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November 22, 2013 1:50 pm

Not Much ‘Dreamin’ in California

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avatar by Michael Widlanski

Jack Langson Library at UC Irvine. Photo: wiki commons.

What is reputedly the safest city in America—Irvine, California—is safely reached by flying into an airport named, appropriately enough, after John Wayne, the legendary film law-man.

One rarely hears of a crime in these parts, especially a violent crime, almost as if the criminals expect the ghost of John Wayne himself to be watching over the territory, warning them:

“You better get out of town by sunset, or you’ll be pushing up daisies,” as he used to warn the movie bad guys.

Some of California’s worst stories are usually about car crashes. These almost invariably involve incidents about an hour north of here in the urban sprawl known as Los Angeles, which is supposed to an hour’s drive away, but which can also seem to be on another, far more dangerous planet.

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Everyone can hum some of those songs about California, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and especially the surfing hits of “The Beach Boys.” But the lyrics for most of those songs are not really true.

One song claims “and it never rains in southern California,” while in “California Dreamin’,” the Mamas and Papas sang “I’d be safe and warm, if I was in LA, California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Not true. Just ask anyone in LA, who knows something about the tremendous crime caused by marauding street gangs who get offended by someone wearing the wrong color shirt or baseball cap.

In Los Angeles, there are frequent stories of gang shootings, and the latest involved a five-year-old boy shot on his bicycle in his own back yard. So much for the line in California Dreamin: “I’d be safe and warm, if I was in LA.”

But even the weather does not behave according to the songs.

During an early winter rain two weeks ago, there was a mudslide that destroyed a few cars and trapped a few motorists. It grabbed the attention of local news broadcasts for three days.

People treat their local highways like their children, softly cooing their numbers like affectionate names: “the ten,” “the five,” “73” and the problem child—”the 405″ that is sometimes called the “Santa Monica Freeway” (when it runs north to Los Angeles and Santa Monica Beach) or the “San Diego Freeway” when it runs south to San Diego.

But here in Orange County, south of LA, there is less crush,  there is more sun, less noise, and less smog. Even during rush hours, traffic flows smoothly along the roads of Irvine (pronounced Er-VINE) and the other towns of Orange County—Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin, Newport Beach.

When going to Los Angeles, you may find that what is supposedly an hour’s travel can easily turn into three hours. Driving to LA is like flying to Chicago. You might as well stay in Orange County, especially if you are not a Democrat or do not feel the need to find a kosher restaurant.

LA belongs to Democrats, but Orange County is much more Republican, and it is probably as misnamed as the stormy Pacific Ocean. Orange County is really White-Yellow-Tan County: one sees few African-Americans, but there is a huge oriental and Hispanic population. This is true at my university, the University of California at Irvine, where most of my students are non-Jews.

It is much easier to get in and out of Irvine by flying into the open arms of John Wayne than by flying into the arms of LAX—Los Angeles International Airport.

“LAX” is appropriately named: It had two explosions and one fatal shooting in recent weeks. Dumb luck, not LAX security, prevented worse casualties.

Later, LAX security arrested a man about to leave the airport who was carrying a declared, unloaded and registered handgun.

When a legal gun owner took his gun out of checked baggage as he got into his car in the parking area, he alarmed a passerby who called LAX security. The gun owner was held for a few hours and later released. This is a pretty good metaphor for American airport security: they DO NOT PROFILE, but they always get the legal holders of weapons and the old blue-haired ladies.

Still, it would be wrong to conclude that the TSA—which handles US airport security—is doing everything wrong. It would be equally incorrect to say—as did President Barack Obama and two New York Times columnists—that anti-U.S. terror has died and that America spends too much time and money worrying about it.

Various statistics prove that this is not so, but you will not find them cited in The Times. In the Age of Obama, there have been more terror plots and abortive attacks than during the seven years of Bush following the 9-11 assaults—including Boston, Benghazi, and the Fort Hood Attack that Obama insists on calling “workplace violence.”

Another sign may be what is happening at U.S. airports: in the first half of 2013, TSA found 894 undeclared guns on passengers or in their baggage, a 30 percent jump from 2012. This is also part of a pattern. TSA says 1,549 handguns were detected in 2012, a 17 percent increase over 2011, and 85 percent of the confiscated guns were loaded.

But if you want to avoid seemingly endless TSA lines, come fly to John Wayne here in sunny southern California.

Small executive planes and regular domestic flights seem to shadow your car as you drive on MacArthur Blvd., one of the main streets in Irvine. You can generally drive to the airport within a few minutes from almost any part of town or the county, and you generally skip the bureaucratic nightmares that plague airports like Chicago’s O’Hare or Newark.

Life is good, if you do not look too deep. But beneath the facile smiles, people are hurting. California used to have a lot more manufacturing and engineering jobs. They have evaporated. People are looking for government to fill the gap.

“Dr. Bill got me approved, and now I am getting my checks,” declares a woman in a prime time TV commercial that sings the praises of Dr. Bill La Tour, who specializes in getting his clients government disability checks.

The number of people taking money from the U.S. government is rising. Partly, this is because more people are seeking more money, gaming the system. But to be fair, part of the problem is the graying of the “Baby Boomers.” People who rocked to Elvis and the Beatles are now limping a bit to disability.

America is older, though not necessarily wiser. The new health care plan offered by the Obama Administration is going to succeed or—more likely—fail, based on its ability to entice younger and healthier Americans to enroll for government care just as the number of needy old-timers is rising.

Dr. Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar Ilan University and is Schusterman Visiting Professor at the University of California at Irvine for 2013-2014.

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