We returned from New York to a couple of local stories making national news.

The first was the wildfire in Butte County that killed at least 85 people and incinerated the town of Paradise. We were nowhere near the flames, and our suffering was negligible compared to those who were. But for at least one day, we breathed the worst air in the world — worse than Beijing’s even — as the fierce, dry winds blew the smoke our way. The Air Quality Index exceeded 200, dangerous even for healthy people. Here is what a nearby intersection looks like on a normal day:

And here is what it looked like during the firestorm:

The smoke was an unsettling sensory experience. It limited sight. It dominated smell. And it muted sound, dropping an eerie hush over the Bay Area, in part because few people ventured outside.

I couldn’t help myself; I went running twice in the bad air. Each time I used a popular trail, yet encountered just two other runners over three miles. (A few bicyclists and dog walkers were also out, most of them wearing masks.) By contrast, during my first run after the air cleared, I encountered five other runners in the first quarter-mile.

The second Bay Area-based story was the November 19 order by Ninth Circuit Federal Court Judge Jon Tigar granting an organization called East Bay Sanctuary Covenant a temporary — but nationwide — restraining order against the Trump Administration’s policy of accepting asylum requests only from immigrants who cross the border at an official port of entry.

I spent a lot of time in Judge Tigar’s courtroom when he sat on the Alameda County Superior Court bench. Judge Tigar (pronounced like the big cat) is very smart, very fair, and possessed of ideal judicial temperament: calm, reflective, pleasant but not effusive, firm but not inflexible. I’m not just saying that because we won a trial he presided over. His 37-page decision is methodical and detailed — plus I couldn’t find a single typo. He’s scheduled a December 19 hearing for the Trump Administration’s lawyers to talk him out of making the restraining order permanent.

I doubt they will succeed, either with him, the full Ninth Circuit, or the Supreme Court. The order is careful, not political, and it’s based on a plain reading of the law, 8 United States Code § 1158(a)(1), which states that “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival . . .) may apply for asylum . . .” [italics mine]

Nonetheless, Trump attributed Tigar’s order to politics, belittling Tigar as “an Obama judge” (as if that’s a bad thing) because Obama promoted Tigar to the federal bench. Chief Justice — and George W. Bush appointee — John Roberts took the extraordinary step of publicly reproaching Trump: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

I don’t think Roberts said that solely to defend Tigar. I think he also was signaling to Trump and his lawyers that if they thought Kavanaugh’s elevation meant they now have five Supreme Court votes to do whatever they want, guess again.

Which would clear a different kind of smoke that’s been blowing our way for two years.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.