Perspectives

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.

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.

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