Julie L. Kessler
lawyer traveler writer

News

What is the expiration date on hatred?

Jan. 29, 2014

My article "Hitler manifesto cleared for republication" appears in The Los Angeles Daily Journal today.

 

As some of you know, I was in London last week for the awards gala honoring winners of The London Book Festival. As the Holocaust Memorial Day occurred in the U.K. this past Monday, the British press had several lengthy discussions concerning the upcoming expiration of the German copyright of Mein Kampf, one of the most racist, bigoted and morally bereft books to appear since humans put ink to paper.

 

My article discussed the historical context of Mein Kampf’s original publication in 1924, Neo-Nazi revisionist history and the implications of suppression of books and ideas, regardless of how offensive, in the context of free speech that we in this country enjoy.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/What_is_the_expiration_date_on_hatred?.pdf

Foreign Book Sales

Jan. 28, 2014

I am happy to report that my book Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight is now available in China as well as through two additional distribution channels in India. It’s a small world after all!

Our man in Afghanistan

Jan. 22, 2014

Last week in the very center of Kabul, just a few blocks from both the British and American embassies, in an area known to be heavily frequented by foreigners — aid workers, diplomats, and journalists — a Taliban suicide bomber and some gunmen attacked a popular restaurant, killing 21 people. Of those murdered, 13 were expatriates, two were American academics from the American University of Afghanistan, and four were women. One of the expatriate victims was the country chief for the International Monetary Fund.

 

With seemingly never-ending strife in the region, the public has, over the years, become somewhat inured to news of suicide bombers in general and Taliban suicide bombers in particular. However, this attack was especially shocking, not just because it brazenly targeted a restaurant known to be popular among foreigners during the busy dinner hour (and when the initial blast didn’t do enough damage, gunmen entered and simply gunned down patrons at their tables), but because those foreigners were in Afghanistan specifically to aid it or bring the world news about it. President Hamid Karzai, in a statement issued almost a day later, condemned the attack, but also made a clear reference to a NATO airstrike a week earlier in a province north of Kabul, saying that foreign troops must “know the difference between victims and terrorists.”

 

It is, from my vantage point, very, very difficult to comprehend either the attack or Karzai’s comments.

In the mid-2000’s, I sought out some pro bono work to add an emotional counterweight to the dizzying profits being made by clients on the commercial real estate financing deals I worked on by day. In early 2005, I came across the Afghan Dental Relief Project, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission it was to provide dentists, dental care, dental supplies, and education to a war-torn country that did not have a single dental school. The ADRP was the brain child of Santa Barbara dentist James G. Rolfe, a singularly dedicated man with an undeniable soft spot for the less-fortunate.

 

After a few telephone conversations with Dr. Rolfe, I drove up to Santa Barbara one afternoon and met with him, his long-time girlfriend, and a handful of other ADRP volunteers. The meeting took place off a dirt road just north of the city on a spit of barren land, where I found Dr. Rolfe and his volunteers all working together on various aspects of renovationsof donated shipping containers. This was hard-core manual labor in which both the skilled and unskilled helped in the process of converting the shipping containers into a multi-room dental clinic, including laboratory areas and x-ray machines. The goal was for the containers to be shipped to Kabul along with several thousand pounds of dental supplies and sit on land to be donated by the Afghan government. The plan was that it would be staffed by a roving roster of ADRP volunteer dentists and staff. These were goals that were far loftier than anyone could then have imagined. After this meeting (as well as a few blisters and an impromptu beer-laden barbeque on the dirt road), I became counsel for the ADRP.

 

For the next eighteen months, I went to a host of meetings in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara attended by various volunteers, fundraisers, American Afghanis, and traveling Afghani diplomats. I worked on a variety of contracts whose end game was the establishment of the ADRP’s clinic and dental school in Kabul. One of the contracts was a land use agreement for vacant land in central Kabul, land which, ostensibly anyway, was to be donated by the Afghanistan Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, in concert with the Afghanistan Ministry of Health and the Afghanistan Ministry of Education.

 

Starting in 2003, Dr. Rolfe made several trips to Kabul at his own expense, and donated countless hours of his time. He was, and remains, an utterly tireless man who has stayed the course true to his convictions, often in the face of odds that would have stopped most mere mortals cold.

 

Once the land use agreement was signed, finishing touches were put on the outfitted containers. Inside these old containers was now a state-of-the-art dental clinic. With tens of thousands of dollars of supplies amassed, and with dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists lined up to volunteer on a rotating basis, the containers and supplies were shipped to Kabul. Once there, construction of the surrounding structures could be commenced and the real work could begin — providing dental care and dental education to Afghanis at no or nominal charge.

