boys' billfolds, local George Bush-style denial, it's a hard case to make.

10. St. Rose Outreach and Recovery Operates under the premise that no family can recover from Katrina until it has a safe and secure home in which to live.

11. Gulf Restoration Network Works on a variety of issues in keeping with its mission of protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

12. Visions of Hope This traveling exhibit is an interactive and educational display that travels around the country to provide visitors, including breast cancer survivors and their families, with the most up-to-date information on breast cancer, detection, and treatment options.

Love, and may peace be with you.



Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reading's End

*Less than half of all Americans have read a "work of creative literature" in the past year.

*Only 13% are "proficient" readers, capable of "comparing viewpoints in two editorials."

*Between 1992 and 2005, the percentage of 12th graders who reported they had talking about their reading with their friends at least once a week declined from 54% to 37%.

These and other statistics can be found in a piece by Caleb Crain in the current issue of The New Yorker. I've linked to the article in the headline to this post, i.e., if you click on the headline, you'll go directly to the article.

After establishing that reading books and newspapers is in a steep decline in the U.S. and Europe, the article explores the science of reading. As a human ability, reading developed much too recently for our genes to select for it; instead, we've adapted other neurobiological capabilities in order to train our brains to understand written language.

Until quite recent times, only the elite read books, and it appears we are returning to that type of society. Most people no longer read any serious works of literature or journalism. Instead, most people watch a lot of television. This habit requires an entirely different set of brain activity, and numerous studies have suggested that, unlike bookworms, those who get their information primarily via TV end up knowing far less about issues like the war, and comprehending even less.


The arrival of the Internet is often blamed as a contributing factor in the decline in reading, but the evidence here is less persuasive. While watching TV is passive, surfing the web is an interactive activity.

Email is a blessing because it gets people writing who might otherwise not write. It takes time and skill to compose an email message of any complexity, and therefore, email is perfectly good brain activity. Blogging is even better, and millions of people blog.

Finally, as text-messaging takes hold among the young, people are writing and reading messages, albeit in a code that (I predict) will supplant written English as the primary form of communication by the middle of this century. One can imagine a new Shakespeare emerging, a person with an ear for this new dialect, who can create plays and perhaps other literary forms (though probably not sonnets) that pushes texting to a new level of artistry.

Like most teachers, professors, librarians, and journalists, I am alarmed at the decline of reading serious books and periodicals. But, I'm not yet ready to dismiss the new forms of interactive communication and story-telling as lacking merit. To the contrary, I remain hopeful the democratization of information will in fact prevent our return to a society where only the elite have access to literature, art, and the facts that we all need to make responsible decisions going forward -- as citizens, parents, and as inhabitants of a planet in peril.


Saturday, December 22, 2007


If a tree falls and no one is here to hear it, does it still make a sound? -- George Berkeley

Today, with my best friend Howard and his family visiting, we went down to the baseball park at China Basin, intending to circumnavigate that lovely structure.

As good luck would have it, we were allowed inside the park to tour a small portion of the outfield area.

Inside the stadium, which currently is set up for a college football bowl game on the 28th (Maryland v. Oregon State), the seats were all empty, no food was on sale, and therefore, no seagulls bothered to soar overhead.

It was, in one sense, a lonely venue.

Still, having been here so many times when the seats were packed, Aidan and I could hear the ghosts cheering for our heroes of past years.

Now, of course, our greatest hero of all, Barry Bonds, stands indicted on charges of perjury over whether he used steroids to achieve some of the amazing feats we witnessed and celebrated.

Such a lonely place, now.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Rumors v. Journalism

One aspect of the Internet that reporters have often decried is the way gossip and rumor have come to the fore, competing with what we might professionally call the "publishable truth." The Drudge Report is the best-known purveyor of media and political gossip, but despite the many errors Matt Drudge has made over the past decade, his will always be remembered as the first website to report that President Bill Clinton had had an affair with an intern named Monica Lewinsky.

The irony that all reporters know privately is we often trade in gossip and rumor, because we are the ones on the front lines of where the documentable meets the undocumentable. I'm reminded of how every reporter I met in Washington, D.C., during the closing year of the Clinton administration (when I was bureau chief there for Salon) claimed to have known about Newt Gingrich's affair, which he conducted while he was leading the Republican attack on Clinton for his sexual misbehavior.

