That’s how I’ll always remember my friend Don Hunt’s voice. It had a slight Texas lilt to it whether picking up the phone or walking toward his car just before going on one of his guided walks in Pasadena.
In fact, I still find myself squelching the urge to call after reading something I thought he might be reading or seeing on tv only twelve days after his death. He’s gone and it brings a pang. But that was one of the patterns of friendship, the sudden brief chat to laugh and gossip about football or a political figure.
Of course, that’s not all we did.
Don Hunt showed me Pasadena in a way I’d never appreciated. In fifteen years here I’d never walked the neighborhood of the Rose Bowl and its playing fields. Don showed me the route from houses above, down into the ravine and back up as one of his favorite morning things.
There was the stroll of the Caltech campus, too, always ending at the turtle pond, regularly done at those times when the student body could be counted on to be away for the summer or on holiday. Perhaps we’d find a good taco truck, he’d say. We didn’t but that never stopped us from having a proper lunch afterward.
There were many trips into the Pasadena arroyo, my favorite being the time we went to a horse paddock for the swells, buried deep in it near the border of South Pasadena. I told him we needed to sneak in some sugar or carrots the next time.
One hot morning early last year Don decided we’d walk the upper-upper class district on Pasadena’s west edge. We somehow lost our bearings a little and wound up in Eagle Rock. At which point I asked if maybe we should take a taxi back so as not to wear him out or get to lunch too late.
Don laughed. A taxi was never a serious consideration although we had to ask for a directions from a lady jogger, one we’d seen an hour and a half earlier, thankfully spied circling back toward us. She laughed and told us what street to go up to get back where we belonged. This was after we’d seen peacocks at somebody’s mansion and been hailed by one of the local noblemen who was driving an old orange Volkswagen Thing.
The Thing-driving fellow had spied Don’s T-shirt, which advertised Brophy Brothers, a restaurant/bar on the Santa Barbara marina and come screeching to a halt. It was a place we’d been many times. Don liked it so much that, in addition to purchasing a T-shirt, he stole one of its menus so he had something to jog fond remembrances of fried clam and beer-boiled shrimp dishes past.
But at first I thought we were about to be questioned on what we were doing in the area. Interlopers! Pretenders! But no, the man only wanted to tell us how great it was to see another guy who loved Brophy Brothers and that he wished he was there that Saturday morning. He had judged the quality of character, and done rather well I might add, in eyeballing the nature of Don Hunt’s T-shirt.
Don Hunt liked food and drink with his friends. It was how you shared the day and fed the social animal. He convinced me I could grill anything and, as a consequence, for years — 9 months each, late afternoons on Monday or Sunday were reserved for cookouts in a backyard a few blocks north of Pasadena City College.
These do’s went on for a few hours with the grilling usually not taking place until just after sunset. Don always stood near the cooking meat. He loved being part of the action, smelling the smoke, and if a floodlamp had burned out and not yet been replaced he’d occasionally hold a flashlight so none of the beef was charred or went onto the ground. Important details!
In those months when cooking out wasn’t the best idea — believe me, it does occasionally get too cool for it in Pasadena — we’d be inside. At which point our friend Beth would take over most of the food preparation in the kitchen. And we’d stand around, in close proximity, just soaking in the bonhomie that comes from making a meal we’d enjoy together.
Don Hunt was born in Austin, TX, in 1944. He was over a decade older than me and apparently knew early on what he wanted in life, which was to be a journalist. He edited the high school newspaper, got an interview out of Carol Burnett through the Austin city newspapermen’s club and went on to the University of Texas.
From there, four years and he was off to West Palm Beach in Florida as a sportswriter. Then to Norfolk and the Virginia-Pilot and, finally, recruited to the Los Angeles Times.
I met Don late in his career. He was the weekend editor for Los Angeles city edition/front sections and was a friend of a friend who worked with him and whom I’d come to southern California with almost twenty years ago.
She invited Don to dinner. I have never made pals quickly or easily but I liked Don at once because of two things. Unlike many, he did not immediately talk too much. And he was never nosy. He was always a gentleman with a subtle and dry wit that flashed more as he got to know you.
