STOP? HELL NO: If you want a course in Santa Barbaran psychology, take a drive around town. You will witness mass cheating, although perhaps minor league.
We do not, as a group, believe in obeying stop signs. We slide through, hesitate, fake it, or make all kinds of Hollywood stops that do not actually involve coming to a complete stop.
If another driver’s wheels stop turning, a Santa Barbaran will likely take advantage to go slip-sliding through, even though the first driver has the right-of-way.
In other words, “no cop, no stop,” our municipal motto.
In other words, as the best-seller Freakonomics pointed out, a certain percentage of people will cheat if there is some incentive to do so and if no one is watching. In the stop-sign scenario, the incentive, I suppose, is to get from one side of little Santa Barbara to the other a few seconds sooner. Risking a fender bender or worse, of course.
I’m not a cynic, but cheating is everywhere, especially when it comes to our tax returns. As Freakonomics pointed out, “Consider what happened one spring evening at midnight in 1987: seven million children suddenly disappeared.
“The worst kidnapping wave in history? Hardly. It was the night of April 15, and the IRS had just changed a rule. Instead of merely listing the name of each dependent child, tax filers were now required to provide a social security number.
“Suddenly seven million children — children who existed only as phantom exemptions on the previous year’s 1040 forms — vanished, representing about one in ten of all dependent children in the United States.”
DUKE WAYNE, CHEAT? While John Wayne was filming Chisum in 1970, he invited Robert Mitchum’s son Christopher, also in the picture, to a game of chess. Wayne, perhaps surprising to some, was an avid chess player, according to the new biography I’m reading by Scott Eyman, John Wayne.
Wayne, it seems, was ferociously competitive in all things and also known to bend the rules. According to the book, Mitchum noticed that when Wayne moved a piece with his fingers, his thumb would also move a piece.
“My God, the man’s cheating at chess,” Mitchum said to himself. “I didn’t know what to do. Of course he was creaming me because he was getting two moves to every one of mine.”
When he complained to one of Wayne’s buddies on the set, he advised, “Tell him to knock that crap off. He’s just playing with you.”
The next time it happened, Mitchum said, “Excuse me, Duke, but you’re cheating.”
Instead of slugging the young actor, Wayne replied, “Well, I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set ’em up. We’ll play again.” Wayne, of course, is long gone, and Christopher Mitchum is running for Congress against Representative Lois Capps.
Capps, annually rated the nicest member of Congress, is surely the most honest of that ethically challenged bunch. She lives on Santa Barbara’s Upper Eastside, and I’ll bet she obeys stop signs, whether or not there’s a cop around.
JUDGE WITH A HEART: Superior Court Judge Denise de Bellefeuille, who’s retiring at the end of September after nearly 21 years on the bench, reminded me of a good deed many moons ago. “I want to thank you again for the shout-out you gave to Patagonia many years ago when the company donated parkas for two abused children who showed up at my office in a winter rainstorm with nothing to keep them warm,” she wrote me.
Denise, who was a deputy DA then, serving in juvenile court, alerted Patagonia, which then had a downtown store, of the need. I hope the kids went on to a warm future.
THANKS, FRED: Good-bye to Fred Eissler, a dedicated environmentalist who died recently. Years ago, while covering the County Planning Commission, I admired the way Fred, a lone voice of reason in those days, stood up to protest the latest abuse of the land. He also worked with other activists to help create San Rafael Wilderness Area and on countless other campaigns. And he taught at Jefferson Elementary School and San Marcos High. A good man, and I wish he were around today to once again hold the torch of truth.