Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What we remember - and what is real

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - For years and years, when I talked about situations in which thing were desperate and people barely escaped, I would frequently reference this photo - a very famous shot that many people remember as I do (well remember as I did).

We believe(d)that this shot was the American Embassy in Vietnam in 1975, as the last Americans were being airlifted out before the North Vietnamese swarmed into the city.

But it wasn't until an old high school chum sent along the link to the picture and an article in the New York Times by the photographer who took it, that I realized the shot is actually of an apartment complex in Saigon and the people being evacuated were Vietnamese.

A similar scene was playing out at the American Embassy, but this was not it.

So I'll have to amend my storytelling to allow for this shot. But the fact that for so many years I was sooooo sure this was the embassy will work its way into my university lectures about accuracy and fact checking. I'm occasionally working on a book about growing up and my graduating class from high school. And in running just a few chapters past some friends, I've discovered that three people who took part in the same scene remember it - and their role - very differently.

So I've rejiggered what I'm doing to make it a series of essays - based on what I remember.

Otherwise, if I project it as the cold truth, well, I'll be struggling to jump on a helicopter to escape from my 40th high school reunion next summer.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Phil Spector's Wall of Sound around him

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Phil Spector is on trial for murder, and showed up in court last week sporting this hairdo which led some pundits to wonder if he is in electroshock therapy while going through this ordeal.

This photo, by the way, is courtesy of the Associated Press and was published in most major newspapers, not because they think Spector's case is really that newsworthy, but who could pass up that 'doo?'

Phil Spector invented something he called the Wall of Sound back in the 60s and had many hits. His wife for awhile, Ronnie, was the lead singer in the Ronettes. In fact if you do a quick search for his songs on the Internet, you'll find that he produced hundreds of titles most people recognize.

So why am I opining about Phil Spector?

Well, first, because his album, A Christmas Gift for You is one of the first albums I ever bought and you can sitll hear it played every Christmas. It's a rock 'n roll treatment of White Christmas, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and a half dozen other standards. Darlene Love's Please Come Home is fantastic.

So it's sad to see Phil fallen from grace. But the real reason I wrote this piece?

The hair, of course. It was a great excuse to post this photo. Art for art's sake you know...

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In transit today - more blogs Memorial Day

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The past few days were a blur - a day writing about legal case, then an afternoon in court, listening to legal arguments and falling asleep.

Yup, asleep. But just for a second, the reporter next to me, (who I had nudged moments before), poked me to keep me going. Then the Admiral and I were off to San Diego where we are, aboard Sabbatical making the ship pretty for a potential buyer. And we're trying to have a little fun down here, too, not just all work.

My blog today was going to be about the California Legislature's proposal to limit all school texbooks in the state to 200 pages. Yes, 200 pages.

But I decided to cut the blog short today and write a full one tomorrow.

Don't want to overburden those legislators who might be reading this.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A sense of humor and courage - who has it?

Politics and schools
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. - The poster was to promote a play for award winning drama students at the high school, but gutless school administrators turned tail and ran when the poster shown on the left was produced. They will be collector's items I'm sure.
  • High School poster story

  • Good God, the play is a satire! And I don't think a Groucho outfit on El Presidente is that unflattering. If anything, the Groucho Marx estate should be upset. Who wants to be associated with Bush at all?

    But the story has kind of a happy ending. The students are learning that the adults in charge are not only wrong sometimes, but they can be moral cowards of the first order. Sometimes seeing that run-for-cover fear is actually quite instructive for young people, however disappointing.

    Over the years, I've taken many arrows for doing the right thing, intead of ducking the issues and going along with my university administration or people at my yacht club. (Being a Commodore of a yacht club is like wearing a sign on your back that says, 'kick me.') It's hard to do the right thing sometimes. No, make that most of the time.

    I used to sign my emails this way:

    I would rather be right, than be president.

    That's a quote from John C. Calhoun, the famous American statemen. But like all such expressions, you have to be careful. A history colleague of mine pointed out that there is an equally famous rejoinder from one of Calhoun's enemies.

    It goes something like this:

    It seems quite unlikely that you will ever be either.

    The rejoinder shows good humor - and some courage. In Calhoun's day an insult like, even humorous, could result in a duel with pistols or swords. Maybe we should reinstitute duels in Woodland Hills high schools. Hmm...probably bad idea, I bet those paranoid administrators are gun nuts, too.

    Better stick to the posters. I'll bet if the students put them up for sale on E-Bay, they could buy their tickets to Scotland in a week.

    Thursday, May 26, 2005

    A wet spring in California, skiers still skiiing

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK - The water is pouring out of Bridalveil Falls at Yosemite and a lot closer to home, the water is still raging down the American River right behind my house as the snowfall in the mountains melts.

    Today it was 96 degrees in Sacramento, hot in the foothills and 76 degrees at the high elevations where there is still many feet of snow melting and sending water down here.

    The ski resorts at the highest elevations are running big advertisements in the Sacramento Bee newspaper, urging skier and snowboarders to come up for a run, the last one of the season.

