Saturday, September 08, 2007

Saturday Night Leftovers

As a single man, with custody of three young children half of the time, I am typically alone three or four nights a week. Saturday night has always been one of those nights. Back when I was feeling bad about my situation, I used to feel sad when Saturday night rolled around, since I was still then captive to the American Myth that this is either a date night or a family night.

No way. Saturday night can also be the one completely quiet night in a week for a person such as me. No work tomorrow, no school lunches to make, no pressure, nothing at all but whatever I care to make of it, this special night of the American week.

The soundtrack for this particular Saturday night is Robert Johnson. I've been addicted to his music for a long time.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A major reversal (this hurts)

Today, I read an article on SF Gate , which contained the frustrated comments of Benjie Molina, the Giants' best player this season, a catcher from Puerto Rico, who is a true fighter in the best tradition of baseball.

If you follow this link, you'll see he is angry that the team is in last place, and that certain unnamed players are not really competing to win but to pad their statistics.

It doesn't take a linguist to recognize he is talking about Barry Bonds.

As readers of this blog know, I have been a loyal defender of Bonds for a long time. But today, reading Molina's comments, I suddenly realized the one thing about Bonds I hate. When his part of a baseball game is over, when he's pulled for a pinch-runner or for a defensive replacement, he doesn't stay in the dugout and root for his teammates to win the game.

He leaves.

To me, as a coach, this is unforgivable. Even if you are not playing, as a member of a team, you are responsible for supporting your teammates.

Barry Bonds doesn't do that. He is a great player but a bad teammate. For that reason, I am withdrawing my support for the Giants to resign him. I say that the end has come; Barry can go, and the Giants should build a winning team around their new, true leader, Benjie Molina.

(Tonight, Benjie hit a monster HR against the Dodgers to tie the game early. He is my kind of guy.)


Back when it was sexy

Jann Wenner's office
October 1975

Right. So that's me on the left and my buddy Howard on the right, telling the entire nation (courtesy of The Today Show) what we had discovered about the conversion of missing, kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst into Tanya, underground guerrilla warrior for the outlaw Symbionese Liberation Army.

This "army" pulled off stunts like trying to rob a hardware store (failure) and several banks (successful, sort of). While they got cash they also panicked at one of the bank robberies and killed a mother and her unborn child. They also assassination a progressive black superintendent of schools for some obscure reason no one could divine.

They wreaked havoc around California until the LAPD cornered them in a hideout and blasted them all to smithereens -- with the exception of three who were not home at the time. (They were trying to rob the hardware store.)

These three (Patty Hearst, Bill & Emily Harris) began an odyssey across the nation aided by a small group of supporters led by a sports activist, Jack Scott. It took the FBI over 19 months after the original kidnapping to track the fugitives down, and when they did, they were living right here in tiny San Francisco.

Our story broke a few days after their arrests; thus we held the attention of the nation, for a while.

I'm reminded of all this because I am rummaging through artifacts for the organizers of RSX (Ex-Rolling Stone staffers from the SF era, '67-'77) to use in the show they intend to put on for the seventy-five or so of us who show up later this month.

It may often be this way in life, but at this early pinnacle moment for Howard and me, we both felt miserable. We didn't want to be the story, but we were turned into the story by the national media. Lies were published; death threats were issued, as were subpoenas and the unleashed fury of the politically correct "left."

In order to get us to spill the beans, the NBC correspondent had fed us Eggs Benedict and champagne in his hotel before we went over to the Rolling Stone office on Third Street.

That's how it was done in those days. Suddenly we were "famous," in the sense that Andy Warhol understood so well. Just a couple more cans of tomato soup.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lucky 13

Tomorrow, one of my special children officially becomes a teenager. He has always been sweeter than this world rewards.

When my mother was dying, and I decided to fly back to be with her, he insisted on coming with me. He was eight. It was he who helped me realize that it was time to let her go.

Last year, in his seventh grade class, a substitute teacher made an unforgivable error. In announcing the results of a class election for representation on the student council, this teacher revealed that one girl had gotten zero votes.

Aidan let out a sound that seemed like a laugh. In fact he was shocked that the sub could subject the girl in question to such humiliation.

She, of course, broke into tears. The sub then yelled at Aidan, who also disolved in tears.

That's my son. In our family, he is both the oldest and a middle child. He has an older brother and a younger brother. Hehas two older sisters and one little sister.

