A crime writer digs into the decades-long investigation of a serial killer in California, and finds a growing online community of amateur sleuths trying to solve the case:
"The Golden State Killer, though, has consumed me the most. In addition to 50 sexual assaults in Northern California, he was responsible for ten sadistic murders in Southern California. Here was a case that spanned a decade and ultimately changed DNA law in the state. Neither the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s and early ’70s, nor the Night Stalker, who had Southern Californians locking their windows in the ’80s, was as active. Yet the Golden State Killer has little recognition; he didn’t even have a catchy name until I coined one. His capture was too low to detect on any law enforcement agency’s list of priorities. If this coldest of cases is to be cracked, it may well be due to the work of citizen sleuths like me (and a handful of homicide detectives) who analyze and theorize, hoping to unearth that one clue that turns all the dead ends into a trail—the one detail that will bring us face-to-face with the psychopath who has occupied so many of our waking hours and our dreams."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8054 words)
George Visger played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1980. Now, he's diagnosed with chronic traumatic brain injury, frontal and temporal lobe disorders, generalized seizure disorder and cognitive impairment—and he's trying to make sense of his life:
"On a postcard-perfect Southern California morning, George Visger is pissing blood. This comes as a relief. For me, mostly. But also for him. Things could be worse. He could be having a seizure. Or slipping into a coma. Which means I could be jamming a one-inch butterfly needle into a thumbnail-sized hole in the side of his skull, trying to siphon off excess spinal fluid while avoiding what Visger calls 'the white stuff.'
"The white stuff being brain tissue."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8849 words)
Making sense of San Francisco through Google and Apple's commuter buses to Silicon Valley:
"The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.
"Other days I think of them as the company buses by which the coal miners get deposited at the minehead, and the work schedule involved would make a pit owner feel at home. Silicon Valley has long been famous for its endless work hours, for sucking in the young for decades of sixty or seventy-hour weeks, and the much celebrated perks on many jobsites – nap rooms, chefs, gyms, laundry – are meant to make spending most of your life at work less hideous."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3215 words)
An investigation reveals that Major League Baseball stars including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and the Giants' Melky Cabrera allegedly received banned substances:
"Open the neat spreadsheet and scroll past the listing of local developers, prominent attorneys, and personal trainers. You'll find a lengthy list of nicknames: Mostro, Al Capone, El Cacique, Samurai, Yukon, Mohamad, Felix Cat, and D.R.
"Then check out the main column, where their real names flash like an all-star roster of professional athletes with Miami ties: San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland A's hurler Bartolo Colón, pro tennis player Wayne Odesnik, budding Cuban superstar boxer Yuriorkis Gamboa, and Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz. There's even the New York Yankees' $275 million man himself, Alex Rodriguez, who has sworn he stopped juicing a decade ago."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5544 words)
A crowd watches a suicide in San Francisco:
"Some people look on silently, hands over mouths. A teenage girl in a sundress wipes tears from her eyes. A circle of high school-age kids debate whether a fall from that height would be fatal. A woman in a pantsuit talks into her phone, excitedly describing the scene. Others peck away at keypads. More phones pop up above the mass, angling for a snapshot. A light buzz of chatter hums along, punctuated by a shout.
"Heads turn, seeking out the class clown in the sea of faces. Laughter rising all around, compressed snickers and knee-slapping roars.
"In between chuckles, a man in a blue button-down blurts, 'He said "Jump!"'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3892 words)
A former state legislator considers how the laws he helped pass ultimately harmed his mentally ill son:
"If you were to encounter my son, Tim, a tall, gaunt man in ragged clothes, on a San Francisco street, you might step away from him. His clothes, his dark unshaven face and his wild curly hair stamp him as the stereotype of the chronically mentally ill street person.
"People are afraid of what they see when they glance at Tim. Policymakers pass ordinances to keep people who look like him at arm’s length. But when you look just a little more closely, what you find is a young man with a sly smile, quick wit and an inquisitive mind who — when he’s healthy — bears a striking resemblance to the youthful Muhammad Ali.
"Tim is homeless. But when he was a toddler, my colleagues in the Connecticut state legislature couldn’t get enough of cuddling him. Yet it’s the policies of my generation of policymakers that put that formerly adorable toddler — now a troubled 6-foot-5 adult — on the street. And unless something changes, the policies of today’s generation of policymakers will keep him there."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 15, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2423 words)
The takeover of San Francisco by tech companies prompts some soul-searching by Talbot, a longtime resident and veteran of the first dotcom boom as founder of Salon.com:
"One recent Friday evening, a single mother named Fufkin Vollmayer found herself at a Shabbat service started by two young Jews who work in the tech sector. The service, known as the Mission Minyan, is held each week at the Women’s Building, in the heart of San Francisco’s hottest neighborhood. The fortysomething Vollmayer, who was raised in the Haight-Ashbury by an activist mother, is the kind of vibrant, idiosyncratic personality that defines San Francisco (she took her first name from the band manager in Spinal Tap, for reasons that made sense at the time).
"The night she attended the Mission Minyan service, most of her fellow worshippers were successful digital wizards, and all were products of elite schools and seemed single-mindedly focused on the business of tech. As the startup chatter droned on, Vollmayer finally blurted out, 'What about giving something back?' A deep silence fell over the room. No one responded. After the embarrassment faded, the conversation returned to business as usual.
"'Maybe it’s youth—the folly of youth,' Vollmayer mused to me later. 'The group that night was clearly about 15 years younger than me. If you’re young and rich, do you really think much about the implications of the work you do and the money you make?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 20, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4504 words)
A look at the 59-year-old Microsoft cofounder who has invested $500 million into the Allen Institute for Brain Science with the goal of decoding how the human brain works:
"Four years later six brains have been donated and four analyzed to some degree. The project is due to be finished this year, but the first brain images, put online in 2010, are already yielding scientific results. So far, the gene expression from the first two human brains in the new atlas varies only a little, yielding hope that scientists will be able to understand some of what it all means.
"How might this work? A young University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist named Bradley Voytek used software to match words that frequently appeared together in the scientific literature with matches of where genes are expressed in the Allen atlas. For instance, he found that scientists studying serotonin, the neurotransmitter hit by Prozac and Zoloft, were ignoring two brain areas where the chemical was expressed in their research. It might even play a role in migraines. This data-driven approach led to 800 new ideas about how the brain may work that scientists can now test, leading to hope that computational methods can help decipher the computer in our heads."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 18, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3174 words)
The early days of the political consulting business—starting with Upton Sinclair's failed run for California governor in the 1930s and the opposition work of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter:
"Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book. Never lobby; woo voters instead. 'Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,' Baxter explained. Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one. Once, when fighting an attempt to recall the mayor of San Francisco, Whitaker and Baxter waged a campaign against the Faceless Man—the idea was Baxter’s—who might end up replacing him. Baxter drew a picture, on a tablecloth, of a fat man with a cigar poking out from beneath a face hidden by a hat, and then had him plastered on billboards all over the city, with the question 'Who’s Behind the Recall?' Pretend that you are the Voice of the People. Whitaker and Baxter bought radio ads, sponsored by 'the Citizens Committee Against the Recall,' in which an ominous voice said, 'The real issue is whether the City Hall is to be turned over, lock, stock, and barrel, to an unholy alliance fronting for a faceless man.' (The recall was defeated.) Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, 'You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6785 words)