Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I may have died and gone to book heaven last weekend.

I attended my first Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. The experience worked at a lot of different levels for me--as an editor, author, teacher, and reader.

On the Carey McWilliams front, I was definitely in the heartland. Many of his fans were there, and the biography came up twice: once in my question to Jim Newton, the LA Times editor and Earl Warren biographer, and again when Philip Fradkin picked me out of the crowd and mentioned the book. Both moments were televised on C-SPAN that day, I later learned.

It was also a good visit on the Ramparts front. I met and interviewed Robert Scheer and one of his early co-authors, Maurice Zeitlin. That deserves its own treatment, so more on that later.

If that weren't enough, I also had a chance to visit with Judith Freeman (author of The Long Embrace, her book about Raymond and Cissy Chandler) and Anthony Arthur, Upton Sinclair's biographer. Judith gave the 2006 Bonnie Cashin lecture, so we also had that in common.

I'm skipping some very energizing contacts I had with other attendees, but you get the idea. The place was lousy with people who like to read and write about California. I think I found my tribe.

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Monday, April 14, 2008


The CSA conference came off this weekend and produced various pleasures--some predictable, others less so. I met some email and telephone correspondents face-to-face for the first time (Rick Wartzman, Frances Dinkelspiel, John Scott, David Bacon, etc.) and had a good chance to visit with others I don't see often enough (Susan McWilliams, Peter Schrag, Louis Freedberg, Rose Aguilar, Yumi Wilson, Sasha Abramsky, Mary Moreno-Richardson, and many others). Splendid that way.

One of the less predictable benefits was meeting John Geluardi of SF Weekly. He came to the conference to hear about the environmental impacts of ports, but he also mentioned a piece that he wrote on Dan White, whose story will resurface with the release of Milk, the Sean Penn film about the gay San Francisco county supervisor Harvey Milk. (Josh Brolin will play Dan White.)

John suggests that White's personality and motives for murdering Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone have been more or less systematically misunderstood. Check out John's article--very worthwhile.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Real McCain

One of Carey McWilliams's biggest achievements at The Nation was turning a journal of opinion into a forum for investigative journalism. Ramparts, of course, pushed that even further. Not only did the San Francisco muckraker break big stories, but its staff also had the publicity savvy to make the mainstream media pick them up.

That seems to be happening with a new PoliPointPress book called The Real McCain, which is charging to the top of's bestseller list. Cliff Schecter's profile of the GOP presidential candidate has given the mainstream media permission to talk about McCain's nasty temper, which insiders have known about for some time.

I highly recommend the FoxNews interview in which McCain claims, after a false start or two, that the reports are "false or exaggerated." He then bridges quickly to his talking points about what really makes him angry: bloated budgets, corruption, etc. Not very convincing. Other news sites and blogs haven't been as accommodating as Fox.

As PoliPointPress's editorial director, I'm not exactly a neutral observer. But there should be a place in our political discourse for frank assessments of a major candidate's temperament.

BTW, the book is an original trade paperback; on, it costs $10--about the same price as a beer in New York or a bank-owned house in Stockton.