In Defense of California

The letter below was emailed to Radio New Zealand on September 27, 2017

I am writing to let you know that Mr Mora's guest (I didn't catch his name as I had only tuned in while in my car around 4:45 PM) promptly had me tuning away to an easy listening station, so disgusted was I at his protracted and ignorant rant about California.

For the most part, I enjoy listening to Radio New Zealand and I accept that a certain amount of America-bashing is part and parcel of your hosts' repartee...even though, lo and behold, a large percentage of the academics, authors, experts, and celebrities you choose to interview hail from America. As do I, I immigrated to New Zealand and Auckland in 2000, after three and a half years in Carlsbad, California, and three other cities before that.

The famous Flower Fields of Carlsbad, California

Perhaps I am especially sensitive to insult about California because in my time there, it got under my skin and in my heart in a way that only two of the five places I've called home in my 46 years ever has. First and foremost, the state is transcendentally beautiful. Yes, it is also FUBAR (F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition) and has been for a long time, maybe forever. Politically, it has been FUBAR at least since 1973, when the Greatest Generation, who so benefited from state investment in their lives and families--which meant, despite the inherent sexism, racism and homophobia of that era, that California in the 1950s and 1960s was truly the best America ever got--got greedy about holding onto overlarge homes they no longer required, their children having grown up, and got taken in by Taxpayer Bill of Rights-type arguments that resulted in voting in Proposition 13, which forbade the state from ever accumulating surplus funds in good years to help tide through the bad. The resulting ratcheting down effect has weakened and diminished all the collective assets that were built up after World War II, including infrastructure, the state university system, public schools, and parks.

There are many parallels with our situation in New Zealand, including the racism that accompanied the greed, as both places have seen the average child become browner since the 1950s.

Just as California has been a force for ill, notably in bequeathing the whole nation the reactionary reforms of Ronald Reagan, who gained political legitimacy as governor of California before ascending to the Presidency, it has also been a source of inspiration, innovation, and positive influence. The first example that comes to mind is the stricter automobile emissions standards that California adopted. When the sixth largest economy in the world sets such standards, the automotive industry has to pay heed.

Yes, California has been a magnet for those seeking "alternate" lifestyles. It was in San Francisco where (former New Yorker) Harvey Milk and other activists started the most significant movement for gay rights to arise in the United States, and I believe it is only because of persisting homophobia that he is not a more celebrated civil rights hero.

Yes, there are people in California who enjoy organic foods and worry about additives in food. Thank heavens that somewhere there is a critical mass of people fostering the growth of the organic food industry and questioning whether Big Agriculture's polysyllabic chemicals are truly safe for consumption, even if in the case of acrylamides in coffee, their concerns may have been ultimately unfounded. And I have to add that non-scientific people, such as Mora's panelists today, who are addicted enough to coffee to require daily ingestion, are hardly rational and dispassionate enough to appropriately assess information about its possible deleterious effects. We humans remain bent on ignoring the perils of our many assorted personal crutches, be they in the form of coffee, alcohol, cats, religion, etc.


An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.