Don was a veteran editor at the Los Angeles Times when I came to know him, very highly regarded by his colleagues. This was at the beginning of the newspaper’s long period of slow decline and an ever-changing cast of just bad and/or quixotic publishers from the world of corporate predation. Regular layoffs/mass firings and tricky acquisition ripoffs and divestiture business practices had become the rule.
Eventually, in 2008 he took a buyout and early retirement. It was time to leave the newspaper and get on with better matters. It left him free to enjoy travel and what everyone thought would be a great last long act. It was, almost.
You never really think about losing such a friend in a flash.
However, in August of last year Don had a sudden spell, first attributed to an adrenal insufficiency of some kind. There was testing. We thought the problem would eventually be solved, perhaps by a long regimen of supplemental pills.
But the testing went on, more scans were ordered. Suspicious-looking anomalies got more suspicious. Finally, one part of the disease — its origin in the esophagus — was photographed and biopsied.
It was a heavy blow. There had been no symptoms and Don was still quite strong.
But that’s how the disease presents. Too late to cure, spread throughout the body, the horses long gone from the barn.
That survival figures for Stage IV esophageal cancer are abominable. The choices one can make are few.
Don asked me to be his advocate, of sorts. I’d hear what the doctors said and ask questions and make requests for more information if he forgot important things to ask. Which happens when you’re getting a steady stream of bad news about your mortality.
I told Don that I figured he’d fight the disease, small battles and steps at a time. And when we got to a year we’d have a chance to reassess how it had gone.
Don didn’t have nearly that long. None of us knew it. Maybe the doctors did but they hadn’t quite plotted the entire slope of the life line in early September.
The important thing was to get into radiation therapy to get some tumors in the brain under control. The battle was joined and it was the only victory, for awhile. Don came through it. No neurological symptoms
showed. The cancer there was arrested leaving opportunity for the rest of it in the system to be hit with chemotherapy.
We still had time to enjoy some restaurants, to get to the Huntington with Beth on a sunny day, to think a little about a future when, maybe, the first rounds were behind him.
However, some cancers don’t respond to chemotherapy. In these cases your healthy bits are not at all spared from the poisons. And this was what happened.
Chemotherapy — platinum compounds, from the start, made Don way too ill. So sick, the coordinating doctor had to stop them after two rounds, the second greatly diminished in dose, just before Thanksgiving.
Well, wait, I’d say. Maybe some of your strength will come back and then they’ll give it another whack.
We could still make jokes.
Don had been losing weight at a constant rate, but not catastrophically, yet. He’d say, “My friends say I look good.” And “I could lose some, anyway.”
To which I replied: “You have my official permission to stop the diet.”
And there was the radiation doctor at the center. She had little or no patient skills. And if one didn’t actually have an appointment to see her she would not acknowledge your existence in the halls.
In fact, she’d quicken her step, perhaps to escape.
Don noticed and we’d smile as she scurried by. The woman was very short, too, and we starting saying, once out of earshot: “Next time we’ll ask ‘how’s the weather down there.’”
But the cancer advanced. Finally, there were no more treatments, no more tests. The bad effect from chemotherapy was a prognostic sign. The loss of five pounds a week, invariantly. The gradual diminution of appetite and always increasing weakness.
They were the mileage signposts, all bleak. There was nothing left to do except palliative care — hospice.
The cruelest thing was the taking of Don’s enjoyment of food.
This is common in cancer patients. Since social gatherings are linked by food and drink, not being able to do either, to be even sickened by it, is very depressing. As the amount of cancer increases the biochemistry of the body becomes deranged. Familiar tastes are suddenly nauseating. The person cannot eat because ill-defined neurochemical messages are giving the sensation of fullness, a deadly feeling which cannot be bypassed or ignored.
Doctors, the entire medical profession, know it happens to everyone. Great effort has been made to elucidate and treat this process, without any success.
Still, Don was very much himself. We could watch college and professional football (Texas beat the hated Aggies for the last time!), old movies and tv. Friends could be enjoyed and conversation had, even as the daily time in which he had strength grew shorter by increments.
