Black Lives Matter!

Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.

Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.

This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.

For further disturbing reading, see:

Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.

In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.

“Why are you so angry?”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.

“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”

“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”

“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”

In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.

“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”

“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”

A couple years later, I joined the office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, proud of the work and looking forward to “working within the system” for justice.

Scott Pearce in Division 40

July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House

I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.

My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.

It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.

I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”

Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.

30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:

In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:

Integrity and Compromise

Scott in 1976

Outside the LA Board of Education in 1976, after speaking against undercover cops in class.

1976 Flashback:

“You’re talented, Scott. Why do you have to get up there and lecture your elders about what’s wrong with America? They don’t want to hear it. Why don’t you give them what they want? They will love you if you do, and they’ll shower you with praise. Don’t you want that?”

So spoke my debate coach at Hollywood High, Kay Ross. My debate partner and most of my friends agreed with her. “What’s wrong with winning?”

OK, I thought to myself, early in the spring of 1976. I’ll do it. I’ll pick one big contest and do just what everybody has been telling me to do. I’ll pander to the Authority Figures and see what happens.

The Los Angeles World Affairs Council hosted a speaking contest about World Trade. I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to show my coach and classmates that I could be as good as anybody at “bringing home the brass.” Ideas be damned – it’s all about winning!

Let’s journey back in time and read what I had to say to my beloved Adult Authority Figures on April 27, 1976:

World Trade Means More Jobs

World trade has been responsible for many major accomplishments throughout the history of our civilization. The new world was discovered because merchants wished to find easier trade routes to the East. Major European nations established colonies in America in order to be the best at harvesting the tremendous resources available to those eager merchants who wished to refine and transport them. The United States was established largely because of disputes over the regulation of trade, and countless wars have been fought throughout history over trade rights.

Trade is considered so important because there are tremendous economic advantages at stake – advantages best gained by open and free trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the craft of the merchant is to bring a thing from where it abounds to where it is costly.” A company which transports products to places where they are needed usually turns a healthy profit as well as providing a needed service or commodity.

Another value of trade is as follows: World trade means more jobs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 70,000 American jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on foreign trade. Our domestic unemployment statistics are certainly affected by our success in world trade.

American wages are the highest in the world. At the same time, the labor costs per unit are lower here than they are in most countries: even lower than in nations which pay only ten or eleven cents an hour to those who ship or produce merchandise.

One reason for this is that American workers are among the most productive workers in the world. For example, an American worker produces almost twice as much merchandise per man hour as a British worker does. Another example is that an American coal miner gets paid eight times as much as a Japanese worker – he also digs coal fourteen times as fast. One result of this is that America sells millions of dollars’ worth of coal to Japan every year.

Trade statistics show the value of good labor – we export more merchandise outside our borders than any other country in history. We sell 59% more to Western Europe than we buy in return; 73% more to Japan than we buy.

Many people in America have grave doubts about the value of foreign trade. They suggest that America should not take the risks required to develop a broad program of international trade. They complain that imports hurt American business and take away American jobs. While it is true that such trade does eliminate some jobs and make some American businesses less viable, at the same time it creates many more jobs – and it makes many businesses more profitable.

It is very easy for an average citizen to be misled about the relative merits of international trade, because foreign imports are very visible, while exports are only a statistic in the financial section of the newspaper.

The record shows that America imports roughly 15 billion dollars’ worth of goods a year, and exports about 20 billion dollars’ worth. If we closed our borders, we would lose 5 billion a year.

The Department of Labor also says that four million jobs depend on trade, while no more than 400,000 jobs have been lost or cut back because of imported goods. The record also shows that there are ten jobs related to our exports for every one job whose loss might be ascribed to imports.

It should be known how important international trade is to other countries as well as to our own. Japan could never have had a chance to ever achieve any real post-war success if she had not been a competitive and aggressive member of the international trade community. The ability to export specific goods to the American market is vital to the success of many of the world’s smaller nations.

