Perspectives

A Line in the Darkness: In Solitary, a Letter from the Outside Can Be Everything

I have been incarcerated most of my life, in and out of juvenile facilities as a minor, and as an adult I’ve been in and out of the prison system therefore spending many years in solitary confinement. My first experience of solitary confinement was in 2001. Being behind bars in a cell is bad enough, but getting placed in “The hole” is a dark, lonely, and eerie place. There is a misconception that society has.

“Did You Kill Anybody?” I Just Didn’t Say Anything, Because People Didn’t Have a Clue

I enlisted in 1966, in the Navy, so that I wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam. But it didn’t work out that way. I was sent to work as an advisor to the Vietnamese Navy’s swift boat operations in Qui Nhon, north of Nha Trang; beautiful country, beautiful people.

We had about ten boats operating there, and about 20 U.S. personnel. The mission was to patrol the coast to make sure the North Vietnamese weren’t coming in with contraband. We also worked with Seal Team One insertions and did MEDCAPs, where we’d take corpsmen or doctors in to treat villagers without medical care.

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

The Other Side of War: I Volunteered for Mortuary Affairs to Honor Their Sacrifice

It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2005, and we were on base—this was in Hit City, Iraq—waiting for the very last convoy to come in, so we could watch the game together. It was gonna be a special night. We were going to have wings. It was about three in the morning, and that’s when we heard the booms. I lost count of how many. We all loaded up, headed out to go see what’s happening, and confirmed it was an incident involving our personnel—the last convoy in.

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

The Extremes of Human Experience: Maybe That’s What Attracts Men to War

I registered for the draft when I was 18 and was called up in March 1944, just five years after my parents and I had arrived in the United States as Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. I still hadn’t finished high school and was technically an “enemy alien.”

My eyesight was so bad that I had to memorize and fake reading the first two lines of the eye chart to pass my physical. Certainly I wanted to fight the Nazis, but I also wanted to get away from home and be part of history in the making.

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

Division Street Debacle: Nothing Else Works—Why Not Legalize Homeless Encampment?

For superstitious reasons, 13th Street in San Francisco is called Duboce, and Duboce eventually becomes Division Street, running beneath a freeway that splits right to Oakland and left toward the Golden Gate Bridge. It was here, where the sidewalks had little foot traffic and there was some shelter from the rains, that a settlement of homeless people grew up in the past year. It was much like a smaller version of the favelas of Rio do Janeiro or the colonias of Tijuana, yet big enough to upset the San Franciscans driving by.

Reconciling the Laura I Thought I Knew with the One Whose Life and Death Were a Mystery

My daughter, Laura, was a vibrant, witty and loving young woman who grew up in Vermont and California—earning a master’s in library science and eventually becoming executive assistant to the dean of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley. She was a writer, photographer and gifted musician who was close to her family and many devoted friends. In other words, she was a highly intelligent, responsible young woman with a bright future.

She was also a very secretive addict.

Trivia Pursuit—How I Graduated From Law School and Wound Up Practicing Journalism

May 19, 1972—the day I graduated from Boalt Hall.

I wasn’t going to attend the ceremony, but I found out the day before that the featured speaker was going to be my favorite professor, Jan Vetter. He’d not only defended me successfully two years earlier when the university tried to throw me out for violation of the dreaded “time, place, and manner” regulations during an antiwar demonstration (translation: I was spotted leading a sing-along of “Yellow Submarine” during a sit-in at Sproul Hall), but had also given me the lowest grade I ever got on a final exam.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Confessions of a Tech Reporter: Like Other Freethinkers, I Did What Steve Jobs Wanted

For a brief moment, back when the tech revolution was young, I was an early adopter.

I was sucked in by that 1984 Apple ad that ran during the Super Bowl. I can’t recall a thing about the game, but I remember every detail of that ad: the woman running in her tank top one step ahead of the goons; the rows of corporate weirdos staring in open-mouthed horror; the hammer sailing toward the giant screen, smashing the Big Brother cult.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Confessions of a Crime Reporter: Call it Gallows Humor. Hell, It Was Plain Survival

I had pizza delivered to a crime scene once. A computer engineer had bludgeoned and stabbed his wife and 12-year-old son to death and then slashed his own throat.

A group of us reporters stood at the edge of the cordoned-off street for hours, waiting for the police to come out and tell us what was going on. We’d already run the plates of the cars in the driveway and figured out who the occupants of the house were, and knew that the man who lived there had co-invented a famous video game. But we needed confirmation that he was the killer before we filed our stories.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

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.

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