    I'll be happy when they start slowing the flow in the river so I can launch the kayak and do some adventuring right out the back gate. Kayaking with the river running as fast as it is, I would end up in San Francisco fighting an ebb tide.

    For the big holiday weekend, let's hope the great brains know enough to slow the flow of American River water so we don't have drownings this year. Every season we seem to have tragedies on the river.

    Ten times the normal flow of water almost guarantees it.

    If you bought that SUV grill, here's your fish

    ALTON, Ill. - This baby is 124 pounds (the fish, not the guy) and is likely to be a world record catfish, just right to slam onto that giant grill I wrote about yesterday.

    This fish is big enough to have its zip code, but because of its great stature, it will not be eaten but kept in captivity so anglers can ogle the critter. After a few years in a tank, the fish might prefer the barbecue.

    It's believed that this is truly the biggest catfish every landed (though who knows what lurks in the Mississippi) - - so mark today on your calendar (though the fisherman pulled this thing in May 22).

    We'll call it Big Whopper Day, in honor of all the fisherman who claim to have had big fish like this on the line, but who have never seemed to land one.

    Perhaps the people of Lake Davis in California, who are poisoning their lake to get rid of Northern Pike that keep eating the planted trout, should import some monster catfish relatives of this one instead. I defy a Northern Pike to take a chunk out of one of these gargantuans - unless they are done up Cajun style.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    Is it a barbecue or an SUV you can cook on?

    HOME DEPOT, Anywhere - Does anyone else remember those quaint little hibachi grills? Made in China, they lasted about a season, required charcoal and lighter and were tiny.

    Cooking for more than 2 or 3 people required cooking in shifts. Maybe that's why we were thinner then.

    Today a walk down a aisle in any home improvement store will eventually bring you to behemoths like the one in the photo here, the subject of column/story in the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Got food?

  • It's doubtful this photo will get the same number of hits as yesterday's naked yoga practitioners (about 250 and counting) but it's still an impressive shot.

    Me? I've given up the backyard barbecue entirely. Too many goddamned propane tanks, too much cleaning the grill and too many critters taking residence up inside the thing unless I use it almost daily.

    I use a George Foreman electric grill. Yup, just like on the late night informercials. And it works great for cooking everything.

    So, when I shop for an SUV this summer, I won't need to worry about how many burgers it can cook simultaneously. George Foreman takes care of six at a time, quite nicely.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    Exercise is exercise, but naked yoga?

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Just as I was donning my IPod, running shoes and ball cap for my three-mile, sweat-inducing, heart-pounding run along the river, I saw this story in today's San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Yoga story

  • Lift and stretch. Lift and stretch.

    But what struck me about the story wasn't the content or even the striking photos (all pretty tasteful), it was that a daily newspaper in a major city printed the story and the photos.

    Of course, that's because it's San Francisco. Try running the photo posted with this blog in Phoenix or Sacramento or Detroit.

    The letters to the editor would be flying, the old crabasses out there would be cancelling their subscriptions and the publishers would be hiding in their offices, afraid of the angry people at the counter. If those old cranks cancel their subscriptions, well, who will read the newspaper? (The young people, you dipsticks, the young people.)

    But nice job, San Francisco Chronicle! Nice job, as usual.

    In the meantime, I'll head out for my run, fully clothed, but dreaming of Lift and stretch. Lift and stretch.

    Almost as inspiring as my IPod music.

    Monday, May 23, 2005

    Ride the Wild Surf and other great music

    SACRAMENTO, THE AMERICAN RIVER PARKWAY - The Fat Boy program is working, slowly, and I have to thank my IPod for a good part of it.

    I hate running. Like the late comedian W.C. Fields, for most of my life when I felt the urge to exercise, I would go lie down on a couch until it passed.

    But too much beer, chips, tortillas, margaritas, fried fish, broiled fish, rice, carne asada, tacos, hamburguesas and papas fritas (French-fried potatoes) put enough weight on that I had to diet and (Ugh!) exercise. And so I did start hitting the running/cycling trail along the American River the first week in April when it became obvious that the vegetarian, light-on-the-starch, forget-the-cookies-and-sweets diet wasn't going to do it. Not unless I was willing to give up the 34 waist and just buy some other clothes.

    Mille fois merde!

    So for the first couple of weeks, I pounded along the path, timing myself with a stopwatch (Who can run just to, well, run?). Alone with my thoughts, I thought, What are you doing?

    But then the IPod came into my life, part of a package deal with my new, souped-up Apple IBook, with a playist I created called "Run Like The Wind." Jan and Dean (Ride, Ride,
    Ride the Wild Surf
    ), Travis Tritt (Girls Gone Wild), Mason Williams (Classical Gas) and a dozen more songs push me like the devil was behind me. (Oh, The Devil Went Down to Georgia played by the Charlie Daniels band is on the list, too.) I'm not sure I would still be out there three days a week wearing out a new pair of running shoes if I didn't have the music to look forward to. (Maybe those Kenyans running in the marathons hear some kind of inspiring celestial music. It sure as hell isn't The Lion Sleeps Tonight, zzzzzz...)

