San Diego Reader
Noise Is a Necessary Obscenity Print E-mail

20230823(San Diego Reader August 23, 2023)

I’m not sure why but my hearing capacity is large and, lately, my ears have grown scarily irritated by noise. That’s putting it mildly. I wish I could annihilate lots of sounds, silence their obnoxious producers—the rifling of popcorn from a plastic bag behind me at the Rady Shell or the vibratory menace of subwoofer speakers quaking like the San Andreas from a car stopped beside me. But no can do. I hear it all, the soft, the loud, the aural invasion of my everyday life. On planes I listen to Wayne Shorter on earbuds and affix, over them, form-fitting earmuffs, the sort workers who guide planes into their slots on the tarmac wear. If I don’t, I go screwy with the dopey chatter, the squalling babies, the engine rumble, and, for me, the audible internal terror, set to buzz, like a Geiger counter—turbulence. My ears need their privacy, dressing them, as I must, behind a curtain. No wonder I prefer a life writing alone in my double-paned windowed home office.

San Diego Smart: In Search of (Local) Intelligence Print E-mail

20230208(San Diego Reader February 8, 2023)

The first thing you realize once you start investigating “intelligence” is that no two people—whose personalities and abilities, capacities and traits, are as different as their DNA—use the word the same way. It’s one of those concepts like pleasure or truth or value where the variety of individual variation makes a reliable definition unlikely.

If, on my block in Clairemont, I ask ten neighbors what they think they are smart at, I’d get unique profiles from each. One has an affinity for native-plant gardening, another is a crackerjack piano teacher, another is a pickleball champ, still another’s Master’s in computer graphics is in such high demand that soon she’ll move out of Clairemont. Each person is better-than-average and one-of-a-kind, a credit to the species. So they will all say. It’s hard to control for self-aggrandizement, the stats tell us: When 64 percent of Americans rate their driving skills as excellent, the same folk score drivers of their own age and skill at 22 percent.

Life in Calipatria Print E-mail

20220831(San Diego Reader August 8, 2022)

In the infinite flatness of southern California’s Imperial Valley, an irrigated desert of cropland and skin-frying heat, lies Calipatria State Prison, a mostly maximum-security Level IV warren of cellblocks, surrounded for miles by massive ag plots: white plastic-coated storage barns of alfalfa hay; acres of livestock to which the bales are fed; fields of greenly ripe, ruler-straight commodities like sweet corn and leaf lettuce; flocks of snowy egrets that feast in those fields on lizards, snakes, and mice; and, powering some of the valley’s energy, large pitches of solar arrays on barren parcels. More widely diffused are the sun-withered towns, mottled and cracked by dust storms, where cadres of prison guards live. Not much moves in the desert other than the birds and the wind, breezing over Colorado River water rushing down the concrete ditches. And, arriving every hour, females driving families in battered Corollas who come to visit their lost loved ones.

Jackie Bryant Builds a Platform: The News Will Never Be the Same Print E-mail

20220126(San Diego Reader January 26, 2022)

It’s been a couple years since City Beat, a Reader-like junior of local news, irreverent columns, and cultural coverage went silent. The rag disappeared after a cascade of events: Times Media Group in Arizona purchased the publication, fired the editor, reset the weekly to a monthly, cut an Uber-load of writers, shrunk the pages and the ad space, and eventually “paused” the enterprise as Covid roared to life. A death by many front-office cuts. Their erstwhile marijuana columnist, Jackie Bryant, known in weed world as the Cannabitch, told me that the suits who took over struck her as a lot of “visionless losers who couldn’t put out a good paper to save their lives.”

Unchurched Print E-mail

20210901(San Diego Reader September 1, 2021)

In 2011, Colby Martin, an assistant pastor in a Gilbert, Arizona, evangelical church near Phoenix, was summoned one day to a board meeting of the elders. The concern was a Facebook post Martin shared about President Obama lifting the ban on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military regulation by which an LGBTQ person keeps that fact private. To the post, Martin appended six words: “I’m glad this day finally came.” Martin, who is 39 and met me for breakfast in Del Cerro, possesses a confessional well-being, equal parts vexed and resolute. Rigorously thoughtful, he took his time with my questions, waiting a bagel slathered with cream cheese. For those six words, a storm blew in. Further comments on Facebook hatched his superiors’ suspicions, and he was called on the carpet.

Certainty Makes You Stupid Print E-mail

20210630(San Diego Reader June 30, 2021)

Sign of the Times: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo M. Cipolla, written and published privately in 1976 and reissued in April, is a sudden bestseller. Hardly unexpected, given the reign of idiocy these days. If you’ve read this tiny masterpiece, you have a framework for labeling stupidity a syndrome, one with symptoms that are clearly expressed in both individuals and groups. Indeed, the condition may be worth an entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychiatry’s etiological bible. As one reviewer has written, “Idiots suffer from a disease that has no cure.” But a cure aside, classifying a disease should lead to treatment. Some researchers see parallels between medicalizing things like racism and mass shootings as public health crises and — wish upon a star — the remediable disorder of stupidity.

Fraudsters Print E-mail

20210506(San Diego Reader May 6, 2021)

White-collar criminals come in all sizes and styles but they share an overarching motive: to steal money. Anyone’s stash will do. According to the FBI, they are experts at “deceit, concealment, [and] violation of trust.” Of the lot, the most complex to prosecute and the likeliest to weasel a light or “deferred” sentence are the fraudsters whose open secret is to appear legitimate, the neighborly crook, the good egg from church. Money launderers, work-site embezzlers, pyramid scammers, phony security traders—nice folk like Gina Champion-Cain. The latest basket term for crimes perpetrated on the near and maybe dear is “affinity fraud,” tricking those the swindler knows, often intimately.

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