This is how it would be, the doctors said.
Quality of the time left was important. There would be a period of slow decline but conditions would be stable. Eventually, though, there would be a dramatic change and the end would come.
And that is how it happened.
Don almost made it to the finish of the college football season. On the day of the Rose Bowl and parade, he was enthusiastic. It was glorious and sunny. Friends came by and we watched games together. He was even able to take in a little more nourishment than usual — awful liquid diet things called Ensures. (The refrigerator at his house in Sierra Madre is still full of them.)
The day after he needed a small refrigerator in the viewing room so he did not have to use the stairs. One was gotten in and set up. A fast fulfillment of a real need, a small win for control in the preservation of equilibrium, it was something that made everyone happy.
There were still a few more days of games. “You know, I’m really going to miss football,” Don told his friend, Carlos.
Technically, Don did make it to the end of the season.
He died on Tuesday, the tenth. The Alabama-LSU game had been Monday night. But he was so sick he missed it. It was lousy, anyway.
When it ended a few were there to bear witness and extend the heart, as much as each could in the final minutes. And it was OK.
Don Hunt didn’t beat the merciless statistics but he met them with courage. During the battles there was depression, great sorrow and lots of tears. But even through it there were times of joy and small happinesses. There were no regrets, no apparent anguish over a life not properly lived, of business left unfinished, of words left unsaid. Only the dismay that there wasn’t more time.
On Saturday, a memorial for Don was held at a friend’s house in South Pasadena. It had been raining in the morning but by the time I arrived the sun was shining brightly. At least fifty were there — brother and cousin in from Texas, close friends, career-long colleagues and neighbors. It was wonderful if frequently bittersweet.
We will all miss him so.
SoCal sunny days. Don Hunt, 1944-2012. Photo: Carlos Lozano
“If you ever worry about the future of America, there is no need: it is in good hands,” reads the lede of a piece from CBS News yesterday.
It’s the beginning of a particularly excessive and aggrandizing feel good “cancer cured” story.
These have always been a feature of the US newsmedia and the care and feeding of our culture of lickspittle. Evidence to the contrary, cancer definitely not being cured in tech-mighty western civilization, is not an antidote or harsh cold shower.
As a result, the sum of the journalistic work is simultaneously heartless, cruel and intelligence-insulting. And it always comes wrapped in shiny packaging, asking you to clap in awe and admire the wonder of something – in this case, the precocious child enrolled at an upper class school in Cupertino, CA. (Its presence in the story serves to underline only how stunning opportunities, spoil and resources are mostly only in those places now in the high end of our economic ecosystem.)
Born to Chinese immigrants, 17-year-old Angela Zhang of Cupertino, California is a typical American teenager. She’s really into shoes and is just learning how to drive.
But there is one thing that separates her from every other student at Monta Vista High School, something she first shared with her chemistry teacher, Kavita Gupta.
It’s a research paper Angela wrote in her spare time — and it is advanced, to say the least. Gupta says all she knows is its recipe — for curing cancer.
“Cure for cancer — a high school student,” said Gupta. “It’s just so mind-boggling. I just cannot even begin to comprehend how she even thought about it or did this.”
News of cancer cured, delivered in five to six hundred words, courtesy of the wealth and genius of the human DNA in the Silicon Valley.
Where humble or circumspect are not words found in the dictionary.
Of course, the young girl is cute as a button. There simply would be no other way to present it.
And it is certainly newsworthy that she has won a remarkable prize of $100,000 from the Siemens corporation for her science project.
“Angela’s idea was to mix cancer medicine in a polymer that would attach to nanoparticles — nanoparticles that would then attach to cancer cells and show up on an MRI so doctors could see exactly where the tumors are,” the piece informs.
“Then she thought shat if you aimed an infrared light at the tumors to melt the polymer and release the medicine, thus killing the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells completely unharmed.”
Attaching dyes, poisons and other reagents to malignant cells has been a vigorously pursued avenue of research since … I graduated from Lehigh University in the mid-Eighties.