    After completing about 10 runs with this list though, I'm going to rejigger it with some new music. Maybe Dire Straits' Walk of Life, Irene Cara's Fame, and the Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited. Oh, and Call Me by Blondie. I need to get some of that inspiration loaded onto the 20GB hard drive before tomorrow morning when I lace up the shoes and face not only the running trail/bike path, but the hot weather that's predicted.

    That or say the hell with it and take a nap with a bag of cookies in my lap.

    Quelle dommage!

    Et mille fois merde, redux.

    Sunday, May 22, 2005

    Getting a jumpstart on my three-mile run

    SACRAMENTO, along the American River - This photo was taken nearly a month ago, and one computer back. It was locked in the camera until I finally found the cables and, more important, the instruction book on how to make the thing work with the new operating system.

    Like the governor, I'm baaaaaack.

    Technology is a wonderful thing, but don't think it really saves you any time at all. Most of the modern conveniences that were supposed to make life easier for women who stayed at home did the opposite. It simply changed the standards and expectations. And now that the vast majority of American and Canadian women leave the house to work just like men, well, all those devices we can't live without require tending, too.

    A food processor is a great thing. It slices and dices as good or better than the old Veg-a-matic from the late night TV ads.

    But did you ever try to wash one of those goddamned things?

    Jaysus. I think the Veg-a-matic had the advantage.

    Time to take some photos of the rapidly rising American River. Folsom Lake was almost full last week so the great brains, fearing too much snow melt, are dropping the lake level so fast it has already wiped out the habitat of the beavers near the house, chased the wild turkeys onto the top of the levee and God only knows how many rattlesnakes are going to be paying visits in these next few days while the water goes up.

    Hmmm... Best close the screen door right now.

    It's Sunday: The topic is American atheists

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The American Atheists Association met in San Francisco this weekend and this morning the group is, well, I don't know what atheists do on Sunday mornings. They probably wonder if there is any 'intelligent design' in the city of San Francisco's public transit system.

    They shouldn't wonder about it long.

    But one thing is for sure. If you have an organization that is manifestly unpopular (and the American Atheists are about as unpopular with the Christian right wing as stem cell research), you should elect a reallllllllly good-looking woman as president. The media will fall all over her and you'll get coverage.

    Hence, Ellen Johnson, whose photo (shown with this blog) drew 11 hits on my photo web page within 30 seconds of posting it. Thirty seconds!

    That's not as hot as the teenage violinist from Puerto Vallarta months ago, but it's impressive.
  • A violinist in Paradise

  • I've vaccilated between believer and agnostic most of my adult life, the product of a rigid Roman Catholic upbringing tempered by a college education that discouraged unquestioning belief but encouraged asking a lot of questions. That asking a lot of questions has served me well as a journalist and at the university where my reputation is that I ask a lot of annoying questions like: Where'd the money go?

    But how can you look at the stars or watch the ocean and not be impressed with Nature? And if Nature isn't exactly God in the same notion as the Christian faith, the Muslims, the Buddists or the Hari Krishnas, well, tough.

    Nature created Ellen Johnson, after all, much to the delight of many photographers. Even the Hari Krishnas might agree.

    Saturday, May 21, 2005

    The news is funnier in the comics pages

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - This whole business about Newsweek and Qurans being flushed - or not flushed - was the topic of yesterday's photo/cartoon, probably the most intelligent discussion I've seen about it.

    Right now the public is in a 'shoot the messenger mode,' which I remember clearly from my days as a newspaper editor. I once wrote story about a State of California Health Department report, saying that if the hospital in Grass Valley didn't clean up its act, the state would move to close it.

    So, at a community meeting two days later, the crowd was furious - at me - for publishing the 'negative story' about their hospital.

    Kind of makes you understand what's going on in Kansas with 'Intelligent Design.'

    Friday, May 20, 2005

    Time to follow that gaggle down the river

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - There's plenty to do today; stories to follow up on, a long list of house projects, an anniversary breakfast to swallow. But because the state Legislature is out today - lawmakers all gone home for the weekend - there's no impending deadlines boring down on me at all, and none like to show up this morning.


    And by accounts today will be about 85 degrees here in this band of Northern California which means time to get back out in the sun and see if any of the tan that has faded in the last week of rain can make a comeback.

    Admiral Fox will leave tomorrow for a foray to San Diego to keep working on Sabbatical to get the ship ready to show to potential buyers. This blogger will stay home (in the sun, in the sun!) and catch up on the writing, I suppose with the possibility of actually resurrecting two writing projects that have been dormant for weeks: an assigned profile of a noted local law professor and the other Sword of Damocles hanging over my head: The Class of '66.

    And the blogs! The blogs!

    The Class of '66 website has taken off now that there is a good email list of classmates and as I had hoped, there are people contributing photos - and even some writing. Writing for Money is getting some hits, too. I'll have to Google the site and see where it shows up.

    But I can hear the Canada geese along the river (and I see a gaggle of co-eds jogging by) so it's time to go for the morning constitutional to get inspiration (those geese are great for that) and get the damned kink out of my back that's developed from too many hours at this keyboard.