 

It was, in three words, an unmitigated disaster. As it turned out, the Afghani officials Dr. Rolfe had negotiated with were more interested in baksheesh (bribery money) and expensive trinkets than in establishing a Western-style clinic, even one that would not have cost them a cent to build and would have provided free, quality dental care to Afghanis. Once the Afghani officials reneged on the land provision, there was nowhere to house the containers and supplies while Dr. Rolfe attempted to secure an alternative site for the clinic. As security was, and remains, a major issue in Afghanistan, Dr. Rolfe then made the heartbreaking and costly decision to have the containers and all of the supplies shipped back to the U.S. It was around this time, in late 2006, that I left the ADRP. Not because I no longer believed in its mission — I will always believe that the provision of healthcare is the cornerstone of any just society — but because trying to do this in Afghanistan at the time, it seemed to me anyway, was utterly futile. If we couldn’t trust the government officials who signed the negotiated agreements, I believed it was hopeless to try to go forward.

 

Fortunately for the Afghani people, in the face of nearly insurmountable odds and having spent nearly all of the ADRP funds and his own personal savings on this endeavor, Dr. Rolfe’s personal ideals and professional goals never waivered. In November 2007, the container clinic and 120,000 pounds of dental supplies arrived once again in Kabul. And in May 2008, the new Dental Clinic of Kabul opened its doors on land next to the Kabul volunteer center, and included a dental training school. However, about a year ago, the ADRP was summarily evicted from this land and at the same time, coincidentally, most of its equipment was stolen. The ADRP then leased temporary space when, six months ago, the municipality of Kabul finally gave the ADRP an acre of land in central Kabul. The new clinic is now ready, except for electricity; the necessary ditches are currently being dug through the brutal Afghan winter, and electricity should be available in the next couple of months. One hopes.

 

What the future holds for the Dental Clinic of Kabul and the volunteer expatriates who serve there on a rotating basis remains to be seen. Of course, I wholeheartedly applaud Dr. Rolfe and the other ADRP volunteers. They are a selfless, completely apolitical group whose sole goal is to make life better and healthier for those far less fortunate than they are. But they and other expatriates need to be guaranteed a reasonable degree of safety while they work and live in the host country in which they choose to serve.

 

This is perhaps what makes this most recent Taliban terrorist act so awful and so disheartening. Becoming yet another casualty of jihad, any jihad, anywhere, serves no humanitarian purpose whatsoever. What is does, though, is to remind us of the most base evil of which humans are capable: indiscriminate killing.

 

Without a doubt, there are far too few men like Dr. Rolfe, and indeed, he shows no sign of slowing down his efforts to bring quality dental care to Afghanistan. In the end, however, expatriates generous of spirit may understandably decide that the personal risks far outweigh any potential good they may accomplish, no matter how desperately they are needed by an impoverished, grateful and war-weary people. And that may be the biggest humanitarian tragedy of all.

You’ve come a long way baby, Part II

Jan. 15, 2014

My article “You’ve come a long way, baby, Part II” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal. This article discussed the great strides women have made in the U.S. military, specifically, the first three women to complete the grueling U.S. Marines combat infantry course. It also discussed the fact the rate among women for heart disease and heart attacks now equals that of men, though women receive less aggressive treatment. Perhaps more importantly, it included an analysis of several other women who have recently become famous and infamous: “Jihad Jane,” “Jihad Jamie” and “The White Widow.” Proof that women will, when given the same opportunities as men, not only engage in precisely the same conduct (with equal number of attendant heart attacks apparently), but also do equally as good a job as men will. To include the good, the bad and the very ugly.

 

Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby. A very long way indeed.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/You’ve_come_a_long_way_baby,_Part_II.pdf

Book Review of The Partner Track

Jan. 9, 2014

Instead of my regular Wednesday weekly article on Cultural Commentary in The L.A. Daily Journal, California’s largest legal daily newspaper, today appeared my book review of The Partner Track, a debut novel by attorney Helen Wan. Wan has done what every first time writer dreams of: written a smart, engaging, fast paced and well-written novel that seeks to educate and enlighten with entertainingly page-turning prose that any reader will enjoy. I would not be at all surprised if this novel gets optioned. Enjoy this good read.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Book_Review_of_The_Partner_Track.pdf

London Book Festival–winner!

Jan. 3, 2014

Well, as 2013 was winding down, I got some pretty nice news: Fifty-Fifty has won the Wild Card category at the London Book Festival!

