San Diego Reader
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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No Bad Jobs, Just Bad Attitudes Print E-mail

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

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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