    Thursday, May 19, 2005

    No deadlines today, but thoughts of the boat

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It's raining, pretty hard, and the American River is running at 18,000 cubic feet per second - up from 2,500 earlier in the week because this storm is supposed to dump a lot of rain (and snow in the mountains). No kayaking for me.

    But the weatherman says by tomorrow afternoon, it will be 85 degrees and like Sacramento seems to do every spring, we go from winter to spring to summer in about week.

    For the first time about two weeks, I didn't wake up to an imminent deadline for the my new writing job, just deadlines for stories due by the end of next week. Next week! Whoa, I'm a man of leisure.

    But leisure never hangs around me very long, as just as soon as I realized I don't have an deadline, Sabbatical, sitting in the slip in San Diego comes back to my mind. Son Dustin, and friends Don and Victor, got her home safe from Mexico about two weeks ago, but there's still some cleanup/fixup before it's ready to show to a potential buyer. It is a boat, which besides being a hole in the water into which you pour money - lots of money - it also takes your time - lots of time.

    But it's time for a run, rain or not, to see if I can beat my best time around my American River course.

    And no deadline to come back to...

    Rejoice, we conquer!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2005

    New federal ID, nuclear power and True Lies

    SACRAMENTO - This is one of those mornings when being in the news business is a handicap.

    Instead of simply getting up, having a cup of tea and watching geese landing on the river, I have scan the newswires for relevant education and health news, depressing enough, except that the rest of the news and commentary sneaks in, too, forcing me to reach for the aspirin bottle before the first cup of tea even hits bottom.

    Mark Morford has a great column about the new federal ID - a combo driver's license, credit card and internal U.S. passport that was just approved by Congress. The president will sign it. He's giddy, to do so. But whatever shreds of privacy we might have left, well, read the column and then decide if it's time to go back to bed and pull up the covers.

    You can read the column here:
  • Federal ID column

  • The second bit of distressing news is that the nuclear power nuts are at it again, and getting quite a bit of traction with Congress. Congress is finally waking up to the problem of global warming (members are just getting around to seeing the film, "The Day After Tomorrow") and is looking at nuclear power as a viable option.

    Jaysus H. Kee-rist.

    Utility company ratepayers across the country are still paying for the cleanup of the nuclear power plants we built in the 60s and 70s - and the plants are offline because they were unreliable and dangerous. Congress - in its infinite wisdom in those days - indemnified the nuclear power industry so that, for example, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg melted down, released radiation and killed a few hundred thousand people, well, the owners of the power plant were off the hook. That's the Price-Anderson Act... Might be interesting to see if it's still on the books.

    But the perhaps the most depressing news in some weird way was our Last Action Hero governor, who cut a deal with the schools last year to give up a couple of billion dollars in education funds, with his solemn promise to repay the money this year when times were better. Times (tax-collecting wise) are better, but for months his office has said over and over that the Guvenator couldn't pay it back because the budget was still too weak.

    Then today he announced that he had never made the promise.

    Liar, liar, pants on fire!

    Back in the days of Richard Nixon, there was a political philosophy called The Big Lie. Basically it was that if you said something often enough and loud enough, it didn't matter if it was true, people eventually would believe it. (Comedian Richard Pryor had a similar routine about being caught in bed by your wife with another woman. 'Just deny it,' he says. 'Even while you're putting your clothes on. Deny it. Deny it. Deny it. Deny it. Eventually she will wonder if it ever happened.')

    But the governor did promise, the nuclear power plants were (and are) disasters waiting to happen and George Orwell's 1984 should be required reading in high schools again.

    Students can discuss the book in civics class under 'Current Events.'

    Monday, May 16, 2005

    When your pension just flies away, then what?

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The retirement system for pilots has always been generous, at least in the last 20 or so years, because pilots by U.S. law have to retire at 60 - at least from flying commercial airliners. So the pilots union negotiated an arguably good deal with each contract.

    And because of the immense responsibility - keeping more than a hundred people alive while hurtling across the sky at 500 mph in a bucket of bolts and metal - pilots are well rewarded with salary (and the promise of a healthy retirement income).

    But that concept all went to hell at United Airlines because the company was mismanaged (Ever fly United Airlines? Jaysus...) and ever since the pensions have been the target of the bankruptcy court and the people still running the shambles that is left.

    The public attitude is pretty typical, and ugly. It seems to center on that people don't have the kind of potential retirement benefits that a United Airlines pilot had, until last week. So the reaction is, "If I can't have it, neither can you."

    It's a lose-lose proposition that unfortunately is being replicated all across the country. Wal-Mart exploits it employees and undercuts the union grocery store down the street and instead of saying 'Hey Wal-Mart, pay your people enough so they can get off welfare,' the reaction is 'Get rid of the union.'

    Our nation is in a race to the bottom. All of those overpriced houses eventually won't have anyone to buy them if the nation keeps losing good-paying jobs.

    But my concern is more basic about how we view each other. Instead of carping about how good some people have it, why don't we try to make things better for everyone? When Henry Ford starting making (and selling) the Model T, he paid his factory workers almost extravagantly by the standards of early 20th century America. Ford was really a cheap bastard, so it puzzled most people until he explained that he wanted the men in the factory to be able to afford the cars he was producing.