 

The festival’s prizes are awarded by a panel of publishing industry experts, who looked at “general excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story,” as well as “the potential of the work to gain a wider audience in the worldwide market.” I’m delighted that they felt Fifty-Fifty fit the bill!

 

The awards will be presented during a gala at the British Library in late January. I’m looking forward to it! Learning about this award was a wonderful way to end the year.

 

Happy New Year to everyone–here’s to the clarity of hindsight AND foresight in 2014.

The 2014 London Book Festival

Jan. 25, 2014

I was thrilled to travel to London this week to pick up the Wild Card Category prize that Fifty-Fifty won at the London Book Festival. The ceremony took place at the venerable British Library. Here are a couple of pics from the awards.

 

 

Womenomics, Abenomics and some small talk

Dec. 18, 2013

My article “Womenomics, Abenomics and some small talk” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal. This article discussed Vice-President Biden’s recent gaffe while in Tokyo and visiting DeNA Corporation, Abenomics in general and Womenomics in particular. It also gave a fairly in-depth analysis of some of the fundamental cultural issues in Japan facing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to bring more women back into the work force following childbirth. While Abe’s domestic agenda should certainly be applauded, the obstacles are many. That said, as any good captain knows, it’s very tough to sail a ship employing only half a mast, no matter how big or great that half mast is. In stormy economic weather, all capable hands should be on deck.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Womenomics,_Abenomics_and_some_small_talk.pdf

How much do you really want to know?

Dec. 11, 2013

My article “How much do you really want to know?” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal. This article discussed biomarkers, biotechnology and 23andMe, the innovative personal genomics company located in Mountain View, CA, whose operations were recently suspended by the FDA. There was also a brief history on the FDA. Bottom line is that our laws have simply not kept up with the speed of the science they seek to regulate. My money, however, is on 23andMe.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/How_much_do_you_really_want_to_know?.pdf

Fifty-Fifty wins a place in “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” contest!

Dec. 11, 2013

I was delighted to learn this just today!-JLK

 

Julie L. Kessler, author of Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight, will appear in the 2013-2014 edition of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading,” a publication of TheAuthorShow.com.

 

Julie L. Kessler has moved from finalist to the status of winner in the contest sponsored and created by The Author Show.

 

Julie was chosen as a result of a public voting process. Her work, entitled Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight offers a warm, moving, and at times tearfully funny account of growing up in Hawaii and California as the child of a single mother, acquired a love for travel at a very early age, and struck out on her own after her mother’s death when Julie was 21, largely alone in the world. The book follows her through her exploration of family ties in Israel and Europe (including those with her elusive father), her discovery of the language, food, and magic of France, reflects on her time living in Japan, her encounters with Hill Tribe women in the mountainous countryside of Vietnam – and her chance encounter with the son of a conman whose path she’d unwittingly crossed before . . . .

 

The winners were announced on The Author Show website on December 5, 2013.

Time to reflect on the recent past

Dec. 4, 2013

My article "Time to reflect on the recent past"appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal.

 

This article discusses the seemingly never-ending epidemic of mass shootings around the world (Westgate Mall in Nariobi, Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Sandy Hook in Conn., Aurora, Colo., Oslo, Norway) and how we attempt to deal with such unmitigated horrors. It also discusses the NRA’s position, Wayne LaPierre’s rhetoric and the apparent new normal in which we now live.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Time_to_reflect_on_the_recent_past.pdf

You’ve come a long way, baby

Nov. 27, 2013

My article “You’ve come a long way, baby” appeared in today’s edition of The Los Angeles Daily Journal.

 

This article analyzed the news last week about the first three women ever: Pfc Julie Carroll, Christina Fuentes Montenegro and Katie Gorz, who successfully completed the punishing U.S. Marine Corps infantry course, and what this means respecting the final frontier of complete integration of women into the U.S. military. Indeed, you’ve come a long way, baby. Semper fi.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/You’ve_come_a_long_way,_baby.pdf

How well do you really know your partners?