He's an amazingly complicated person. Beautiful (thanks to his mother), bossy (as per his position in the family), naturally athletic in ways that bring tears to my eyes, because he is pure art in motion. He is fast, strong, smart and aggressive on any court or field, whether the game be soccer, basketball, baseball, or junkyard kickball.

Still, it is his heart that most matters to me.

He has a huge heart, which expresses itself in uncommon kindness toward others, and an empathy that can neither be taught nor compelled. It just comes from his inside.

As I post this tonight, I just hope one day, after I am gone, he will discover this, and realize how much I love him.

Happy 13th Birthday, Aidan Matthiessen Weir!


Surrounded by Fire

This morning, in the Bay Area, we awoke to an eerie sight. Wildfires raging out of control to the south and east had blanketed our sky with particulates. The winds over the water to the north and west had stalled. The entire region was swathed in a dark gray cloak.

As I dropped the kids off for their (second) day of school, I maneuvered my vehicle into a traffic lane headed for the freeway on-ramp, and that is when I first glimpsed the sun.

Shed of its jagged wild mane, our star looked naked, a dull orange ball floating in the smoke. You didn't need sunglasses; you didn't need to look away.

The world felt strange, and scary. It's the kind of time that sleep can be hard to come by, and your feelings may lurch this way and that. It's as ugly as Sudbury was in the old days of nickel mining, an activity so toxic that when I visited the Canadian town in the late Sixties, not a tree or bush was alive for miles all around it, and of the people walking its sullen streets, not one wore a smile.

It was that moment and others like it that determined my main choice of subject matter for my nascent career as a journalist -- environmental investigative reporting. Thirty-nine years later, the need for such work is more urgent than ever.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Update #762

If you believe the press, this may be the end of Barry Bonds' baseball career. Supposedly the Giants are uncertain whether to resign him for next season, and according to the know-it-alls, no other team would want him (and his baggage.)

photo by Larry Tiglao

Hmmm. I wonder. It's true he is not an every day player anymore, since the Giants, with no hope of escaping last place, choose to bench him frequently to let young players see some action as this mediocre season limps to an end.

photo by Larry Tiglao

But it is also true that whenever he enters the game, he changes everything. Tonight, against the Rockies rookie sensation U. Jimenez, who throws 100 mph, in the first inning with one on, Barry slammed HR #762 (28th this season) and the Giants lead early, 2-0.

I don't claim to be an insider, but I suspect the Giants will resign Bonds. If they don't, I bet the A's, Angels, Yankees, or Tigers will, because he could be an awesome DH in the American League. (DH is designated hitter. We don't have in the NL. Instead of letting pitchers hit, AL teams allow a non-fielder, the DH, to bat instead...)

Cycling Anniversaries

It's 40 years since the Summer of Love; 30 years since a small band of us started the Michigan Mafia softball team, which in turn led to the creation of BAMSL -- the Bay Area Media Softball League. It is also 30 years ago that Rolling Stone left San Francisco for New York; consequently, a group of three of us opened the Center for Investigative Reporting (in Oakland) precisely 30 years ago this fall.

It's 2 years ago that Hurricane Katrina, the worst storm in U.S. history, smashed into Mississippi's coast, dislocating a generation of poor people from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans all the way to Pascagoula.

Societies and families celebrate all sorts of things good and bad in this way, but we ignore plenty of others, including: The first known case of AIDS, the arrival of the first slave ship in North America, the invention of the modern cigarette, the date the first misguided U.S. dollar was placed by the CIA into the pocket of a Jihadist, gasoline poured onto a fire that threatens to engulf the planet.

We fail to observe anniversaries such as the start of the manufacture of cloroflorocarbons, initiating the Greenhouse Effect; the initial tear in our atmosphere known as the Hole in the Ozone; the conversion of DDT from a military powder used against fleas and bedbugs to an organochlorine pesticide broadcast over the fields and jungles and forests of the planet before anyone beyond a small group of scientists suspected the devastating consequences to our common ecosystem that would ensue.

Running throughout my 40 year career in journalism has been a deep concern about environmental issues, particularly the way they transcend man-made structures such as "nations," "races," and "classes." It really won't matter ultimately who you are when it comes to Global Warming, although for the entire opening phase of this slow-moving catastrophe, those who feel the primary brunt of the pain will be, of course, the poor.