However, while conceptually simple, the complexities of the genesis and biochemistry of cancer cells and how they spread in the human system remains unconquered.
Infrared light? And how does one get that and the chemotherapeutic agents into a place where there are multiple sites of malignancy, like deep inside the skull?
Or what if the particular cancer being treated just doesn’t care much if bathed in even the most toxic agents because, somehow, it’s aggressively self-repairing?
Well, one could write a book about such things and cancer would still not be finished. In fact, I recall walls of bookshelves upon walls of bookshelves on the matter in the library at the Penn State School of Medicine many years ago.
“It’ll take years to know if it works in humans — but in mice — the tumors almost completely disappeared,” adds the CBS newsman.
Ted Nugent likes to shovel piles of insults into his columns at the WaTimes. I like insults, particularly people who are good at them. One of the true pleasures in life is the flattening clever putdown.
But Ted, while easy with the character assassinations and slurs, has only a limited vocabulary.
General Electric, the largest US industrial group by market capitalisation, reported a 3 per cent rise in earnings per share from continuing operations in the fourth quarter, thanks to another strong performance at GE Capital, its finance division …
Jeff Immelt, the chief executive, warned of “continued volatility in 2012”, but said the company was preparing for it by investing in new products and technology, expanding in emerging economies and strengthening risk management.
He said GE Capital, which provided 46 per cent of last year’s post-tax earnings from continuing operations, was “safe and secure and rebounding sharply”, and the group overall was “positioned for a strong 2012”.
GE has been widely criticised for its low corporate tax rate, which has benefited from writing off losses at GE Capital, its finance division. The tax rate is rising as those losses are exhausted …
Earlier this week, the President praised his jobs council for their recommendations on how to improve employment in the US.
About the opposite of the populist stance the President has been taking since starting his re-election campaign. Perhaps coincidentally, later in the week the President gave an initial thumbs down on the Keystone Canadian oil sands pipeline project, one that was billed as an allegedly big jobs creator.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, also a member of the jobs council, avoided the meeting at which it handed in its report this week.
Instead, he wrote a dissent, part of which is excerpted here:
Perhaps most profoundly, the [jobs council report] does not ask the critical question: why is our country suffering a manufacturing crisis, complete with massive job loss and a structural trade deficit, when countries with higher overall taxes, higher wages, and more robust health, safety and environmental regulations are enjoying trade surpluses?
The answer lies in the view that we share with so many of our fellow Americans: that our country has become dominated by the interests of the wealthiest 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%. It turns out that a country run in the interests of the wealthiest 1% systematically underinvests in public goods; systematically silences, disempowers, and underinvests in its workers; and in the end is less competitive and creates fewer jobs than a country that focuses on the interests of the 99%.
GE & Jeff, best corporate song and advert, ever. Not like the one where the fake cancer patient wants to thank the token employees who bolted the GE CAT scan machine together.
GE over the land, they made a real good plan
Pay no taxes to the man, no cash money for Uncle Sam.
Fire all that labor now, they’re all just real fat cows
Gonna implement a real good plan, no money to the man
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer winner for news articles on an Ebola virus outbreak, did a question and answer with herself concerning the scientific publication (or censorship) of experimental genetic alteration to bird flu virus, on a a New York Times blog recently
It spawns a ridiculous quote, a cliched and shopworn idea that’s long been passed off as gospel by those pushing fear of imminent, or easily done, bioterrorism:
A biological weapon can be made in a high school biology lab …
It’s a brief trash emission by someone who established a reputation writing material that was distinctly not trash.
In 1995 I bought a copy of Garrett’s The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.
It’s a detailed scholarly book, fascinating to laymen and specialists alike.
However, a Pulitzer is a journalism prize. It is not at all the same thing as a Nobel. It is not an indication of excellence in lab research. And a Pulitzer is not a magic ticket that substitutes for getting the full union card in hard science.
Garrett graduated with honors in biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She attended graduate school in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at University of California, Berkeley and did research at Stanford University … During her PhD studies, Garrett started reporting on science news for radio station KPFA. The hobby soon became far more interesting than graduate school and she took a leave of absence to explore journalism. Garrett never completed her PhD.
