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Fri10302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It used to be a commonly held belief that if someone graduated high school and couldn’t get into a “real” college, they went to a local junior college.

Stereotypes included students who had barely made it through grade 12, those who had gotten into trouble, those who had little family support (let alone money), and those who hoped to make up for low grades and take courses that could eventually transfer to a four-year institution of “higher” learning.

If you still hold these views of what are now called community colleges … boy, you are behind the times.

I was recently privileged to participate in a grand tour of College of the Desert (COD), led by Peter Sturgeon, a Palm Desert resident who works on institutional advancement on behalf of the College of the Desert Foundation. The foundation was established as “a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to provide financial support from the private and public sectors to help underwrite programs and facilities at the college that cannot be funded through other means.” In practical terms, that means influencing the community to support the school programs necessary to meet the needs of students.

COD offers programs well beyond the stereotypical “make-up” classes that can prepare students for success; students can earn certificates that qualify them to immediately seek jobs and start their careers in areas like administration of justice (law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities); agriculture (landscaping and irrigation, environmental horticulture); architecture (building inspection, drafting, construction management); automotive technology (emissions, engine management, general automotive services); business (accounting, computer systems, golf management, human resources); culinary arts; digital design and management; early childhood education; health services; fitness management; music; public safety (fire, police, EMT); and more.

My interest was piqued when we walked into the large, well-equipped automotive technology building and were greeted by instructor Dorothy Anderson. A woman in charge of teaching how to fix cars?

Anderson, 37, a Hemet resident, started taking automotive classes at Mt. San Antonio College; she wanted to change her life, so she completed her certificate there. Why automotive? Anderson had previously learned how to change her oil and rotate her tires, and she says she asked herself, “What can I take that would be interesting and save me money on my education?”

Only about 1 percent of auto technicians are women. She says she was asked if she wanted to teach at COD, particularly because administrators wanted their program to appeal to young women as well as men. That was in 2008—and she has never looked back.

“I love teaching,” says Anderson. “The teachers I had made it fun for me, and I wanted to provide that for other students. I like the fresh brains—when they think they already know what they’re doing, and you have to un-train them to get the old thinking out of their heads.”

When I asked her why women don’t tend to go into her field, Anderson says it has to be stigmatization. “I can’t see any other reason. Not all automotive work is difficult. You don’t even have to get dirty. I’ve managed not to even break my nails this semester!”

Anderson says she has been surprised at how few people can diagnose what’s wrong when their cars have a problem. “Even the guys can barely understand how to do more than just pump gas. It’s so self-satisfying when you have a car that’s running badly, and you can fix it yourself. Why should we pay someone else to do what we can do for ourselves?”

The automotive technology program, which began at COD in the 1960s, operates on several levels. Some students pursue a certificate that allows them to get the training needed to go directly into a facility and work. Others take automotive classes along with core classes that help them advance toward a full four-year college degree. The program takes about 25 students each in 20 classes, and is designed to appeal to those already working who want to advance their careers. High school juniors and seniors are also eligible for concurrent enrollment to take classes free of charge. Students who want only practical training can complete two or three certificates in two years.

When you see how well-equipped the COD facility is, an obvious question comes to mind: What kind of support does the program get from the local automotive community? Chrysler is one major partner and supporter, and other major dealerships and independent repair facilities also support parts of the program. Local businesses often hire students who have completed the programs, and there are even paid work-experience programs available while a student is enrolled in classes.

“People don’t realize how much can go wrong with cars made after 1996 because of the sophistication of the computers installed,” says Dorothy. “You’re not even supposed to jumpstart a newer car from another car. Results of computer diagnostics and operating parameters have to be interpreted, because problems may be coming from the engine, a sensor, wiring or specific components. All of it has to be taken into account, and then you have to make sure you don’t mess up another function while you’re fixing what you found.”

Where do the cars come from on which students work? Some cars are donated; for example, Chrysler has given a hybrid car. The school accepts some cars needing repair from the community—the owner will purchase the parts, and the students will do the work. However, the facility is state-of-the-art, so cars older than 10 years old are not candidates.

“We are not a shop, and we don’t want to take away from businesses in the community,” Anderson says. “Whatever we do has to fit the curriculum.”

One specialty students that can study is emissions control, based on state and federal standards. Specialized “referees” who are smog check experts working with the state are assigned to 30 stations, all located at community colleges; they determine whether cars that have failed a smog test can be fixed, or whether they may qualify to be excused from complying. Referees have to complete a 300-hour program, and they may offer students opportunities as interns. One of the referees assigned to both Mt. San Antonio College and COD, Mark Ellison, is now Anderson’s husband.

Anderson is a passionate advocate for the automotive program. “Our equipment is expensive and must be updated every year, so support from the community to keep upgrading the program is essential. I’ve worked really hard, and I love what I’m doing. I love my students. If I won the lottery, I’d donate money to the automotive department, and I would still teach.”

When pressed, she also admits, with a broad smile: “I’d also follow up my hobby and breed horses.”

COD is a valuable resource for the Coachella Valley, with locations expanding into the east valley and Palm Springs. If you haven’t been on campus for a while, you will be amazed at the varied core-curriculum courses, the comprehensive early childhood education program, the hands-on training for public safety and agriculture, the awesome kitchen for culinary arts, the arts departments, and, of course, Dorothy Anderson and the impressive automotive-technology facility.

