Julie L. Kessler
lawyer traveler writer

News

From whine to wine

Mar. 18, 2015

Below you’ll find the link to my article on Temecula’s wine region, which appeared in the March 15, 2015 edition of The LA Times, Sunday Travel Section.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/california/la-tr-d-temecula-escape-20150315-story.html

The Fatality of Morality

Mar. 14, 2015

Much has been discussed over the last several days about the sentencing last Friday of Marguerite Vuong, and her husband Michael Vuong, both 67, in the fatal hit-and-run in Pacific Palisades, California of 23-year-old David Pregerson, an aspiring filmmaker who was the son of Federal District Court Judge Dean Pregerson and grandson of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson.

 

Superior Court Judge Kathryn Solorzano sentenced Marguerite to three years in prison and Michael to one year and probation. By most accounts, a very fair sentence, given the gravity of the crime.

 

The facts of the case were fairly straightforward. David was walking home intoxicated following a Christmas party around 3 a.m. Marguerite, on her way to her job at the Palisades postal annex, fatally hit David, left him in the street, and then reported to work as usual. She continued her silence for several months while the ongoing investigation was reported in the local newspaper which was distributed at the sorting station where she worked.

 

And it gets worse. When the police finally tracked Marguerite’s car to her west side home, and she was brought to the station for questioning, a hidden recording reflected that she told her husband to take the blame, to “just lie, don’t admit anything.” Ultimately, Marguerite pleaded no contest to hit-and-run, and Michael pleaded no contest to being an accessory after-the-fact.

 

The defense portrayed the Vuongs as an honest, law-abiding couple who made one mistake, albeit a really enormous one.

 

It is impossible to grasp the magnitude of the moral anorexia that would cause one to hit another human being with one’s car, and then, with complete disregard for that life, immediately flee the scene. Even if one suffered a momentary lapse of civilized moral judgment, say, due to emergent shock or trauma, to then stay silent for three months and work daily in the post office in the same part of town where the crime occurred, and then tell one’s spouse to lie and take the blame when the police came calling, is so morally bereft that it simply defies any notion of human decency.

 

That said, the defense continuously noted that the Vuongs’ fled Vietnam right before the fall of Saigon, immigrated to America, and raised three children of their own, all of whom became productive citizens. At first blush, that information seems totally irrelevant to the crime. As if surviving wartime Vietnam somehow excuses the criminal behavior which ensued three decades later. No amount of suffering, no matter how egregious or long-sustained, can ever excuse the Vuongs’ continuing morality lapse, even one year after the Vietnam war ended, much less thirty years later. What the Vuongs’ background does, though, other than to reflect the fact that this terrible incident was a first offense, is to perhaps, ever so marginally, partially explain it, so as to possibly permit a modicum of healing. More on that in a minute.

 

As a parent, my heart completely shatters for the Pregerson family. They displayed an inordinate amount of compassion when seeking the person(s) responsible for their devastating heartbreak, and were far more patient than most mortals would have been in the same circumstances. The Pregersons suffered the very worst possible parental nightmare from which there is no rest. Not for a moment. Not ever.

 

As the only-American born child of two immigrant parents (though from a different corner of the globe with different wars and different sufferings), my heart also aches for the Vuongs’ children, who must now live with a truly horrible, and to a great extent, inexplicable legacy that will mark them forever.

 

The vast majority of us lucky enough to have been born in the United States are raised with a general level of trust in our institutions and the basic ideals of a democratic and representative government. We are taught to believe that to participate meaningfully in our society, we must engage and must vote, and that our votes count and matter. And despite some well-known and well-publicized lapses of our police forces across the nation over the years (1965 Selma, 1967 Detroit riots, 1992 L.A. riots, 2014 Ferguson, etc.), while we can certainly question the conduct of our men and women in uniform, we are nevertheless taught as children to respect them.

 

These principles, however, are not, and should not, be solely in the purview of, or unique to, those born on American soil. Naturalized Americans, who by virtue of war, asylum, lottery, refugee status (as in my father’s case), or blind luck (as in my mother’s case), who are fortunate enough to acquire U.S. citizenship, owe America and its citizens a firm and continuing commitment to those basic ideals. One should not reap the benefits of American citizenship — including many years working as a civil servant in the postal service, as Marguerite did — and live here for decades with the same level of distrust, fear of authorities, and sense of institutionalized corruption as if still living on the banks of the Mekong of the early 70’s.