Maybe Laurie Garrett knows first-hand about the ease, or lack of it, of working with human pathogens. And maybe not. I don’t know.
My perspective has always been very different. Microbial and biochemical preparations, which are what biological weapons are, never seemed high-school lab easy to me. (And if you have ever seen new students, in high school or college, struggle with introductory methods …)
Garrett works out of the Council on Foreign Relations, which like many high-button think tanks, isn’t nearly what it used to be, rep wise. The age of Internet and abuse of argument from authority have taken a toll on all such institutions.
Neither of these places were high school labs. And since then there has been no bioterrorism generated by rogue science from such humble environs.
Interestingly, Garrett mentions another earlier example of bioterrorism research in which censorship came up during the war on terror.
[In July 2005], The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper by Lawrence Wein, of Stanford, and Yifan Liu, of Harvard, that amounted to a recipe for concocting botulism-laced milk. Bruce Alberts, who was then the editor of the journal, resisted suggestions that he censor the paper, writing in an accompanying editorial that “protecting ourselves optimally against terrorist acts will require that both national and state governments, as well as the public, be cognizant of the real dangers.
We argued that the claims made about botulinum toxin in the Proceedings paper, which was a statistical analysis and not based on any wet work anyway, were not a roadmap to terrorism. With respect to that, it didn’t matter if the paper was published.
However, often we’re seen to live in a fiendishly curious and complicated world.
The authors of the botox bioterror paper had cited the laboratory in the Bay Area that was selling the deadly poison to anyone who called for it. Those sales would eventually result in criminal prosecutions, convictions and people on slabs, kept alive by ventilators, after they were overdosed by botox produced in a US research lab.
However, the scientists publishing through Proceedings, it seemed, did not know this at the time. Instead, in the same paper, they suggested that one of the laboratory’s other research formulations could be useful in securing against the potential threat of large-scale botox poisoning.
The authors had further posited terrorists might buy a biological weapon from a “black market” lab or make it from some document downloaded from the Internet. In real life in 2005 there were no such black market labs and the document was not useful. However, there was a US free market-based fully licensed and very sophisticated biochemical fine products lab selling it to greedy people.
Again, to reiterate, the anthrax and botox did not come from high school biology labs.
Rocker and hunter Ted Nugent plans to sue the Department of Natural Resources over its order declaring swine used at special hunting ranches to be an invasive species. Nugent, who owns the Sunrise Acres Ranch near Jackson, claims that the invasive species order was illegally issued and is being illegally enforced. Nugent cited a loss of business through immense stress and hardship because of the DNR’s public campaign to unlawfully enact and enforce the order. A hunting ranch in Negaunee has also filed a notice of intent to sue on the issue. The DNR will begin actively enforcing the order in April. The order is legally effective, but the department delayed enforcement to allow the facilities time to remove swine.
The public servants administering public schools nationwide do not create jobs when they hire teachers. All in your imagination.
The US national security apparatus and its public servants do not hire hundreds of thousands of civilians to staff its intelligence, staffing and logistical services.
Anyway, we know Ted Nugent is a terrible writer, an embarrassment. I would ask his high school English teacher, if still alive, if he was better as a student.
But embarrassments are often rewarded well in America just because they are a convenient. Kurt Vonnegut, an excellent author and writer, built entire works of fiction on this kind of cynicism in the national identity.
One piece of advice often given to people who struggle to write well: Write about what you know.
Notably, Ted has never written even the slightest about that which he does best: play guitar.
Perhaps he has threatened to do so and I have overlooked it. And perhaps he will actually write a book about playing guitar some day rather than repeating, like a trained parrot, some trash from the church of Republican extremism.
From time to time I like to point out, first-hand, how stilted the mainstream press is. Everyone now believes the system is rigged for a certain outcome but not everyone gets to regularly experience it.
Over the holidays I was buttonholed by two reporters wishing to do stories on cyberwar.
One was from a medium-sized newspaper in New Jersey. The other was a Wall Street reporter from Die Zeit, the big German weekly newspaper.
