Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

Sail cats flying low over the Las Vegas desert

In our previous post, we described the origins of one bit of law enforcement lingo, the creepy-crawler, but only eluded to meaning of another, the sail cat.

So here’s a repost of a 13 January 2011 offering, about how a 19-year-old cub reporter learned just what exactly is a sail cat.

Way back in the late Pleistocene, esnl landed his first job on a daily newspaper.

The venue was the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a heady place for a 19-year-old’s introduction into the world of daily journalism.

Among the beats we covered was night cops, “because that’s where we start reporters with no experience,” explained the editor, Jim Leavey.

But covering the cop shop in Sin City after the sunset was anything but a dull beat, particularly so when I was the lone reporter working for the night edition, a street paper written to shock jaded casino workers out of their dimes at shift change.

“Beef it up, Brenneman,” was a frequent command from night editor Dick Calhoun, leading to lots of adjectives to paid six-paragraph stories into ten, twelve, even twenty grafs: “A homeless man set himself on fire” became “Flames seared the corpse of a Las Vegas man.”

Working the cop shop also required a sharp ear to catch the all the squawks from the newsroom bank of police radios.

We’re a quick study, and within a couple of week’s we’d mastered the “ten codes” and the Nevada Penal Code sections needed to decipher the otherwise cryptic, static-laden calls that formed a constant background beat to the ongoing symphony of teletypes, ringing phones [they actually rang back then], and sometimes boisterous newsroom chatter.

But one two-word phrase left me stumped: “You gotta sail cat on Paradise just south of Flamingo,” or “Handle a sail cat on Sahara just north of the parkway.”

Back in those days, reporters could look over the crime reports filed by responding officers, a task which required a request to the desk sergeants at the police and sheriff’s departments. But nowhere in the reports did I ever come across the words “sail cat.”

One evening we heard the mysterious phrase just before setting out on our rounds, prompting a question to the burly, grizzled officer behind the desk at the LVPD.

Usually the officer was a study in surly indifference, but this time his eyes briefly lit up.

Cocking his head back, he suppressed a smile, pursed his lips, then gave a little snort.

“Well, kid, it’s like this.”

We nodded.

“You know how sometimes cars run over cats?”

We nodded again.

“Well, if you get to ‘em right away, they’re a real mess to clean up.”

Another nod.

You got all that blood, and sometimes there’s guts , brains, that type stuff. A real mess.”


“If you’re a few hours later, they can really stink. And then there’s all those flies. Pick up one of those things an you’ll never get rid of the stink in your car.”


“So what ya do is wait til the sun and the pavement bake all the juices out. And the traffic smashes up all the bones.”

“Yeah. . .”

“By then, they’re just a dry flat hairy circle on the pavement.”

Another nod.

“Well, then all you have to do is pry it up off the pavement and flip it off into the desert like a Frisbee.”


“So that, son, is what ya call a sail cat.”

Homeless in one of California’s richest cities

We started reporting in California back in 1967, just as hippies started flocking to California’s sunshine in hopes of, well, who knows what?

Many of them arrived in old Volkswagen vans and battered panel trucks, mobile homes for those with little money but high on hope [and a lot of other stuff, too].

We had moved to Oceanside, working for the late, lamented Blade-Tribune.

Every newsroom back then had police scanners, tuned to the frequencies of local police,m sheriff’s, and state law enforcement agencies, so we kept our ears attuned to code numbers for significant crimes as well as the occasional cop-to-cop banter.

We also had to learn another kind of code, the peculiar terms used by local cops to describe people, things, and activities. [One such term we learned a couple of jobs earlier was sail cat.]

In Oceanside, we started hearing a new term, creepy-crawler.

Which I soon learned meant hippie.

When parking becomes a matter class politics

Oceanside was booming, thanks to the Vietnam War, because the engine of the town’s economy was the adjacent Camp Pendleton, a veritable factory for turning out well-trained Marines to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

You saw the occasional pickup truck with a camper or a trailer, even cars like the Nash Ambassador with a front seat that dropped back level with the back seat to form a very comfortable bed, as we know from personal experience.

Until the creepy-crawlers came, the occupants of those vehicles had either been tourists or folks visiting Marines at the base, people who in any case looked like everybody else and contributed to the local economy by spending on meals and other things.

Creepy-crawlers, on the other hand sucked money out, what with their panhandling and all — or so the reasoning went.

But even worse, they freaked out the straights and scared people off, what with their long hair, unshaven skin and those weird clothes, the beads, and all that pot and other weird shit they were taking.

Not exactly what you wanted in a town where to official motto was Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.

Like many other cities up and down the coast, California began enforcing new or rarely used parking ordinances, aimed at hippies while simultaneously also banning those who had once been tolerated, thanks to all those pesky civil liberties lawyers who were fighting against selective enforcement.

In other words, the unwillingly unemployed and the working classes were also victimized along with the creepy-crawlers.

