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25 Nov 2016
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The documentary The Bad Kids begins as a probation officer follows up on a young man named Joseph McGee. McGee tells the officer that his father is currently serving time in prison, and that he’s having problems showing up to school. Soon, his mother—sitting across from McGee and the officer—begins sobbing and says she’s done everything she can—including taking away his bedroom door so she can keep a better eye on him. The probation officer asks McGee what he wants out of life. He’s then shown enrolling in Yucca Valley’s Black Rock High School—the subject of this powerful film by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe. During a recent phone interview, Black Rock’s principal, Vonda Viland, described the kids who come to Black Rock High School, an alternative school that’s part of the state’s Continuation Education program. “Ninety percent of our students live below the poverty level,” Viland said. “They are…
23 Nov 2016
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There is a tropical garden up in the most unlikely of places—the high desert—that grows orchids, by the thousands. I discovered it by pure chance while on another assignment in Landers, located north of Yucca Valley about 55 miles from Palm Springs. As I drove on Belfield Boulevard, I saw dozens of cars in a busy parking lot next to a huge tent-like structure. I thought it might have been a celebrity wedding—but instead, it was the largest orchid nursery I’d ever seen. I grabbed my camera and started taking photos of the gorgeous orchids—and didn’t stop until I went through tens of thousands of square feet of absolute botanical beauty owned by Gubler Orchids company. It was a true photographers’ paradise. Any horticultural expert will tell you that orchids are among most elegant, most expensive and most sought-out flowers. It’s a fact that Charles Darwin was doing research on…
13 Oct 2016
Throughout its 40-year history, Project Censored has covered a lot of ground that the corporate mainstream media has missed. Begun by Carl Jensen, a sociology professor at California’s Sonoma State University shortly after Watergate in 1976, it’s become an institution involving dozens of faculty members and institutions working together to come up with an annual list of the Top 25 Censored Stories of the Year. The Watergate burglary in June 1972 “sparked one of the biggest political cover-ups in modern history,” Jensen later recalled. “And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the coverup.” “Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues, and second, the news media sometimes indulge in self-censorship,” he said. As with the Watergate story, these Project Censored stories aren’t censored in the overt, heavy-handed manner of an authoritarian dictatorship, but in…
07 Oct 2016
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Up on a plateau in the High Desert, about 50 miles north of Palm Springs in a small town called Landers, there’s a domed structure that’s been attracting buzz since the 1950s. Its builder was George Van Tassel, a UFOlogist, aviator and businessman who claimed that an alien from outer space, speaking in perfect English, told him how to build the structure back in 1953. Van Tassel named it the Integraton. According to writings by Van Tassel, who authored four books—including I Rode a Flying Saucer—“the purpose of the Integratron is to recharge energy into living cell structure, to bring about longer life with youthful energy. It is a machine, a high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge cellular structure.” Van Tassel died at the age of 67 in 1978, so the part about longer life didn’t exactly work for him. However, there’s an…
22 Aug 2016
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Many drivers loathe DUI checkpoints—especially drivers who have had a drink or two. And that’s exactly the point: Drivers shouldn’t be behind the wheel when intoxicated. Arrests for driving under the influence can cost people more than $10,000 in fees and fines, plus jail time. But that’s a small price to pay compared to the cost in lives due to DUI accidents. In 2014, nearly 10,000 people were killed by impaired drivers in the United States—with more than 800 of those deaths here in California. On Friday, Aug. 12, I was allowed to tag along while the Palm Springs Police Department conducted a DUI checkpoint in the 2900 block of North Indian Canyon Drive. Sgt. Mike Villegas, the lead officer of the Traffic Division, was my host. The night started with a 7 p.m. briefing at the police station. Villegas introduced me to his team of 11 detectives, officers, dispatchers…
19 Jul 2016
Close to 1,000 young boxing hopefuls and proven amateurs this week are congregating at the 15th Annual Desert Showdown at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio—all in search of a title in their weight and age class. For one local girl, the tournament means a return to the site of her first sanctioned bout and victory in her thus-far undefeated career. “My first fight was when I was 12, and it was at the Desert Showdown four years ago,” said Citlalli Ortiz, of Coachella, during a recent training session at her boxing home, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club gym, run by the valley’s elder statesman of pugilism, Lee Espinoza. Ortiz started boxing because she was dragged to the gym while her sister got into the ring. “It was my older sister, Brenda, which was funny,” she said. “I would say, ‘No. I don’t want to go,’ when she went…
26 Jun 2016
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The numbers of police-related deaths in the United States, as documented by Fatal Encounters, have been eerily similar in recent years. 2015: 1,356. 2014: 1,323. 2013: 1,330. However, this statistical fluke is not what’s newsworthy: What is newsworthy is the fact that we now actually have a database of police-related deaths. That’s right: Before Fatal Encounters came along, there was not a comprehensive database of all of the people in the United States who died during encounters with law enforcement. By the time the Fatal Encounters effort is complete, it will include a database going back to the year 2000. As of this writing, the Fatal Encounters team has already “finished” 27 states—including California, which was finished in May. Data for the last 3 1/2 years is complete nationwide The numbers and details contained in the Fatal Encounters database can be chilling. In 2015, of the 1,356 people who died…
23 May 2016
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It’s windy and quite hot out on Indian Avenue in Desert Hot Springs. But Yudit Ecsedy doesn’t mind, as the artist paints a traffic-signal control box as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program. The idea is to turn the ugly green roadside utility boxes into works of art, painted over by local talent as part of an effort to beautify the oft-troubled city. Ecsedy, a native of Budapest, Hungary, came to the United States as a child. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in art history, and in 2011, she retired to DHS, a place where she had been vacationing since she was a student. “My parents and I started coming here in the winter for at least a week years ago,” she said. “The place helped my mother’s arthritis. The view, the atmosphere, the healing waters and the ‘time out’ all contributed to creating quality…
22 Apr 2016
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Mark Fruchtman is, in the most glorious sense of the word, a nerd. He’s a gamer. He was an application developer before he opened a computer-repair business with his wife, Dominique. And now he and Dominique are the masterminds behind Escape Room Palm Springs. For the uninitiated who don’t know what an escape room is: It’s a game. After being given a back-story, a group of two to 10 people is put in an elaborate room—and given 45 minutes to solve a series of complex riddles and puzzles using all of the elements of that room, with the goal of finding the key to escape before time’s up. A gamemaster watches and gives hints, if needed, from the control room throughout the game. Escape Room Palm Springs currently has four rooms. The Saw Room is a large bathroom where a man, kidnapped and imprisoned by mysterious captors, left behind clues…
26 Mar 2016
On Saturday, March 19—after a spirited men’s semifinal match in which eventual 2016 PNB Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic defeated longtime rival Rafael Nadal—two local Coachella Valley High School students joined Jean Yves-Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas North America, on the Stadium 1 show court. Brianda Beltran and Miguel Alvarez, winners of the inaugural BNP Paribas Annual College Scholarship Award, each received recognition for their accomplishments—both on the tennis courts playing for their Coachella Valley High School team, and in the classroom. “We’ve been supporting this tournament since 2009,” Fillion told the Independent after the ceremony. “I myself have had the privilege to be here pretty much every year. I know it’s a wonderful tournament. You have superstars, but you get to know the people when you come eight years in a row. (At BNP Paribas), we felt, I felt, we are all part of a community. It’s one thing…

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