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Stories by Thomas Larson

We don't call them drones anymore

Contrary to popular wisdom, drones are already among — or above — us.

I want to believe that when we talk about drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems — whose bodies vary from pterodactyl-big to mosquito-small (the Robobee, a robotic insect, weighs ...

Slog for a green card

The accusations the government makes against immigrants are almost 100-percent accurate.

In California, legal noncitizens are 10 percent of the population.

College? No thanks.

Uneducated but not unlearned.

Young guys explain why they are passing on going to college. Absurd expense and subsequent debt is one reason, but even a young man from a well-off family sees other deterrents.

What am I? Curious objects from San Diego's past

San Diego's curios — each with their own separate stories.

Year-Round Santa

The Brothers Grinch

At least 550 Southern California homeowners have been victimized by the Zepeda brothers — their scheme to rake in foreclosure funds.

Tased and Subdued, Throttled and Killed

It was March 2009 when the British-born siblings Gillian Ison and John Graham Watson met at Zermatt, a resort in the shadow of Switzerland’s Matterhorn. There, with family members, they indulged a passion for skiing: ...

Debt. Arson. Murder.

John Nesheiwat was parked in his car, a rosary on the seat beside him, about a mile from the North Woodson Drive rental home owned by James Kurtenbach, a 4000-square-foot luxury house in one of ...

Is He a Citizen?

On Sixth Avenue, across the street from the block-long Family Court building, stands a row of converted single-family Victorian homes, their yards parking lots, their windows barred. Today those residencies are family-mediation agencies and immigration ...

Outside on the Night Shift

"Basically,” says Aaron Meleen, a deputy sheriff traffic investigator working the night shift in Poway, “we don’t have much going on right now.” It’s a Monday evening, the onset of his 12½-hour shift, and we’re ...

Hog Wild

The only sign of life in Julian at 5:00 a.m. this April morning are men in white paper toques rolling out pie dough at the bright-lighted Julian Bakery. It’s a deep black morning when I ...

Till death do us part. It's the only way we will.

When Ginger Bass filed for divorce from her husband Frank in November 2007, she hoped he would not contest the dissolution. She offered to buy out his interest in their Lakeside home so both could ...

After the Music Died

No Art Left BehindDespite a maddening mix of fact and fiction about music and our children’s interest in it, local music education is thrumming along. In the past six years, San Diego Unified School District ...

Nonprofits Nonplussed

At the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista, things are humming along as they have since the center was founded in 1932 as a settlement house for families of Italian and Portuguese fishermen. Having moved ...

Ex Pros: After the fourth quarter, where do they go?

If ever there were a San Diego Charger whose postcareer success has matched his years spent on the field, it’s the great Ron Mix. Mix’s glory years came in the 1960s, when the Chargers were ...

Puppeteers: Eight powerful San Diegans who don't want to tell you what they do

San Diego’s shadow government.

The tenth floor of San Diego city hall is like a submarine in the sky. Behind sealed windows and an electronic-buttoned security door are the cramped offices of eight councilmembers, who themselves are sardined in ...

If We Didn't Advertise We'd Go Broke Treating the Poor

Healthcare is like burgers — sell, sell, sell.

Many of us watched the Chargers’ season-ending run this past winter and, amid the cheers and groans, saw a 30-second TV ad starring LaDainian Tomlinson. Well-dressed and calm, he’s holding a postgame news conference. A ...

Bertha Bugarin Heads to Jail

Why did she want to practice medicine so badly?

In October 2007, Michael Varga, a police officer assigned to the Chula Vista Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, began interviewing women about the abortions they had received at a local clinic, Clinica Medica para la ...

Why Local Radio Is No Longer Local

If San Diego has a voice, it may be the plummy bass of Chris Cantore. Until December 2007, the Brooklyn native was an audible fixture on 91X’s Cantore in the Morning, his 5:00–10:00 a.m. show, ...

Go Directly to Jail...and Die

Prison bureaucracies deny basic medical care.

Francisco Castaneda came to the United States from El Salvador during its civil war of the 1980s. Fleeing the violence, his mother crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 1982 with Francisco, aged 10, and his ...

Intimate Murder

Women kill the ones they love.

In each of the last three years, there were roughly 17,000 murders in the United States. Of these, about 11 percent were committed by women. In most cases women kill to defend themselves during a ...

How UCSD Spent Over $500,000 on a Home Remodel That Never Happened

The house on the Land of the Dead

Perhaps the most prized piece of real estate throughout the University of California, San Diego, is the seven-acre site of University House, home to the UCSD chancellor. The rambling adobe home, with its row of ...

San Diego's Highest Paid Executives

Salaries, stock options, corporate jets, limousines, interest-free loans, trust funds.

Of Course You Qualify!

Foreclosures and how we got there.

Mario is a recent immigrant from Mexico, and he's typical of homeowners facing foreclosure. He doesn't want me to use his surname; he's ashamed of getting behind on his payments. He thinks he's been irresponsible, ...

She Hated Adverbs

Judith Moore remembered

My long conversation with Judith Moore about writing began in 1980. We first met at a monthly campus ministry shindig for the faculty of Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Washington. Judith was escaping the small-town ...

The secret world of the nose

What's that smell? What the nose knows

Andrea Kane is new to San Diego: the Navy has stationed her husband here, and they've landed in Imperial Beach. While he serves, she's become an aromatherapist and a perfumer. Locally, she's already making a ...

The Well-Traveled Tomato

Do you know where your dinner comes from?

On a hot day in late November, I'm all set to enter Vons: my role for the day — food archaeologist. Janice Baker, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and medical nutrition therapist, is my ...

No Bad Jobs, Just Bad Attitudes

These gurus of success.

