Archive for October, 2010

Revisiting China Basin

October 28, 2010

In 1969, a friend convinced this writer to put aside dreams of aspiring to be the new/next Herb Caen and, instead, go to work at a large company of the public utilities type, and concentrate on earning big bucks which could be used to live out the “on the road” fantasies at vacation time.  The evasive maneuver was known, at the time, as “selling out to the establishment.”  On the lunch hour break, while undergoing training to become an ad salesman, we would walk on the nearby drawbridge and talk with our classmates about our hopes and aspirations.  Little did we realize that forty one years later we’d still be on that very same bridge and that the boats coming and going would be populated by folks living out their dream of experiencing a World Series game in McCovey Cove.

Have things changed since then?  Somewhere nearby there used to be a world class dive bar built cantilever style out over the bay and on their jukebox there was a copy of Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By.”  Well, time has gone by and that bar is gone and ATT Park is the repository for a goodly number of hopes and aspirations for the folks living in that neighborhood.  The name of the war has changed.  We finally got out of Vietnam and into Afghanistan.  I learned, in the interim, that a fellow who was on the staff of our college newspaper and yearbook back in the day, was in San Francisco, at that very same time, working as the ME (managing editor) of a rock’n’roll fanzine called “The Rollilng Stone” (The writer O. Henry had published a magazine with the same name).  Woulds/coulda/shoulda.  We never did bump into him at that time.  Pity. 

Hunter S. Thompson was a founding father of the Gonzo branch of journalism and he was the type of guy who would fly to Africa to cover a fight and then not go to the event to get his story, so we figured that going to McCovey Cove and getting the details about what goes on in China Basin (AKA McCovey Cove) while the clock does the countdown to the start of Game One in the 2010 World Series was a good idea which would win Thompson’s seal of approval.

Folks were holding up signs indicating that they still had not purchased tickets for the game.  Didn’t they realize that tickets to the event were a valuable commodity and that it would take a large fistful of dollars to buy such a sought after item? 

Hope springs eternal.  Just in case, we scribbled out the words “Need Spare Media Pass,” which caused a mirthful reaction but was a futile existentialist’s errand. 

We had a diet cola drink at nearby Jelly’s bar, but it just wasn’t the same as slugging down a beer while listening to something from the Casablanca soundtrack album.  BTW Casablanca was (when I was there in 1965) not as exotic and alluring as Americans were led to believe.  It was rather intimidating to be a tourist there and have the locals start up a conversation by asking:  “Hey, American, how much money you got?”  Casablanca was, in fact, one of only two places in the world where I’ve been asked for a tip.  We went into a bar in Casablanca and, after ordering a beer (which we drank straight from the bottle rather than use the glass provided), was told by the bartender who put an empty plate down in front of us:  “That is where you put de tip!”  I had let the guy take the money for the brew from a collection of coins in my hand and so I selected one or two of the biggest and put them on the plate.  The other place where I have been asked for a tip was a restaurant in Oklahoma.  After serving my meal the waitress asked if I was going to leave a tip.  (Times were difficult in the Sixties.)

While we wandered toward Jelly’s bar, we noticed a fellow who seemed to be preparing for a day at the beach and we queried him about his attire and he informed us that he and his three lady companions were going to don wetsuits and take to their surfboards and one inflatable kayak and experience McCovey Cove in McCovey Cove.  He had, we were informed, experience one of the playoff games in the baseball stadium and he had (in the past) done the surfing McCovey Cove thing and the latter was more enjoyable, so he and his companions were going to experience the first game “in the drink” (as it were) rather than with drinks.

One fellow, who seemed to be <a href =>a reporter in a kayak</a>, was seen interviewing these folks.  Why didn’t we think of that?

Jelly’s bar had a rustic quality to it and we figured that if we were forty one years younger, maybe it would have been just as good, if not better, than the other one from the past. 

The scoreboard didn’t feature the TV feed all the time and it seemed like taking a portable radio would have been a good idea. 

