The Tardy Times

Stealing the nation's lunch money.  
Chinatown. Murder. Orphans.

THERE'S NO SUCH THING as a free lunch. Literally speaking, that's true. David Cay Johnston's new book, “Free Lunch,” is listed at $27.50.
   Literarily speaking, that's untrue. Take a look at his subtitle: “How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill).” 
    Remembered in these parts when he 19, too young to buy a martini but hired in 1968 as a staff reporter at the San Jose Mercury, Dave went on to embarrass frauds and fakes with relentless investigative work at the Detroit Free Press, Los

 Carol, Phil and Carl
 hold an unplanned
 writers' seminar

INTENTLY FOCUSED on his 14-mile circuit of Point Reyes National Seashore, septuagenarian slogger Carl Irving paid little attention to the two authors who trudged toward him on Sky Trail. They had already gone by when the blonde woman paused. She hailed him.
    He turned. It took a moment. He recognized Carol Pogash and Phil Garlington. They were seriously out of context.
    This was a rare cliché opportunity. He could have asked, What are you doing in this neck of the woods?
     Instead, he said hello.
     The Examiner Writers' Spontaneous Trailside Mini-Reunion surprised all three.
    Carl, who retired from the Ex in 1993 after a career that included the Oakland Tribune and Radio Free Europe, now writes serious wisdom for think tanks and op-ed pages. He lives in Rossmoor with his wife Pat. They like long walks. Not too long ago, they crossed Britain by way of Hadrian’s Wall. After running into Carol and Phil, he didn't mind saying, “They were suitably impressed by finding this elderly geezer (me) so far from the parking lot.”
    Carol and Phil, pleased in turn that Carl later described them as “a young couple,” are ex-Ex colleagues who write books.
MARRIED to the late great Examiner reporter Jim Wood, Carol spent nearly 13 years at the Ex. In 1992, she wrote “As Real As It Gets." Widely praised, it told the story of San Francisco General Hospital's doctors and nurses who, overwhelmed by the early days of the AIDS epidemic, suddenly discovered that blood was a toxin.  (The late Randy Shilts once said Carol “can write the pants off just about anybody in town.”) In 2000, she took a job with a technology journal. With the dot-com collapse, she began stringing for the Los Angeles Times and, since 2003, she has been a correspondent for the New York Times.
    After she wrote a fascinating piece in the LA Times Sunday Magazine about the murder of  psychotherapist Felix Polk, the case led to a book contract with Judith Regan of HarperCollins. Nearly three years and many headaches later, a jury convicted the victim's eccentric wife, Susan Polk (who represented herself), of second degree murder. In June, William Morrow of HarperCollins published Carol’s “Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case.” It received great reviews in the Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, Washington Post and USA Today. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it a triumph.
IN 1975, Phil wrote “Aces and Eights,” now out of print, about two San Francisco cops and Vietnam veterans involved in smuggling drugs from Vietnam. One reader (an Englishman) described it as “the most moving police novel I have read.”
    His latest is “Rancho Costa Nada: The Dirt Cheap Desert Homestead.” It's a how-to book for wannabe desert rats. It's also an exploration of what it's like to live in utter isolation in the hogan he built from scraps and sandbags in the Smoke Tree Valley 45 miles south of Blythe. He bought the 10 waterless acres for $330 at a tax sale auction. (“Costa Nada” is Spanglish for “costs nothing.”) As one review put it, “This short, easy-to-read, how-to book thoroughly examines the financial, psychological, and material logistics of how even a lazy slackass with a bad attitude, no technological capability and a disarming lack of handiness can successfully become a desert homesteader.”
   “Rancho Costa Nada” was published in 2005 by the now-defunct Loompanics house in Los Angeles. The rights were bought by Paladin Press in Boulder,Colo., where Phil's book sits uncomfortably in a survivalist-oriented catalog along with “Highland Knife Fighting,” “How To Avoid a Sexual Harassment Suit” and “Advanced Fugitive.”
    Lonerism didn't astonish Phil's old friends. After his relatively brief time at the old Examiner years ago, he bounced from one paper to the next. (“My deportment irks employers,” he wrote. “I guess it's a kind of hauteur. Kind of cocky, supercilious, cheek, insolence, or an overweening and querulous hubris.”)
    He spent some adventurous months at the National Enquirer. It supplied him with many a tale of the supermarket tabloid's journalistic depravity. It also enhanced his guise of amused misanthropy, an image  projected since his college days at SF State. The Tardy Times knew him in 1968-69 as editor of the Golden Gater and president of the Associated Students. Both institutions were crippled during the violent classroom boycott – the “strike” of the Third World Liberation Front – and the violent response of San Francisco police.
     Phil countered the gushing idealism of the 1960s with a kind of detached cynicism. Or so it seemed.
A DIFFERENT picture came into focus when Phil, then pushing 60, wrote a long article for the Orange County Weekly. After four years as a reporter with the Orange County Register, he was let go in a staff cutback of one. His swan song is an unexpected testimonial to an uncynical, almost idealistic belief that newspapers should live up to their own sanctimonious claims of integrity and competence. Instead, Phil regretfully classifies his editors as hypocritical nincompoops on a newspaper of suffocating dullness.
    He writes: “Maybe it's dull because of the strangulating effect of ‘Proposition 140’– the company policy that all beat reporters, to keep their socks up, should produce 140 bylined stories annually. With vacations, holidays and the usual sick time, this would amount to about 0.7 stories per day. This is the river Platte, an inch deep, and it guarantees that most stories will be short, safe, superficial,  ad-separating pap and filler, creating in effect a paper almost designed not to be read.”
    He adds: “The brain trust is also flirting with the idea of slamming ads along the bottom of the front page, something that will cause actual vomiting in the newsroom.”
    Okay, so we're tardy. Very tardy. Phil's article appeared seven years ago. It still makes pretty good reading, especially for newspaper grumps and malcontents. Look it up on the Internet at  
BACK ON SKY TRAIL, after a too-brief howdy-doo, Carl headed back to the park headquarters. Carol continued hiking with Phil, her "sometimes boyfriend." She told the Tardy Times that Carl's 14-mile fortitude was admirable. She was impressed.
    So was Carl.
    “They looked like they were in their 30s,” he told The Tardy Times by email. “You probably read Carol's recent piece in the NYT about Colma, the city of the dead. I read every word, since I have a grandmother, grand uncle and grand aunt entombed there.”
  Carl should write a book himself, perhaps about his late antecedents, and thus look like he too is in his 30s.
   From the Examiner alumni gossip network: We hear that Carol and Phil still take walks on the beach.        