Americans should realize that America needs the majority of goods that she imports. We may not need Datsun cars or Panasonic radios, but we do need raw materials like tin and magnesium, and we enjoy coffee and bananas.

60% of the goods imported by the United States are products that are not produced in any great amount in this country. In order for us to get the merchandise that we do need and enjoy, we must also accept some that we could do without.

Many of the imported products that do compete directly with American-made goods have value. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the new variety in American cars is the competitive impact of those small foreign cars.

World trade does not affect the average citizen only through big business. Small businesses are also greatly influenced by international trade. World trade gives the small businessman a greater variety of merchandise to sell at a more varied price range. The increased competition created by a large trade industry on both the local and international levels is healthy. It gives the consumer more goods to choose from.

On the local level, a small businessman who reaps the benefits of foreign trade is able to hire clerks and other assistants as his business grows. On a larger level, when an industry becomes successful as a result of its dealings with other countries, literally hundreds of jobs may be created.

The more people that work, the more prosperous the entire business community becomes. A working man is able to purchase more goods, making it possible for other companies to become successful and hire more workers also.

In addition to spending more money on material things, a working worker does not receive unemployment insurance, or any form of relief from the federal government. This leaves the government free to spend more money on other important things.

On a more personal level, people are generally happier when they are working. As a nation, our level of contentment can be measured alongside the unemployment figures.

One statement that is often made is true: the world is getting smaller every day. We have made great technological advances which reduce the time required to send ideas or goods from one point to another greatly. Today, more than ever, we are our brother’s keeper. The fact that many other countries depend on the markets open to them by world trade for their very livelihood makes our continued dedication to foreign trade almost essential to world prosperity and peace. The fact that such trade is very profitable for American businessmen and workers makes our continued participation in foreign trade satisfying.

The buying and selling of merchandise has been spoken of by many people in many different situations. John Roche once said, “The flow of goods and capital is the livelihood of our world community.” That statement is very true today. I think that a nation’s economic situation is easily determined by its success in foreign trade.

I would like to end this talk with a concise and rousing tribute to the institution of foreign trade, but rather than stumble through all of that, I’ll close by saying:

“The ship of state sails best with the trade winds.”

The last line in this speech was not original. I stole it from a 1940s-era radio sitcom, Fibber McGee and Molly. From start to finish, I wrote the text of this speech as a parody of “the party line” on international trade. I tried to “give them what they want” in such a way that my friends – but not my intended audience – could see my true feelings.

The well-dressed businesspeople loved my speech, gave me first prize, and made wistful observations about how well the world would be served by young leaders such as myself.

“Wonderful, Scott,” exclaimed Mrs. Ross. “I knew you could do it if you put your mind to excellence instead of making everybody sit through another angry outburst!”

I’ve been thinking about this old world trade speech as I ponder the future in light of the British vote to Leave the European Union.

I am a British citizen and I spent a summer studying international law and human rights at Oxford University. All of my upbringing and education – and the ritual pats on the head I got back in the spring of 1976 – push me to be in the Remain camp…and yet I found myself unable to do it.

I’m viscerally thrilled that Leave prevailed – not because it will be good for Britain in the short to mid-term, but because I think it’ll be good for Democracy, both in the UK and in Europe. I see the various “free trade” agreements as anti-democratic and too thoroughly linked to US militarism. President Obama’s rhetoric in favor of these agreements isn’t any more substantial than my teenage ramblings back in ’76.

Maybe with the UK out of the European Union, Germany and France will find it easier to develop a foreign policy independent of the US. Maybe NATO can be disbanded and the Russian olive branches of peace can be accepted. Maybe US military bases in Europe can be closed, quietly, and our troops return home.

Sure, these dreams may seem far-fetched…but five years ago only a handful of right-wingers were arguing for the UK to leave the European Union, and yesterday a decisive majority of my fellow Brits voted to Leave.

Still at it, 40 years later!

Still at it, 40 years later!

Hummingbird Hen

Magic is all around us if we take the time to notice.