Seeing the fighter jets flyover during the National Anthem was a thrill.  We know that President St. Reagan espoused the philosophy “Once you’ve seen one; you’ve seen them all” about redwood trees, but that point of view doesn’t seem to apply to being buzzed by a quartet of jets. 

As we walked away from the China Basin area, we overheard a newsman talking to a fellow who had traveled many miles to attend the World Series, but the ticket he had bought on the street turned out to be bogus and his money was gone, he was outside the stadium, and (allegedly) all the police could do was listen sympathetically. 

When, in 1969, this columnist was called into the office at the aforementioned public utilities firm and informed that the “selling out to the establishment” experiment was, in their eyes, an abject failure, we hightailed it out to the previously mentioned gravity defying bar and contemplated a life devoted to becoming: a digital beatnik (we’d never heard that term at that time), a gonzo wannabe, and/or a columnist roaming around San Francisco looking for material to be used in a column.

As we peered into our glass, on that fateful day in 1969, and contemplated the future, little did we know that it would all come down to betting everything on the results of the 2010 midterm elections.  The war has changed.  The music has changed.  But can a hippie seriously assert that the times, they are a chaingin’ or is it more like the French say:  “The more things change; the more they remain the same!”?

It seemed, back then, like things weren’t working out as we planned.  Would we ever get to Harry’s New York bar in Paris, Skimpy’s in Kalgorlie, or the Sandbar in Venice?  Nobody bats a thousand and two outta three ain’t bad.  The bikers’ bar in Venice was just too intimidating and so we never did have a diet soda there.  It’s too late now.  That place has changed into a fancy restaurant.  As they used to say in the Sixties:  “Maybe in another lifetime!”

Yogi Berra once (famously) advised:  “When you come to a fork in the road; take it!”

Now the disk jockey (if he likes having a regular gig) will play Dooley Wilson’s version of “As Time Goes By,”  Otis Readding’s “Dock of the Bay,” and Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”  We have to go find out if there will be a “watch the results” party at Jerry Brown’s Campaign Headquarters (or someplace else?) next Tuesday.  Have a “watchin’ the tide roll in” type week.

Fun at Bouchercon 41

October 17, 2010

This column will not contain any political commentary and, instead, will be about a fan’s reaction to attending Bouchercon 41 in San Francisco Oct. 14 to 17, which is the annual convention for mystery writers and fans and is named after William Anthony Parker White (AKA Anthony Boucher) who was a pioneer in the fields of both writing hard-boiled fiction and reviewing mystery novels.

The annual event is held in a different city each year and the selection of San Francisco as this year’s host city was appropriate because “Baghdad by the Bay” has a rich history for fans of detective novels starting with the fact that both Daschiel Hammett and his PI (Private Investigator) Sam Spade worked in the northern California city that is located at the Southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A large subgenre of detective novels features an amateur sleuth who works full time and solves mysteries on a part time basis.  The day job background is an amazing smorgasbord of fascinating jobs, which often reflect the novelist’s past work history.  While at the Bouchercon we learned of novels featuring a detective who is a geologist (Susan Cummins Miller), a scrap booker (Joanna Campbell Slan), a travel writer (Hilary Davidson), and a former nun (Alice Loweecey).

Many police procedurals are written by former cops.  A sizable number of lawyers have decided to augment their retirement fund by writing fictional crime novels base upon their real life experiences.

This columnist noticed a woman in a very conspicuous hat and asked her:  “Are you Miss Marple?”  It turned out she was Jeanne M. Dams whose next book will be titled:  “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.”  When she said she wanted to write a Tea-cozy thriller novel, we blurted out a concept for a plot that her phrase conjured up.  She said it had merit and would take the suggestion under advisement.

We encountered four folks who were part of the staff of the Mystery Book Store in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, which has been a personal favorite of ours since before they moved to that particular section of town.  We learned from one of them that the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books which has been held annually at UCLA will be held in 2011 on the campus of the Bruin’s cross town rivals at USC.

We have been a fan of Doug Lyle’s non-fiction books about forensics and chatted with him several times during the SF event.  We intend to conduct an investigation into his new series of fictional adventures by a sleuth who is well versed in forensics.