If they knew it, why didn't they consider it newsworthy? If the tawdry affairs of one party are fair game, what about those of the other?

Whatever. My solution to the rumor mill syndrome was to recommend that Salon hire a gossip columnist, which we subsequently did, and she was a good one. Hell, I enjoy political rumors as much as the next person, as long as it is clearly labeled as such.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Algorithms of Lovers

This is a true story.

A middle-aged couple in their 50s are going through a divorce. The man was resisting it, but the woman insisted. Once the legal proceedings were underway, the woman followed her friend's advice and posted to the online dating service , hoping to find a new man to date, and, who knows, maybe more.

As with all such services, asks members to answer a series of questions that its computers then compare for compatibility with another member whose "profile" matches up along the scale of factors believed to be important in whether people will be attracted to one another.

In this case, the woman in question got a severe shock when returned a man who appeared to be her perfect mate.

It was her (soon to be) ex-husband. Yikes!

First of all, she was surprised, given his supposed resistance to the divorce, that he had already uploaded his profile on Secondly, she wondered, how could they possibly be each other's perfect match when they were in the midst of breaking up?

My own advice, had it been solicited, would have been to consider calling off the divorce, at least long enough to take a romantic vacation somewhere together and make sure splitting is indeed their best option.

As to what will happen to the actual couple in this case, I have no clue, so stay tuned. If I find out, I'll update this post, with an appropriately iterative title.


Note: Photos above (one) of my son's Varsity team; and (5) from the offices of an intriguing startup I hope to blog about soon...


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back to Africa

So here's the thing. We Americans have so many choices in life, but sadly, most of the time most of us remain oblivious to our relative position of privilege vs. that of people in other countries. You have to get out and about, globally, to appreciate what I am talking about.

No one I meet in the daily course of events impresses me more than immigrants. Here in the Bay Area, especially in Silicon Valley, one encounters brilliant people from all over the world. Each has his or her story to tell, and it's never a story you expect it to be.

They come from places our ignorant President has identified as part of the "axis of evil," but there is nothing evil about them. They may be Jews or Moslems but there is no antagonism between them; they are brothers/sisters in the search for algorithmic solutions to our information dilemmas.

They grew up in places that sound romantic, like Casablanca, Kyoto, Venice, or Prague; or in places that we imagine as hell, like Calcutta, Kabul, Baghdad, or Dacca. But none of our stereotypes capture the nuances of their experiences.

Bob Dylan sang that he pitied the poor immigrant, and in his case, he was certainly describing a typical down-on-his-luck American artist's feelings toward a landlord...the role many immigrants find themselves in.

My own landlady is Indian, and, if I were given to a Dylanesque analysis, she comes up short on doing repairs (like repairing those persistent bathroom leaks) that would make life easier here, but she remains kindly disposed to my own oddities, like my ever-changing states of employment, my visibly questionable artistic experiments (think of the colored bottles), and a large cast of characters, both adults and children, who greet her here whenever she might chose to visit.

We like each other, she and I, and I am happy that she got married this past summer.

The very best thing about America is our multi-racial, multi-cultural diversity.

The absolute worst thing about America is the tendency of some among us to disparage that diversity. The racists, of course, will not inherit this great nation, but the immigrants most certainly will.

Anyone who believes in God, and 90% of Americans say they do, has to admit that we are genetically 99.9% the same in our DNA, and therefore race and nationality has nothing to do with anything in the eyes of our Lord.

The title of this post reflects my plans to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, next month, to attend a United Nations plenary on agricultural sustainability. As scientists have established without a doubt, we are all Africans.

Therefore, I look forward to returning to our common home, the place of our origin, where we first learned to stand upright and use our eyes to see beyond our immediate environment.

Where we first learned to consider the bigger picture, the one I am writing about here and now.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This is Flat Julia. She is hoping to go along on some adventures this holiday season, collect some photos and text about her adventures, and return to school in January with the real Julia, who will explain where her flat alter-ego went and what she experienced.