Hippies are, for the most part, long gone, but the poor remain, today’s victims of laws drawn up in a different era.

How a Santa Barbara tackles the problem

A few years after we worked in Oceanside, we took an interim job in Los Angeles, where we I handled printing jobs for an NGO. We met a graphics designed who lived in Santa Barbara, a town to the north I’d only passed through on the Pacific Coast Highway.

What’s it like? I asked.

You know what they say about Santa Barbara, don’t you? she replied.

Allowing as how I didn’t, she responded: It’s the home of the very rich and the very poor, the newly wed and nearly dead.

Just as Oceanside was middle class, Santa Barbara was home of some of California’s richest, and remains so today. And in very few places do the rich exercise their control so openly, with the shameless assistance of the local newspaper.

And in Santa Barbara, laws against folks sleeping in their vehicles are strictly enforced.


Homeless in the Shadow of Santa Barbara’s Mansions

From the accompanying report:

Twelve years ago, the Safe Parking program, run by the nonprofit New Beginnings Counseling Center, began offering a provisional solution. Its program places those sleeping in their vehicles into 20 private parking lots scattered around the city and provides bathroom facilities and some security. The parking lots are available only overnight and the cars must move by early morning. The group estimates they take 125 vehicles off the street every night and help more than 750 people a year.

The stories that Safe Parking’s clients tell me often involve a catastrophic financial loss precipitated by unemployment, domestic violence, injury or illness and the resulting medical bills. Most are working, although they have often lost secure, decently paid jobs and now struggle to make ends meet with multiple part-time jobs. A growing number of those forced to live out of their cars are families. All have been priced out of a brutal housing market.

Rents in Santa Barbara have skyrocketed in recent years — 20 percent in the last year alone — with one-bedrooms priced at $1,500 or sometimes significantly higher. The simple calculus of supply and demand is partly to blame. With a vacancy rate below 0.5 percent, a crisis figure, the housing market is at the mercy of landlords. Nor are there enough subsidized units to make up the shortfall for low-income renters — or plans to build sufficient numbers of new ones to meet the need, advocates say. “Santa Barbara’s housing market is broken and has been,” explains Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness.

A fond farewell to Carrie Fisher, friend for a week

Carrie Fisher is gone, and I’m sad.

It’s not because of her Star Wars roles or her books, though we have nejoyed both.

It’s because of five days we spent as guests at John Denver’s ranch in Aspen, Colorado.

The event was a “human potential” seminar run by a fellow named Marshall Thurber, and it happened just after the publication of the first book I’m written under my own name, Fuller’s Earth, a day with Bucky and the Kids.

Buckminster Fuller, that brilliant poet, mathematician, inventor, and designer, was an icon of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the self-educated scion of a family of Boston Brahmans known for their patronage of the arts [Margaret Fuller, that brilliant writer (she was America’s first woman book critic), women’s rights movement pioneer, and a member of Boston’s famous transcendentalist circle was a great-aunt].

The event was organized by Marshall Thurber, a lawyer and real estate developer who runs a network of movement to teach business skills with a emphasis on developing cooperation skills to better the human condition.

He was also a mentor to Tony Robbins, the infamous self-help huckster who soared to fame by holding seminars culminating with firewalks [that is, until people started to get burned]. He later held seminars in the White House for the Clintons and their staff]. Robbins was also there that week, and did his firewalk thing — pitched as a near miracle, but easily grasped by folks with a knowledge of physics, and yes, I walked the coals that week].

Two other folks with Bucky Fuller connections were also there that week. Allegra Snyder, Fuller’s daughter, and Amy Edmondson, his last student and his chief engineer, and now Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School.

The seminar was, as Fuller’s daughter whispered to me, “just a bit too California woo-woo,” filled with self-affirmation declarations and singing. and I had no specific role other than to serve as a catalyst, so I got to hang out.

Thurber also made the mistake of bring out the staff of Fuller’s World Game, a very socialist endeavor with the aim of devising the fastest way of bring an equitable share of the world’s resources to all of its inhabitants. They made what to Thurber’s mind was a great mistake, “a downer”, by very graphically revealing what would happen to the planet in the event of a nuclear was by tossing plastic disks representing the area nuclear weapons would destroy onto a vast world map. This was when the Cold War was at its peak under Ronald Reagan and the year Soviets very nearly launched their missiles when their early detection system malfunctioned and war was averted because of the reservations of a single Soviet air force officer.

Very quickly Carrie Fisher, Amy Edmondson, and I started hanging out, talking, laughing, joking.

I was the elder of the group, then 37 and ten years older than Fisher and 13 years older than Edmondson, but somehow we clicked,.

I don’t remember the details of our conversations, only that we were uniquely sympatico. What I do recall vividly with the several hours the three of us spent dancing and laughing way into the wee hours under one of he vast tent structures Denver had built on his ranch for gatherings such as Thurbers.

