|From The Editor
My Uncle Bill was the richest and most successful person in our family, after starting out as an engineer with Hewlett-Packard when the firm consisted of seven employees working out of a garage.
For all his wealth, he loved to travel in a very simple fashion, driving along, stopping at roadside cafes for for pie and coffee, and sleeping at motels that looked good at the end of the day.
I have realized that I too find that the most comfortable way to travel, avoiding the crowds, lines and tension of airports and airplanes, and seeing the beauty of our land roll past the windshield. Although you then miss the powerful elixir of a new environment in a different society, which was my father's draught.
So it was that on my birthday this year, I woke up ready for a road trip up to San Luis Obispo. It has been many years since I felt that childhood sensation that this was my "special day," a time to relax from start to finish, do what I would most enjoy, and contemplate the run of life, thank my parents and feel just a smidgen of their love.
With my girlfriend Sanae, we took off up the 210 Freeway, as the wide ribbon of road sweeps through the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and then merges with the 5 going north. We cut off on the 126 Highway to head over to the coast.
I have always liked that two-lane highway, as it winds along the dry bed of the Santa Clara river. Big rigs and agricultural machinery dwarf the cars, in a region of fertile land and farms, even as you can see the beginnings of the creep of development.
As we almost always do, we stop at Margaret's Cocina, a little roadside café in Fillmore, run by women, with Frida Kalho prints on yellow walls.
We sit outside at a round yellow table with red benches and a green umbrella, a few feet from the highway. The fish tacos are so-so but the draft Bud-Lite is cold and fresh. A warm, dry wind is blowing.
A long time ago, I wrote a story about Fillmore for the Boston Globe because, in an agricultural area dependent on Mexican farm-workers, the town had passed an English-only ordinance, requiring that all public employees speak only English. The best interview was with the guys who ran the survivalist shop, selling mostly guns. They were all for it.
Back on the 126, we keep driving west until Ventura, then hook onto the 101 going north through Santa Barbara, passing a string of small, beautiful state beaches, like a set of pearls.
We stop at the last one before the road turns inland, called Gaviota.
It is a small beach under a railroad trestle, but it reminds me of the beaches in Baja. It is unmanicured with dry seaweed littering the sand, a population of sea gulls, a broken pier, an empty lifeguard station, small, empty, concrete picnic tables, and one big Latino family having a meal. So I take a swim in the cold ocean.
Refreshed, I drive on up the road towards San Luis Obispo, where, as my uncle would do, we find a budget, two-story motel, the Avenue Inn, for $81 a night, with an ample parking lot, just off the freeway and next to downtown. The rooms are refurbished and very clean, and our little Prius C is parked outside the window.
We take a break in the room. Sanae naps. I catch up on the latest Trump-astrophe on my i-pad while having a petit coup, a small hit of wine from a bottle of Syrah that I brought along.
We have a reservation for that night at Goshe, my favorite sushi restaurant anywhere, in a non-descript building at the back of a parking lot on a side street. So with some time to kill, we take a walk in town and Sanae stops to shop in a vintage clothing store.
Which gives me the perfect excuse to take a seat in the outdoor enclosure of the Wineman Hotel on Higuera Street, have a cold beer, and watch the world go by.
One of the charms of San Luis Obispo is the large number of students and ex-students from the Cal State University here who work in the cafes and restaurants and fuel the bars. The waitresses are pleasant and friendly.
Two women who appear to be Chinese tourists, thin and smartly dressed, take the table in front of me, and the older one orders a huge stein of beer, downing it at an impressive pace.
Sanae returns with a set of black, embroidered bell bottoms, a throwback to the era of flower power, and we head off for dinner. At the end of a great meal, to some embarrassment, the sushi chef, his assistants and the waitresses chant congratulations in Japanese — Omodeto! — punctuated with a series of rythmic claps. I wave in thanks, secretly pleased with the homage.
We finish the night with another walk along Higuera Street, where the bars are now filling up with students. By chance, the same two Chinese women who were at the Wineman now come barreling down Higuera rolling huge suitcases stood up on end in front of them. Where could they be charging off to at this time of night, I wonder.
We make one stop for a cone of chocolate ice cream, and another for a petit coup of whiskey, and then return to the motel, to sleep soundly at the end of a long and happy day.
When we say "Shakespearean" — and I have heard people say it — we mean tragedy, people crushed by fate: Lear in the storm, MacBeth's disintegration, Hamlet and Brutus wrestling with empire and reality, Othello realizing too late what he has done.
No one is using that word to describe this year's presidential campaign, for an obvious reason: The people in our cast are so petty. There is no grandeur in them. Shakespeare never wrote plays about people like this.
Or did he?