Nov. 20, 2013

My article How well do you really know your partners? appeared in today’s edition of The Los Angeles Daily Journal. This article reviewed a legal case eerily similar to Frank Abagnale in “Catch me if you can,” but with a truly terrible twist. In this case, the defendant is a man who alleged to all who knew him that he was a physician who served in Vietnam and had earned a bravery commendation, among other fictions. The truth is he was a complete fraud. He was never a physician, nor was he ever in Vietnam. He is however now standing accused of murdering his girlfriend on October 26, 2011 in Beverly Hills. The single mother was stabbed so many times in her apartment that she was nearly decapitated. The defendant stated to his therapist that very same day in 2011 that “I think I killed my girlfriend.” At arraignment the defendant pled not guilty. He is due back in court later this month when the trial will finally be scheduled. Stay tuned.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/How_well_do_you_really_know_your_partners?.pdf

Peter Principle and the story of Stephen Glass

Nov. 13, 2013

My article Peter Principle and the story of Stephen Glass appeared in today’s edition of The Los Angeles Daily Journal. This article reviews the California Supreme Court consideration of whether Glass, infamous because of his journalistic fictions passed as non-fiction and the great lengths he went to in order to create them, should now be admitted to the California bar. The final decision will be rendered by the highest court in the state in just under three months.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Peter_Principle_and_the_story_of_Stephen_Glass.pdf

Fifty-Fifty makes finalists’ list in The Authors’ Show competition

Nov. 7, 2013

I was really pleased to receive notice today that my book Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight is among the finalists  in The Authors’ Show‘s ’50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading’ competition. Thanks to everyone who got me there!

The horticulture of rape

Nov. 7, 2013

My article "The horticulture of rape" appeared in yesterday’s edition of The LA Daily Journal. This article reviewed a recent criminal sentencing of a half-dozen gang rapists of a 16-year-old girl in Kenya. The sentence the rapists received from the Kenyan court was to mow the lawn of the local police station. Public beautification in exchange for child rape. The article went on to review a likewise unbelievable 30-day rape sentence in a Montana case where a 49-year-old teacher raped a 14-year-old child, a girl not even old enough to possess a learner’s permit to drive her mother’s car. The sentence is now on appeal. Stay tuned.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/The_horticulture_of_rape.pdf

Practice…if you can get to the courthouse

Oct. 30, 2013

My article "Practiceif you can get to the courthouse," which covered the historically groundbreaking move of the Saudi Arabian Minister of Justice that granted the first four Saudi women licenses to practice law in the kingdom, appeared on the front page of yesterday’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal. The article also discussed in detail the irony of this historic event in light of the fact that women in the kingdom still do not possess the right to drive themselves to the courthouse where they may now finally enter. Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are not issued driver’s licenses.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Practice…if_you_can_get_to_the_courthouse.pdf

A lovely honor from the Isaac Brock Society

Oct. 28, 2013

As you may know, I recently wrote about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in an article that appeared on October 18th in the Los Angeles Daily Journal. The Isaac Brock Society, a group of “individuals who are concerned about the treatment by the United States government of U.S. persons who live in Canada and abroad,” has awarded me a place in its Hall of Fame for this piece. While I was not aware of the Society before having written this article, I was very pleased to learn of the award. The unintended ramifications of FATCA for Americans living abroad–and, in some cases, their spouses and dependents, even if those people aren’t American citizens–are serious, and I am glad that my article has helped to raise awareness of the Act and its collateral effects.

The expats’ dilemma–article published in the L.A. Daily Journal

Oct. 24, 2013

An article I wrote on the impact of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) on U.S. citizens living abroad was picked up for publication by the Los Angeles Daily Journal and appeared in its October 18, 2013 edition. I’m very pleased to have my work appear in the LADJ, the premier legal publication on the west coast. The LADJ  is a subscriber newspaper in both its print and on-line formats; however, the article is now off copyright, and you may read it below:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/The_expats’_dilemma–article_published_in_the_L.pdf

The college conundrum

Oct. 23, 2013

The November 1st deadline for early-decision college applications is fast approaching. Thankfully, the two remaining teen people — Irish twins — who live in our home and for some odd reason keep calling us Mom and Dad have both completed their college essays and supplemental information, and have turned everything in with eight days to spare. In terms of earthly miracles, and setting aside the ten plagues visited upon Pharaoh, that’s on par with the parting of the Red Sea by Moses himself. Getting something done and sent in before the deadline is, for a teenager, the equivalent of a Herculean sprint. Now, however, is the real test: the mad marathon to hurry up and wait for the finish line — the acceptance letters. Which, of course, in reality, represents only the starting gate for their respective futures.

