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The Quiet Californians

Empty States within a State

The Coast Ranges and the vast Sierra -- outside a Yosemite or Tahoe -- are as empty as Alaska. For all the Sierra Club protestations, few Marin County lawyers visit the upper San Joaquin River. They just wish no one else would as well. Although the mountain beauty is within an hour of greater Fresno’s million, apparently the Hondas and Camrys of the deprived poor can’t make up the grade, so the Sierra remains a haven for the quietist. In fact, one can drive to Cayucos on the coast, or Florence Lake in the High Sierra, or anywhere above Sacramento, and see almost no one. And to prevent insanity, the quietist keeps reminding himself, “Is such beauty, such weather, such solitude not worth a 12% premium on your income, or an hour a night to teach your child what she did not learn in school, or a little vigilance to mostly avoid what Los Angeles has become?” I am currently computing the cost of losing copper wire in all my pumps versus seeing the sun all of October. In California, one comes at the expense of the other.

The quiet Californian assumes that each year a new regulation, a new tax, a new something will seek him out. I read the “State Franchise Tax Board” print as I do the hate letters or emails I receive -- incoherent, threatening. This year I got a letter from the state explaining that based on my income they “estimated” that I must have used the Internet to buy x-amount of things and therefore did not pay state sales taxes. Thus, they suggested that I should pay them around, say, $600.

Another such letter came from the Ministry of Revenue yesterday. The state says I have a house in the mountains and therefore may some day require auxiliary state fire protection and therefore should send them, say, $150 -- or else!

Note that I pay local taxes to fund county and municipal police and fire. I give generously to the local volunteer fire department. (Would the state send someone in East L.A. some such letter, saying that because they live in an area that often requires the intervention of state law enforcement and SWAT teams, they should send in $150 protection money?) There is never any contract, warning, law -- only a need for cash that justifies such confiscation.

So quietist Californians expect about every six months a new fee, dreamed up by a government employee who is paranoid that the state retirement system is broke, and with it his pension. The state employee is now entrepreneurial: without  a certain number of traffic tickets written, without  a certain number of new fees dreamed up, salaries and benefits dry up. I touch my rural mailbox as I do metal after skidding on a new carpet -- a sort of static feeling of anxiety about what new state directive is inside.

I pick up the local paper: it has become a litany of rapes, murders, gang shootings, and molestations, peppered with drunk-driving fatalities and the uninsured and unlicensed who maim and kill routinely. The lurid tales of crime seem almost as if they come from a Sao Paulo suburb or the outskirts of Johannesburg. Yet the more violence, the more worry about insensitivity. So there is a general rule: the name of the driver, the killer, the robber, or the rapist arrested is rarely initially disclosed, much less his biography or photo -- as if these are just random stats that can offer no higher wisdom. No worry -- there is an answer to our world of Mad Max. Governor Brown will borrow $200 million for high-speed rail.

I note that an exception in California is the marquee universities.

A Stanford, for example, is home to elites and therefore it must be crime-free, so they often send out life-saving “alerts” that pop up in your email when a male has groped, attacked, or threatened a co-ed on campus. Oddly, the descriptions are graphically explicit: even though we are dealing with suspects -- not the arrested. And so the appearance, size, and ethnic profile of the supposed attacker are provided in great, politically incorrect detail. One thing about liberalism: it takes care of its own.

Quietists of the State, Unite!

The quietist assumes that his vote for president does not matter and won’t in the state for the next century. He assumes that whom he votes against for governor will win, and that his legislator will either be opposed to everything he believes or, if he is not, will be equally as irrelevant -- and yet in homage to the state, he keeps voting religiously and laughing about it with other quietists.

Quietists have become bystanders, now marginalized to be sure, but also convinced that the relevant ones are, in history’s cruel calculus, quite unhinged. I have a confession: I like the quietists of California. I see them every day. They keep chugging away -- and their spirits keep me going.