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Thursday, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day—devoted to encouraging you to fill out an advance directive indicating who should speak for you if you can’t, and what end-of-life treatments you do and do not want.

If you’re someone who doesn’t want to think or talk about this … KEEP READING! Also, I’m not just talking to aging coots and crones—if you’re a legal adult, 18 or older, I’m talking to you!

National Healthcare Decisions Day is an “unofficial” national holiday—a collaborative national, state and community initiative to ensure that the information, opportunity and access needed to document end-of-life healthcare decisions are available to all adults capable of making informed decisions. It’s meant to educate and empower you about your rights and the importance of your wishes being respected.

Some quick background on the law: The first major decision about a constitutional right to refuse treatment was way back in 1891, when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a common law right to “possession and control” of our own bodies. In that case, a guy had suffered injuries in a work-related accident, and his employer wanted to surgically “search” his injuries to see if his claim was justified. The court said no, and this became the precedent for many later decisions, including the right to privacy and the right to refuse unwanted treatment. In essence, the court said you “own” your own body, and you can exercise certain rights as a result—much like the ownership of land. Your body is yours, and it cannot be violated by others—even the state—unless there is a really good legal reason.

In 1914, Justice Benjamin Cardozo reconfirmed that notion, writing, “Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient’s consent commits an assault.” That formed the basis for requiring “informed consent” for medical treatment—those pesky forms shoved at you right before surgery that list all the horrendous worst-case possibilities.

Two later cases gave additional constitutional support. In 1986, a California Appeals Court said that a “competent adult patient has the legal right to refuse medical treatment … and, whenever possible, the patient himself should then be the ultimate decision-maker.” In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court said that “a competent person has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment.” Also in 1990, Congress got the message and passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, which instructed each state to develop forms for individuals so they could name someone to speak for them if they were unable and to document their own wishes about treatment. Free forms are available in each state and can easily be located online.

Unfortunately, the public-education portion of the Patient Self-Determination Act was never funded. Instead of an effective public-service announcement (“This is your brain on drugs …”), we got 50 different forms and laws. If you had an advance directive in one state saying you wanted no extraordinary measures taken to prolong your life—for example, after a severe auto accident—that didn’t mean it would apply in another.

Luckily, individuals and organizations have stepped in to fill the void. One group, Aging With Dignity, has designed “Five Wishes,” a booklet that is accepted in more than 40 states; in addition to the two legal questions (asking who will speak for you if you can’t, and what you do or don’t want regarding treatment), the form offers other questions that are not legally binding, but which may help open lines of communication.

If you were unconscious, and you loved classical music, would you want acid rock played in your room? Is there someone you absolutely do not want there? Is there something unsaid that you want someone to know? “Five Wishes” offers the opportunity to write down things that state forms don’t cover.

There are groups that facilitate discussions about end-of-life decisions, including those catering specifically to young people, who usually don’t think this is their issue because the end of life seems too far away. Just Google “Advance Directives,” and you’ll be amazed at the wealth of information and support you’ll find, much of it free.

Studies have consistently shown that more than 60 percent of us want our own choices respected, but only about 20-30 percent of us have ever filled out forms. Since forms are not valid if you’re incompetent to make a decision—for example, after a severe brain trauma or advancing dementia—it’s important to have these conversations and get forms completed before you’re facing a crisis. You don’t need an attorney or even a notary: Any two disinterested people (not family members or health-care providers) can witness your signature.

National Healthcare Decisions Day offers the opportunity to focus on doing something you should do anyway. What are you waiting for?

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

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

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

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

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

We’re supposed to have multiple points of view, or parties, on the ballot—and then the candidate who gets the most votes wins. That’s what we call democracy.

But what if only those candidates who represent the majority of registered voters in a district were allowed on the ballot? Anyone representing a minority point of view would have no reason to even run. That’s not what we would call democracy. But that’s what we have now, since California instituted a new primary system. In essence, it means that if you’re not a member of the majority party in a district, your point of view regarding important issues may never even be up for discussion.

No room for Green candidates. No Peace and Freedom party. In some cases, no Democrats or Republicans.

That’s what has happened in the race for the 28th District California Senate seat. Based on the law passed by California voters in 2010, the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of party, are the only candidates placed on the ballot in the general election. Thus, in a heavily Republican district, like the 28th, Democrats, independents and third-party voters have no way of expressing their feelings through their votes on the issues or policies they feel are important. And what is worse: Those elected have no incentive whatsoever to represent those voters’ concerns.

In the 28th Senate race, our ballot will now feature a “choice” between either former Assemblymember Bonnie Garcia or Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, both Republicans. Registration in the district favors Republicans over Democrats by about 10 points, yet more than 19 percent indicate no party preference. The three top vote-getters in the primary were all Republicans, although the two Democratic candidates garnered more than 33 percent of the votes. The result is that the election in November will now be about how one Republican can beat another Republican, while more than 50 percent of the voters—Democrats and “other”—have no real choice at all. Instead of an election about key issues of concern to our area, and policy approaches to address those issues, we may have the spectacle of a personality conflict even worse than the primary, which was pretty ugly.