    So it should be with every business endeavor, instead of trying to cut their employees' throats like robber barons.

    The expression is something like, 'a rising tide lifts all boats.' I don't think the president of the U.S. likes that idea. He prefers to own a private pond and garden with lots of people on the other side of the fence. (Yes, that is a pretty obvious reference to Mexico.)

    We can't do much about him, though his time is already passing and I suppose we have Dick Cheney to look forward to some time in three years. (Oh my God!)

    But we can try to get the tide rising by changing people's attitudes - or at least our own.

    United's pension troubles are only the first of many such fiscal crashes in the airline industry, and if the Bush Administration has its way, nobody (except for a Brahmin class of Republicans) will ever get to retire from any business, anywhere. Pensions can cut into stockholder profits. Watch military pensions, too. They're next.

    But what good are those profits if the company folds up?

    By the way, if you are sitting on a bunch of frequent flier miles with United Airlines - take a trip.


    Making a rookie error - and paying the price

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Maybe I been running too much and think I'm suddenly 30 again, but I made a rookie error Friday that made Sunday (and today) into a writing nightmare.

    I attended a hearing (about which editors are waiting right now for a story) but left before it was over, naively (hence the rookie error) thinking I could talk with the big kahunas running it later in the day to get the policy implications and outcome. Then I went to the event in which the governor unveiled his budget revisions and I thought I understood what I needed to write and had the information (rookie error two, it seems). But the big kahunas disappeared Friday afternoon leaving a whole in my story the size of Crater Lake. And the budget, Jaysus, I can't even talk about it...

    So this morning I'm waiting for the various folks to show up at their offices so I can quiz them, pound out the 500 or so words for each story and get my butt downtown to the courthouse for a trial, the basis for a third story (due Wednesday). It's all pretty standard reporting stress, but I got just a little too comfortable with that press pass hanging around my neck, forgetting that whenever you write, you stick your neck waaaay out there.

    What hurts most is I know better - and even teach my students not to do what I did Friday. Another story for the classroom this fall, I suppose.

    Sunday, May 15, 2005

    A cap and gown? Or military uniform?

    AMERICA, Anywhere - The almost forgotten war in Iraq pops up in the strangest of places, like high school graduations.

    This past week a student, fresh from Marine boot camp, is in a tussle with his high school because he wants to graduate with his Marine dress uniform on, not the traditional cap and gown.

    The school has said 'no,' but that he can certainly wear his uniform underneath his robe and then when the robe comes off after the ceremony, voila, there's a marine.

    The hue and cry is that in this time of war, well, we should be supportive of our troops, etc... but on this one the school folks are right. This graduation ceremony marks the rite of passage for high school, not a military recruitment. It's doubtful the young man would have been allowed to wear a cap and gown at his boot camp graduation.

    Silly you say? True, but sometimes reversing the situation puts things into perspective.

    What I'm most concerned about is that the war has fallen off the front pages of most newspapers, even as Americans are killed daily. Daily! And the millions and millions of dollars being spent every day is money that is desperately needed here in the U.S.

    Today Thomas Friedman has a column about how, as a nation, we are rapidly falling behind as a competitor in the world marketplace, a fallout from our perpetual arrogance after a half-century of dominance. We didn't compete against anyone for so long and now there are nations actually ahead of us. Check out the life expectancy tables for industrialized nations and the costs of health care.

    We lead in the second category but are third or fourth in the first.

    We have bigger things to worry about than what to wear for graduation.

    Read the full story here:
  • Petaluma graduation
  • Friday, May 13, 2005

    A press feeding frenzy, with the Guvenator

    DOWNTOWN SACRAMENTO - After a morning of listening to Blue Cross defend some pretty outrageous hikes in rates at a public hearing, I got to see Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger up close and personal at the presentation of the May Revise - a look at how much money the state thinks will come in, and how to spend it.

    Predictably, it was a mob scene, but my press credentials from the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., (BNA, I'm with the Bureau) got me everywhere and a front row seat. He's not nearly as big as he looks in the movies, in fact, I think he's about 5 feet 9 inches tall.

    The press ranged from the very committed and very smart to the very lazy and very, well, not-so-smart, judging from the quality of the questions that were asked.

    Did I ask a question? Nope. Didn't need to, though I was curious about some things well outside the parameters of the world of health, about which I will be writing Saturday.

    Now the real work of writing/reporting begins because the May Revise is a complicated thing, and just as we figure out what it means, the Legislature will come out with its version mid-week of how money should be spent from its perspective.

    Good thing Clark Kent can turn into Superman when needed. Like this weekend when I need to write these stories.

    The politics have spun out of control

    John Bolton
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It's a full day ahead of hearings and government and reporters and trying to find parking downtown where the meter maids (Excuse me! Parking attendants) are given special training in how to be cruel.

    Luckily, I won't have to watch John 'Bully Boy' Bolton in action at all. I'll be watching Blue Cross officials explaining rate increases and then Gov. Arnold S. talking about how he is going to spend the extra money the state has taken in. He'll do that in a reportorial feeding frenzy, my first on site visit to the "May Revise" of the state budget.

