San Diego Reader
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.

Time & Tide Waits on No One: Beach Erosion Print E-mail

20210113(San Diego Reader January 13, 2021)

The Sand at Encinitas

Jayme Timberlake—tide-watcher, restoration ecologist, avid surfer—light-foots it down Encinitas’s iconic Stone Steps. She’s barefoot, kicking off her shoes and leaving them on the sand-dusted floor of her truck cab. Desk-chained me follows, white legs and black tennies. We gaze up at the sentinel sandstone cliff-backs beside us and their telltale, sharp-edged furrows or rills of erosion. The sight feels perilous: 100-foot escarpments, topped by private homes, the occasional railroad-tie buttress, and a rare American flag—as if signaling to offshore pirates their onshore enemy.

Here's That Rainy Day: Hard Times for San Diego County Cities Print E-mail

20200806(San Diego Reader August 6, 2020)

San Marcos City Manager Jack Griffin begins his annual June letter to the mayor and city council, “It is kind of my pleasure to submit the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Operations and Maintenance Budget.” That “kind of” summarizes the sour monetary mood facing San Diego’s 17 county cities and their managers in the new pandemic normal. The economic pain of dwindling revenue varies by city and its relative affluence, but the losses are universal. Since March, taxes on hotels, entertainment, bars and restaurants, even car sales and pot shops, typically about a third of a city’s spending base, have fallen—and, as people remain largely at home, will continue to fall.

As a result, most previously funded departments and staff, though spared, are being pared: social services snipped, capital projects deferred, full- and part-time workers furloughed or laid off, new hires frozen, libraries closed, recreation programs reduced, street repairs delayed, and parks dark. No municipality can cut salaries and benefits for firefighters and police; cities are contractually bound.

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