Julia hopes her big sister Laila, who lives in Santiago, will take Flat Julia on a Chilean adventure or two. Thanks to the magic of scanners, email, color printers, and digital cameras, this little story may come true.

My younger basketball player got in for three minutes in today's game, and he is starting to feel more comfortable. Although he again did not touch the ball or create stats of any kind on the score sheet, he told me afterward that he felt confident that if he had gotten the ball, he could have a made a shot.

He posed for me outside of the gymnasium, which is located on the sprawling new UCSF campus that is becoming visible below Potrero Hill along Third Street from the Giants' baseball stadium all the way out to 16th Street.

After Dylan's JV game, which his team won, 35-21, the bigger boys took the floor.

The outcome for the Varsity was less satisfying. They lost, 50-29. My shooter scored just two points with one assist and so felt afterward that he had failed, terribly.

Parenting young athletes requires a set of skills, most of which we have to acquire along the way, in real time, without any guidebooks or angels to show us the way. My way is to gently urge the boy or girl out of his/her funk, and point out the good things (s)he did in the game.

Then I change the subject. Sports are only one type of the activities that we want our kids to experience. Art, theater, music, dance, community involvement, charity -- there are so many others.

A game like basketball is among the simplest of experiences. You either win or you lose. Regardless of the outcome, another game looms. So, the goal is to help your kid learn to just keep competing. Each new game represents a blank slate, maybe the moment he or she will break out and have a great game.

Or maybe not.

Either way, (s)he are part of a team. True team members are unselfish and focused on the common good, not individual accomplishments. Later on, no one will remember who won or who lost, but everyone will remember how good it felt to be in it together.

I knew my Varsity player felt a lot better when I dropped him off at his Mom's later tonight when he said, "I love you, Daddy. Thanks for a great night." Usually I am "Dad," so this was a sweet surprise.

His next game is Thursday night. Stay tuned; I suspect he will have a big game...


Monday, December 17, 2007

Let me tell you a story...

Not long ago and not far away, something special happened. You may be excused, dear reader, for dismissing it as quite nearly nothing at all, once I get around to the details, but for now, please trust me when I say, "life is short, so treasure each moment."

Our perspective on lifespan is highly influenced by whatever age we happen to be when we think about it. My sister Kathy, for instance, whilst a teenager, told me she knew she wouldn't live past 29. Her certainty actually alarmed me, because I had no such insights into when my own demise might occur.

Luckily, she was dead wrong, and happily for all of us, she's already made it to twice that fateful age. Meanwhile, I rather blithely flirted with death at age 24, averting that fate (according to my doctors) by about an hour on January 10, 1971.

India. A hospital bed. Doctors and nurses hovering with worried faces. Fluids pouring out of any exit point my badly dehydrated body could provide.

"What's this?" thought I, in my semi-delirious state. "Death here, now, like this?"

"Hell no," came back the answer.

Thus I am still here tonight, nearly 37 years later, recounting this tale.

Let's see, where did the next length of the thread of this post go?

Aha! Since I was spared death in that distant place so long ago, I eventually reproduced, not once or twice but six times! And the fifth of those six special children is my youngest son, Dylan, 11 years old at present, with a prodigious appetite for serious books by serious historians.

The last time Dylan played competitive sports was, what, five years ago? Because he was playing with his older brother's peers, he was declared ineligible to stay on the team, and that was the end of his interest in team sports.

Until recently. Somehow he decided to give basketball a try. Tonight, he actually got into a game. His team won 16-11. He played about one minute of the 28 minute game and he didn't make a single mistake. In fact, he never actually touched the ball. But he did run back and forth with his teammates, locating the proper position on the court where he was to play, held his arms up in defense, and maintained an alert, watchful presence while he was on the floor.

In addition, he rooted on his teammates from the bench, placed his hands in with the others for the team cheer, and lined up to shake the opponents' hands after his team's victory.

From the scorer's table, where I worked the game, the best moment of this story for me was when I looked up and saw little number 4 reporting that he was the next guy checking into the game. He knelt next to us, as all incoming players do, and when the buzzer sounded, in he went.

Sorry to say, I had to look down at the score sheet so no one would see the emotion in my eyes.