That, of course, is the reality of Katrina, or the deadly Christmas Tsunami in Southeast Asia the winter before. It is the underlying story of every "natural" disaster in history -- those who suffer most have always been the poor. They are, in fact, used by the rich as human shields against the dangers that surround us all.

But the planet aims to change all that. Not even wealth and privilege, political power or fearsome weaponry can protect rich people from Global Warming and the unraveling of the exquisitely interconnected sets of factors that hold our world's ecosystem together.

We do not celebrate any of this; nor will those who survive into our troubled future. These massive failures and errors of judgment by humanity -- or, more precisely by a slender self-appointed elite of humanity -- will be celebrated only by those that inherit the earth...the insects, the worms, and the rats.


Monday, September 03, 2007

19.75 per day

Yep, that's my overall average readership of this blog, if StatCounter is right. This is my 639th post, according to, in the past 516 days; thus I average a post and a quarter per day. Over 12,000 times, someone or another has visited this site, and I am honored. Without any marketing or publicity (to my knowledge, nobody has ever published anything in off-line media about this blog), I somehow have been blessed by four times as many visitors as the average blog.

Thank you!


Back to School Week

Why do kids' feet grow so big, while it takes the rest of their body quite a while to catch up? My soccer/basketball player wears shoes just a shade smaller than mine. Every day, he looks taller than he did the day before.

His little brother is just a year-and-a-half younger, but he hasn't started his major growth spurt yet. Earlier this year, the boys were close enough in height some people mistook them for twins.

No one would do that now. His back-to-school need was a sweatshirt, and we found a cheap one at an Army surplus store in the Haight.

BTW, in case you do not hang around the young set, styles continue to move in cycles. Therefore, for boys, long hair is b-a-c-k! I knew mine were letting their red locks grow long this summer, but I didn't realize that virtually everyone else was too.

It took attending my first soccer practice the other day to see that, around here at least, it couldn't have been a good summer for the hair salons that cater to kids.

My third shopper didn't need anything, but wanted almost everything she saw. We settled on a ring.


A walk in the park (Images)

Why bother with words when the photos tell the story? Even when the fog drifts over Golden Gate Park, extinguishing our summer heat, it is a strange and wonderful place to visit.

The tourist stops have not lost their appeal, even though I've been visiting them for 36 years now. The Japanese Tea Garden is staffed by Chinese girls, who wear the kimono incorrectly, and babble in Cantonese as they serve Japanese tea and crackers.

The Park can bring out the story within you. It's a place for fantasy. Dylan was so moved by the pond near the Asian Art Museum that he walked around it several times, and in a remarkable monologue, constructed an entire fantasy world, where civilizations rose atop lily pads, and fish were submarines. He was so deep into his tale that he didn't notice the smiles on the faces of passing adults who came within earshot of this little curly haired story teller.

Every weed and rock had its place in this imaginary world. He wove each element in as he encountered it, seamlessly, without pausing for even a moment.

It was as if the story came tumbling out of him in spontaneous living form. All that I, his main audience, could do, was to listen, awestruck.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Porous Surfaces vs. the Power of Color

Persistence--that is the quality that separates investigative reporters from the pack. Back in the years I worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting (1977-'89), I often emphasized this distinction when giving a speech, raising money, or teaching a class.

You cannot afford to give up when you are chasing a difficult story, and there are no easy investigative stories. It may seem to be a trivial comparison, but when confronted with a porous piece of wood that resists absorbing watercolors, I feel compelled to prevail, and impose my will.

It may take many coats, but eventually a subtle pattern of color takes hold. Much like substantiating an investigative hypothesis.

Never give up!

In journalism, art, personal life, perdurance yields rewards.

For example, isn't this little chunk beautiful?


Still Happy

A little loopy, perhaps, the day after the party, but the Happies sat for a formal family portrait.

The heat this weekend must rival that at Burning Man. We're roasting around here.

Summer is ending; fall's taking its place.

Crops are ripened; the harvest begins.

The annual cycle of plants makes our slower, more complex existences seem like tree rings. We age, wrinkle by blotch, losing hair, gradually teetering toward earth. Writers do not always age well. Some write their best stuff when young; others hit their stride in middle age. The occasional writer who hasn't lost his mind emerges in old age with something resembling wisdom.

We are not a culture that values our elders. Getting old can feel like running into a brick wall, just like writer's block. "There's less and less to say." (Bob Dylan)