Community support for COD is necessary if its high-quality programs are to be continued and expanded. Tours are available by contacting Peter Sturgeon at 760-773-2561.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Those who have been in the desert less than 15 years or so don’t remember when the anniversary of Roe v. Wade prompted anti-abortion and pro-choice counter-demonstrations along a major intersection in Palm Desert every year. Or the 1992 Desert Lights for Choice candlelight vigil along Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, when pro-choice supporters lined up three deep from Tahquitz Canyon Way to Alejo Road. Or the besieged abortion clinic in Palm Desert where local activists walked women through shouting protesters and helped keep the doors open.

Many of us have become blasé about the right to decide for oneself whether and when to birth a child. Some 42 years after the Supreme Court decision in Roe, it seems unthinkable that the constitutional right to own your own body, including whether to end an unwanted or problem pregnancy, could be revoked. Statistics indicate that about 50 percent of women will at some point in their lives experience an unwanted pregnancy, and one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45.

I was 17, single and pregnant, before Roe. I was given three choices: Go into a home for unwed mothers and get rid of the baby; go to a sanitarium and get my head shrunk; or marry the man involved, leave him immediately, and then be allowed to come home. I chose the head-shrinking and gave the baby up for adoption.

My experience was not unique. In high school, some girls “went to visit their aunt” for a while, unable to stay in school if pregnant. Many of my girlfriends got married quickly after getting pregnant. Some had illegal abortions. Some opted for adoption and spent their lives wondering, as I did, whether the decision had really been the right one for the child.

After Roe, I once again found myself facing the choice of ending an unwanted pregnancy, based on failed contraception. That time—already divorced and raising twins on my own—I opted to terminate the pregnancy. I have never doubted that it was the right decision for me at the time.

I was reminded of all that at the screening of a movie, Obvious Child, presented by Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, the Desert Stonewall Democrats and the Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage on this year’s Roe anniversary. About 60 people saw this movie, which follows a feisty young woman struggling with how to deal with an unplanned, unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.

Before the film, Elizabeth Romero, local director of community and public relations for Planned Parenthood, introduced the co-sponsors. Ruth Debra, president of Desert Stonewall, unexpectedly walked up on the stage, took the mic—and spoke publicly for the first time about her own experience with illegal abortion.

It was a heartfelt and intensely personal statement. “No one should EVER have to go through what I did,” she said.

The film is not going to win any Oscars, and some in the audience were uncomfortable with the coarse language. However, it does explore how difficult it can be to decide whether to have an abortion, and shows the kind of support any woman needs while going through the experience. I admit to tears when the young woman in the film finally tells her mother, who then shares her own story of an abortion at 17.

I finally told my mother when I realized she had begun advocating for pro-choice policies and would be able to understand. She confided to me, before her recent death, that her greatest regret was that she didn’t take a stand vis-à-vis my father so that I might not have needed to give up my first-born son. (My son and I were happily reunited about 10 years ago—but not all such stories end well.)

Life is complicated. Pro-choice advocates need to acknowledge that there are too many unwanted pregnancies, and that what is being aborted is, in fact, living human tissue. We all need to support comprehensive sex education in the schools, and men need to educate boys about their role in all of this. Contraception and prevention are not exclusively the responsibility of women, but gestating that fetus is.

Anti-abortion advocates need to recognize that if abortion is once again made illegal, it won’t stop abortion—it will just take us back to when women resorted to any means necessary to address the problem, and all too often died as a result. How “pro-life” can you be if you’re willing to sacrifice women’s lives?

Republican leaders, after their recent takeover of Congress, have talked about the need to prove they can govern, not just oppose, and to appeal to women voters, especially in light of Gallup’s findings that in every category—single women, married women, divorced women—the political gender gap is real and persistent. Yet one of the first things the House did was try to push through the so-called Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks—regardless of reason (assuming a woman should have to give a reason). They also wanted to reclassify what constitutes rape as an exception, a move that went too far even for Republican female members of the House, who pointed out the vote “could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people” who clearly do not support such restrictions.

Pregnancy is not a punishment, whether it happens to an underage young woman preyed upon by an older man, or a prostitute, or a young wife expected to push out a baby per year, or an older woman who cannot afford another child, or one who got pregnant because she didn’t insist on contraception, or a woman wanting to escape an abusive relationship, or one who finds out her wanted fetus has catastrophic deficiencies and that a continued pregnancy may mean she can never again have children—or for any other reason particular to each woman’s life.

If you don’t support abortion, don’t choose to have one. But if you are one of the many women who has made that difficult choice or supported another in that choice, heed the words of Katha Pollitt, a feminist activist and writer, who recently wrote: “Why are we so afraid to talk about it—or to acknowledge that our lives would have been so much less than we hoped for without it? Why are we pressured to feel that we should regret our choice, and that there's something wrong with us if we don't?”

In a new play, Out of Silence, produced by the 1 in 3 Campaign, one character says, “I, too, had an abortion that I do not regret. Sometimes I think that I should feel remorse or shame, but I don't. Still, I don't talk about it with anyone."

Own your own history. Share your stories. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The horrific massacre in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine that generated much of its reputation via provocative cartoons, has united much of the world in standing against terrorism, saying, “Je suis Charlie!” (“I am Charlie!”)

Our outrage at terrorist tactics by radicals, of course, is justified. However, using a broad brush to stereotype all members of a faith is unjustified and, in my view, un-American.

We pride ourselves on being a “melting pot”—more specifically, a Cobb salad, where everything retains its own status, but is thrown together to make something bigger and better. Yet immediately after the events in Paris, we heard exhortations against all followers of Islam, claiming they are inherently murderous and dangerous. Remember, we’re talking about more than 1.5 billion people in countries all over the world, including 2.6 million in the U.S. It’s the fastest-growing religion in America.

Characterizations of Muslim immigrants are often overblown generalizations. The rhetoric I hear from many callers on my local radio show includes assertions that Muslims only believe in Sharia law, refuse to assimilate, hate the U.S. and everything it stands for, yada, yada, yada. There are even insinuations about Muslims having taken over the White House.