It was at the aforementioned L. A. book store that we became aware of the novels of Tim Dorsey, who writes about criminals living in Florida, and so we were delighted to find a copy of Electric Barracuda in the goodie bag.

Lee Child was honored at Bouchercon 41 for Distinguished Contributions to the Genre.  Now we are going to add his novels about the knight errant named Jack Reacher to our “Must Read” list.  He was born in Great Britain but has become sufficiently Americanized to predict that the World Series will be a match-up between the Yankees and the Giants.  Although he himself is a Red Sox fan.

Rebecca Cantrell writes mysteries set in Hitler era Berlin (she knew about the evening TV newscasts during the Third Reich period) and so we will want to read all her novels.

Cara Black lives in San Francisco but her crime novels are based in Paris and so we put all her books on our literary “to do” list.

James R. Benn writes mysteries featuring a soldier in World War II and since one of our personal obsessions is life in occupied Paris, we’ll have to take a test drive (read) in one of his novels.

For a variety of reasons (to be elaborated in a future column about some news from the Maynard Institute), this columnist has become interested in the topic of prisoners who are innocent of the crimes that caused their arrest and so we spoke with Laura Caldwell, who took up the cause of a fellow who spent 5 years in a Cook County (Chicago) holding cell without a trial. She and others proved him innocent.  That inspired her book Long Way Home.

A segment of the mystery genre is occupied by former newspaper reporters who use the legends and lore they picked up on their beats to add authenticity to their tales of crime.  A smaller number are veterans from the wire services.  We were surprised (and showing our age) to learn from a former AP employee that AP is no longer Headquartered at 50 Rock.  Time marches on!

What political pundit wouldn’t be proud to boast that he (or she) had attended Nancy Drew’s 80th birthday party?

The titles for the Bouchercon 41 panel discussions were a bit baffling until it was revealed that they were titles of episodes from the TV series Streets of San Francisco.

An odd tidbit of information, for this columnist, is that a reference to a personal TV series favorite, San Francisco Beat, was not heard once during the weekend event.  Then again, neither was Paladin.

San Francisco was touted as leading the nation in two categories:  the number per capita of Independent book stores and the per capita number of barrooms.

Due to a clerical error on the columnist’s part, we botched the chance to meet and talk to Kelli Stanley about her novel City Dragons, which is about events in San Francisco’s Chinatown, during the 1940’s. 

The 2011 Bouchercon will be held in St. Louis and it will be held September 15 to 18.  The following year it moves to Cleveland followed by Albany New York in 2013, and then Long Beach in 2014.

There were folks at Bouchercon 41 promoting the Ninth Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival (AKA Noir City), which begins January 21, 2011, but the list of films to be shown has not been announced yet.

Mystery fans and columnists had to contend with a tsunami of information and so any write-up (such as this column) will have to be subjective, random, and capricious in nature and thus be a disservice to the many deserving authors who didn’t get a plug.  (Sorry!)  Such a column will, however, be a way to set out some Google bait which will cause a great number of mystery writers to find this particular web site. 

There is enough information about crime fiction set in San Francisco to fill a book, which is precisely the reason why the book titled Golden Gate Mysteries is being published by the University of California at Berkeley.

The 125 Anniversary edition of Bartlett’s saw fit to include this quote from Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled classic, The Maltese Falcon:  “That’s the part of it I [Sam Spade] always liked.  He [Flitcraft] adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to their not falling.”

Now the disk jockey will play the soundtrack albums from the movies:  Bullitt, Vertigo, and Dirty Harry.  We have to go to the Berkeley Public Library and start whittling down our now gigantic sized “must read” list.  Have a “Go Giants!” type week.  Hope over to our photo blog “floppyphotos” also on wordpress, for photo coverage of the SF event.

According to whom?

