Publications
What's That Smell? Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

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.

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The Well-Traveled Tomato Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

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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No Bad Jobs, Just Bad Attitudes Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20061228(San Diego Reader December 28, 2006)

If you've walked the concourse at Lindbergh Field, on the way to baggage claim you may have noticed the wall-mounted advertisement, "Welcome to San Diego—Home of 7 of the nation's top professional speakers": Tony Alessandra, Rick Barrera, Ken Blanchard, Scott McKain, Brian Tracy, Jim Cathcart, and Denis Waitley (McKain now lives elsewhere).These are motivational speakers, and more than 100 live in San Diego. Though they are based locally, most have peripatetic lives: they fly in and out constantly to address corporate audiences in America and around the world. They maintain websites, publish books (some, business best sellers), and offer programs; the last are notorious for their quasi-scientific design and ecstatic promise: Rancho Santa Fe's Denis Waitley runs the Waitley Institute's "Seeds of Greatness System"; Carlsbad's Jim Cathcart oversees "The Grandma Factor—Lifetime Customer Loyalty." Del Mar's Tony Robbins, who has been the longest-running San Diego-based motivator, hosts TV spots that, according to his website, "have continuously aired on average every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day somewhere in North America" since 1989.

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Dig a Little Deeper: The Murder of William H. Thompson Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

busted2(San Diego Reader October 12, 2006)

In September 2003, Brian Burritt rode the elevator down to the basement of the San Diego Police Department where the "murder books," the binders of the department's cold cases, many decades old, are kept in cool, dry storage. The books are paper tombs, weighted with hundreds of pages—evidence lists, crime-scene diagrams and photos, lab reports, autopsy reports, witness statements, and more. Each begins with a one-page synopsis of the crime. Over several weeks, Burritt, whose title is criminalist, checked out binders and quick-read the synopses, looking for mention of liquid evidence, typically swatches of blood or semen he might use to establish a DNA profile of a perpetrator. Most of the cases contain such testable evidence, which Burritt, the forensic lab, and the cold-case team would eventually investigate. But one case caught his eye. A murder from 1987, whose crime scene was documented by Lieutenant Dick Carey and whose thick binder signaled much physical evidence and a detailed inquiry. There were fingerprints, 11 usable "latent lifts." The majority belonged to the victim; 2 or 3 were from an unidentified person. "It took me less than two minutes," Brian Burritt told me nearly three years after his discovery, "to see the evidence I wanted to test. There's a blood trail leading from the body in the house to the stolen car—and the blood was in the car." He read on.

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The Guest Is Like God Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20060629(San Diego Reader June 29, 2006)

One Sunday in November 1989, Barry Lall, an Indian-American doctor, was driving over the Coronado Bridge with his wife Hema, their four-year-old son Arjun, Lall's father and mother, and a real estate broker. They were on their way to inspect a 12-room motel for sale at the corner of Third Street and Orange Avenue, which, if priced right, Lall hoped to buy. Beneath them was the beautiful blue and iridescent channel, the port of San Diego where ships off-load containers from as far away as Hong Kong. At the time, Lall, who was practicing family medicine at Kaiser Hospital in Chula Vista, was not yet a citizen. He was here by way of a transnational diaspora common to many Indian immigrants. Lall's route had begun when his parents left the state of Gujarat, India, for the East African country of Nyasaland, where Lall was born; later, after medical studies in England and Scotland and an arranged marriage, he, his wife, and his parents ("she married them, too") emigrated to the United States in 1980, settled first in Georgia and then in San Diego. Lall wanted to believe that the long geographical road that he and his family had traveled to get to America had prepared him for the longer personal road he was now on in America.

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A Tenth Grader's History of the World Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20060622(San Diego Reader June 22, 2006)

During the 2005-2006 school year, 8250 tenth graders in the San Diego Unified School District were enrolled in World History 1 and 2. The students focused on world history in modern times, roughly from the 1700s to the present—ancient civilizations are covered in sixth grade, medieval and early modern times in seventh. (Students take U.S. history and geography in eighth grade and an elective in ninth.) The tenth graders listened to lectures, made class presentations, and cracked the textbook, where they saw, for example, a brightly colored map of "Napoleon's Russian Campaign, 1812," his advance arrowed in blue, his retreat arrowed in red. The majority of these students, 5651, or 69 percent, were enrolled in world history, while 2213, or 27 percent, took advanced world history. (Three hundred eighty-six tenth graders were in advanced-placement world history, where a passing grade may be transferable to college, depending on the school.) Each class had its own text.

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Dirty Jobs Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20060427(San Diego Reader April 27, 2006)

At 6 a.m., Ramon Salazar is readying to leave the vehicle yard of Spanky's Portable Services in Escondido. It's Monday, and Mondays are rough. "Man, I needed an hour more sleep." He yawns. He climbs the two serrated step boards to the cab of his big white pumper truck. He bounces onto the seat, then starts the diesel motor. Rolling a blue kerchief tightly, he bands it carefully around his shaved head and square-knots its ends just under the occipital bone. The snug cinch means business. An ex-gang member and former director of rehab at Victory Outreach ministry ("God found me," he says, "I didn't find God"), Salazar has the bruised look of a man who's bucked too much authority.

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