What about here in the Coachella Valley? In November, there was a report of shots fired at the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley mosque, which has been around for about 16 years in Coachella. Four people were praying inside at the time. Local police classified it as a “possible” hate crime.

Where were we as a community after that happened? Mostly unaware. Ask your friends and neighbors if they even know a mosque exists here in the desert. I’ll bet few, if any, know there is one.

While we lament that disaffected youth around the world seem susceptible to appeals by terrorist groups, we somehow see that as distinct from our own vulnerable young people being influenced to join gangs. We need to wake up. Terrorism is the extreme politicized and armed version of bullying. The guns are just a lot bigger.

According to the National Counterterrorism Center in 2011, “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities.” The threat of violence, including death to oneself or one’s family, does tend to keep people quiet in places where that threat comes from their own neighbors.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, almost 3 million people flooded into the streets of France, with many others marching around the world, to say we stand together in refusing to keep quiet out of fear. With all the claims made by the broad brush folks, here are some myths that to be debunked:

Muslims want to institute Sharia law: While some Muslim immigrants still adhere to the old ways of religious law, there are other cultural and religious traditions in which people prefer to decide their own legal matters. In some orthodox Jewish communities and on Native American reservations, they believe the old ways are preferable to the secular law of the greater community. Throughout history, religious law has often been in conflict with secular law.

However, take heart: The laws of our nation prevail (regardless of the satire about Dearborn, Mich., adopting Sharia law, which was repeated as gospel by political conservatives like Sarah Palin), although legitimate debate does exist.

Muslim immigrants are unwilling to assimilate: Second-generation immigrant Muslims, just like second-generation immigrants from all cultural or religious backgrounds, tend to become more like the communities in which they are raised. This has been true since my grandparents came to America and lived in a “ghetto” with signs in a foreign language and stores catering to their homeland tastes. Most of our ancestors had the same experience—with their children and succeeding generations becoming totally American.

According to Pew Research, social scientists say that “societies in which people feel constant threats to their health and well-being are more religious, while religious beliefs and practices tend to be less strong in places where ‘existential security’ is greater.” So it’s not surprising that in a generally healthy, wealthy, orderly society, there is often a gradual movement away from traditional religion. Also according to Pew, “more than six in 10 (Muslims) do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, and … that most Muslims coming to the U.S. today want to adopt an American way of life.”

For young Muslims, as for second-generation Hispanics (about which I have written previously), the pattern is the same—but the more they are alienated, the more likely they are to follow the old, more conservative ways. That is the challenge for the rest of us.

Muslims don’t speak out about violence done in their name: They most certainly do. The Islamic Circle of North America, as just one example, strongly condemns “the deadly attack in Paris committed in the name of Islam. … (It is) not only a cowardly and ghastly act; it also goes against everything taught by the person in whose name the heinous crime was done.” There are many others in Europe and America, as well as sheikhs and mosque leaders around the world, who have denounced the attacks. Check out #notinourname.

Muslim countries are not democratic and deny women any rights: Many predominantly Muslim countries have democratic elections and treat women well—including electing them to important leadership positions. Examples include secular democracies (Turkey, Indonesia, Azerbaijan), and religious democracies that recognize Islam as the state religion, but do not incorporate religion into public policy (Malaysia and Maldives). Of course, there are countries, like Saudi Arabia, which are not Muslim and are not democratic, and deny women equal rights.

We can’t paint each other with broad strokes and lump people together based solely on their beliefs about how we all got here and why. We need to remain vigilant and unite with others around the world, regardless of whether we agree with them on other issues, to fight this virulent threat to us all.

We can start by paying attention to what is going on right here in our own community, with our own neighbors. Nobody should ever feel ashamed or threatened to admit what they believe in and freely practice their religion.

Yo soy Coachella!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

This Christmas Eve, I went to the service at Palm Desert’s St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. The following Sunday morning, I attended First Baptist Church in Palm Springs.

I was born into a Jewish family. My mother was the descendant of Russian gypsies, some of whom came to the U.S., while others—who managed to escape the Holocaust—landed in Israel and participated in the fight for independence. Mom always had great antipathy toward any organized religion, but she would say, “The world will always consider you a Jew, so you must be proud of your heritage.” And I am.

My upbringing left me with agnostic doubts and no desire to affiliate officially with any organized religion. That being said, I’ve always enjoyed attending different religious services—particularly at holiday time, when church leaders tend to put their best foot forward.

St. Margaret’s offers an impressive edifice, the embodiment of Christmas-card images: high-beam ceilings, abundant floral arrangements, a robed choir (with a beautiful soprano voice soaring above all the others) and clergy wearing grand gowns. The first thing I noticed at St. Margaret’s was how beautiful the church looked—and that the lovely floral arrangement stage-left looked exactly like a red high-heeled shoe. Having once seen it that way, it was almost impossible to not see it that way for the rest of the service. I felt so irreverent.

Entering the church, warm greetings were freely offered, along with battery-operated candles. In prior years, the Rev. Lane Hensley would get laughs from the crowd when he explained how to light the real candles while avoiding getting hot wax on hands or clothing (or the carpet!). This year, he referenced those previous warnings by saying, “I was so tired of giving that speech,” and then went into detail about how to work the battery-operated candles to warm laughter throughout the church.

The service was preceded by lovely harp and organ music,; I sang along with the Christmas carols. After we all sang “Silent Night,” the lights in the church were dimmed, and the candles turned on. The moment was particularly beautiful and moving; I cried.