Fisher was wry, witty, profound, silly, exuberant, and able to see the world with a faintly cynical detachment, and very, very human.

That night of dancing was perhaps the happiest time of my life.

I never saw either woman again.

When I returned to California, my spouse of one year was very jealous, but she had nothing to fear. And it was that lack of sexual tension which had, perhaps, enabled the brief, intense, bonding of that week in Colorado, a memory I cherish.

So I bid a fond farewell to a remarkable and singular person, a woman of deep passion and conflicts, exuberant, thoughtful, and compassionate, a woman who gave me one of my fondest memories.

Goodbye Carrie, you are missed.

AT&T Internet, the worst service ever

We haven’t been ale t post today because our Internet service has been down,. We’ve had three different technicians out, and yet this morning we were down for four hours.

We’re up again, but for how long we haven’t the foggiest.

For the last three weeks or so, service has been terrible, and just why they can’t seem to determine.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep posting.

When we can.


Internet went down to most of 10 days

AT& sent one tech out who didn’t fix the problem, and it too four days to get another one out.

Thus, almost no posts except for a couple of windows when it was working.

Hopefully, things are fixed now.

Image of the day: Daughter and granddaughter

Just a simple case of grandfatherly indulgence, featuring daughter Jackie and granddaughter Sadie Rose:

Panasonic DMC-ZS19, 14 October 2016, ISO 1600, 4.3 mm, 1/60 sec, f3.3

Panasonic DMC-ZS19, 14 October 2016, ISO 1600, 4.3 mm, 1/60 sec, f3.3

UPDATE: We couldn’t resist adding another image,featuring Sadie Rose and her rocking pig:

Panasonic DMC-ZS19, 14 October 2016, ISO 1600, 9 mm, 1/60 sec, f4.4

Panasonic DMC-ZS19, 14 October 2016, ISO 1600, 9 mm, 1/60 sec, f4.4

Politics and the strange silence on financialization

Random musings on a Saturday night. . .

The financialization of active citizens, reconfigured as passive consumers, is the keystone of the game, creating a demand for all that stuff peddled by corporations a peddled as objects of desire both in advertising through placement in media content as symbols of wealth, power, and sexual desirability. Note to that those media, like the the corporations selling the stuff, are owned in large part by investment banksters and massive pension funds, public and private, while a new class of billionaires arises through the flood of cash generated by all that stuff — at least in advanced economies but to an alarming extent in second- and third-tier economies.

In addition to direct profits earned by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers, even more wealth is generation by the financialization that makes it all possible. Without a scale of consumer credit unparalleled in modern history, banks generate vast sums through interest payments and fees charged for the borrowed cash that make us seeker out in order to accommodate all that stuff we’ve financed on credit cards.

And then there’s all the money needed to finance two car loans, because a second car is essential for many families with two income earners rather than the one that was the norm back when esnl was growing up in the 1950s.

And then there are those student loans you’ve got to get to land a job that gives you a crack at all that stuff, loans bigger than a lot of home mortgages and taking just as long to pay off.

Our blog flag features some very perceptive words from Aldous, Huxley, even truer today than when written more than sixty years ago:

Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.

The U.S., of course, by far the world’s largest arms merchant, and planned obsolescence is the prime directive of the “information economy,” where folks by phones every year chasing the latest gotta-have-it features and computer software that comes in an unceasing parade of enumerated editions, with creations made on an early version oftens unreadable by the latest programs. [For the first decade as a journalist, we wrote our stories on typewriters, many of them newsroom veterans older than we were. In those days, modst folks had one telephone, a heavy black two-piece contraption that never borke and you kept as long as you owned or rented your dwelling.

Similarly, back in those days credit cards were unheard of and when folks wanted to buy something like a television of some living room furniture and they couldn’t pay in full couldn’t pay, stores would put the item on lay away, holding the item until the customer was able to make a series of payments over time to cover the item cost. Or, if you had a good reputation in the community, you might get store credit and have use of them items whilst paying them off.

But when federal law changes allowed banks to operate across state lines, credit cards exploded on the scene and private debt soared.

Issues unspoken during the election

These are the most important issues confronting American society today, along with the recrudescence of racism stirred up by the President-elect.

Yet only Bernie Sanders raised the debt/financialization issue, generating the ire of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, even though they were classic staples of New Deal-era Democrats.

Trump exploited the ire generated by the loss of class position and the hope of advancement that once inspired the American working class, but he focused that anger on the least powerful and most oppressed among us.

We had a race between a candidate who measures her wealth in the hundreds of millions and one who wealth is somewhere in the billions. Neither candidate worries about whether they can pay the rent, and the daughter of the Democrat is married to a Goldman Sachs star, whilst her opponent craps on a gold-plated toilet.

Welcome to Trump’s America, where things can only get worse.