More book notes

BILL HUTCHINSON, the SF State alumnus at the New York Daily News rewrite desk, is hard at work on an autobiographical memoir, "Sushi & Black-eyed Peas: Life as a Japanese-Cherokee-Irish-Black-American”  . . . William Woo’s posthumous book of informal essays written for his students, “Letters From the Editor: Lessons on Journalism and Life,” was published last summer by the University of Missouri Press. Woo, who rose from reporter to become editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, joined the Stanford Graduate Journalism in 1996. He was its interim director when he died of colo-rectal cancer on April 12, 2006.  He was 69. Judy Stone,
longtime Chron critic now retired, wrote “Not Quite a Memoir: Of Films, Books, the World,” published last year by Silman-James, Los Angeles.   . . . William Wong, the East Bay columnist who appeared often in the old Examiner's op-ed pages, is co-author (with Branwell Fanning) of “Images of America: Angel Island” from Arcadia Publishing. He wrote the text on the campaign by Asian American activists to save the old immigration station. Bill wrote an earlier Arcadia book on Oakland's Chinatown. Next: A history of the life and death of East/West, a Chinatown bilingual newspaper
. . . Blame  procrastination, writer’s block and The Tardy Times itself for a long delay by L.F. Ludlow in getting to work on his proposed book about a forgotten murder in 1898.
JERRY SCHIMMEL, the ex-social worker (and pianist and banjoist, history-minded dealer in tokens and a 1951 grad of Tam High) privately published  “Bernal Hill Memoir” in July. It's a collection of personal observations during his 40 years near the top of Bernal Heights  on the southern edge of the Mission District.
  Jerry printed just 25 copies, three with extra-tough covers for the patrons of the public libraries. It may be a new record for minimalism in print.