Hensley’s sermon was, like him, warm and genuine: “I don’t mean it as criticism, but there are a lot of you I don’t see here all the time,” he said to laughter throughout the church. For some folks, this (service) may be all that you hear. ... Is it my responsibility now to answer everything for you?” He then encouraged those with questions or seeking to explore their own beliefs to reach out to him personally. He means it. The overall message I took away: “God is with you always. I am here. I am with you. I am in you. I never go away.”

The congregation was orderly, standing and sitting as one. St. Margaret’s service was not so far from a Catholic service, with communion, members crossing themselves, and incense being swung down the center aisle. The word I’d use to describe St. Margaret’s: “solemnity.”

It did not escape my notice that the hundreds attending the St. Margaret’s service were almost exclusively white. That got me thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Thus, on the following Sunday morning, I decided to attend First Baptist Church, a largely African-American church in Palm Springs. I went to First Baptist occasionally many years ago when the Rev. Jeff Rollins Sr. presided. He was a friend and ally, but he is long gone. The current pastor is the Rev. Rodney S. Croom.

The church is small and unpretentious. The welcome received at the door was, like St. Margaret’s, very warm and friendly. The choir includes only 10 people, but their joy and fervor pulls one in from the stage. Congregants sang, swayed and clapped along, as did I. The congregation of about 50 that morning included many small children, avidly participating along with their parents,

The Rev. Croom’s message was that the church is “a place where love is displayed, and the word is proclaimed.” He reminded his flock, “You don’t have to live to please men, but to please God,” and, “You don’t back down from who God made you to be.” The overall message was about authenticity, holding true regardless of obstacles.

I’m convinced there must be a special class that black preachers take in divinity school where they learn that cadence, that intonation, that rhythm that builds to a crescendo and brings the congregants to their feet with applause. The organ and drums came in at just the right point to put an exclamation point on what the Rev. Croom was saying. It was dramatic.

Where St. Margaret’s parishioners responded only when cued, at First Baptist, attendees engaged in call/response at will. They lifted their hands toward the sky and were encouraged to participate, shouting, “Amen!” and, “Tell it like it is!” The older ladies still wore elaborate hats; younger members, while in their Sunday best, have loosened the rules a bit. All participate in an environment that I describe as “spontaneity.”

The historical reasons that black worshippers have a very different church environment than whites are many. A recent book by Beverly Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, claims that while opportunities for whites to develop their own sense of identity, including racial identity, are plentiful, such opportunities for blacks “need to be established and protected, since racial otherness is the norm” of their experience.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was planning to go to a black church, her reaction was, “There’s a black church in Palm Springs?”

I responded: “Don’t you know there’s a predominantly African-American community at the north end of Palm Springs, as well as communities in other parts of the valley?” Sadly, she didn’t.

Recent work by Michael Emerson, a sociologist at Rice University, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no single racial group constitutes more than 80 percent. He found, using that standard, “that only 8 percent of all Christian congregations in the U.S. are racially mixed … (including) 2-3 percent of mainline Protestants, 8 percent of other Protestant congregations, and 20 percent of Catholic parishes.”

Perhaps Sunday morning segregation actually serves an important purpose, providing unity and reinforcing identity. However, I support the idea of congregations combining for special services to bring disparate church communities together.

You can begin that process all by yourself. Break out of your comfort zone, and share your experience of faith. It will enrich you and you will enrich the experience of others. After all, you all believe in the same God.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

In the wake of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “Torture Report” on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the wake of Sept. 11, I was reminded that I once had the privilege of meeting one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” at an event in San Diego sponsored by Survivors of Torture International.

I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember his name. However, I’ll never forget his story.

That lost boy of Sudan trekked barefoot almost 1,000 miles with his young sister to escape to a refugee camp after their parents had been slaughtered. He was then kidnapped and forced to soldier under horrendous and torturous conditions until he was rescued. He was only 10 when that journey began.

It’s challenging to even think about torture at a time of year when celebrations are focused on peace, love and giving. It seems so foreign to our real lives. But here in the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas, we have survivors of torture as our neighbors. This is a time for celebrating their bravery, determination and sheer will to live.

Even those who defend the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” generally acknowledge that torture is a bad thing; their position is that the United States didn’t really torture, because we were acting based on (questionable) legal approval from the Justice Department regarding actions that those within the George W. Bush administration wanted to be able to take without fear of future prosecution.

Apologists, like Republican strategist Karl Rove, say that waterboarding—the way we did it—couldn’t have been torture, because we raised the detainees’ feet so water wouldn’t automatically go into the lungs, and therefore, they wouldn’t really drown. That argument is logically flawed. The purpose of waterboarding is to frighten someone enough, with what feels like the immediate sensation of drowning, to get them to talk. Duh!

Based on dictionary definitions, the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which we are a signatory (and which we helped write), “torture” is when you deliberately inflict physical or psychological pain—done on behalf of or with the consent of a nation-state, or acting in an official capacity—on someone under your control and unable to defend against what you’re doing. The purpose is to get from the one you’re torturing—or perhaps a third party (“Tell us, or we’ll rape and kill your child right in front of you!”)—information or a confession.

Article 3 of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed by President Reagan and finally ratified by Congress in 1994, says that “no state [nation] may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and “exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (Emphasis added.)

Forget the political argument about whether “actionable intelligence” was obtained through the use of torture, because even the head of the CIA says that’s basically “unknowable.” The legally slippery area we relied upon is that terrorists, since they are neither nation-states nor acting under orders from legitimate government officials, don’t appear to be specifically covered by the prohibitions on torture. So it’s OK for us to torture them?

