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April 19 - April 23, 1999

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Stealing home

Memories of sights, sounds and smells burrow deep, like prairie dogs, in the minds of baseball fans. Friendly little creatures, it doesn't take much to entice them to the surface. Take this paragraph from City 'Scapes, Craig J. Carrozzi's affectionate evocation of a six-year-old's first visit to a major league ballpark, in the company of his older brother:

"'Through here,' said John, pushing open a double steel door. A rush of cold air hit the little boy as he stepped through and paused in wonder. There...resplendent in the brilliant sunshine, was the playing field --- the billiard table smooth grass, the clean dirt infield, and the linear white bordering a revelation of ordered harmony and grace."

The city was San Francisco. The day was Thursday, July 6, 1961. The Giants were playing the Reds. And I'm willing to bet that every subsequent time the little boy entered a baseball stadium, he relived that initial moment as he walked through the door.

Its thick sensuous overlay means that baseball is a sport where nostalgia and statistics play equally powerful roles. As the Giants wind down their last season in the 'Stick, the signposts pointing toward Memory Lane are being refurbished and erected in prominent positions. And there is much to remember --- a lot happened at Candlestick Point during the past 40 years, both human and seismic. As the new stadium rises in sunny SoMa with a hot-off-the-press nostalgia incorporated into its blueprints in accord with the prevailing pattern of ballpark building, many people have already begun to miss the old venue. Even the weather.

And indeed, they will lose something, for memories don't always transfer to new locations. But the real loss will be the city's. The process actually began long before Bob Lurie or anyone else dreamed of a stadium in China Basin.

When the little boy walked into the ballpark, attending a game at Candlestick was still a new experience for many people. Watching the ìSan Franciscoî Giants play anywhere was still relatively novel. To recap the familiar: In the late 1950s the Dodgers packed up and moved to Los Angeles, and the Giants to San Francisco, making owners Walter O'Malley and Horace Stoneham the rich and happy frog kings of the little West Coast sporting pond. (When the transplants first met on April 15, 1958, the Giants showed the Dodgers who was boss, 8-0.) The move was not merely a hedonistic search for sun and surf. Wise business heads argued that presence of not one, but two major league teams in California would form a critical mass. The other teams would then be willing to make the arduous cross-country trip, thereby creating a truly national league.

Many New Yorkers wailed in unallayed grief at the departure of Dem Bums and The Gints, while many Californians would have preferred to be presented with the Yankees, whose extravagant success, they assumed, was due to the presence of Bay Area native sons like Joe Dimaggio, Gil McDougald, Bobby Brown and Billy Martin. In any case, the joy in San Francisco's mudville at entering the majors was alloyed with sorrow, because the arrival of the Giants meant the resident Seals had to go.

Nevertheless, the stadium that had stood at the corner of 16th and Bryant since 1931 continued to serve as the focus for professional baseball in the city for the next two years. But in 1960, the Giants moved into Candlestick Park. From the beginning, the new stadium was a shivering ugly duckling. Carrozzi's little boy took it all in when he reached the top of the last Bay View hill and saw the structure below: "A mass of gray concrete and towering orange light stanchions...set against a backdrop of paved and unpaved parking lots, bayside garbage dumps, derelict housing projects, and the steel skeleton of the Hunters Point Shipyard crane."

It was not simply that Candlestick was ugly. It stank from the neighboring slaughterhouse and dump. Pretty little Seals Stadium smelled good, with Hamm's Brewery nearby, and Stemple's Bakery, where hungry boys could pick up a sack of broken cookies before the game. Too small? Add a second deck. No room for parking? Buy a few lots.  Seals Stadium was, one of Carrozzi's old-timers thought, "an absolute gem of a little stadium....She was close to downtown. Good bars right outside the gates. Good restaurants nearby. Decent weather." In short,  the old ballpark was located in the heart of the traditional working-class expanse that lay South of the Slot, not "in the windswept middle of nowhere."

And now the Giants propose to move once again. The new site South of Market should make a lot of old-timers happy. Or should it? It's a whole different ballgame since the last stadium was built, and several apparent truisms have been turned on their heads.

In recent years, the blue-collar center of the city has shifted south, so that Bay View--Hunters Point offers a logical location for an authentic working-class arena, where men, women and children could enjoy a sporting event for a few dollars. It's the perfect place for a minor league baseball team like the Seals and the atmosphere they created. But beginning about the time that the Giants made their transcontinental shift, major league baseball became a corporate wolf in athletic clothing. (The fact that professional football shares this schizophrenia may explain some of the problems the 49ers are having in devising a viable plan of action.) Despite the team's present PR hype about building fences with knotholes so that local kids can peek in for free, the new enterprise is no friend of low-income people; it's being built to extract a whole wad of dollars from its clientele.