    All of this gets at credibility issues, like Bolton and so many others who seem to be able to speak convincingly with lies tumbling out of their mouths. Yesterday I wrote about a Sacramento columnist who might have played loose with the rules - and who paid the price by losing her job and going into journalistic exile.

    Politicians and bureaucrats? They get better and better jobs, bigger and bigger paychecks and more skilled at telling whoppers.

    In this morning's Sacramento Bee newspaper, veteran journalist Helen Thomas had an excellent piece about this issue, and how the American people seem disinterested in issues of truth. The public seems more interested in debating 'intelligent design' versus evolution.

    When I think about John Bolton, I prefer evolution, a random selection process of nature that produced a bully who is tough with subordinates and who never saw a superior's rear end he didn't long to kiss.

    The thought that he was created by 'intelligent design' is too unsettling to even ponder.

    Thursday, May 12, 2005

    When a journalist falls, it's a big crash

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A columnist at the Sacramento Bee newspaper was sacked yesterday (well, she resigned) after an editor questioned whether some of the people she was writing about actually existed. The newpaper decided after "extensive online database searches as well as old-fashioned shoe-leather work," that they couldn't confirm the people weren't a figment of Diana Griego-Erwin's imagination.

    This from the same newspaper that once hired an optics expert to prove that a image on the wall of a Catholic church in Colfax, Calif. (that many people believed was a likeness of the Virgin Mary) was not created by a 'miracle,' but simply by a bending of light rays. Investigative journalism at its best.

    It is sad to see any journalist on the receiving end of a witchhunt like this, even if they did start to mix unreality with reality. Diana pounded out columns for years, looking at the soft side of life, earning the nickname 'Fluffy,' partly because of her bouffant hairdoo, partly because her columns were generally a little light. But I have a hard time believing she actually created people to make her points. Still, who can argue with that "old-fashioned shoe-leather work." After all, it dispelled a miracle in Colfax and I feel a lot safer knowing how vigilant the editors at the Sacramento Bee are. Who wants columns with made up people? If I want fiction, I'll watch Fox News.

    The danger to society is that already waaaaaay too-cautious journalists pull in their horns just a little more when this happens. Never mind that many politicians and government officials lie without the slightest hesitation - and just smirk when they are caught (Smirk? Who could I be talking about?). No, if a journalist gets a quote wrong, or confuses who they talked with what day, or maybe just thinks they talked with someone and didn't, well, hang 'em, the high court of ethics says. Hang 'em high.

    I'm not sure we are well served by this at all.

    See the Sacramento Bee's editor's opinion:
  • Editor's view
  • Tuesday, May 10, 2005

    Oh, for a those warm days in Mexico

    LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - It's May 10 for Chrissakes and there's snow on the ground.


    Kind of makes me want to head back down to Mexico, except in Mexico, it's starting to get hot, damned hot. The kind of hot that makes you wish for, well, snow.

    You can't win with weather, that's why clothes and houses and heaters and air conditioners were invented.

    Here in Sacramento, the weather has been about as weird as you can get. Kind of like that movie, 'The Day After Tomorrow,' not Dennis Quaid's best film, but the science in it about global warming is sound. And if the strange weather here - and in a lot of other parts of the country - is any indication, there is a climate shift going on.

    And I live way too close to the American River to like that idea.

    Summer is coming in typical Sacramento fashion. Today it was 70, tomorrow is supposed to 75-80, Thursday and Friday it's supposed to get hot, maybe into the high 80s.

    And the 90s will show up a few days later.

    Time to change into Clark Kent again. BIG story on stem cell financing in the works for tomorrow. (They say Hemingway started out this way. Maybe that's why he drank so much, too.)


    You think your life is out of control?

    A wild kayak ride
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - So today features a tranquil morning, the email only carrying good news about writing assignments - no quick changes into Clark Kent, just a day of slogging through notes, legal challenges to the stem cell initiative California voters approved and getting back on the running trail, part of the Fitzgerald Fat Boy Program.

    The program seems to be working - verrrrrrry close to five pounds down in three weeks, just with exercise and cutting out some starches I don't need anyway. And now I can get around my run without having to carry my cell phone in case I needed to call 911.

    The kayaker in today's photo is actually out in the ocean, not the placid American River out my back door where I will soon be kayaking or Puerto Vallarta, where friends Bob and Karen O'Hara paddle about in a calm estuary that doesn't have white water, but it does feature 14-foot long crocodiles.

    Tipping over in the ocean is one thing (just the occasional Great White Shark to worry about), in Puerto Vallarta visions of Captain Hook come to mind when you see one of those moving 'logs' going through the water, AGAINST the current!

    (The photo is from the San Francisco Chronicle's site (www.sfgate.com) which features the best of the photos taken by their staff photogs.)

    The running shoes are calling. Even Clark Kent has to exercise, it seems.

    Monday, May 09, 2005

    Where is my Clark Kent outfit?

    STATE CAPITOL BUILDING - A meeting of the Stem Cell Bond Finance Committee is on tap for this morning for which I will need to change from mild-mannered ship's captain to Clark Kent, ace reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.

