San Diego Reader
Go Directly To Jail . . . And Die Print E-mail

20081210(San Diego Reader December 10, 2008)

Francisco Castaneda came to the United States from El Salvador during its civil war of the 1980s. Fleeing the violence, his mother crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 1982 with Francisco, aged 10, and his three siblings. Her husband had died of a heart attack just before they left. For years, she did odd jobs and sewing in and around Los Angeles. But she died of cancer before turning 40 and before she secured legal status for her children.

After her death, Castaneda, by then in his late teens, was on his own. For a time he had a work permit and did construction. But then he got involved in drugs. In 2005, he was convicted of methamphetamine possession with intent to sell, a felony, and was sent to prison for three and a half months. Upon his release, federal authorities immediately detained him as an illegal immigrant. Pending deportation, he was transferred to a detention center in San Diego operated under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency newly organized under the Department of Homeland Security.

Intimate Murder Print E-mail

20080702(San Diego Reader July 2, 2008)

In each of the last three years, there were roughly 17,000 murders in the United States. Of these, about 11 percent were committed by women. In most cases women kill to defend themselves during a confrontation: It’s her life or his. Women seldom murder other women and almost never kill strangers. That’s what men do. When a woman kills her husband, boyfriend, or lover, the crime is called “intimate murder”; because the victim is known, and because a confrontation is usually the source of her rage (almost all female killings are unplanned), the charge is usually manslaughter. Once a woman enters the criminal justice system, her fate may be eased by chivalrous public defenders, judges, and juries, who sometimes buy into gender stereotypes of women as nonviolent and passive, relational victims who deserve to be punished but not severely. At trial, a woman may generate sympathy via honest or well-played emotional displays. Is crazy-in-love a special requisite for intimate female murder? Or is there something more to the story than ruined innocence? To illustrate, here are three local cases, a consideration of contestable intentions that led to the violent end of a woman’s love.

UCSD and the Land of the Dead Print E-mail

20080430(San Diego Reader April 30, 2008)

Perhaps the most prized piece of real estate throughout the University of California, San Diego, is the seven-acre site of University House, home to the UCSD chancellor. The rambling adobe home, with its row of south-facing windows, its patios and portales, was built on the precipitous edge of a canyon. From the back patio the view of the Pacific’s blue horizon and La Jolla’s benign cove is spectacular. The residence, in the La Jolla Farms enclave west of UCSD, has been used to entertain wealthy San Diegans who, with the chancellor’s persuasion, donate to the school.

Four years ago, due to structural problems, the residence was declared unlivable. Since then, the university has sought to demolish the home and replace it with a larger one. But this plan has brought the ire of historic-home preservationists who oppose tearing it down. It has also brought opposition from Native Americans, whose ancestors once lived on and buried their dead on the site. In fact, University House is perched on a Native American cemetery.

San Diego's Highest Paid Executives Print E-mail

20071227(San Diego Reader December 27, 2007)

San Diego is home to 35 rich executives, almost all white men, who receive millions in compensation for running our community's largest publicly traded companies. They have made some of their money from salary and bonuses, but the mountain of wealth each has accumulated is the result of stock and option awards. For years, income earned by executive officers has been reported by business news organizations. However, the value of stock and options awarded has been difficult for nonanalysts to determine. The identity and value of many perks have gone unreported.

Benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings are well known. But the perks suggest that executives may be financial wards of their companies. Some executives enjoy health benefits in retirement; payouts for voluntary or involuntary termination; use of the corporate jet (spouses usually fly free); use of the company car or chauffeured limousine; an interest-free loan to purchase a home; country or tennis or workout club memberships; personal health coaching; a home-security system; season tickets for sports teams or theater/music venues; legal fees; trust and estate-planning fees; bodyguards; expense allowances; and, for the very special, the crew and upkeep of a private yacht.

She Hated Adverbs: Remembering Judith Moore Print E-mail

20070816(San Diego Reader August 16, 2007)

It's a Good Story for You

Though she was my editor, I never met Judith. I knew her instead via calls and e-mail. When she phoned, there'd be that throaty alto, so sure, so self-possessed. I'd grab a pen, and she'd dictate my assignment, then say, "It's a good story for you." Why that was so I never asked. I was grateful just to be called, to be trusted. She knew the story would find its disposition in me as I wrote it.

Judith's writing is what enticed me to want to write for the Reader. During the 1980s, I devoured her profiles, whether on Herbert Marcuse or a dwarf. How shapely the prose, how fascinated the author. In 1987, a dozen were collected in The Left Coast of Paradise, a book I often reread. In the 1990s, I cherished those sections from her novel-in-progress and especially her review-essays, pieces I razored out and saved.

What's That Smell? Print E-mail

20070510(San Diego Reader May 10, 2007)

Andrea Kane is new to San Diego: the Navy has stationed her husband here, and they've landed in Imperial Beach. While he serves, she's become an aromatherapist and a perfumer. Locally, she's already making a name for herself by creating and marketing organic creams, lotions, and blends, pomades and balms. Kane and I are sitting side by side on a black vinyl couch in a coffee shop in Imperial Beach. I've found her because I need an expert to guide me into the world of olfaction, the odoriferous, the redolent, the aromatic. Kane is 34, wears a denim skirt, a silver-flecked black cotton shirt layered over a white T-shirt, and a fragrance. Whoa, what's that? I blurt, getting some creamy, warm waft from her hair. That hair is short braids, like sticks of cinnamon, that dangle on her forehead and flop when her raucous laugh jars them. "That," she giggles, "is me. That's my blend." She won't say what it's made of, only that she's working on it. "It's just a fragrance; it has no therapeutic benefits." Except, I think, to attract my notice of it as an enticing smell. I also detected, entering the café, a whiff of patchouli oil, an odor that, for me, signals strange. Kane says, yes, that's her too, a scent so strong that it tarries in the air several minutes after the person has passed.

The Well-Traveled Tomato Print E-mail

20070308(San Diego Reader March 8, 2007)

On a hot day in late November, I'm all set to enter Vons: my role for the day -- food archaeologist. Janice Baker, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and medical nutrition therapist, is my guide. My goal is to learn what food we San Diegans buy. I want to understand what should be an uncomplicated question: Where does that food—displayed in unrepentant quantities at supermarkets, fast-food chains, soup-and-salad lines—come from? Baker is a svelte, chestnut-haired woman with the most sensible eating habits you'll ever envy. She's your food conscience. Once a week, Baker escorts the weight watchers and the diabetics, or anyone on a doctor-prescribed diet, through Vons. She lectures them about caloric density and sodium concentrations so they'll unlearn their shelf behavior. I like it that her high diet IQ is sauced with wit: "A food has nutritional value only when you eat it." As we go through the doors, she reminds me that before we can know what people eat and where it comes from, we must evaluate how it's presented.

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