by Justice William W. Bedsworth
You probably weren’t here for the splendid pyrotechnics that surrounded the creation of my court in the early eighties. Too bad. The political fireworks and legal light show that surrounded the birth of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 3, were worth the price of admission.
I give a pretty entertaining speech about it, but it’s rarely heard. Turns out telling someone looking for a speaker, “I’ve got just the speech for you; it’s a political history of our division of the Court of Appeal,” is a good way to dodge a public speaking request. The awkward silence that follows that statement and precedes the caller’s request to “Let me get back to you,” is slightly longer than a Chopin etude and—in its own way—almost as entertaining.
All I need to tell you about it today1 is that one of the battlegrounds was books. That’s right, books. While the words “library” and “battlefield” rarely show up in the same sentence, this is one of those times.2
In the eighties, the cost of a full law library—especially one for four judges and a gaggle of research attorneys—was a substantial chunk of cash. Republicans and Democrats fought all the way to our Supreme Court about how and by whom the court’s law library would be financed.
Thirty-seven years later, those books line our walls and hallways. In other courts, they are stacked under the judge’s bench to provide bulletproofing.3 They are no longer the alpha and omega of legal research. More like the alpha and omega of law office decorating.
We still subscribe to the book-form reporters because we have dinosaurs like me who can find cases online, but have difficulty reading them that way.4 But if we were starting up a new court today, books would not be a big expense.
I don’t know what it costs to set up a modern electronic law library. But I know that Time has marched past Earl Warren’s law library and into Judge Dredd’s.
Time is also ushering the pen and legal pad into obsolescence. I first came to the Court of Appeal on assignment in 1994. The late great Dave Sills suggested it would be a good chance for me to acquaint myself with word processing since the pace at the DCA would be slower than at the Superior Court.
I resisted. I dunno, I guess I thought I was Faulkner. He always insisted he needed the pen in his hand to write. And Hank Williams—another great southern writer I admire—said he didn’t write his songs: “I just hold the pen and God sends them through.” While I never blamed the deity for my work, I thought Williams had recognized the “pen as lightning rod” approach, and I liked it, too.
That was half a lifetime ago, and it’s hard for me to imagine now that my ego was that big.5 But I did feel I was better with a pen and pad than I would be at a word processor.
Fortunately, Dave “suggested” it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity, and I concluded the last thing I needed was to have the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal consider me foolish. So the research attorneys and judicial assistants—amidst much weeping and gnashing of teeth—taught me to process words instead of just writing them.
So for the last thirty-five years, I’ve turned out all my prose at a keyboard. And since only my wife sees my poetry, everything I get paid for is done at a keyboard. And the research required, be it for opinions or for this column, is also done with keystrokes.
Accordingly, I have more than a passing interest in computers. Better software, better hardware, artificial intelligence . . . when there are advances in technology, I want to know about them—at least insofar as they relate to something other than wiping out virtual lifeforms in Manhunt 2 or Bulletstorm.
So this sentence in the business section of a local paper caught my attention: “Apple Inc. started selling its new Mac Pro desktop computer Tuesday, complete with eye-watering pricing options that can push the cost north of $50,000.”
My eyes watered.
$50,000?! American?? These aren’t Liberian dollars we’re talking about?
Yep. “Fully loaded, the computer costs more than $52,000, and that’s excluding the optional $400 wheels for easily moving the machine around an office.” That entire sentence is a quote from the Los Angeles For Crying Out Loud Times. The last clause—about the wheels—is not something I made up. I’m not that funny.6
For nine trashbags full of money, you get four terabytes of memory. Eight terabytes will be available soon.
This is, of course, not stop-the-presses news for those of us who don’t know a bit from a byte and have no idea what the prefix “tera-” means. And we are only vaguely disappointed to learn that “a version of the Mac Pro designed to be racked in data centers . . . will launch later.”
For $52,000 it should literally launch. It should be communicating with NASA from somewhere around the Van Allen Belt.
The whole thing is pretty much terrifying7 to me. There are desktop computers out there that cost more than my car? I mean, for $52,000, I could buy a very nice laptop like the one I’m using now, a very nice car—with wheels—and a guy to drive me around while I use the computer.
What in the world does this thing do? What does it allow you to do?
I mean, I know I’m not the target audience. I’m sure the focus group they used to help them set this price included no English majors.
But what did the engineers, scientists, intelligence operatives, sabermetric geeks, X-Men, and Avengers who were in that group have in mind? What could you do with a $52,000 computer—one that can barely be moved around your office without using the $400-extra wheels—that you can’t do with my laptop, Lincoln, and chauffeur?
And before you try to answer that question, before you sit down to write the supercilious email explaining computers to the poor Luddite American lit major, add this one last attribute to your picture of the 52K Mac Pro: It has no display.
According to the Times, “The Mac Pro does not include a display. Apple put a new Pro Display XDR on sale Thursday for $4,999.”
I love my computers. My office computer, my home desktop, my laptop . . . love ‘em all. They make my life better every day.
But they all came with displays. I might love them less without displays. And I certainly would love them less if I had to spend $5K to get a display.8
Oh, one last thing about the Mac Pro. “[A] stand to hold the new monitor would cost an extra $999.” A stand.
I may go back to pen and pad. And I’m certainly not giving up my books. I’m not spending $52,000 for a computer until they come out with the Hank Williams model—the one God speaks through.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.