California

More on Discharge

Reaction to my Discharge piece was spirited and generally positive. I particularly enjoyed this comment thread. A sample:

“One thing that article got wrong: Metal sucked then and it sucks now. Up yours metalheads!(except Lemmy)”

I love that.

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California
Metal
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punk

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Awards

Here’s some good news: Two stories I wrote for California magazine last year won CASE awards. My profile of R.J. Rushdoony, the obscure but enormously influential right-wing Christian, tied for the gold, and my piece on Rod Benson, the most famous pro basketball player in the world never to have played in the NBA, won the bronze.

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Awards
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Famous Enough

famousenoughThe new California magazine runs my profile of Rod Benson, probably the most famous pro basketball player in the world who’s never played a minute in the NBA. This was a fun one to report and write.

The sun hangs low over Manhattan Beach, giving the ocean a SoCal-postcard glow. Inside a fratty, nautically themed bar, Rod Benson is doing shots of vodka with his buddies. As usual, he has drawn a crowd. A fireplug-shaped guy with a tiny, feral mustache tries to impress Benson with his knowledge of Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art. A couple of blonde, tattooed women trade flirty insults with him. On the margins, a shirtless and very sunburned dude sways on his feet, drawn to the spectacle.

Benson, who is 6’10”, is dressed in a black-and-neon-yellow tank top, shorts, and enormous basketball shoes. At the request of one of the blondes, he extends his arms to show his 7’3” wingspan. He explains all of the attention this way: “I’m both tall enough and black enough to make people wonder, ‘Is he famous?’”

In fact, Benson is sort of famous: He’s arguably the best known pro basketball player to have never played in the NBA.

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Berkeley
California
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His Truth is Marching On

rjrimgMy latest for California magazine is a profile of R.J. Rushdoony, the most influential Christian conservative you’ve never heard of–godfather of the homeschooling movement, frequent guest on the 700 Club, and ideological spur to generations of rightwingers. How best to describe him? In an anecdote that didn’t make the final cut of the story, John Whitehead, founder of the libertarian legal nonprofit the Rutherford Institute, described to me what it was like hanging out with the patriarch. One evening, Rushdoony drove Whitehead up to his rural compound in northern California’s Gold Rush country. After parking outside one of the buildings, Rushdoony embarked on an elaborate anti-theft ritual, inspecting each car door to make sure it was locked. “I said, ‘There’s no one here except us,’” Whitehead remembers with a laugh. “He looked right at me and said, ‘Man is a sinner.’”

And an excerpt from the piece:

Like many conservatives then and now, Rushdoony believed that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation. In the postwar era, when many on the right felt that holy heritage was under siege, his fusion of right-wing politics and fundamentalist Christianity had particular resonance.

Indeed, Rushdoony’s worldview held something for everyone on the right, even if few people subscribed to every aspect. Free-marketeers and self-styled patriots who hated the New Deal and were alarmed by Communism flocked to his banner. (He counted Robert Welch, founder of the hard-right John Birch Society, among his friends.) But Rushdoony also attracted social conservatives who saw the Devil’s hand in feminism, reproductive rights, and civil rights. For these people, he confirmed the sinfulness of all challenges to the traditional order. “In the name of toleration,” he wrote, “the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed.”

(Illustration by John Stich.)

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Berkeley
California
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Housing a Movement, redux

utne31The current Utne Reader features a condensed version of my story about Steve DeCaprio, Oakland’s punk-rock squatter guru. I remember Utne from way back–what liberal doesn’t?–so it’s pretty cool to see my work in there. (Here’s a pdf, by the way, of the uncut version that ran in California Northern a few months ago.)

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Housing a Movement

calnorthCalifornia Northern magazine runs my piece on squatting, punk rock, and the Occupy movement. I tell the story through an Oakland squatter and activist named Steve DeCaprio (he also plays in the black metal band Embers), in whom all of these threads converge. There’s just an excerpt posted online now, but I’m told the whole thing will be up there at some point.

“One night a little more than a decade ago, Steve DeCaprio pulled his bike up to an abandoned house in Ghost Town, a poor neighborhood in West Oakland dotted with vacant lots. He cut through the rusty lock on the chain-link fence with bolt cutters, then pried open a plywood sheet that stood where the front door once had. Then he replaced the locks with his own. This is how DeCaprio, a longtime East Bay squatter and veteran of the punk and metal scenes, “acquired” his home.

He already knew that the previous owner of the house had died in the early 1980s and that no one had come forward to claim it. The turn-of-the-century bungalow had sat empty for many years. The kitchen floor was burned out, and the back of the house hung off the foundation. An acacia tree in the back yard had grown into the roof, leaving the interior open to the elements. The top floor was piled with the carcasses of dead raccoons and other small animals. “They would climb the tree, jump down, and get stuck,” he says.

Later, DeCaprio and a crew of friends got to work making the place habitable. “At first, it was basically just urban camping,” he remembers. It took eight months of on-and-off work to fix the roof. He got the water flowing, bought storm doors and painted the exterior, planted cacti in the front yard, and yanked out another backyard tree that had begun to menace the house next door. He named it Noodle House, and he currently shares it with three people plus the occasional touring underground band.

DeCaprio, who turns forty in August, has tousled, graying hair and favors Carharts and black t-shirts bearing band logos. In a more mainstream context, he would be described as a “go-getter.” He plays guitar in a black-metal band named Embers, works as a member representative for the California League of Conservation Voters, and is pursuing a law degree through an independent study program (he expects to take the bar exam next year). And, of course, there’s the house. Right now, DeCaprio is working on a solar array to provide electricity. “There’s gonna be this moment when I turn on a light switch and it’ll be epic,” he says.

… “

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Berkeley
California
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punk
San Francisco

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Who’s the Big Dog Now?

bigdogMy piece in San Francisco magazine on the relative fortunes of Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris, now that both have ascended to Sacramento. To use a racing metaphor: Newsom’s stuck in neutral, while Harris is in the fast lane. (See pg. 35.)

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Capitola, CA. 12.30.2011

capitola001

Last surf of the year.

California
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Death to the Penalty

death1This month’s San Francisco magazine runs my piece on a legal challenge that could bring California’s death penalty law crashing down. The decision is expected this fall, but no matter which way the judge goes we can expect appeals stretching to the horizon. Ultimately, though, it’s hard not to see this challenge as yet another step on the road to abolition.

One way or the other, members of the defense community are cautiously optimistic that the death penalty’s days are numbered. “It’s like pushing a boulder uphill,” Zimring says. “But things are changing.”

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California
crime
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Read My Lips: I Won’t Run for Mayor

readmylipsThis month’s San Francisco magazine (see p.38) runs my piece on broken political promises, from the “no new taxes” pledge that helped make George H.W. Bush a one-term president to Barack Obama’s liberal bait and switch to SF mayors Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, and, most recently, Ed Lee. How pissed should voters be? Sometimes, mendacity is in the eye of the beholder.

When interim Mayor Ed Lee announced his intention to run for a full term this fall, erstwhile allies like Board of Supervisors president and mayoral candidate David Chiu let him have it, and rightfully so. After all, the supes had given Lee the interim post precisely because he said he wouldn’t run. Voters, though, greeted the charges with a shrug: Politics as usual, no? Still, a look at some broken promises by prominent pols, past and present, reveals some interesting middle ground between “unforgivable” and “no big deal” that may help you decide just how charitable to be toward this latest bait and switch.

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California
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San Francisco

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