    And if it doesn't sound like Watergate, or covering a tsunami, or Paula Abdul's latest fun venture, well, you just haven't been paying close attention.

    Neither have I.

    But this morning, with probably a dozen or so Sacramento media types I'll be attending a meeting at the capitol in which this committee will talk about selling the bonds to fund stem cell research - $3 billion in bonds. And, of course, there's a lawsuit about it too that factors into my story. Hell, it may be the story.

    In the meantime, Sabbatical is safely back in San Diego, about which I'll write later. But after greeting the boat Saturday and spending two hours Sunday cleaning up a diesel mess in the engine room (while Sylvia and Don Tiffin fixed the aft toilet which was plugged - what a job!) I had a feeling I needed to be back on the ground in Sacramento this morning, so I flew out Sunday night.

    Good thing.

    In one of those wonderful karmic ironies, they needed volunteers to take a later flight because of overbooking, so I agreed - and got a $300 travel voucher.

    A travel voucher, an assignment from BNA this morning, and it's a beautiful day out, too boot.

    Up, up and away!

    Saturday, May 07, 2005

    You can buy this for, say, $250,000

    BERKELEY, Calif. - The San Francisco Chronicle had a great story yesterday about housing and how many people are downsizing, giving up the idea of mansions in places like beautiful Elk Grove, Calif. (that was sarcastic, I call Elk Grove, Elk Snout...). Here's the link:
  • SF Gate story

  • Having lived on a boat for many years, I understand that notion. And in my condo, overlooking the American River, I am quite content to have less space, less crap and a tiny yard to take of - most of which is a brick patio.

    But I have the entire American River Parkway outside the back gate, where Admiral Fox and I just took a nice walk, checked out the wildflowers, and got the blood circulating.

    I suspect the impetus for downsizing might be the cost of housing, too. The shack in the photo is called a guest cottage and is one of several small buildings (750 square feet, I think), on a parcel that is listed for about $750,000.

    But it is in Berkeley, where coffee is about $2 a cup and even the cheap restaurants are costly by most standards.

    The newspapers also had three other really interesting stories yesterday:
    how farm animals are going to be tracked electronically (can people be far behind?), how in Kansas they are seriously arguing about teaching creationism (versus evolution theory) and George W. planned in 2002 (according to the Brits) to invade Iraq and diddled with the intelligence agencies to make sure they supported that idea.

    Pass the wine bottle, the news is getting depressing again.

    Friday, May 06, 2005

    Oh no! Not another blog!

    SOMEWHERE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE - Friday morning I started on yet another writing/web project ('Kee-rist, doesn't he every finish one?') that I started months ago but never put the final touches on.

    But it's up, and called Writing for Money. The link is already up on this page.

    Guess what it's about.

    It's devoted to writing about the topic of, well, writing for money as well as providing links and tips for other writers. While net surfing I find a lot of information - but mostly garbage - and a lot of come-ons for services that want to fleece freelance writers, not find them work.

    It will work best if I can get some good contributions (writing, not cash, though cash would be accepted).

    But it's there, one of 500 or so new blogs that were created today...

    Make that 501, I suppose.

    Tiger, tiger burning bright, in your computer

    SACRAMENTO STATE UNIVERSITY, At The Bookstore - The young people who sold me my new Apple iBook G4 computer are soooo nice and soooo helpful and soooo savvy about technical stuff that boggles my mind that I almost ran back to the store yesterday to pick up my copy of 'Tiger.'

    The young lady who called me, breathless, said that because I bought the computer on a special promotion, that I was entitled to a copy of this revolutionary product and to come on down while they still had one.

    So there I was, standing with this block box (just like the photo) and I had to ask the question:

    What the hell is it?

    Tiger, it turns out, is the new hotshot operating system, an advance on the OS10.whatever I have right now and full of sexy features that we Mac addicts all love. I was hooked, for a moment.

    "Uh," the young man at the counter said, "You do know to back up all your data and settings right? Sometimes when you install this, it wipes your hard drive."

    Wipes your hard drive.

    Jaysus H.

    The entire reason I have a new computer is because the old one died - its logic board tested too much by my keystrokes writing this blog and 3,000 or so other words per day (stories, emails, chapter outlines, grocery lists, nasty notes to HMOs). And for about a week, I've been reconstructing email lists, moving data slowly from what I could salvage and generally swearing at the new, latest, sexy software that is a lot smarter than I am.

    Tiger indeed.

    The Tiger will stay in the box for awhile, until I get my courage up - and my data somehow saved on my external hard drive in a way that allows me to sleep at night without worrying that I'll get up in the morning, have an assignment from my new consulting job - and no computer to do it.

    But it's a great desk decoration.

    And now, in addition to saying that I work for 'The Bureau,' I can say I own my own Tiger.

    And I'm keeping him tightly caged.

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Which is worse for you, email or marijuana?

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The health authorities are really turning around.

    First, several years ago, they said it was ok - no, make that ADVISABLE - to drink one or two glasses of red wine with dinner. It aids digestion, calms the nerves, provides certain vitamins and minerals... you get the idea.