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Hummingbirds are all over Carmel Valley. I see them and hear their clicking song often when I am out walking Rainbow or wandering around the neighborhood by myself. For years I have been looking for a nesting hummingbird who would be willing to pose for a few well-timed photographs.

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Our little patio features a ficus tree that has gotten big and thick over the years. I noticed a spirited little bird going back and forth with little bits of fluff a few weeks ago, and it didn’t take too long to figure out what was going on.

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OK, I know this isn’t a hummingbird. A few days ago in Ocean Beach I finally got one of the resident parrots to pose for a portrait!

No Vanilla Cookies For You

No Vanilla Cookies For YouProcessed food is bad for you. White sugar and bleached flour are unhealthy substances. You shouldn’t eat them. I understand that these ideas are true. My diet is mostly organic and vegetarian, but sometimes $1.25 for some nice vanilla cookies seems like a good idea, too. If I choose to find a dollar bill flat enough to go into the vending machine and add a nice 25-cent piece down the slot, shouldn’t I at least get a ration of sugar, flour and palm oil in return?

Maybe it isn’t a good idea to eat junk food, ever. I imagine it’s wrong to want the cookies at all. Probably this desire proves that I’m a wretched sugar addict or at least susceptible to cynical advertising. Not only do I know these cookies are poison, I suspect they are produced by abused workers, out of ingredients that are harvested by slave children on plantations that destroy the environment. Picky, picky.

One might think that gobbling the cookies and suffering the toxic effects would be punishment enough, but no. I don’t even get the short-term pleasure of eating food designed to make me happy instead of to nourish me.

Secret Police in Schools

Secret police don’t have a good reputation in America. The Nazis, Soviets and East Germans gave them a bad name. Since America is The Only Exceptional Nation, we don’t have secret police. We have “undercover officers.” Our secret police pretend to be students, entrap classmates and help create a climate of suspicion and fear on campus. Why? For a look at what’s going on right now, try these interesting and troubling pieces at teenvogue.com, vice.com, and rollingstone.com.

Today I want to share some documents out of my high school files. They shed a little light on how our government bureaucracies find eager recruits and how they seek to coopt and flatter their critics. This is a curious little slice of history.

1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_aWhen I was a teenage high school student in the mid-1970s, I thought it outrageous that my city would put a higher priority on secret police than it did on textbooks. I figured that teenagers ought to work through the system to be heard. Surely there would be some grownups who would be able to appreciate the corrosive, anti-intellectual consequences of putting “undercover” cops in classrooms. Smart people would be able to stop this expensive, completely unproductive practice.

At the start of the 1975-1976 school year, the LA County District Attorney announced the1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_b formation of The District Attorney’s Youth Council. Here’s the press release from September 18, 1975. “Everyone knows that the juvenile crime problem has multiplied in recent years. Perhaps by explaining some of the functions of the criminal justice system to these student delegates, and having them go back to address social science and government classes, we can further some understanding of the law.”

January 1, 1976

January 1, 1976

Here’s the DA’s October 8, 1975 letter appointing me to the DA’s Youth Council. Here are DA letters about meetings from October 27, 1975, January 9, 1976, February 19, 1976 and May 7, 1976. It’s worth mentioning that California’s marijuana laws changed dramatically on January 1, 1976, when possession of an ounce or less was decriminalized.

The meeting referred to in the January 9, 1976 letter featured a discussion about “The Presence of Open and Undercover Police in Schools.” Representatives from the DA’s management team and the LAPD were on hand. I think I got to address the group for about 45 seconds – and, speaking as a student-athlete and not as a representative of the counterculture, I told them that secret police were a much bigger problem at Hollywood High than drug use among students. I said it reflects poorly on Los Angeles that it can afford to put “undercover” police in classrooms that don’t have enough books. As I spoke, I noticed some of the parents and teachers in the room appreciated my comments – and absolutely none of the prosecutors or cops were favorably impressed.

