The waitress at my favorite Japanese restaurant, a spotlessly clean little joint in a Sonoma County hamlet not far from my home, had no idea what she was getting into as she took the order.  Two unremarkable looking customers had walked in the door: one an older, rather prissy-looking man with wire-rim glasses, and the other a slightly louche-looking 20-something guy wearing blue jeans and a lumberjack-checked shirt.  As they perused the menu and made their choices, there was no hint of what was to come, although she should have suspected it, given the times we are living in.  “Would you like anything to drink?” she asked, and they both ordered beer—the delightfully bitter Japanese beer that is a specialty of the place.  After asking for identification—the younger man looked as if he had only started shaving—and seeing all was seemingly in order, the waitress went back to the kitchen to get their drinks.  Upon returning, she served them with the unobtrusive elegance that is the peculiar mark of Japanese civility.

And so the trap was sprung.

The older man smiled a greasy smile as he whipped out a card identifying himself as an agent of the local constabulary, while his young companion looked on in admiration.  “I’m afraid you’re in violation of the regulations,” he said.  “And this is the second time!”

The waitress stood stock-still as the other customers—the place is always crowded—looked at the scene unfolding before their eyes.

“You’re supposed to examine all identification with a magnifying glass,” the man said, rising.  North of six feet, he loomed over the diminutive waitress like a bear about to pounce on its helpless victim.  He stood there lecturing her for what seemed like eternity, as the owner—a hardworking young Japanese immigrant, who had struggled for years to build his now-thriving business—stood behind the counter, watching in disbelief.

It turned out that the identification produced by both of these shady “customers” was fake, although both were of drinking age.  Local regulations specify that identification produced by all customers must be examined with a magnifying glass.  Failure to do so results in a $1,000 fine.

An American might have gotten angry at this point and given that cretin a piece of her mind, but this is a Japanese lady for whom talking back to anyone in authority is practically unthinkable.  She just stood there, head bowed, utterly humiliated, silent and occasionally stealing a glance at the owner, who had been slicing their fine fresh red-tuna sushi and now stood open-mouthed and doubtless seething, although he didn’t dare show his anger.

A year ago two “customers” had come in and pulled the same stunt, letting him off with a warning.  This time there was no warning: He had to pay.

Conservatives have lately become enamored of what they call “localism,” a somewhat vague vision of a Jeffersonian democracy of neighbors and friends deciding among themselves to leave one another largely alone, thus avoiding the entanglements of a distant authority.  In the real world, however, localism often morphs into the tyranny of the near, and this is certainly the case in my neighborhood, in the heart of “wine country.”  And it isn’t just restaurant owners who are under the gun: Vineyards, too—the biggest source of jobs and tourism—are feeling the lash.

I live just outside of the city limits of Sebastopol, a town big on pretensions and bereft of common sense.  It’s a rural version of Berkeley, where the city council has declared the place a “nuclear-free zone,” and not a single Republican lives within its precincts.  The other day the council passed a resolution opposing the construction of a new vineyard down the street from my house, on an old abandoned farm that hasn’t been tilled in ages.  They have no jurisdiction there, but that hasn’t stopped them from butting in.  Their crankish resistance to anything new is well known, and such sentiments are very widespread in these parts.  Every new housing development, every new business, is faced with vehement opposition from the no-growth no-account Luddites who dominate the local scene.

No, no, no!  You can’t do that!  This is the spirit and unspoken slogan of the aging hippies who live here, and it applies to everything.  No smoking: Antismoking ordinances are taking hold in every town.  No watering your lawn: Don’t you know there’s a drought on?  There’s even an ordinance against leaf-blowers: too noisy.  Nothing must disturb the peace of the almost-dead.

Almost no new housing has been built in the county for years—too hard to get a permit—and, while opposing any development, the same people are whining about a lack of “affordable housing.”  Speaking of housing, the city of Petaluma has just banned Airbnb, the online rent-a-vacation-home operation, from doing business there.  It seems people trying to make their mortgage payments have been renting to tourists, using the innovative service to bring “strangers” into town.  “We don’t know who these people are,” said one old bat at a town hearing on the matter, “and they’re coming into our neighborhoods!”  Not that it’s any of her business, but that’s the horrific essence of localist tyranny: Under the iron rule of our wonderful “neighbors,” it is her business.

To heck with localism!  If I have to choose between competing tyrannies, give me the one most distant from my home.  At least its agents are unlikely to leave their comfortable offices in order to enforce their regulations in person—and it will be much easier to evade their prying eyes.