Don't get me wrong. Sports, especially kids' sports are, of course, a minor concern in our world filled with dangers and confusion. I must appear to be a sports fanatic to some of you, given my frequent postings about baseball, the Giants, and other sports. To others, I must seem like a typical soccer mom, i.e., a parent so focused on his own kid's athletic accomplishments that he easily loses sight of the bigger picture.

Well, I plead guilty to all of the above...guilty as charged.

But, this little story is not about me, it is about Dylan W., as he invariably signs his name. I am very proud of my youngest son, because I know how much he dreaded going out there, in front of an audience, and performing under the glare of the lights.

This little boy will one day do great things, I believe. They probably will not be on a basketball court. But his willingness to try and compete in an alien environment will serve him somehow, someway, I'm quite sure.

Congratulations, number four!

p.s. I love you -- Dad.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Return to the Haight

(Yes, he's grown again. Aidan is now taller than 5'6" and with his jumping ability he's that much closer to being able to dunk the ball.)

As I think back over my life, there has been no one part of town, here or in the other eight cities where I've lived at least three months, that can compete with the Haight. After all, I was there for a baker's dozen or so years.

I lived at three separate addresses in the Haight -- on Masonic, Haight, and Ashbury Streets. My first three kids were born during that period, I had my Rolling Stone years, my CIR* years, the majority of my world-trotting years.

(Photo by Dylan)
Today, we returned to the Haight, and I passed my old addresses as the kids shopped for Christmas presents. The Haight's upgraded a bit in recent years; there still are used clothes stores and tons of pierced, tattooed kids along the street, but there also are seriously upscale boutiques. It feels more like the Village than in years past.

You know that when you walk streets you used to walk that you'll be flooded by memories, and I'm no different in this regard.

We passed a used bookstore where I once found two slender volumes about the English language written in the early years of the last century. Those two small books triggered a pent-up desire to learn the history of my birth language, and a dozen other books have followed in my quest to understand how old German, Anglo-Saxon, post 1066 Norman French, Latin, and many more recent foreign influences have layered this malleable language into one with so many nuances and so many shades of meaning that when I (somewhat compulsively) play an online word game, I invariably learn new three and four letter words every time.

We passed the shop where I purchased the album "Imagine" on the night John Lennon died. I was crying and couldn't hide it. I took the album home and played it all night long.

There were a lot of other ghosts and images, which I will not detail here. I'm going to have to go back again and let more of them in...

* = Center for Investigative Reporting

p.s. We had a surprise birthday party here tonight. The kids pulled it off expertly.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rock Stars

If you were hanging around my place tonight, you would have been hearing the latest in rap and rock, because those are the musical languages of our teenagers. I have to confess, I like "their" music, and it's starting to be my choice on the radio, not just theirs.

Daddy Rap Rock, that's my new moniker. After the kids have been dropped off at their Mom's, I'm still moving to their music, wiggling around while, of course, remaining a responsible adult at the wheel of my car.

There is nothing surprising about that. I've always been a child of rock 'n roll. Give me a beat, babe...

The child beauties in my house tonight inspired me to write something or another that just might be, well, "inspiring," which my princess, aged nine, told me tonight is one of her favorite new words.


Updrafts and the rebirth of ideology

I hope at least some of my visitors are Republicans, conservatives, or libertarians, and before I begin my rant, I'll attempt to establish a bit of credibility with you.

First, I am a professional journalist, with a degree in journalism, a career now about to enter its 42nd year, and somewhere around 20 years of experience teaching journalism to people of virtually all ages, 6-96.

Although we journalists purport to be "objective," in fact there is no such thing. No human being can completely separate him or herself from our beliefs, biases, experiences, observations, and learnings. All I can say about me, David Weir, is that I have tried to stay open-minded my whole life, often to the dismay of those around me.

For example, as a teenager, not yet able to vote, in 1964 I fervently supported Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican who threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on Vietnam in order to end that irksome war. (He was defeated by LBJ in a landslide.)

Four years later, when I finally could cast a vote, I probably voted for some fringe leftist candidate like Eldridge Cleaver of the Peace and Freedom Party. (Needless to say, my vote was similarly meaningless that time around.)