The DA’s office sent me a nice letter on May 17, 1976, which is reproduced below. The LA County District Attorney wrote, “Your deliberations have been particularly valuable to me in evaluating the policies and attitudes of this office in regard to juvenile justice and undercover narcotics operations on high school campuses.” That’s nice – I guess my ideas helped the DA conclude that the secret police operations should be expanded on high school campuses!

Here’s an interesting LA Times article from 2006, explaining how the City Youth Council is a nice training ground for future politicians and lawyers. It features some nice students who are looking to polish their skills and their resumes.

Too much wealth and power rest in too few hands. How come the American People don’t rise up and do something about their own oppression? Maybe one reason is that the last couple of generations have been warehoused in schools that frighten them into submissive obedience.

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Sympathy for Tricky Dicky

The anniversary of Richard Nixon’s downfall gives us a chance to look back on our troubled history. Mr. Nixon was a racist and a crook. At the same time, compared to today’s leaders, Tricky Dick looks like a courageous, visionary genius. This should be food for thought for everybody, regardless of where we might place ourselves on today’s political spectrum.

We have had many corrupt Presidential elections. John Kennedy may have defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 because a lot of cemeteries in Illinois and Texas voted for the Democrats, though there is some debate. Mr. Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in 1968 because of treasonous negotiations with our battlefield enemies in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s campaign copied that strategy in 1980, undermining President Carter by dealing with his foreign adversaries. The 2000 election may have been the most cynical in our history.

Back in ’74, we got a President who wasn’t elected at all: Gerald Ford, who took office 40 years ago when Richard Nixon resigned. Mr. Ford had been appointed Vice President once Spiro T. Agnew resigned for not reporting cash bribes as income on his tax returns.

August 9, 1974 was the last day of summer school at Hollywood High. 40 years ago today, I brought a Sony AM-FM radio to school to follow events. At the time I considered Nixon’s departure to be a great victory for progress, proof that “the system works,” and cause for celebration. Ample evidence of the criminality of Richard Nixon and his co-conspirators can be found in audio recordings made in the White House. Many Californians detested Richard Nixon, rightly I think, for his campaigns for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1948.

I worked as a teenage volunteer for the local Hollywood office of the George McGovern campaign in 1972, even though I wasn’t yet old enough to drive, much less vote. Watergate was a tiny issue, with one flyer reading “Bug Nixon Before Nixon Bugs You.” I still remember how distraught I was on election night in ’72, watching McGovern concede a landslide defeat before a sympathetic local audience. Seeing Mr. Nixon’s two rather somber victory speeches, one from the Oval Office and one from his campaign headquarters, made me queasy to think about the future. Watergate became a gigantic issue shortly after Nixon’s second inaugural. After leaving office a year and a half into his second term, he made quite a few TV appearances in an effort to rehabilitate his image, and he wrote a number of turgid books. President Bill Clinton gave a sentimental, ludicrous eulogy at Richard Nixon’s funeral.

What possible sympathy could we have for Richard Nixon, the lying, Red-baiting, carpet-bombing, conspiring, foul-mouthed racist?

Let’s look at the situation Mr. Nixon inherited when he took office in 1969. Hundreds of thousands of US troops were thousands of miles away from home, fighting an increasingly unpopular war that Nixon had supported from the start. The previous President, Lyndon Johnson, had taken office as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination, and it’s quite clear that Richard Nixon didn’t buy the Official Story any more seriously than I do. Not only that, but the tapes show that Nixon considered the JFK assassination relevant to the politics of his day. What might that imply? Wouldn’t it mean that Nixon took office knowing that Presidential authority had been violently overthrown by what President Eisenhower characterized as “the military-industrial complex?”

When Eisenhower became President in 1953, he made quick work of ending the Korean War. Nixon, on the other hand, ended up taking a deal at the end of 1972 that he could have had in 1969. Why? How come he didn’t do what Ike did less than 20 years earlier? Maybe it was because the office of the Presidency itself had been hugely weakened. Even so, a look at the record of the Nixon Administration and its colleagues in the mostly Democratic-controlled Congress shows many impressive – and progressive – achievements. Not only did the first term of the Nixon Presidency see passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, it also saw the President’s diplomatic openings to the Soviet Union and to the People’s Republic of China. Although it’s fair to judge Nixon’s hysterical anti-communism as helping create and maintain poor relations with these countries in the 40s and 50s, by the early 1970s the opposite was true.