The location of the ballpark scheduled to open in China Basin next April turns out to be ironically appropriate for the new city that knows how. Designed to suggest the urban stadiums of an earlier era, PacBell will lie in the middle of an area where fine old factories and warehouses have been renovated into white-collar offices and into live-work lofts where no one works.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, April 21, 1999

Blasting the seeds of democracy

By Veran Matic

Veran Matic is editor-in-chief of Belgrade's Radio B92, which was closed down by the government on April 2. He has won numerous international awards for media and democracy, the latest being last year's MTV Europe "Free Your Mind" award.
The air strikes against Yugoslavia were supposed to stop the Milosevic war machine. The ultimate goal is ostensibly to support the people of Kosovo, as well as those of Serbia, who are equally victims of the Milosevic regime.

In fact the bombing has jeopardized the lives of 10.5 million people and unleashed an attack on the fledgling forces of democracy in Kosovo and Serbia. It has undermined the work of reformists in Montenegro and the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and their efforts to promote peace.

The bombing of Yugoslavia demonstrates the political impotence of US President Bill Clinton and the Western alliance in averting a human catastrophe in Kosovo. The protection of a population under threat is a noble duty, but it requires a clear strategy and a coherent endgame. As the situation unfolds on the ground and in the air day by day, it is becoming more apparent that there is no such strategy. Instead, NATO is fulfilling the prophecy of its own doomsaying: each missile that hits the ground exacerbates the humanitarian disaster that NATO is supposed to be preventing.

It's not easy to stop the war machine once its power has been unleashed. But I urge the members of NATO to pause for a moment and consider the consequences of what they are doing. Analysts are already asking whether the air strikes are still really about saving Kosovo Albanians. Just how far are NATO members prepared to go? What comes next after the "military" targets? What happens if the war spreads? All of these terrifying questions must be answered, although I suspect that few will want to live with the historical burden of having answered them.

The same questions crowded my mind as I sat in a Belgrade prison on the first day of the NATO attack on my country. Whiling away the hours in the cell I shared with a murder suspect, I asked myself what the West's aim was for "the morning after." The image of NATO taking its finger off the trigger kept coming to mind. I've seen no indication so far that there is a clear plan to follow up the Western military resolve.

My friends in the West keep asking me why there is no rebellion. Where are the people who poured onto the streets every day for three months in 1996 to demand democracy and human rights? Zoran Zivkovic, the opposition mayor of the city of Nis answered that last week: "Twenty minutes ago my city was bombed. The people who live here are the same people who voted for democracy in 1996, the same people who protested for a hundred days after the authorities tried to deny them their victory in the elections. They voted for the same democracy that exists in Europe and the US. Today my city was bombed by the democratic states of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Canada! Is there any sense in this?"

Most of these people feel betrayed by the countries which were their models. Only today a missile landed in the yard of our correspondent in Sombor. It didn't explode, fortunately, but many others have in many other people's yards. These people are now compelled to take up arms and join their sons who are already serving in the army. With the bombs falling all around them nobody can persuade them --- though some have tried --- that this is only an attack on their government and not their country.

It may seem cynical that I am writing this from the security of my office in Belgrade --- secure, that is, compared to Pristina, Djakovica, Podujevo and other places in Kosovo. But I can't help asking one question: How can F-16s stop people in the street killing one another? Only days before the NATO aggression began, Secretary-General Solana suggested establishing a "Partnership for Democracy" in Serbia and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia to promote stability throughout the region. Then, in a rapid U-turn, he gave the order to attack Yugoslavia.

With these attacks, it seems to me, the West has washed its hands of the people, Albanians, Serbs and others, living in the region. Thus the sins of the government have been visited on the people. Is this just? There are many more factors in the choice of a nation's government than merely the will of the voters on election day. If a stable, democratic rule is to be established, and the rise of populists, demagogues and other impostors avoided, the public must first of all be enlightened. In other words there must be free media. NATO's bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that they will not sprout again for a very long time. The pro-democratic forces in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity, have been jeopardized and with them the Dayton Peace Accords. NATO's intervention has also given the green light for a local war against Montenegro's pro-democracy president, Milo Djukanovic.

The free media in Serbia has for years opposed nationalism, hatred and war. As a representative of those media, and as a man who has more than once faced the consequences of my political beliefs, I call on President Bill Clinton to put a stop to NATO's attack on my country. I call on him to begin negotiations which aim at securing the right to a peaceful life and democracy for all the people in Yugoslavia, regardless of their ethnic background.

As a representative of the free media I know too well the need for people on all sides of the conflict to have information. Those inside the country need to be aware of international debate as well as what is happening throughout this country. The international public needs the truth about what is happening here. But in place of an unfettered flow of accurate information, all of us hear only war propaganda --- Western rhetoric included. Of course truth is always the first casualty in wartime. Here and now, journalists are also being murdered.