Can we all at least agree there’s a difference between what is legal and what is moral, and that one does not require the other? I’m sure that during the Holocaust, Germans convinced themselves they were acting within their view of what was legal to do during a war, yet we can’t possibly hold as moral the action of incarcerating, starving and killing people in concentration camps. Even outside the realm of torture, what is legal is not necessarily moral—think of Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, or legal prohibitions against equal treatment regarding who may marry.

Those of our elected representatives who wanted to keep the “Torture Report” secret say it will harm our image around the world and instigate retaliation against Americans. Besides, say the torture defenders, we’ve already known about all this (see Abu Ghraib), so why bring it up again? Other excuses: It must be just politics. It’s somebody’s agenda to shame the previous administration. We just did what everybody has always done. Or, per former Vice President Dick Cheney, it flat-out was not torture, and even if it was, “I would do it again in a minute!”

As a nation, we pride ourselves on modeling the behaviors we encourage others to emulate, and it’s repulsive to focus on what human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another. Our moral standing as a nation will surely take a big hit, but at least we can celebrate our willingness to expose the ugly underbelly of policies and recommit to never again using such tactics. 

Speaking of “Never again!”: We have a local resource that deserves more notice: The Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage. According to Director Melisse Banwer, we have about 80 Holocaust survivors living here in the Coachella Valley. These people are a direct resource for us regarding the horrors of torture, and a reminder that we must never let the systematic destruction of human rights or genocide happen again. The center provides access to history and memorabilia, educational materials and programs for students and adults, special exhibits, and free movies that are good entertainment with a positive message.

For that Lost Boy of Sudan, and for our neighbors, we have an obligation to commit to “Never again!” And this time, we need to mean it.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Back in 1968, when the feminist movement was in full swing, a significant protest was staged in Atlantic City against the Miss America beauty pageant.

The protest was organized by author Robin Morgan, who attacked “the degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol” so prevalent in the media, and the “ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.”

I was part of that feminist movement, concerned about the objectification of women—paraded in bathing suits and awarded crowns based on little more than whether they met the then-common standard of “beauty,” meaning long-legged, tiny-waisted, barely talented and white-skinned. (No black woman had ever made it even into the finals.) While I did not take issue with the women who willingly participated, many of whom went on to enjoy interesting lives, I sympathized that there were so few opportunities based on anything other than superficial beauty to which they could aspire.

There are concerns that the current Miss America pageant, although now offering lucrative scholarships and emphasizing young women pursuing education, has not been giving out that scholarship money as advertised. A recent exposé on HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver asserted that although the Miss America Foundation claims to make “$45 million in scholarships available to contestants—the pageant promotes itself as ‘the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women,’ the money it actually provides is just a fraction of that.” According to Oliver, in 2012, the Miss America organizations spent only $482,000 on scholarships, using questionable statistics to stretch to the $45 million figure.

Locally, several organizations offer money for education, usually based solely on scholarship and outstanding essays by applicants. With much competition for limited awards, students often scramble to cobble together enough money to cover tuition, books, fees and the other costs associated with higher education or career training—to avoid taking out loans and graduating with debt.

What’s an aspiring young woman needing money for college to do? One local event that offers scholarship money is the Queen Scheherazade Scholarship Pageant, which picks three young women to represent the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival. In November, 13 young women vied for the 2015 titles of Queen Scheherazade, Princess Dunyazade, or Princess Jasmine. I attended, in spite of my aversion to “beauty pageants,” because I am acquainted with one of the contestants, Alejandra Franco (about whom I have previously written). I must admit I came away impressed, not only with the young women and their accomplishments and aspirations, but also with the support they had from family, friends and local officials in the audience—and the community’s seriousness of commitment to this long-standing cultural event.

The master of ceremonies, KESQ’s Laura Yanez, talked about her own sister’s experience with the pageant as Princess Jasmine in 1995. The contestants had to demonstrate that they knew what would be required to represent the county fair at events throughout Riverside County. They presented themselves in business dress, evening gowns and beautiful harem-like costumes. (There were no bathing suits, but the feminist in me rebels somewhat at the implications of harems.) They also had to present a brief speech that included their aspirations, academic and extra-curricular activities, and why they should be chosen. They responded to randomly drawn questions about the history of dates in the Coachella Valley, the county fair and its attractions, and community resources. Finally, they had to show the judges they could be effective representatives for the festivities.

La Quinta High School students included Shannon Slankard, who plans to be a pediatric oncologist; Maritza Cubillas, who wants to major in engineering but is also avid about studying dance; Loren White, whose smile is a standout, and who aspires to be an orthodontist; and Amanda Cardinal, who remembers tap-dancing at the fair when she was just 5 years old, and is passionate about robotics.

Representing Coachella Valley High School: Liliana Aguilar, who wants to achieve a doctorate in medicine; Itcelia Segoviano, who hopes to be accepted by Harvard or UC Berkeley and study law to work with at-risk juveniles; and Charyne Toribio, a student at College of the Desert, an avid basketball player whose goal is to become a toxicologic/anatomic pathologist (whew!).

From Hemet High School was Morgan Lawrence, an excellent communicator who plans to study communication and graphic design. Cathedral City High School was represented by Vanessa Martinez, whose aspirations include a double major in peace studies and women’s studies, with the goal of a career in global humanitarian efforts.

Shadow Hills High School had two entrants: Destiny Patlan, who said, “I am Indio!” and is an active community volunteer helping the homeless; and Silvia Ruelas, who plans to study political science and criminal justice, and said, “Our future is our key—failure is not an option.” From Desert Mirage High School, Alejandra Franco is passionate about getting into Yale and becoming an immigration lawyer here in the Coachella Valley: “My duty is to make evident that education is not out of our reach,” she said regarding her responsibility toward her younger brothers. West Shores High School graduate Carla Cabrera is currently a student at Cal State University-San Bernardino, hoping to achieve a master’s degree for a career as a registered nurse.