 

To be sure, the moral lapse displayed by the Vuongs’ hit-and-run is not unique to naturalized citizens who originally hail from corrupt, communist, or non-democratic countries. Last year in Los Angeles alone, 27 people were killed by hit-and-run drivers, and 144 people were severely wounded. While I can’t be certain of the citizenship status of those drivers, logic would dictate that the majority of them were native-born citizens.

 

I’ve spent a substantial amount of time in Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia. Until one has spent a significant amount of time in the region, it is nearly impossible to grasp fully how the vast differences in government and daily life affect almost every aspect of one’s existence: the extent and pervasiveness of corruption, the permeation of greed born of poverty and suffering, the necessity of paying bribes, the constant need to try to be invisible to avoid the often unfair ire of authorities. From bribes to get one’s child into a “public” school, or or to acquire working papers or other necessary documents, to the lengthy disappearances of those wanted for questioning by the authorities, or even more blatant and overt institutional corruption — it’s everywhere, and it’s frustrating, debilitating, frightening, and often life-threatening. How much the Vuongs’ personal history played into their willingness to fatally hit a young man, then stay silent, and then attempt a cover up, only they can know.

 

Again, none of that begins to excuse the Vuongs’ conduct in the aftermath of the hit-and-run. It does not and never will.

 

However, I posit that it is still very important to attempt to understand the Vuongs’ cultural context, born of their personal history, in order to make some sense of the utterly inexplicable. Although understanding a cultural need to be silent, invisible, and even to lie and cover up will never act as a salve, result in a plausible excuse, or take away any of the ensuing pain and the great suffering of those tragically affected, it might allow the victims some small bit of healing. For this reason alone, that exercise is worthwhile.

Conquering Colombia

Mar. 9, 2015

My article “Conquering Colombia” appeared on the front page of The Honolulu Star-Advertiser's, Sunday Travel Section. Below is the link to the article and photos:

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

World Book Day

Mar. 5, 2015

Today is World Book Day, so pick up a new book by an author you haven’t read before, or a genre new to you or read about somewhere you haven’t been and enjoy being an armchair traveler. Better yet, read to a child and let their imaginations soar. Happy World Book Day! 

http://www.worldbookday.com

Colorful Colombia: Bogota, Zipaquira, Nemecon, Guatavita & Cartagena

Mar. 4, 2015

I have returned to the U.S. from a fabulous eleven days experiencing Colombia. This travel article will soon appear in the travel section of The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. I will post the link to the on-line version of the print article as soon as it goes to press.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Part III

Feb. 6, 2015

My article, “You’ve come a long way, baby: Part III” appeared in today’s edition of The Los Angeles Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal. This article discusses the increase of women terrorists, reviews new research that debunks old theories of the impressionable shrinking violet, and gives a brief historical perspective on the “Red Queen of Terror” and her ilk.

 

The playwright William Congreve wrote “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That may be true; but truer still, one should never underestimate the power of a woman. Especially, one donning an explosives-laden vest.

 

You’ve come a long way, baby. Indeed.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

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

The murderous cost of free speech. Je suis et nous sommes Charlie Hebdo

Jan. 9, 2015

My article "The murderous cost of free speech" appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal and The S.F Daily Journal. This article focused on the terrorist execution of 11 journalists at the Right Bank offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday and what it means for France and its secular mandate of laicité, separation of church and state, and the French identité.

 

May rational thinkers everywhere prevail. In’shalah.