    So now, I buy $2 Charles Krug Merlot by the case from Trader Joe's just down the street. Two-buck Chuck is the street name.

    Then, about a week ago, the CDC came out with a report that being a little overweight not only isn't really bad, it might be good. It seems slightly overweight people live longer than their skinner contemporaries.

    Score one for Pepperidge Farm cookies! Bring on the apple pie and ice cream.

    But today was the capper. Today blew away those two announcements.

    A new study shows that using email a lot scrambles your brain just as much as smoking a joint. That's right, keep emailing and you will start talking like Cheech and Chong, eventually. ("Dave's not here, man...")

    So if the study is true, well, that would explain why every night about this time (after answering a dozen emails or so) I get a terrible case of the munchies.

    But now, armed with this knowledge, I can slam an extra glass of wine, wolf down an extra portion of pie and either email, or go light up in the back yard and not feel guilty.

    Confused maybe, but not guilty.

    Cloning in California - the newest 'thing?'

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The state assembly here turned down a bill yesterday that would have outlawed the cloning of pets - lots of people who have lost Fido the dog or Felcity the cat apparently are interested in the whole idea.

    But there are doubters who are worried that this will lead to the cloning of humans.

    Do you think so?

    The photo with the blog today is of Noah, a baby bull 'gaur' who was born several years ago in a test of cloning. In his case, they were trying to show that they could use cloning to preserve endangered species. Noah didn't live very long, but they made their point.

    Reminds me a little of Jurassic Park and that 'fictional' nightmare.

    The ethical questions about human cloning are mind boggling, so it's nice that the California State Assembly decided to sidestep the whole issue, perhaps because they have pets they would like reproduced.

    But when it comes to human cloning, well, I don't know.

    One thing I do know is that virtually all technological innovations end up being used for something other than what they were intended for. Take the VCR. When they hit the market, the makers were sure that everyone would record all those great TV shows.


    Instead, a new industry was spawned (the renting of tapes and now DVDs).

    So the proponents of cloning say the science would not be used to reproduce humans in total, just to maybe grow the occasional kidney or liver for a transplant. Of course, that means that if you think your kidneys and liver are headed south from too much Grey Goose vodka, you better get cracking on that cloning now.

    At least while it's still legal in California.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Education war heating up in Sacramento

    STATE CAPITOL, Sacramento - The newspapers have been full of photos like this of protestors at the state capitol, angry over Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's broken promise - a promise of about $2 billion in funds for schools.

    Last year the schools said he could use the money to help balance the budget - provided he paid it back.

    This year he said he changed his mind and wasn't going to give it back.

    He's learning how to be a politician very quickly.

    But while he has been able to kick around a lot of people (most recently immigrants), when you start fooling around with the future of people's kids, the cuckoo comes out of most heads very quickly.

    Are we paying too much for education? How much is too much?

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    On the job, working for the 'Bureau'

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - This morning started my consulting job with the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (I work for 'the Bureau,' honest!) in which I'll be working as a 'Special Correspondent,' writing about health care issues and some environmental stuff for the biggest news organization you have never heard of.

    Except, I discovered a LOT of people have. The news group has been around since 1929 and does specialty publications in dozens of fields. Lawyers, doctors, professionals, you name them - they all seem to subscribe to these newsletters, most of which are all online (yahoo!), including some daily stuff.

    I'm working on getting my Clark Kent wardrobe refurbished for my trips to the Legislature and the various health service offices around Sacramento.

    And I get to call my big boss in Washington D.C. "Chief," just like on Superman.

    Will it interfere with blogging, writing 'The Class of '66?', or the movies?

    Naw...It's only half-time at most (at least that's all I get to bill the company for.) But it will be fun.

    And I have an official California Governor's office press pass to hang around my neck when I go downtown.

    Whoops, gotta run, D.C. is on the line, must be The Chief.

    But I'll be baaaack...

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    The not-so-friendly World of Disney

    Disney and Nehru
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    ANAHEIM, Calif. - Today's San Francisco Chronicle carried a hilarious story about how Walt Disney, Uncle Walt, the guy who discovered Annette Funicello and founded the Mousekeeters, was actually kind of a crabby old fart.

    Disneyland itself, of course, is an American icon and my kids STILL sadly point out that their Neanderthal father never took them there when they were kids.

    Guilty as charged. It was too goddamned expensive. Probably even worse today.

    The story can be found at www.sfgate.com. The writer is Steve Rubenstein.

    M-I-C, see you real soon, K-E-Y, why, because we love you, M-O-U-S-E...


    Add my Olympus camera to the list of problems with the new computer. The three-year old camera needs on older version of system software to work - a version I'm NOT going to install on this computer.(MAC OS9).

    So, later today, we go shopping for a new still camera, too.


    We did receive word from the Sabbatical delivery crew that they are wet, not-yet-cold and heading straight for Hawaii, hoping for a wind shift in the next five or six days.

    If not, well, Aloha! I've always wanted to visit the Kona coast and see what Hunter S. Thompson was writing about in his best book, 'The Curse of Lono.'