All of these young women have been honors students in Advanced Placement courses of study, active in campus sports and extra-curricular activities, and volunteers in their communities. Some work while going to school. Many will be the first in their families to attend college. All of them are worthy of our support. Politics aside, I was impressed by these admirable young women doing whatever is necessary to ensure their futures.

If you’ve never been to the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, this is something you should do at least once. Admission cost is reasonable, and you don’t want to miss the camel and ostrich races, monster trucks, marvelous mutts, nightly live music, wonderful displays of art and fabulous food. Plus, you’ll be supporting the 2015 Scholarship Pageant winners: Morgan Lawrence as Princess Jasmine, Shannon Slankard as Princess Dunyazade, and Carla Cabrera as Queen Scheherazade. You will see them in full Arabian regalia all over the county and at the fairgrounds Feb. 13-22.

I now know how dates came to the Coachella Valley! Do you?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

One is a banker; another is a Nobel Prize-winner, a third a teacher, yet another a writer. Many are happily retired. Some are well-informed on the news of the day; others are interested in exploring new ways to approach old problems; all are willing to engage with their neighbors for some good old-fashioned “exchanges of opinion.” (That’s what my mother used to call “arguments.”)

The Sun City Palm Desert Forum Club is one of the many organizations that cater to the interests of Sun City residents. The Forum features monthly facilitators on current topics with participants seated at large round tables, each with a designated discussion leader. Their format has the facilitator give background information about that meeting’s topic for up to 40 minutes. Each table then considers various questions related to the topic for about 30 minutes, and then offers their table’s conclusions and/or suggestions to the whole group.

I addressed the group several years ago, so when Forum board member Colt Stewart asked if I would be interested in facilitating November’s meeting to reflect on the recent midterm election results, I immediately said, “Absolutely!” Then I began to do my homework: These are interested, informed people, and I was committed to taking a nonpartisan approach to evaluating not only the election results, but what to expect over the next two years leading up to the presidential election.

My preparation included doing background research on midterm election results historically, specifically related to turnout and whether we should motivate or punish nonvoters to get more participation in the electoral process; immigration policies, including past presidents who have acted unilaterally and granted amnesty to those here illegally; the California state initiative process, and how it has evolved from its original purpose of empowering ordinary citizens; state voting laws, including districts drawn to protect incumbents or limit voting rights; the Affordable Care Act; and recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have led to unprecedented political campaign spending.

Over dinner before the event with Forum president Jane Graham (“I showed up for a meeting, and they needed a president, so I volunteered”) and Stewart, we went over some of the questions the group had generated. While they anticipated talking about the “why” of the election (“Did the president’s ratings cause the elections results, or are voters sending another message?”), I said I also wanted each table to attempt to arrive at suggestions for solutions about how we move the local, state and national agendas forward.

In my opening statement, I told the group that I believe this midterm election was basically about … nothing. The Republicans were running against President Obama, and the Democrats were running away from him. Neither party put forth policy agendas that voters were being asked to support; rather, we were asked to be afraid and vote “against,” particularly based on the overwhelming number of political ads that bombarded us throughout the process.

As Stewart and I visited the tables to answer questions that had arisen, I was pleased to find that participants were actively listening to each other, as the discussion leaders focused on what their report back to the full group should include. Participants seemed genuinely interested in exploring the policy issues and eschewing the politics—a position I had strongly encouraged.

However, there were a few instances in which political buzz words and sound bites were put into play. One man challenged me on the immigration issue.

“The Senate sent a bipartisan bill to the House over a year ago,” I said. “The speaker of the House doesn’t want to bring it up for a vote, because it would pass—but it would be with predominantly Democratic votes, and he doesn’t want that to happen. So they’ve chosen to do nothing but threaten the president if he takes any unilateral action, even though any action Congress takes can overcome any such executive order.”

“But what about the hundreds of bills that the House sent to the Senate, that majority leader Reid has been sitting on?” he blustered.

“That’s true,” I replied, “but what you’re talking about right now is immigration—not all those other issues.”

“Aw,” he sputtered, crossing his arms across his chest, “nobody here wants to hear what I have to say anyway.”

What do Forum participants expect over the next two years? Basically, they do not expect much to change. They suggested some restrictions on campaign financing, overhauling the California initiative process, expanding mail-in voting, filibuster reform in the Senate, and common-sense immigration reform. They decried the political gridlock, but are concerned about policies being pushed through that may not withstand time. They want cooperation, but not necessarily capitulation.

There are few open events around the desert that encourage the exchange of ideas in the way that the Forum does. While some local groups sponsor high-profile speakers brought in for those who can afford to pay to hear one-sided presentations (with perhaps a few pre-cleared questions), the Forum is a good model for the kind of open dialogues about issues that we should encourage—and in which we should participate.

It’s often said that there are certain subjects we should never broach with our neighbors—politics, religion, race, etc. Thankfully, the Forum breaks that mold.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The members of the “You Don’t Have to be Hemingway Writers’ Group” gathered in the clubhouse at Las Serenas, a Palm Desert apartment complex for seniors, to showcase their talents and share the results of their weekly efforts.

The event was announced as the “first annual writers’ recital.” Seven women and one man were seated at a long table at the front of the room ready to share some of their writing. The 25 to 30 people in the audience represented the community well—the “tan guys,” the long-long-married couples, the attractive widows and so on, with everyone ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s.

Helen Klein, 92, began the writing group more than three years ago, and most of the participants have been involved since the group began. “If you can talk it, then you can write it,” says Helen.