 

At the very same time, Vive la France.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/The_murderous_cost_of_free_speech._Je_suis_et_nous.pdf

Modern-day slavery in Qatar

Dec. 17, 2014

My article "World Cup, courtesy of modern slavery" discusses the indentured servitude of thousands of South Asian migrant workers in furtherance of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and appears in today’s edition of The LA Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Modern-day_slavery_in_Qatar.pdf

Death with dignity

Nov. 19, 2014

My article “The basic right to die with dignity” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal. This article discussed the Pope’s recent comments to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, comments by the Vatican’s most senior bioethics officials, the recent physician-assisted death with dignity case of 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard in Oregon (where it is legal), and Monday’s unanimous passage of California’s first resolution supporting dying with dignity by the West Hollywood City Council. Hopefully this passage in West Hollywood will result in a catalyst for statewide legislation that will guaranty a most basic right – to die with dignity – if one is faced with a terminal illness.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

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

On safari in Kenya, safe from Ebola and reveling in nature’s splendor

Nov. 15, 2014

Below is the link for my article on Kenya which appeared in today’s edition of The Los Angeles Times, Sunday Travel Section. It appears both in print and on-line with several of my original photographs. Happy reading.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-d-safari-20141116-story.html#page=1

Ebola’s Impact on East African Safari Industry

Nov. 13, 2014

My article on Ebola’s impact on the East African safari industry will appear in The Los Angeles Times Travel Section this coming Sunday, November 16, 2014. The article will cover my recent travel to Kenya.

The tribal divide – protecting women against FGM

Nov. 7, 2014

My article “Despite Progress, challenges remain in fight to end FGM” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal.

 

The article covered my interview two weeks ago in Kenya of Naomi S., a 23-year-old Maasai woman who was a victim, at age 11, of female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite that FGM is now illegal in Kenya – since 2011 – the rate of FGM among Maasai women is 73 percent. Over 125 million women have been victims of FGM in the 29 countries in which it is concentrated.

 

A few days after I left Kenya, on Oct. 30, UN chief Ban Ki-moon launched a global campaign to end “within our generation,” the often deadly FGM. Here’s hoping.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/The_tribal_divide_–_protecting_women_against_FGM.pdf

Interview of a lifetime

Nov. 3, 2014

While in Kenya last week I had the interview of a lifetime. I was able to interview a 23-year-old Masai victim of female genital mutilation (FGM), which occurred in her village when she was 11. She is adamant that her three-year-old daughter will not suffer the same ordeal she did despite family and village pressure in the Masai Mara region.

 

Progress. One woman at a time.

 

I am finishing up an article on FGM and this woman’s incredible story, which shall appear next week in The L.A. Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal.

Potential China movie deal

Nov. 3, 2014

While in East Africa last week on assignment, I was informed by my publisher that my book Fifty-Fifty is currently under consideration for a movie deal in China. Now THAT would be something.

The NFL and Ravens debacle

Sep. 15, 2014

My article on the NFL/Ravens morass and morality clauses in talent contracts will appear in tomorrow’s edition of The Los Angeles Daily Journal.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

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

Lingering in Laos: Mind and spirit in harmony

Sep. 14, 2014

Below is the link to my article on Laos and a selection of photographs which appeared in The L.A. Times, Sunday Travel Section. Happy reading and Bon voyage:

http://www.latimes.com/travel/asia/la-tr-d-laos-20140914-story.html#page=1

Travel article on Laos to appear in The Los Angeles Times

Sep. 10, 2014

My travel article on Laos will appear in the September 14, 2014 edition of The Los Angeles Times, Sunday Travel Section. It will cover my recent journey to the world heritage city of Luang Prabang and the capital of Vientiane and will include a selection of the photographs taken there. Happy reading and Bon Voyage.

Beijing International Book Festival 2014

Aug. 16, 2014

I am pleased to report that my book Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight will be on offer to Chinese publishers at the Beijing International Book Festival taking place in Beijing at the end of August.

Cambodia’s and California’s awful traffic…of humans

Jul. 17, 2014

My article entitled “Cambodia’s and California’s awful traffic…of humans” appeared in today’s edition of The L.A. Daily Journal and The S.F. Daily Journal. The stories and statistics are shocking, human trafficking is a $150 billion annual industry. Far more in revenue than IBM and Microsoft. Combined.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

https://www.vagabondlawyer.com/uploads/News/Cambodia’s_and_California’s_awful_traffic…of.pdf

Health care in Cambodia

Jul. 10, 2014

I’m currently traveling in Asia on a writing assignment. My article “The hopeful cadence of Cambodia’s health care struggle” appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal yesterday, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. If you are a subscriber to the LADJ, you may wish to have a look at it. And remind yourself of how fortunate we in the U.S. are, whatever the state of the health care debate is right now.

 

Full article off copyright and now available:

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