Radio B92's archives and its Internet support groups can be accessed at


Friday, April 23, 1999

Boyz 2 men

On Tuesday evening, at least one Bay Area teenager watched in horror as CNN spun out its version of the day's events in Littleton, Colorado. School violence was nothing new to her: she wore the emotional scars of a recent mugging by fellow students. But as the reporters tailed one eyewitness after another in search of telling testimony, she turned to her mother with tears in her eyes. "They're turning it into a soap opera."

On Wednesday morning, another young woman from the Bay Area, only slightly older, telephoned her mother at dawn. She had opened the newspaper, steeling herself to read yet another day's worth of senseless war reports and discovered instead a new kind of insanity closer to home. "Is the whole world going crazy," she sobbed, "or am I?"

Over the next few days, the media tried...and tried...and tried to explain what possessed two white upper-middle-class high school seniors to carry out guerrilla warfare on members of their own community. You've heard them. Was it an armed revenge of the nerds?  Expected behavior from the Trenchcoat Mafia, described by an interviewed student as "a horror waiting to happen"? They brought in the experts. Arizona anthropologist Michael Ghiglieri blamed the assault on media violence and the absence of paternal role models (even though both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold lived in two-parent families). Long Beach psychologist Jana N. Martin asserted that "kids react with violence because they've learned that violence works." Politicians and the public alike connected the trigger-happy aggression of the U.S. mission in Kosovo with the raid on Columbine High School, and newly announced GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer gave expression to the obvious: "The culture glorifies death in a thousand ways."

I don't intend to add to the speculation. I couldn't, knowing neither the two youths nor the town where they lived and died. But I have noticed one oddity in the press's coverage of the killings, which makes understanding the young men's motivation nearly impossible.

Let me illustrate with an account of another, completely unrelated killing, as it is usually presented. In 1998 Spike Lee made a film that documented (according to one review) "the lives shattered when a pipe bomb killed four young girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church in 1963 at the height of the battle against civil rights in the South." Lee interviewed local citizens as well as national figures, seeking to explore the implications of --- again, the review --- "the terrorist murder of the four children." The film was called 4 Little Girls. In the absence of photographs, it's natural to imagine kids in pigtails, faces scrubbed shiny, chubby knees showing below freshly starched dresses. Cruelly destroyed by brutal racists.

The pathos created by this account is overwhelming, in the same way that pictures of weeping Kosovar children bring easy tears to adult American eyes. The pathos is false. The truth is, I think, even more painful. Three of the "little girls" were fourteen years old, and the fourth was eleven. The innocent victims of the Birmingham bombing were not near-infants, as the title implies, but young women on the very brink of adulthood. Innocent, yes, in the sense of having done nothing to provoke the attack. But no matter how sheltered her childhood has been, no African American --- no American --- who reaches her teens can be considered "innocent" in the Victorian sense of sharing her consciousness with the angels. Unfortunately for the image makers, the murder of adults, even incipient ones, is far more complex and far less malleable than the simple slaughter of babies. Unfortunately for Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, their lives lost all reality with the distortions of their death.

Ancient irrelevant history? Think again. According to the media during the long wait last Tuesday and afterward, two gunmen in black trenchcoats invaded the school and, chuckling like demented chainsaw murderers, carried out a sadistic shooting rampage before committing suicide. Two gunmen in black. The essence of suave satanism. But the accompanying yearbook photographs of two slim, vulnerable-looking teenagers make this depiction slightly ludicrous. If other pictures of trenchcoated Goths are any indication, the hem of their coats flapped around their ankles and the aura of evil incarnate was broken by the white of their athletic shoes.

Or take a look at the description of Aaron Hancy, who was pressed into service because of his Boy Scout training in first aid. He left the classroom where he had hidden and waged a valiant battle to save the life of basketball coach Dave Sanders. For three hours, according to the Washington Post, "he led a children's crusade." When the police arrived and evacuated the area, he tried unsuccessfully to stay. "Sometime after the boy left --- it is not known precisely when --- Sanders joined the dead." Hancy, the "boy" who led the "children's crusade," is the same age as "gunman" Dylan Klebold.

These are not mere semantic quibbles, designed to deflect attention from genuinely horrific acts. Words contain a nucleus of power. Descriptions determine action, and describers serve as society's gatekeepers. By characterizing problematic teenagers as men, we confer implicit permission to treat them as adults, thereby waiving rights to juvenile court and possible rehabilitation. We push the "bad" ones out the door. By labeling heroic teenagers as children, we refuse to acknowledge their capacities for responsibility, thereby strengthening the power of other participants, whom we designate. We keep the "good" ones on the other side of the threshold. Both misnomers perpetuate the hierarchies of the status quo, setting the stage for rebellion.

Some may object that this argument is painfully simplistic. Perhaps it is. There's nothing so simple as life and death, in Colorado or in Kosovo. But the most complicated task that we face as adults is to see the world --- in all its frightening confusion --- through the eyes of the generation that will inherit it. And then make that legacy something we are proud to bequeath.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

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