The Tardy Times
October 2008

  Angeles Times (in the San Francisco bureau), the Philadelphia Inquirer and, from 1995 to 2008, at the New York Times. He took a buyout last April and calls himself "an independent reporter." He is a columnist for Tax Notes. In October, Syracuse University announced that Dave has been hired as a disinguished visiting lecturer at the law school and the Whitman School of Management, not bad for a guy who never got a degree.
    One legal analyst calls him “the de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States.” He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 and was a finalist in 2000 and 2003. His last book, “Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign To Rig Our System To Benefit the Super Rich and Cheat Everybody Else,” was named Book of the Year by the Investigative Reporters and Editors. His first book, in 1992, was “Temples of Chance: How American Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. To Win Control of the Casino Business.”
   Remembered also as a contributor to feed/back, the late lamented journalism review at SF State, Dave keeps in touch from his office and home in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. (He added his middle name to his byline to avoid confusion with another New York Timesman, former Examiner reporter David Johnston.)
  The reviews of “Free Lunch,” which came out in late December 2007, included this squib by John C. Bogle, founder and former chairman, The Vanguard Group:  “If you're concerned about congressional earmarks, stock options (especially backdated options), hedge fund tax breaks, abuse of eminent domain, subsidies to sports teams, K Street lobbyists, the state of our health-care system, to say nothing of the cavernous gap between rich and poor, you'll read this fine book – as I did – with a growing sense of outrage.”

Chinatown cops
 The tireless Kevin Mullen, historian and former deputy chief, has just published another book, "Chinatown Squad: Policing the Dragon from the Gold Rush to the 21st Century" (Noir Publications). His summary: "From 19th Century Tong Wars to recent efforts by Hong Kong Triads to take over Chinatown rackets, a small group of San Francisco police officers has battled crime and vice in the nation’s oldest established Chinese community."
   Kevin Starr, former state librarian and now a professor of history at USC:  “Chinatown Squad reads like a movie script.  But this is history, the real thing, written by an experienced police chief turned historian.  As such, it pulls no punches when it comes to telling the story of the criminals and cops who have for 158 years confronted each other in the streets and alleys of Chinatown, San Francisco.”
   Richard Dillon, historian and author, in the POA Journal: "He is a natural story-teller. Kevin Mullen brings to life the best (and some of the worst) of the chiefs of police and Chinatown Squad sergeants, and also clues to their heretofore anonymous adversaries – gunmen like Ah Soo, Little Pete, Ah Chuck and Hong Kay."
    John van der Zee, author of "The Gate":  “In his brilliantly researched work, written in the unadorned, fact-focused style of a good police report, Kevin Mullen examines the lives of men assigned to work in a culture foreign to them, where many of them served with impressive dedication, and for which, at the most crucial time of its existence, they constituted the last line of defense.”
   Interviewed by the Examiner and asked about Chinatown's past, Kevin said, "The violence created by gangs then is unimaginable now."

Al' American     Jonathan Curiel, a veteran traveler in the Mideast and formerly the Chronicle's best basketball player, has all but abandoned his pickup games. He has to fit his job as a general assignment reporter into flogging his new book on the impact of Arab culture on life in America.
   "Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab and Islamic Roots," was published by The New Press in November of 2008. Islamic architecture, for example, influenced the Alamo and the World Trade Center; Arabic and related forms of music, on everything from Flamenco to the Doors; Muslim decor, on the lacy iron balustrades of New Orleans; Arab language, on names like Alcatraz (al-ghattas), and so forth.
   Take a look at Jon's Website ( for documentation of his indefatigable interviewing. The list includes more than 50 heads of state, prime ministers, two queens, diplomats, foreign policy experts and secretaries of state; 26 writers and journalists; 38 movie and TV producers, directors and  actors, and 35 musicians (only four of them from the West), in places like Mali, Benin, Iran, Algeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast). The interviews are cited in his long list of articles in every publication from Obit to the Chronicle's Insight section to Mother Jones. He's been a Reuters Foundation Fellow at Oxford in 2004-2005 and a Fulbright Scholar teaching journalism in 1994-95 in Pakistan at the University of the Punjab.
   You need to ask the Chronicle why Jon has been assigned to the fix-the-potholes Chronicle Watch column. Maybe it's at his own request. It gives him time to  talk to the World Affairs Council and do a radio show and appear in a bookstore and fly to Seattle for another promotion, all in one week.