October 12, 2010

Has the New York Times decided to follow Fox News’ lead and become shills offering partisan political propaganda to their audience? The first sentence of the New York Times’ lead article on Monday October 11, 2010 [1], would get an “F” in a Journalism 101 classroom. It read: “Republicans are well-positioned to pick up a substantial number of governor’s seats in this year’s election, with potentially far-reaching effects on issues like the new health care law, Congressional redistricting and presidential politics.” The writers (Jeff Zeleny and Monica Davey) do not say what evidence caused them to jump to that conclusion. If it is based on extensive, quality polling that would be a very strong reason to draw that conclusion; if it was based on a partisan press release (from Karl Rove?) that would completely destroy the logic of agreeing with that conclusion.

The World’s Laziest Journalist, on Monday afternoon, fired off an e-mail questioning that example of poor journalism, to the New York Times ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane. (We didn’t even get an automated reply.)

We also raised some additional points of concern about the quality of the item in question. The second paragraph contains this sentence: “But the balance appears likely to shift, perhaps markedly, with Republicans holding the upper hand in many of this year’s 37 races, including those in crucial political battlegrounds.” Who says the “balance appears likely to shift”? What evidence indicates “perhaps markedly”? Isn’t “Republicans holding the upper hand in many of this year’s 37 races” a bit vague?

Later on in the story the writers say: “But Republican candidates for governor are benefiting from the same climate that has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate.” Objection! The propagandists are making an assumption not previously entered in evidence. Who says that? Karl Rove again?

The writers also say: “The anxieties are being translated into a broader feeling from voters: a call for change not only in Washington but also in state capitals.” Did the writers tour the USA and talk to voters or did they get a news release from Rove? Aren’t travel budgets for reporters being reduced?

The writers say: “But Republican candidates for governor are benefiting from the same climate that has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate.” Objection! Isn’t that sentence more like subliminal suggestion than journalism? The Republican noise machine has been proclaiming a looming Republican landslide, but does that tsunami of partisan political propaganda qualify as uncontestable evidence that it is just about to happen? Some tangible evidence, such as quality polling data, would make better journalism than drivel from reporters imitating the Pope’s infallibility act.

If journalism in the United States has deteriorated from the high point of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” half hour report on Senator Joeseph R. McCarthy (broadcast on March 9, 1953) to the point where The World’s Laziest Journalist has to call out the New York Times for falling to the level of producing partisan political propaganda of the sort usually provided by Fox News, then it seems the only lower level will be a Karl Rove directed version of Hitler’s variety of journalism provided by the Volkischer Boebachter newspaper.

If this columnist is wrong and the level of journalism in that story would be endorsed by the staff of the Columbia Review of Journalism, then we would be glad to offer a column with a big apology in it.

If we are correct and the New York Times is undercutting Democracy with partisan political propaganda disguised as journalism, then we are reluctantly going to realize that the best way to “go along to get along” will be to start marketing “Jeb in ’12” T-shirts.

We urge readers to send e-mail to the editors of the Columbia Review of Journalism (their e-mail is editors the at symbol cjr dot org) and strongly urge them to adjudicate this matter. (Maybe even send a CC to Arthur Brisbane at the “Great Gray Lady”?) If they find that the story in question qualifies as an example of commendable journalism, we will be forced to consider switching back to providing online film reviews. If they call out the New York Times, it would just be natural to write a column full of gloating. If the CJR crew ignores calls to play referee, we will remind our readers of the old legal maxim: silence implies consent.

In a speech, (according to page 539 of Murrow: His Life and Times, by A. M. Sperber, [Freundlich Books hardback]) Edward R. Murrow told the Radio and Television News Directors Association: “Surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communications to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which are to be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word ‘survive’ literally . . . .”

We wonder if Murrow would report on the reliability of voting results produced by the electronic voting machines or if he would blithely add his voice to the chorus of political propaganda reporting, without attribution, on an expected Republican sweep in the fall elections which will be difficult to dispute because of the stories that include pontifications such as: “has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate”?

Did anyone other than Bard Friedman at the Bradblog report on the revelations, in a hearing held Friday October 8, 2010, in Washington D. C., about the test of the security of the online voting system that was being studied? [2]

If the Republicans win a majority in the House and Senate it will truly be time for all Americans to say: “Good night, and good luck.”