Things Get Stranger In a Strange Land

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California really is trying to get its act together, I think.

The Los Angeles Times reportsthat a special commission hopes to reform lawmaking, since California lawmakers have been doing such a good job at it.

The Times reports that a 20-member Committee on Improving State Government is set to scold legislators with the obvious. Treasurer Bill Lockyer told the commission that legislators pass too many “frivolous” laws. '“I’m sorry, but two-thirds of the bills I see come out of the Assembly, if they never saw the light of day, God bless it…Just stop it!"'

California Controller John Chiang jokingly suggested that I get into politics. I have ZERO interest. It is much easier to mock and judge from the sidelines. However, if I did run, my platform would include: No New Laws. And no law would probably do much to pull California out of its current economic earthquake.

Last week, I asked former Governor Gray Davis what will lead the state out of what may be its worst recession ever.

You may be surprised to hear his answer.

Gray Davis knows this state well, but not even he could have predicted how wacky things would get.

That requires one heck of an imagination.

Robert Heinlein had such an imagination. The sci-fi writer famous for writing “Starship Troopers”, and, my personal favorite, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” liked to draw on social themes. In 1982, Heinlein wrote a book called “Friday”, about a female artificial human super-killer named Friday. The story is set in an era where the Earth has been divided into territories with boundaries drawn very differently from those we know today. There’s a lot of gratuitous casual sex in the story. A LOT. But that’s not why I’m writing about it.

Heinlein frequently describes the “California Confederacy” in the story. At one point, Friday, writing in first person, has a conversation with her companion, Georges. “I wrinkled my forehead to stimulate my memory. ‘Georges, I don’t know much about California politics—‘‘My dear, no one knows much about California politics, including California politicians.’”

The book was published four years after the passage of Proposition 13, and here’s how Heinlein describes California’s electoral/legislative habits:

“In many cases an official has not yet been sworn in when the first recall petition is being circulated. But Californians do not limit themselves to electing, recalling, indicting and (sometimes) lynching their swarms of officials; they also legislate directly. Every election has on the ballot more proposed laws than candidates.”

Heinlein goes on to describe one such initiative written to take away the inequity in pay between those who graduate college and those who don’t.

“Such an undemocratic condition is anathema to the California Dream, so, with great speed, an initiative was qualified for the next election, the measure passed, and all California high-school graduates and/or California citizens attaining eighteen years were henceforth award bachelor’s degrees. A grandfather clause backdated this benefit eight years.”

Heinlein, who died in 1988, makes some interesting predictions in "Friday" about technology, even regarding TV news, describing the updates coming across “news streamers on the screen.” And he puts these words in Friday’s mouth about computers: “With all governments’ everywhere tightening down on everything wherever they can, with their computers and their Public Eyes and ninety-nine other sorts of electronic surveillance, there is a moral obligation on each free person to fight back wherever possible…” She discovers a “computer net” where you can get information about any topic, and where you can even watch music concerts live, or access older concerts. “Once data of any sort go into the net, time is frozen.”

I read "Friday" for the first time this year on the recommendation of a "Funny Business" reader, and, naturally, what I enjoyed most about it were Heinlein’s thoughts on my home state. Examples include Heinlein writing, “Most Earthside cities suffer from a misguided attempt to look like Los Angeles,” or explaining how the prostitutes union in California convinced the state of pay members “to keep their legs crossed.” And, finally, there’s this: “In the California Confederacy it is against the law to refuse credit to a person merely because that person has taken bankruptcy. Credit is a civil right.”

He was right. Just ask any of the thousands of Californians who got no-doc, Alt-A, 120 percent mortgages.

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