Alaska Orphanage

THE YEAR was busy for Jackie Pels, the esteemed former copy editor at the Chronicle and Contra Costa Times. In 2006, as publisher and sparkplug of Hardscratch Press, she launched “The Alaska 67: A Guide to Alaska's History Books.” It was unveiled at the Alaska Historical Society annual conference in Juneau. (One of the 67 histories was written by Jerry Bowkett, an SF State editor in 1953.  Jackie has been compiling  Volume II of “Family After All: Alaska's Jesse Lee Home,” the Seward years of the famous orphanage. (Volume I, covering Unalaska, was edited by Raymond Hudson.) Jackie traveled to Seward to talk on July 9 about 13-year-old Benny Benson, an orphanage kid who designed the state flag. The next day she read from “Family After All” to a drum-and-dance event for the Qutekcak native tribe. In 2007, the 80th year of Alaska's statehood, Jackie celebrated her 70th birthday on Jan. 22. It was a great party.
The Death of Truth
KEAY DAVIDSON, who arrived at the old Examiner in 1984 and took his science and astronomy beat to the Chronicle after the 2000 staff merger, is the author of “Wrinkles in Times” (1993), with Nobelist George Smoot; “Twister” (1996) and “Carl Sagan: A Life” (1999). He volunteered for the buyout so he could finish his biography (Oxford University Press) of “the historian who coined the term ‘paradigm shifts’ to describe revolutionary changes in scientific world views such as those of Darwin and Copernicus.” The title: “The Death of Truth: Thomas S. Kuhn and the Evolution of Ideas.” Almost finished, the book offers so grim a vision of the pro-spects for science that, Dav-idson says, “Everybody who reads it will want to kill themselves.”
Shopping for Faith
DON LATTIN arrived at the Examiner 29 years ago. To some of us, that makes him a brash newcomer. About 20 years later, he absquatulated to the Chronicle to specialize in religion and, not incidentally, faith-based travel opportunities. He found time to co-author with Richard Cimino “Shopping for Faith – American Religion in the New Millennium” (Jossey Bass, 1998) and, on his own, “Following Our Bliss – How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today” (HarperSan Francisco, 2003). At the memorial service for Fran Ortiz (see The Geezer Gazoot, Page 31), Don had the pleased look of an author with a load off his back. “Jesus Freaks – A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge,” which he wrote during a six-month leave from the Chronicle, hit the bookstores in November.
    In Booklist, Mike Tribby called the book  “a treasure trove for those curious about aberrant cultic enterprises.” It's the story of the sect formerly known as the Children of God, notorious for sex between adults and children before its the rules changed 20 years ago. In January 2005, the apostate son of the founder killed his former nanny, denounced “the evil legacy” of the cult  and killed himself. In the meantime, Don never came back from his sabbatical and began working in Berkeley as a story editor at News21. What? (“A national initiative led by five of America's leading research universities with the support of two major foundations will advance the U.S. news business by helping revitalize schools of journalism.”)

Book notes

DALE TUSSING, who was managing editor of the Golden Gater back when the co-founder of The Tardy Times was editor in 1953, returned to Dublin for the launch of his latest book on Ireland's health and education problems. “How Ireland Cares: The Case  for Health Care Reform” was co-written by Maeve-Ann Wren. Dale and Ann Tussing celebrated by taking a cruise of the Hawaiian islands. (Ann took a solo tour of the Aegean Sea last year). Dale announces that will retire this year from the department of dismal science at Syracuse University, adding that he will miss the students but not economics... Pati Poblete,
the former Chronicle columnist and editor now in Sacramento, wrote “The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America,” published last year by Heyday Books, Berkeley.  Also gone from the Chron is writer Joan Ryan. She had returned  recently from a seven-month leave to care for her teenage son after a skateboard tumble put him in the ICU with a devastating brain injury. Scheduled for publication in early 2009, “The Water Giver” is her first book since “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes” (gymnasts and skaters) and, with Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, “Shooting From the Outside” (basketball) . . . Donald George, onetime Ex travel editor/writer, came out with his fifth travel book. The anthology, “The Kindness of Strangers,” was published by Lonely Planet, where he is the global travel editor.

The Tardy Times
November 2008

Website Builder