I veered sharply left for a while and in the elections that followed, I usually supported independent candidates (who invariably lost), but as I aged, I started occasionally to vote for Democrats, because they seemed the lesser of two evils, or because the Republicans who were on the ballot were so horrible that their victory would lead to something, as the child of hard-working immigrants who counted every penny, that I feared above all else: Class Warfare.

Now, why did I fear this development? I was well-read in Marx, Engels, and the brilliant American progressives of the first half of the 20th century. And, therefore, I knew that provoking class warfare was the goal of many a radical, past and concurrently in the period I am discussing here.

But it was never a goal of mine. I liked certain aspects of Marxism, especially the ideas of equality and redistributing wealth unfairly inherited from the crimes of their fathers and grandfathers.

As I got even older, I started flirting with capitalism, finally, taking jobs that allowed me to experience the power of free markets, free trade, and wealth creation. On occasion, I found myself once again supporting certain Republicans over their Democratic opponents, especially when the former grasped the transforming potential of technology and globalization, while the latter tried to prevent the inevitable.

When Salon sent me to Washington in 1999, I was firmly committed to recruiting conservative and libertarian writers, and I did so with relish.

But, even during this, my second conservative period, I could never resolve the problem of our common, social externalities, especially our shared environmental responsibilities.

At heart, being true to myself, I am an environmentalist AND a journalist. I've considered all ideologies, stayed as open-minded as I am able to be, and played the role of my own worst devil's advocate before I publish anything at all.


Today, I read an article buried deep inside the New York Times, which triggered this rant. During the three-year period 2003-5, the most recent statistics available document that the richest one percent of Americans increased their household income 42.6%, or an average of $465,700 a year!

No other segment of the American class system experienced an income growth of more than 4.3% during that period; sadly, the poorest segment grew by only 1.3%.

I ask any of you who are true blue Republicans, how can you justify this obscene transfer of wealth upwards? This is not the Republicanism of my youth. This is the dictatorship of the super-rich, who are benefitting globally from the U.S. dominance since the end of the Cold War that you might as well call them heartless vacuum cleaners, sweeping up the hopes and dreams of all of the rest of us to a measure of greed that historically caused empires to fall.

You and I, mere ordinary Americans, are doomed to be swept away in a fury of hatred, I fear, as the rest of the world retaliates against the greatest transfer of wealth upwards in the history of humanity. It is not right. It is not moral. No religion can justify this.

Those of us able to exercise the franchise in this, the most powerful if nowhere near the most democratic of nations, need to sweep the evil Republican elite out of power and humiliate them, reducing them to such a marginal place in our political system that several new parties can emerge.

We, the true American people, don't want you any more! You have perverted everything dear to us. The next President must tax the rich, ruthlessly. Why?

Because they then will no longer have the resources to continue subverting what was once our imperfect democracy, but today, is the most hated, greedy, war-mongering class on earth...upper class Americans. Many are war criminals; the others are class enemies of you, me, and all other decent people.

I believe somewhere in the French Revolution, or perhaps in Alice in Wonderland, either of which is relevant here, the phrase "Off with their heads" was uttered. It's getting to be time for that, here in the supposedly land of the free.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Rich America. The bell tolls for thee.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Little Music Man (Poco Hombre Musica)

As he approaches his first birthday next month, Little James is walking and dancing to music these days. His parents have some pretty cute movies up on their site, which I've linked to from the title of this posting.

Whenever I consider the challenges I face, between jobs, aging, facing pressures and challenges that sometimes feel overwhelming, I think about little babies like James and their incredible drive to learn how to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand up, walk; and then talk, sing, dance; and then read, write, think.

My concerns seem minor by comparison. Then again, I'm at an age where no one's cheering me on anymore. My role is to cheer the children and grandchildren, increasingly from the sidelines, not the center of the court.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

33 Years and Counting...

The children of Betty Van Patter, the former bookkeeper for the Black Panther Party who disappeared 33 years ago tonight, on December 13, 1974, from a bar in Berkeley, continue to wait for justice to be done. Weeks later, after a somber holiday season, in January 1975, Betty's three kids got the news they most feared -- their mother's battered body had washed up in Foster City from its journey floating through frigid San Francisco Bay.