Both wanted to go over the matter of turning off the US remotely via cyberattack. In the case of Die Zeit’s reporter, it was the oft repeated idea that a cyberattack could destroy the US financial system that needed scrutiny.
In both cases I told the journalists these claims were well over ten years old. And these are assertions the sellers of the cyberwar story have always used because they get lots of attention and can be reliably counted upon to be passed on unskeptically simply by dint of delivery by authority.
The claims do not adhere to any reasonable standard of proof in the scientific sense. That is, extraordinary statements can be made in the absence of any extraordinary evidence to support them.
When taken over the history of the matter the reporters, at least on the phone, found my telling of it compelling. The Die Zeit reporter was interested because she had been covering Wall Street for many years and couldn’t figure out how any such thing could be done.
Wall Street is fiendishly complex.
In fact, she indicated, the American, and by extension, the world financial system, is now so complicated she doubted anyone on the inside even fully understood it.
So I asked her to tell me what proof she had been given that the US financial market could be destroyed by cyberattack. And there really wasn’t anything convincing to it, we seemed to agree.
There was, however, some mumbo jumbo about stealth or malicious hedge funds and such.
To which I wryly remarked something to the effect that that, in effect, was part of the industry’s action in the economic collapse.
Americans don’t feel the cyberattack on the US financial system story. They have, instead, lived through a time when the financial system attacked them, repeatedly. And it continues to do so.
After the holiday season interviews, which were long, no stories resulted.
Contrast this with the number of repetitive drivel pieces asserting the coming of some manner of cyberwar every day.
Having worked at a newspaper and written for an alternative news weekly I can tell you why this works the way it does.
The short version (a long version would take a couple book chapters) is this: Editors just don’t like stories that don’t deliver some claim of imminent catastrophe, delivered by argument from on hight.
But there is certainly a story in the hard fact that what I’ve described has been peddled so invariantly for so long. If the names have changed, simply because people have aged out of the endeavor — it’s been over a decade, the nature of the sources and predictions have remained static.
There is rock solid proof in the historical record. But it is a tale too complicated, lacking in a titillating sense of looming danger, and self-impeaching for most to tell.
The recently released Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Reference Book shows the current listing of mostly useless gadgets, some of which can kill or maim people, currently fielded for the US military. Some have bled into US police forces as a result of the weapons manufacturing boom and national militarization brought on by the forever war on terror. And we know how bombing fear and anxiety worldwide has worked out. Good for share value at the Raytheons!
In the past the military’s non-lethal wish list was crapped up with really bad notions proffered by a variety of boffins from the national labs and small business America. These encompassed the idea you could use or develop exotic chemicals to spray on people and hardware.
This meant sticky foams, suds and various agents to allegedly corrode metal or disable people. Over more than a decade none of this panned out.
Or a very few sensible people figured out spraying toxic chemicals around, in effect — trying to imitate industrial accidents on a small scale as a way of destroying equipment and controlling crowds, was a genuinely nuts thing.
So that’s gone.
In the place of it, a doubling down on trivial engineering applications in dousing people with pepper spray or blinding them with green lasers.
Does the US military (and, by extension, the police forces of this nation and those who buy from us) really need a Claymore mine redesigned to blast protesters with little hard rubber balls?
One could easily make a decent case against it.
There is also a fetish for using loud noise broadcasting devices to control crowds and deter terror frogmen. (”What terror frogmen?” I hear you ask. Exactly.) In any case, earplugs render the dollar investment a total waste.
In the totally notional area, the US military still wants to use non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse rays. This bit of wishing has been going on for almost twenty years.
As always, it wants to put nullifying electric rays in drones, on small naval vessels, everywhere you can imagine for spraying at all the alleged cars, boats, planes and other whirring things of those on the other side of the barriers of Fortress America.
However, these projects are all dubbed “conceptual.”
In the real world that translates as: Can’t make them work. And this is for various reasons, all having to do with over-reliance on magical thinking and limitations imposed by the laws of physics and nature.
They’re kept alive mostly as high button corporate welfare for electrical and aerospace engineers. They would be as productive if paid to dig holes and fill them back up the next day.