Introductions of the writers by Helen came first: Phyllis, “our resident mermaid” whose writings were described as “beautiful and poignant”; Jean, “who doesn’t know how not to smile”; Iris, “the kid of the group”; Frank, “an out-of-the-box writer, representing all the men”; Patty, “who came in saying, ‘I can’t write,’ and look at her now”; Kitty, “our professional … expect to see her name on The New York Times best-seller list”; and Janet, with her “delightful sense of humor.”

Helen has stimulated the writers by giving them a choice of weekly assignments: Write a culinary story. Write something based on a nursery rhyme. Write about how you stand tall and say your name (to which one wrote, “My name is Carrot”).

“Simple things become food for thought,” says Helen.

I attended not expecting too much—and came away not only impressed, but deeply moved.

For the assignment to put herself into an historic event, Phyllis wrote about the assassination of John F. Kennedy as if she had been in a room down the hall from Lee Harvey Oswald, where she was hoping to get a good view of the president as he drove by. “I notice something shiny sticking out of a window farther down … a rifle. What should I do? What should I do? I hear that sickening sound … I did get to see my president, just not the way I planned.”

Jean started with, “He was someone to remember,” and painted a picture of a man after World War II for whom “the sparkle was gone from his eyes.” Recalling his picture in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, she wrote, “I didn’t see the broken man. I saw the man in the fedora and spats.” She also responded to writing a culinary story by reading her ode to a pressure-cooker.

Frank wrote about a doctor’s waiting room. “There was one lady I noticed right away. She had an attitude.”

For Patty, it was about giving life to inanimate objects. In “Untied Laces,” she wrote about that time in life when we are not as active as we used to be—but there was a twist: She wrote from a tennis shoe’s point of view. “We wait to see what’s next. … We don’t like being dusty. … The new knees are almost ready!”

She also wrote as a wedding bouquet: “Everyone is looking at me. Some are even crying because I am so beautiful.”

Kitty’s contribution started with “Jerry was a really nice guy,” and went on to the wonderful image of “clutching hands like a drunk on a beer.” Her final piece was in response to an assignment to write a poem in praise of food, including “oozing juices, crackling, snapping, whirring, beeping, grasping and slurping.” Kitty’s writing has a charming small-town tone; she is a great storyteller who pulls you right into the story, the place, the time.

In response to an assignment to write about an adventure, Janet painted a lovely picture of place and character in “The Orange Grove Escape”: “He spent his days reading in the orange grove.” Her culinary poem was “Pass the Potatoes Please”: “I can even be a toy. Remember Mr. Potato Head? Everybody loves me unless I’m rotten.”

When it was Helen’s turn, she wrote of emptying a suitcase and finding memories—a baseball mitt, knickers, old newspaper clippings—and recalling her late brother as the “golden boy and hope for the family.” She spoke about how fate steps into our lives and changes things: “One day, the pieces are packed up and put back … That was the day Mama stopped singing.”

There are writing groups throughout the Coachella Valley, and lots of people keep journals with no anticipation of ever sharing them. But writers at all levels benefit from both criticism and encouragement, without embarrassment—and that’s what Helen Klein has created for the residents of Las Serenas.

Those life stories, experiences and fantasies you share with your friends and neighbors? As Helen Klein says, “If you can talk it, you can write it. You don’t have to be Hemingway.”

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I take elections seriously. I read the election booklet, prefer to go into the polling booth on Election Day, and have not yet gotten so cynical that I think it doesn’t matter.

I’ve voted in every election since I was able to register to vote at 21. (The legal age, thankfully, is now 18.) I think of the right to vote as something sacred.

The one time I ran for office, I knew going in that I had no chance of winning, yet I still remember the feeling on election night of seeing the number of voters who trusted me to represent them. I was overwhelmed.

I’ve written before about my frustration with the open primary process here in California, which has led to the State Senate’s District 28 seat—representing everyone from west of Temecula through almost all of the Coachella Valley, and going all the way to Blythe at the Arizona border—having only two Republican candidates on the ballot. Recent statistics indicate that about 33 percent of registered voters in the district are Democrats; 42 percent are Republican; and almost 20 percent indicate no party preference. Suffice it to say, the 58 percent of registered voters who are Democrats, members of other parties or independents may decide they have nobody for whom to vote. The two Republicans who were the top vote-getters on the primary ballot are the only choices—we can’t even write in anyone else.

To figure out who I could support on Nov. 4, I attended one of the debates between the two Republican candidates: former Assemblymember Bonnie Garcia, and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone. The debate was moderated by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. I already knew that I did not agree with either candidate on many issues, but I wanted to get a sense of who they are as individuals and politicians.

Political candidate debates can be substantial and informative, or they can be petty and nasty. This one, for me, was illuminating: It came down to character.

Garcia gave her opening statement first, and she was impressive. She came across as capable and highly articulate. Her basic message was that her goal is to build a better California. Stone’s opening statement came across as: “I’m a good guy. Really, I’m a good guy.” His overriding message was that California is in trouble. Frankly, I prefer hopeful messages.

Throughout the debate, Garcia referred to her opponent as “Mr. Stone.” Stone varied in his referrals to Garcia, usually calling her “Bonnie,” and sometimes “Miss Garcia” or “Mrs. Garcia.” In 2014, for him, women are still apparently defined by their marital status. Seriously?

Neither is afraid of confrontation or defending against attacks—and each gave as good as they got. However, one distinguishing difference was that Garcia answered most questions by focusing on the issue in question, while Stone rarely missed an opportunity to throw into each answer some snide or insinuating criticism of Garcia. His use of props was impressive, particularly his own short page of major donors, compared with the ve-e-e-ery long page of her donors that he unrolled onstage, to appropriate laughter from the audience.