 

And what a process it is. There are the AP course exams, the PSAT testing, the SAT test and the SAT subject tests. Then there is the CommonApp (which this year was replete with blood-pressure-busting techno-errors), the general essays, the specific university essays, arranging for teacher and academic counselor recommendation letters, and on and on and on. The last few months of their lives have been utterly consumed with drafts, rewrites, computer glitches, Office Depot runs, and the requisite Starbucks pit-stops to refuel. This was all in addition to their regular senior workloads, hospital volunteer work for one, portfolio accumulation for the other, club fund-raising, babysitting, and tutoring gigs, with a bi-weekly or so reminder to us of their respective names, since they were spotted upright only on rare late-night refrigerator raids. Our teenaged daughter actually gets less sleep than I do, and I hardly get any, so I have no real understanding of how she manages to get the grades she does and cram all of the activities and commitments she has into her conscious hours without keeling over; this is apparently the province of the young and hormonally over-endowed.

 

Such is the final year of the early-21st-century high school senior—incredibly busy, neurotically competitive, and a more than a bit chaotic. My husband and I have often commented on how much more insane it is now then when we were approaching the end of high school back in the dark ages, long before cell phones, computers, and social media invaded our universe. (For those of you under 30 and wondering how we survived, I had a behemoth IBM Correcting Selectric — the very mother of all electric typewriters—and my husband, who is still today is a proud two-fingered typist, had a Dictaphone and a perpetual roll of dimes for the payphone!)

 

Now it also seems that the idea of college discovery and the fostering of one’s passion has been replaced with the concept that a student’s passion must already be fully developed and, as a practical matter, wholly realized before he or she even gets to university. How can that be? How on earth can a 17-year-old possibly know, much less be absolutely resolute about, what precisely is his or her calling? When did things change so drastically?

 

I suppose I will really sound like a T. rex here, but it used to be that the whole point of going off to university was to uncover, discover, and polish what it was that floated your boat. Not so any more. With the competition as fierce as it is, high-school seniors today not only have to have their personal road maps and necessary prerequisites firmly in place, but also have to compete with kids who have discovered new diagnostic methods for pancreatic cancer screenings (as seen last week on 60 Minutes), climbed Kilimanjaro earning the trip’s expenses through massive on-line fundraising via kickstarter, or spent the last four years manning (or rather womaning) the telephones at a community rape crisis center.

 

These are all, of course, wonderful and commendable, but it seems that something has gotten lost along the way. Sometimes you need to just be, to explore and question in order to find your real passion and your place. To take courses in foreign languages because they tickle your tongue’s fancy, to study literature because it feeds your soul, to learn history because as a society we make the same damned mistakes over and over and over again anyway, to understand world religions so one can grasp the genesis of so many of those mistakes, to study ethics so we can think about the vexing problems we face, and of course to study the arts so we can fully appreciate humanity’s enormous contributions to the beauty that surrounds us, despite the gargantuan problems that plague us.

 

As a parent I am hopeful (okay—on my knees, lost in resolute prayer) that these two remaining at home are competitive enough so that they will get into one of their top choice schools (if for no other reason than to end the seemingly never-ending conversation on the topic that threatens the very vestiges of what remains of my sanity).

Then, of course, will come the next huge hurdle: getting a job.

 

The anemic job market these young people will probably face when it comes time for them to seek employment means that the markets will disproportionately recompense those who graduate in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). There are countless studies reminding us practically daily of how far and how fast we in America are falling behind our counterparts in Europe and Asia in these arenas. I don’t doubt this, especially given the state of many public schools in the U.S., and the over all standardized test scores seem to prove it.

 

As a parent who wishes the front door of our home to be open for meals, holidays, and family gatherings, I also wish not to manage a perpetual boarding house into my own retirement at the ripe young age of 106. So of course I wish for them to find rewarding jobs after university that will not only feed their souls, but also pay their mortgages (and hefty student loans). So while medicine, business, and computers will probably do the latter, I truly hope they will have a shot at the former by having the opportunity to study the humanities in depth while at university. What is sometimes lost in the translation of the books-for-bucks mentality is that the humanities provide an essential context for students’ understanding of and participation in the world. The next generation of leaders in a world connected at virtually the push of a button will require not just a desire to be part of the shared common experience, but also a worldly perspective born of curiosity, intelligence and sensitivity. Those traits come from, among other things, the ability to think and express those ideas by connecting with one another emotionally, and by grasping and understanding cultures, histories, languages, and stories different from our own. And without a thorough study of the humanities and the balance those studies provide to the STEM fields, we will all be poorer, even if the mortgage gets paid.

 

So while one of the Irish twins hopes to be a physician, and the other a business-oriented computer maven, this parent hopes that the humanities will be explored with the same fervor as the mad race for the dwindling possibility of the proverbial brass ring. Cogito, ergo sum.