So, exactly how is it that Richard Nixon went from a gigantic landslide in November 1972 to leaving office in disgrace less than two years later? Is it because of a domestic political spying scandal, which the President illegally covered up? That’s what history tells us, but is it really true? At the time of Nixon’s resignation, many commentators and participants said that the story was much deeper, more complicated and far more serious than the one we all followed during those final months of that Administration.

I’d suggest that a more plausible reason for Nixon’s downfall was his failure to keep the loyalty of the US military and intelligence communities. He didn’t end the Vietnam War quickly, but even as he dropped more bombs he withdrew ground forces, and finally he cut a deal. It’s also evident that the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations with the Soviets and Chinese were done largely in secret – from much of the rest of the US government. I suggest that means Richard Nixon was more serious – and more courageous – than most of his adversaries have been able to recognize.

Have a look at RN’s second inaugural address. Really listen to what he is saying. Nixon ended the ground war in Vietnam and revolutionized relations with the two biggest real adversaries our country faced at the time. This is a peace speech, backed up by real diplomacy including nuclear arms reduction talks. This address should be seen as a sequel to President Kennedy’s American University speech. I’d suggest that both speeches – and the policies they represented – crossed a few bright lines that our real masters simply will not permit.

For a moment let’s reconsider the Nixon Administration’s domestic goals. The President speaks about decentralizing government authority. Did he want to end welfare? No, that wouldn’t happen until “liberal” Democrat Bill Clinton, more than 20 years later. Nixon proposed a guaranteed annual income for each family unit, to fight poverty and to get rid of the expensive and humiliating welfare bureaucracy. So, our grotesquely racist President actually advocated policies that were far more liberal and kind than all of his successors! It’s too bad he was such a coarse, unappealing, petty man.

Watergate is a wildly complicated topic. One of the more troubling books to look at is Silent Coup, which goes into a lot of detail about the President’s real enemies, as opposed to the political adversaries who made it onto Nixon’s enemies list. For example, it calls out Bob Woodward as a career asset of US Naval Intelligence. The authors present compelling evidence that suggests the Watergate scandal was orchestrated by deep and powerful political and economic groups who were far to the right of the President. While you’re at it, read JFK and the Unspeakable, which is the best single book about Mr. Kennedy’s assassination.

40 years ago, I celebrated Nixon’s humiliation as much as anybody. Today I observe that Richard M. Nixon might have been the last President of the First American Republic.

OK, that’s enough thinking for now. Remember, friends – You Can’t Drink All Day Unless You Start in the Morning!

Modest Mid-Summer Musings

A nice afternoon at the pool.

 

It is wonderful to have a little time off from deadlines and job duties. Here’s a chance to observe the world a bit more quietly, maybe even think slightly beyond the next few items on the to-do list.

Shaved Palm Trees

Palm trees get their beards shaved off every summer in Ocean Beach. The dry old fronds are trimmed and mulched on the spot, with machines you can hear for half a mile. These palm trees are not native to California, use up a lot of water, provide no shade, and are nearing the end of their natural life span. I like them anyway. Even so, Ocean Beach would be a nicer place with different trees when these ones have gone to the big palm forest in the sky.

Youngest daughter Lana May was in two dance recitals yesterday, doing her first ballet performance, two jazz numbers and one rousing hip-hop routine. It was splendid to have the chance to watch both recitals and get a big hit of positive energy from dozens of young dancers. Still, it was impossible to escape completely from the Serious Concerns that seem to be permeating our lives beneath even the smooth surface of smug suburbia.

The program was started by the dance school owner leading the audience in Prayer to Almighty God. “Dear Lord, please give this audience the understanding of how much hard work went into all of these performances…” At intermission, a video was offered “in support of our military families.” It showed movies of families receiving charity with the old Bon Jovi song “Ring the Bells of Freedom” playing loud and proud in the background. What are we all so worried about? Why do we need to make a big deal out of Believing in God and Loving Our Soldiers all the time?