If you've walked the concourse at Lindbergh Field, on the way to baggage claim you may have noticed the wall-mounted advertisement, "Welcome to San Diego — Home of 7 of the nation's top professional speakers": ...

Dig A Little Deeper

In pursuit of William Thompson’s killer.

In September 2003, Brian Burritt rode the elevator down to the basement of the San Diego Police Department where the "murder books," the binders of the department's cold cases, many decades old, are kept in ...

The Guest is Like God

The good doctor learned all about balance sheets and bedsheets.

One Sunday in November 1989, Barry Lall, an Indian-American doctor, was driving over the Coronado Bridge with his wife Hema, their four-year-old son Arjun, Lall's father and mother, and a real estate broker. They were ...

A Tenth Grader's History of the World

Eye-candy textbooks restrained by state standards.

During the 2005-2006 school year, 8250 tenth graders in the San Diego Unified School District were enrolled in World History 1 and 2. The students focused on world history in modern times, roughly from the ...

Dirty Jobs

San Diego’s most disgusting work.

At 6 a.m., Ramon Salazar is readying to leave the vehicle yard of Spanky's Portable Services in Escondido. It's Monday, and Mondays are rough. "Man, I needed an hour more sleep." He yawns. He climbs ...

He Never Displayed Any Meanness

Up there in the pantheon of California's 1990s financial swindlers is Donald Marquis Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff was charged in 1997 with a Ponzi scheme involving 75 investors, the majority women, in San Diego and Marin counties. ...

The Good Shoemaker and the Poor Fish Peddler

Were Sacco and Vanzetti innocent?

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, in the small industrial town of South Braintree, Massachusetts, a paymaster named Frederick Parmenter and a guard named Alessandro Berardelli set out to carry cash boxes — which ...

Soundtrack

The music that tells us we’re alive.

The Woes Of A Woman In Love My hand paused before the mascara reached my lashes and I inhaled deeply — it was almost time. The mounting passion in her voice, off-key yet somehow harmonizing ...

Bankrupt

Debtors transcend financial shame.

Every weekday, in a small room on the sixth floor of the Wyndham San Diego Hotel at Emerald Plaza, dozens of people come to close the book on their personal bankruptcies. Today eight debtors have ...

The Controversialist

Dinesh D’Souza can be prickly and cute.

Not long ago, Dinesh D'Souza, who is an Indian immigrant from Bombay, one of America's prominent conservative authors, and, like William F. Buckley Jr., an enthusiastic and skilled debater, was discussing things political and personal ...

University City’s politics of traffic

University City encompasses the Golden Triangle (Highway 52 on the south and the I-5 and I-805 merge on the north) as well as much land around UCSD, the biotech firms on North Torrey Pines Road, ...

Elections San Diego Style

Anointed conservatives run our town.

A Mostly Republican History What chance is there in San Diego for an honest young lawyer who is a Democrat? — J. Robert O'Connor, U.S. attorney for California (1900) "A choice, not an echo" was ...

Beautiful Light

San Diego light makes the world available.

It's not even noon and already I'm closing the blinds on the south-facing windows of my home office. That pesky natural light is overrunning the glow of the lamp by which I work. Too much ...

Scary Pictures: What Kids See on TV

TV invades kids’ minds.

Ten-year-old Olivia Palmer, a fifth grader at Pacific Beach Elementary, picks up the television remote, presses "on," and touches two numbers, 3 and 6, on the keypad. The TV goes to MTV's Real World. It's ...

Grrrrrrrrrrrr

Pit bulls mix it up.

RILEY has had trouble sleeping ever since he was left in this pen, its gate locked, its concrete floor hosed off every morning. He hates the constant barking either side of him, that deep ruff-ruff ...

Caged

Where few slow learners survive.

Finding yourself in jail or prison for the first time unlatches a simple conundrum: you can’t know what you’re about to face because, had you known, you might have avoided the crime, or at least ...

To Fuse Wind and Its Motion

DISPERSE • Sunday morning, Clairemont Square Shopping Center parking lot. An asphalt expanse between Town Square Stadium 14 and Burlington Coat Factory. A few gulls perched on the edge of a roof. Fifteen more scattered ...

Under Our Perfect Sun This Man Finds Trouble

It’s an August midafternoon in El Cajon. It’s 100 degrees, and the sane people are in the shade, keeping still. Not Mike Davis. For an hour, the most famous social historian of Southern California has ...

The White Mask: Marilyn Monroe and the Hotel Del Coronado

On Saturday, September 6, 1958, Marilyn Monroe and the 175-person company of Some Like It Hot arrived at the Hotel del Coronado to begin location shots, after filming in Hollywood the previous four weeks. The ...

Reina's Story

In April 2001, 15-year-old Reina was leaving her home in Tenancingo, a high-plateau town west of Mexico City. She was happier than she’d been in a while, traveling north to Tijuana, in the company of ...

I Am Your Loving Daughter Clara Clemens

In 1940, the recently widowed and wealthy Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch bought a small estate in the Hollywood hills and sought counsel from a medium named Sardoney about her love life. Known also by his epithet ...

El Cajon Mojo Master Lectures Spielberg

It was no accident, said San Diego clairvoyant Dr. James Capers, that movie mogul and occult aficionado Steven Spielberg attended his lecture in February, when Capers demonstrated his "spiritual gifts" at the Los Angeles Conscious ...

Does the City Care How Much Water You Use?

In recent years, the 855 employees of the San Diego Water Department have faced scandals, alleged mismanagement, media scrutiny, and the rebuke of the city council. All this began in 1999 when news stories appeared ...

How Steam and Sun Can Light Your Life

Who among us has not twitched a little during this, the year of California’s power crisis, upon hearing Tales of the End Time of the Fossil Fuel. For more than a billion years, the planet’s ...

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