Confessions of an Online Journalist: How I Killed My Profession

In the fall of 1994, when I was a young reporter struggling to pay the rent, I wrote a cover story for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Plugging In: An Idiot’s Guide to the Internet.” I explained why a 14.4 baud modem was a great deal, and reported that the Internet was a fantastic resource because “all kinds of information are available.”

I am so, so, sorry.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Reporter Excoriates Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study: I Stopped at 14,000 Words-Enough Was Enough

Years ago, I never thought to myself, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta be the guy who writes about chronic fatigue syndrome.’ I mean, why would I? It just sort of happened. When research suggested in 2010 that the illness might be linked to a mouse retrovirus, I wrote a piece about it for The New York Times.

After that I wrote another story, and then more stories, and then a few more—probably a dozen or so in all. But within a couple of years the mouse retrovirus hypothesis fell apart. And media interest in the illness vanished.

Cal Vet’s Reflection: How Father and Son Marched to the Beats of Their Own Times

Fathers and sons—not surprisingly—have things in common. Frequently, the most important are not so obvious. Similar experiences converge as life unfolds. Some, however, are fate driven. I was able to influence my son’s journey in two significant ways.

First of all, we both went to Cal. Second, we both served in the military. Brad currently is a U.S. Army Officer. I served some 45 years ago under much different circumstances.

Burning Down the House: Should Private Assets be Sacrificed to Protect Public Land?

Back when mastodons and giant ground sloths still roamed the earth – the late 70s and early 80s – I worked as a wildfire fighter for the U.S. Forest Service, both on hand crews and engine crews. Our training was narrow but relatively deep. Mainly, we were taught to construct fire lines with hand tools and chain saws. Water, when it was available, generally was used to protect the line and firefighters; seldom was it employed to directly extinguish the flames.

Out of the Gate: Laughing Through Tears

In 1966, the same year that I finished my studies at UC Berkeley, the psychology department made a scientific breakthrough. A graduate student discovered that watching an extremely graphic film documenting the subincision rites (the ritual cutting of the undersides of the penises) of Australian aboriginal boys could raise stress levels, particularly in men.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Back to Class: Cal Alums Say Volunteering at High Schools Makes Them Feel Young Again

We have discovered the fountain of youth. No pills, no shots, no yoga, no prayers. We’re simply giving one-hour talks in high schools—Peter on World War I, John on U.S. taxation. The talks have been warmly received by students and teachers, and are enormous fun for us. Most remarkably, we’ve stopped aging. So we thought we’d pass this magic formula on to any of our fellow UC Berkeley alums who might wish to live forever.

Lifelong Learning: Post-Retirement, I Discovered the Joy of Taking Classes at Cal

There were a few days when I forgot my hearing aids, and senior citizens are the first to wither in classrooms built when Berkeley summer temperatures were pleasant, but I didn’t miss a day of the three Cal courses I have audited in as many years. Who wants to give up on learning?

It’s a benefit only possible with the consent of the instructor, and if space is available. Make no mistake, it is work, meaning intellectually rigorous, at the world’s best public university.

Lionizing Cecil Makes Us Feel Good, But a Trophy Hunting Ban Will Accelerate Slaughter

If you fly over parts of Tsavo today—and I challenge anyone to do so, if you have the eyes for it – you can see lines of snares set out in funnel traps that extend four or five miles. Tens of thousands of animals are being killed annually for the meat business. Carnivores are being decimated in the same snares and discarded.

Out of the Navy and Into a Cold War Job: “You Know Anything about Celestial Navigation?”

It was June 1954, the day after graduation. I had just received my shiny electrical engineering diploma from the imposing and stentorian UC President Robert Gordon Sproul. After finishing dinner with my proud parents, then bidding them a safe journey back to my hometown Los Angeles, I returned to my room in dear old Bowles Hall and began the Augean task of packing my stuff and loading it into my trusty 1941 Plymouth.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Out of the Gate: Hitchhiking Toward the World Cup

It is night when I set up camp on the beach of La Zona Hotelera in Cancún, away from all the hotels. I’ve just come in from Mérida and am sitting cross-legged in my sleeping bag, listening to the fall of waves about a hundred feet away. From that distance, they sound like measured breaths through the nose. In the morning I’ll see Aashik, my roommate from Berkeley.

From the Spring 2015 Dropouts and Drop-ins issue of California.

A Rescue on Mt. Tam, as Seen from the Stretcher

On New Year’s Eve 2012, having returned early from an East Coast holiday with our kids, and with an 8 p.m. dinner invite ahead of me and no one to say no, I drive to Pantoll to do a run to Stinson. I’ve been running the Marin Headlands for 41 years and this is something I have contemplated doing for years.

Go Fish: How I Hooked My Mom on Online Romance And Ended Up as Her Dating Coach

I was 22, my sensitive vegan boyfriend had just dumped me, and my life was over.

Now I circled the park in my running shoes, trying to smooth over the jaggedness of the past two hours. No such luck. Every footstep was a lonely echo, every smiling family I passed another cruel reminder. There was only one thing left to do: I slowed to a walk, and called my mom. “I’ll never date again,” I announced.

This was met with a sigh, and what I could only guess was an eye roll. “Stop being ridiculous,” my mother said. “After all, there’s plenty of fish.”


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