Public displays of piety coupled with a big dose of sentimental militarism seem to be a part of more and more events these days. Some of us are lucky enough to get a couple of weeks off from work, but there doesn’t seem to be any escaping the fact that these are twilight times, even at the height of summer. If you are curious about being serious, you can go here to read about reality in Gaza and here to read about reality in Ukraine. In both of these situations the Obama Administration is displaying dishonesty that would make L.B.J. and Nixon blush.

On the other hand, it’s possible that you are more interested in something a bit less serious, like a few wrinkly old men getting back together to relive their youth and make some money.

Sometimes it’s good to take a real break. Serious business always is just around the corner anyway. Soon I’ll start a new law professor job at San Diego Law School, which is being opened this fall by San Francisco Law School and Alliant University. I have little doubt that all our social problems will be solved by some well-trained young lawyers!

For now, let’s take time to notice the flowers and other daily magic all around.

Shire Flower

Justice: Winning at Trial

The road to justice isn’t always easy. We all know that. We also know that the road to our office each morning can be treacherous. Late last summer I was cited by the California Highway Patrol for an alleged violation of Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. The officer claimed that I used my cell phone while driving without a hands-free device, consciously disregarding the safety of my fellow travelers on Interstate Five.

San Diego Superior Court

You can tell a lot about a place by the way the courthouse looks. In southern California there are magnificent old court buildings in Riverside and Orange County. They are architectural artifacts of a time when folks were proud of their public buildings and designed them to be part of comfortable plazas for everybody to enjoy. The local courthouse for my traffic trial is about as elegant as a trailer with a foundation. This bare-bones operation suggests that the locals don’t take much pride in their justice system, however it does seem to function reasonably well under the circumstances.

San Diego Traffic Court

Now let’s all have a look inside Department A of the San Diego Superior Court. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it is a decent enough location for defendants to confront their accusers. One of the great things about being a licensed attorney is that I get to go in front of the bar and hand my business card to the bailiff. That means my case gets priority along with the other private counsel cases.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” This saying has interesting origins that go back more than a couple hundred years. Whatever. I’ve been a lawyer for almost thirty years and I’ve spent plenty of time cross-examining police officers and other witnesses. I know what I’m doing. I know how to argue cases with seemingly difficult facts. I showed up at court ready for action.

OK, so it is true that the CHP officer did see me driving southbound on Interstate 5 in my Chrysler Sebring. It is true that he saw me holding my cell phone in my right hand. It’s also true that he saw me speaking at the same time I was holding my cell phone and at the same time I was driving. All of this is true. I admit it. But it isn’t the whole story. I deny that I violated Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. I insist on my day in court. Fair enough.

What is my defense? These are pretty tough facts I’m admitting to at the start, aren’t they? Maybe so. Let’s look at the key language of the law. Section 23123 prohibits “using” a wireless telephone while driving unless it is hands-free. I brought a physical object with me to court to serve as a defense exhibit at trial: the hands-free device in my car at the time I received the citation. What happened was that I got a call while driving. I pushed the answer button and the hands-free device broke, pushing the phone into my hand and also disconnecting the call. I looked up to see the CHP officer gesturing for me to pull over and accept a nice yellow traffic citation.

You be the judge. Do these facts constitute “using” a cell phone while driving? Should I be convicted?

The judge called my case. I indicated I was ready for trial. The judge called the CHP officer’s name. Silence.

“This case is dismissed for want of timely prosecution,” announced the judge.

I walked out of court with my head held high, a winner at trial. Did I achieve justice? Who cares – I won!

Blood Moon Eclipse

Blood Moon Eclipse

As seen from Carmel Valley, California, here is the Blood Moon Eclipse. What is a blood moon? Here is the answer. According to the Experts Who Know, all lunar eclipses are red, so this is nothing special. According to some successful religious book authors, this is part of a lunar tetrad and symbolic of End Times. Astrologers observe that imbalances explode when there’s a blood moon in Libra.