When asked about how, in a predominantly Democratic legislature, each would get things done across party lines, Garcia talked about her experience doing just that when she last served in Sacramento, while Stone said that since he had been elected primarily in nonpartisan offices, like county supervisor, we should therefore assume he was able to work across party lines. That logic struck me as a bit twisted.

In her closing statement, Garcia stuck to her vision of what is possible for California, and what she wants to accomplish if elected. Stone, on the other hand, did not miss the chance to hit at Garcia yet again.

After the debate was over, I introduced myself to each, and then asked Stone if he would mind some unsolicited campaign advice. Somewhat nonplussed, he said, “Sure.” I said, “You should stop referring to your opponent as ‘Bonnie’ or ‘Miss Garcia.’ It’s disrespectful.”

Some might think I am leaning toward a vote for Garcia as perhaps the least-objectionable candidate. A Democratic friend recently gave me another, albeit political, spin on the race. “You realize,” he said, “that if we support Stone, and he is elected, we will lose him from another two years sitting on the Board of Supervisors to the abyss that is Republican influence in Sacramento. If Garcia loses this election, she will probably never run again—two birds with one vote.”

I still believe in the sanctity of my vote. I’m not yet sure how I will cast that vote in the State Senate District 28 race, but I believe any system that denies a proper choice to more than 50 percent of the voters in a district is wrong-headed. No matter how you sort it all out, just remember to vote. It matters!

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m having a problem with some of our neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s just that—my problem.

Social Rule System Theory, a field of sociological study, analyzes how human social activity is organized and regulated. These often informal rules include language, customs and codes of conduct. The theory holds that the “making, interpretation and implementation of social rules are universal in human society.” It’s how we learn to live with other people.

Many social rules are culturally influenced. This helps explain why people from densely populated areas, like Southeast Asia or New York, tend to push to the front of any line rather than neatly lining up to wait their turn. Where they come from, if you wait, your turn will never come.

A New Yorker friend, Peter, recalled his experience in London, where people were confusedly dithering about while lining up to get on a bus. He purposefully strode to the front of the throng, got on the bus and, when he heard grumbling behind him, turned around and proclaimed, “I’m an American.” Somehow, that seemed to settle the matter—the “ugly American” concept of “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior” is, unfortunately, well-known and accepted throughout Europe.

One of my pet peeves is people who talk in movies. There are unwritten rules about how to shush someone. It starts with the quick turn-around to locate who is talking, which should alert them we overheard them. Next is the longer turn-around, with a glare and a quick but audible “Shh!” When that doesn’t work, some turn and hiss, “Be quiet!” Others just give up and suffer through to the end.

The worst incident I’ve ever experienced came in a Palm Desert theater, when I shushed a woman sitting two seats over, who was talking in a normal tone after the movie had already begun. I followed the “rules” about shushing, including finally hissing, “Please stop talking.” I couldn’t believe it when her husband, sitting beyond her in the row, leaned across her, got into my face with a coiled fist, and said through bared teeth, “If you shush my wife again, I’m going to put my fist down your throat!”

“Well,” I loudly whispered back, with uncharacteristic nerve, “tell her to be quiet!” Needless to say, when the movie was over, I stayed in my seat for quite a while to make sure they were well gone before I left.

Why do people feel the need to share out loud every detail of what they’re watching? It’s particularly galling when, for example, at a vocal performance, people talk while the singer is singing, rather than waiting to comment during the applause that would cover their comments.

I’ve noticed that many of our neighbors don’t seem to realize that movie theaters are not their living rooms. People don’t seem to understand that the director of the movie fashioned the opening to set the mood for what will follow.

I’m really not interested that you know which prior movie that actor was in, or how much older that actress looks. As for comments like, “Why did he do that?”—we’re all there to discover that together, so please just wait and see along with the rest of us. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

Here’s my short list of other social rules:

  • At public performances, don’t talk while the performer is performing.
  • Hold the door for someone coming in right behind you.
  • Teach your children the difference between “inside voice” and “outside voice,” and that it’s not OK to disturb other diners in a restaurant.
  • Don’t take cuts in line.
  • Say, “Excuse me,” when you pass in front of someone or step on their toes.
  • Move your shopping cart to the side so others can get past you while you try to find something on the shelves.
  • Let someone with only one item go ahead of you when you have a cartful.
  • Return incorrect change.
  • Let at least one vehicle into the lane ahead of you when the driver is obviously waiting for a break in traffic.
  • Don’t leave clothes on the dressing room floor—rehang them.

Many years ago, I took “est” training. One of the mantras we learned was, “What you resist persists.” In other words, we get repeated chances to learn to incorporate into our reality things which we cannot control or change. I presume that’s why the talkers always sit near me. As long as it’s an “issue” for me, I get to keep having opportunities to learn to handle it!

My most instructive incident happened when I went to a summertime movie in Palm Springs. I was sitting with my friend at the left side of a row in a nearly empty theater. At the right end of the row behind us was an older woman with her husband. Shortly after the movie began, she started telling him everything that was happening on the screen. I tried the look, the simple “Shhh,” and then a much louder “Shhhhh!”—all to no avail. She continued her running narrative of the film through the entire performance.

When the film finally ended, I raced to the end of the row so I could confront the woman. “Ma’am, why don’t you wait for the movie to come out on tape so you can see it at home without bothering others, since your husband is obviously hard of hearing?” I said.

She smiled sweetly—and patiently—at me, and said, “Honey, my husband isn’t hard of hearing. He doesn’t see well.”

What you resist persists.

Published in Know Your Neighbors