An autopsy confirmed that she had been killed and then dumped in the Bay, perhaps in the East Bay wetlands.

Although nobody has ever been charged with her murder, there is substantial circumstantial evidence implicating the Panthers. The long-time D.A. in Alameda County, Tom Orloff, where a case would have to be brought, was burned early in his career when he tried to prosecute Panther leader Huey Newton, and juries refused to cooperate.

It's understandable but regrettable that he apparently feels no responsibility, now he nears retirement age, to reopen this coldest of cold cases, this most politically incorrect of cases. But if he should, there are many people in the community who could provide new evidence as to who ordered this killing and why, and who carried it out.

The individuals involved are still alive, and active publicly. One (the executioner) recently published a book, acclaimed in some circles. I cannot help but wonder whether these two intelligent, gifted African Americans really want to go to their graves with Betty's unnecessary murder on their consciences. I'm quite sure they both realize now it was a terrible mistake.

The statute never runs out on murder. And, though I'm not certain whether there is an afterlife, I'm quite certain these two people's souls, once called from this life, will never rest in peace until and unless they come forward, admit their awful mistake, and seek the mercy of the court.

Meanwhile, those of us who know the truth will continue to watch and wait and pressure for a legal case to be brought. It's theoretically possible that we may yet be able to obtain some DNA evidence that could identify the killer that way.

The guilty parties must know that this is a logical next step for Betty's family to take. Therefore, they cannot rest with any security that they have gotten away with murder. I fully believe the souls of the murdered haunt their killers not only to the end of their days here on earth, but beyond, for all of eternity.


Note: I've linked the title of this blog to the excellent article written by Kristin Bender in the Oakland Tribune last January. Please read her story and consider contacting Orloff about this case. Thank you.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Step by Step

Increasingly often, it seems, I find out about another group of committed people working to save the planet, and all of the species (including us) who depend on it. Today, I was privileged to visit Act Now. The company is devoted to helping humanity achieve sustainability by taking small steps every day.

So far, their biggest and most amazing success involves the greening of Wal-Mart. Act Now's CEO, Adam Werbach, and his staff have convinced the huge retailer to launch a program called PSP for its massive workforce.

PSP stands for Personal Sustainability Practices, which can be as simple as walking to work, losing weight, eating organic food, etc. Act Now has created buttons for the Wal-Mart workers to communicate their goals to colleagues, and these have proved to be very popular.

Wal-Mart reports that those employees who participate in PSP are happier at work and more likley to stay with the company. So what's good for the company is good for the environment, and vice versa.

Wal-Mart, perhaps surprisingly, is taking other steps, including converting all of its stores to solar energy by 2020, and pressuring its product suppliers to provide more green, organic, sustainable products in the future.

When a company of this size uses its market leverage to push for positive change, we should all sit up and take notice. Yet, sadly, many environmentalists have been critical of Werbach for sleeping with the corporate enemy.

Much like in my post yesterday, when I advocated love instead of hate as a strategy for working with Islamic radicals; I believe, in this case, working with a Fortune 500 company to lesson its negative impacts and maximize its positive impacts on our common planet is the right path forward.

Confrontation has its moment. As an old investigative reporter who often exposed dirty corporate secrets, I remain committed to holding the powerful accountable. But I also recognize that we are all in this together, and if the people running the Wal-Marts work to save humanity, they are hardly our enemies, but our friends in struggle.


More on boys helping boys. My 13-year-old, Aidan, a natural athlete, loves his little brother, Dylan, an 11-year-old who reads 100 pages of thick adult books in less than an hour, but has very little confidence in his physical abilities.

Nevertheless, Dylan has tried out for the JV basketball team, and he is finding it a trying experience. Last night, he broke down and said he didn't think he could ever learn the nuances of the game and its many strategies.

Aidan immediately downloaded a basketball court image and they created a paper and pencil version of those dry erase boards coaches use to explain plays to their team members. The two boys huddled over this makeshift board for half an hour, as Aidan drew out and explained how a zone defense works, and how point guards call out offensive sequences.

Tears dried, Dylan finally said, "I think I get it now."

My task now is to get an actual dry erase board like coaches use so the education of brother on brother may continue.