October 7-8 will offer the next chance to see a blood moon, unless End Times come before then. Either way, you ought to live each day as if it’s your last…and one day you’ll be right!

Another Birthday Celebration

Scott and Alexis on Scott's 55th birthday

Are you intimidated by birthdays that can be divided by 10? They’ve never been that big a deal to me. I rather enjoyed turning 30, 40 and 50…but turning 35 and 45 caught my attention a bit more. Today I turn 55. You can see I have chosen to embrace my mother’s traditional approach to handling life’s larger issues, enabled by my beloved spouse. So far it is working beautifully!

I’m surprised how fun and pleasant the day has been, filled with sensual pleasures and delightful human contact. Every practical detail worked out smoothly from start to finish, and the day’s events seemed framed to make me feel lucky and well cared for.

Scott Pearce swimming

Swimming has been one of my favorite things to do all my life. Here’s a fun shot my mom took at West Hollywood Park back in the summer of 1963, a few months more than 50 years ago. Back then, I only had access to a pool during the summer months. These days I get to swim year-round in a swimming pool I can walk to from my front door. Sure, there’s a lot wrong with suburbia, morally and aesthetically, but I have to admit that swimming in a nice pool today makes me just as happy as it did when I was five years old. Here is the proof, along with a shot of today’s magnificent sunset in Del Mar and a picture of a splendid ice cream cake!

Scott is 55

Del Mar SunsetScott's Birthday Cake

I am happy (and a little surprised) to be celebrating yet another birthday, and I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to enjoy so many excellent times. Family and friends have been in touch to wish me well. Their wishes are coming true, and so are mine.

Skimming the Surface

Surface Close

Here is a brand new Surface 2, the result of diligent shopping and careful research. Microsoft might have taken a billion dollar write-down on the first-edition Surface, but maybe this time around they will do a little better. So far I think this is a beautiful new product. Too bad they make it so hard to buy one!Surface Out of the Bag

The new line of Surface tablet-laptop gadgets went on sale a month ago. They are beautifully packaged and the machines have a high-end, premium feel. I ended up buying mine at the San Diego Microsoft store, which is located in a wretched citidel of greed and materialism known as the Fashion Valley Mall. Although I don’t like malls I did like this store. They had plenty of display models of the various Surface products and several tables devoted to new Windows laptops and tablets made by other companies.

The first time I went to look at the new Surface line, I ended up going to several different Staples stores and a few Office Depots, throwing in a side of Fry’s for good measure. Not only did these places not have what I wanted, the workers at the various stores appeared to have advanced-level training in “studied indifference” to people shopping for these devices!

When I went to Microsoft store, even they didn’t have the new Type 2 keyboard in blue, which these days goes by the name of “cyan,” but they did take my email address and promise to be in touch when the accessory was in hand. Yesterday somebody from the store sent me an email telling me that I had 24 hours to come buy the item. When I showed up a few hours later the staff was friendly and helpful. I said I wanted to get a new Surface 2, and they took care to explain that this device is “a tablet not a computer.” I said I knew it ran Windows RT rather than full Windows. I’d thought about buying the Surface 2 Pro, but for $1,500 I could get a tricked-out new ThinkPad or Fujitsu desktop replacement. For my purposes, the Surface 2 will be more of a fancy netbook replacement.

I bought the 64GB Surface 2 and the Type 2 keyboard. They threw in a free version one Touch keyboard, a nice move I appreciated. Setup was a breeze. From opening the box to being on-line and editing a Word document on Sky Drive took about five minutes. The screen is beautiful and responsive. The keyboard is a feat of engineering. Although the device is fairly large it feels lighter than you’d expect.

Probably Microsoft expects Fashionable People to attract envy at cool coffee shops when they flash their new Surface 2 units. Instead they get customers like me. I’m sure the other folks at Denny’s ordering off of the Senior Menu will be most impressed with what a cool gadget I have!