In a recent column about "Richard III" for The New York Times, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt explained "how a great country could wind up being governed by a sociopath."
Greenblatt said there were many ways by which "this loathsome, perverse monster actually attained the English throne." It was "a fatal conjunction of diverse but equally self-destructive responses from those around him."
Greenblatt offered five reasons: None of the rich and powerful people believed Richard could pull it off; none believed he was really that bad; all were afraid of his "bullying and the menace of violence;" too many believed they could take advantage of him if he seized the throne; and "perhaps strangest of all," they enjoyed "the open speaking of the unspeakable."
Four days after that column appeared, the world imitated Shakespeare again, when King Bhumipol Adulyadej died in Thailand, leaving the kingdom to his despised, profligate playboy son — a Falstaff without wit.
That would be "Henry IV," parts I and II.
Shakespeare, where art thou?
The United States is living through another tragedy today, but not a Shakespearean one — because our players are clowns.
Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and their underlings are not tragic figures. They are small men.
Could anyone but Shakespeare write a tragic play about any of them? About the struggle of a noble hero who refuses to call a hearing to confirm an appointment to the Supreme Court?
What would Shakespeare call that one? "All's Well That Ends"?
Fortunately for the United States, unfortunately for the rest of the world, few Americans other than our soldiers had to suffer through the millions of tragedies we've inflicted upon people far away: in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq ...
Immigration to the United States is not a tragedy. Quibbling about immigration policy is not just dishonest, it's not even real.
Whining about rigging a national election to defeat a proud white male majority is not just dishonest, it's lunatic.
Allow me to drag Herman Melville into this — perhaps the closest writer we've had to Shakespeare.
Bartleby the Scrivener was a faithful worker who spent his life doing his job, copying things. Then one day Bartleby stopped doing it.
He sat at his desk, staring at a wall, and when asked to do anything, Bartleby said: "I prefer not to."
Bartleby refused to keep copying things.
I'm with Bartleby here.
As a news editor and reporter, my job is to bring you news about the state of our country, about this tremendously exciting, and — One Time Only! — idiotic presidential election.
But I'm with Bartleby now. I prefer not to.
"Have ye seen the white whale?"
|From The Courts
"Judges Who Are Elected Like Politicians Tend To Act Like Them."
That was the headline of a New York Times essay last week. I've been saying that sort of thing since the last century.
I've told this story before, but it's worth repeating (mainly because I like repeating it).
When I was a reporter for a big city newspaper many years ago, I got assigned once to cover local judicial elections. Soon I was discovering that in one race both candidates had switched parties to attract votes and in another race, one of the candidates tried to bribe me when I interviewed him.
It was pretty amazing. Just about everyone running who hadn't been appointed before was terrible.
The briber even won his election, partly because the guy he beat was having some, um, interesting domestic issues.
No matter. The loser with the marital issues then got appointed to the bench anyway by, of course, a politician.
Still, I've had the general impression that appointed judges tend to be the better ones, but are they the fairer ones?
Now switch your attention to the Oct. 3 issue of the The New Yorker, where you'll find a Jeffrey Toobin piece that tells us (in a lot of words) that appellate judges appointed by conservatives produce conservative rulings and appellate judges appointed by liberals produce liberal rulings.
You'd think that laws are laws and the Constitution means something definite, but apparently they're nothing more than Rorschach tests.
So much for the concept of impartiality.
Is this a good thing?
I want say no, but I kind of like it when people I agree with get appointed. I'm outraged when the guys I disagree with get to make rulings.
OK, maybe this isn't a good thing. Fortunately, I have a solution: artificial intelligence.
If humans are biased and/or prone to bribery and domestic issues, it makes sense to take humans out of the judicial process.
I know what you're thinking — technology has already cost society enormous numbers of jobs. Do we want to create a new class of unemployed, homeless jurists?
Of course not. Newly unemployed judges should be offered training in marketable occupations such as running for office, instant commentary for news networks, and judicial computer maintenance.
We all have to adjust to modern society.
By the way, I should note here that a computer judge has another advantage: speed.
This is a good thing because political leanings aren't the only problem with some judges. They can also be really slow.
Or really cantankerous.
Or maybe just forgetful.
Sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on.
Case in point from just last month: the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals removed a federal trial judge from a case for failing to rule on a motion — for more than seven years.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, a Mississippi newspaper, the same judge previously took six years to enter a judgment in another case and also had more than 105 motions pending longer than six months.
So what was this guy doing?
I don't know, but politics may once again be the answer — this is either a very effective filibuster or the judge is an admirer of Congress or both.
The judge, by the way, in a follow-up Clarion-Ledger story had lots of excuses including my favorite: he "blames former staffers for contributing to the backlog by not doing their jobs."
This guy really should run for office.