Luckily, in another local race, voters in the 42nd Assembly District will have a real choice. The lone Democrat in the primary, Karalee Hargrove, a member of the Morongo School Board, prevailed as the top vote-getter in the primary election in a district that is even more heavily skewed Republican than the 28th Senate district.

I had the privilege of interviewing Hargrove. A native Californian born in Lakewood, Hargrove was a high school dropout who married at 18. Divorced at 24, “I found myself the single mother of three sons living outside the Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C., and without a high school diploma. Bleak as it might appear to many, I came up with a plan. Within a few months, I had my diploma and was campaigning for a seat on Fayetteville’s City Council.”

Hargrove returned to California in 2007 to care for her grandmother; got reacquainted with and eventually married her “best friend”; ran for the Morongo School Board in 2010 and lost; then ran again and won in 2012.

“I registered to vote the day I turned 18,” she says. “While in Fayetteville, I helped to pass a law regarding police confidentiality, (and) I realized you can be just one person, but you can get things done.”

As a Democrat in a largely Republican district, Hargrove has built her reputation on trying to reach out to constituents of all political philosophies. “I don’t change my message for any individual group,” says Hargrove. “When you involve all the stakeholders, it’s always a better result. I always remember I’m not there just to tell them want they want to hear. Keeping it real—that’s what people are ready for!”

While it is daunting to campaign for the 42nd Assembly seat (the area covers a large part of the Coachella Valley from La Quinta through Banning and Beaumont, as well as Hemet, Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms), at least the voters of that district have the chance to make an informed choice about who should represent them.

Is it better to have someone of the majority party representing you, so your issues are more likely to be heard? Or is it better to have someone of the minority party willing to stand up for what you think is right but wield no real influence? Isn’t it much better to at least have a choice?

The best thing to me would be to have a completely open primary ballot, so that everybody gets the chance to vote for everybody. However, the top vote-getter in each party would appear on the final election ballot. Voters would have the broadest possible choices, and candidates would have to appeal to voters beyond just their own party.

While we’re at it, we should demand that those elected serve the entire electorate, not just those who voted for them, no matter how big the margin. If we don’t start holding our elected officials to that standard, shame on us.

Elections should be about choosing among candidates based on each’s ability to best represent all the constituencies in a district, not just the majority. At least in the 42nd State Assembly District race, the voters have a choice.

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

A 55-year-old Michigan man recently shot through a locked screen door at a 19-year-old woman, who was pounding on his door in the middle of the night, apparently drunk. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, because his life was in no way being imminently threatened, and he had ample time to call 911. 

In Long Beach, an 80-year-old man recently surprised two burglars inside his home. They beat him up, and when he was able to get to another room and get his gun, he shot at them, chasing them from his home out to the alley, where he shot the young woman as she was running away. He said afterward, “The lady didn’t run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice.” The burglars were unarmed. No decision has been made about whether the homeowner will face any charges. 

Can it ever be justified to shoot someone when they’re running away? 

After pondering these recent cases, I happened to come across a Life Magazine from 1992, with the cover story: “If Women Ran America…” The story noted that at that time, there were only two women in the U.S. Senate, and that there had been only one female Supreme Court Justice in history, but what caught my attention was a story about efforts to market firearms accessories directly to women—something then considered groundbreaking.

I got to thinking about whether women might have reacted differently in the two aforementioned shooting events, and whether the direct marketing of firearms to women has made a significant difference. Although female gun ownership remained steady during the two decades leading up to 2010, it has since been surging. Women now constitute about 25 percent of gun owners, according to some sources.

Bruce Jernigan runs Yellow Mart in Indio, a store that carries, among other things, pink camouflage caps meant for women who want to look good while shooting. Accessories meant specifically for female gun enthusiasts run the gamut from pink pistol grips to bra holsters

Jernigan, who has been involved in the gun industry since the late 1960s, remembers when marketing specifically to women began. He attributes increased gun ownership by women to two major factors: aggressive marketing by gun manufacturers, and more women living alone and feeling empowered to protect themselves.

“Guns are marketed specifically to women as an untapped customer base, and there are definitely a lot more women as customers now than in the past,” he says. “Society has changed, and women are more independent and more comfortable buying guns than they used to be.”

According to The Blaze website, “Gun manufacturers are trying to find the angle in their product line that will turn a predominately male-focused industry toward females” by using smaller sizes, color options, and elements that reduce user fatigue.  

Here in the Coachella Valley, there have been special training sessions to make women more familiar with guns, and more comfortable when guns are in their homes. One local group, Women of Higher Caliber (is that a great name, or what?), calls itself a “social club comprised of women who enjoy shooting.” Its founders want women to learn about guns and practice in an environment “organized by and designed especially for women, and grounded in women’s attitudes about individual protection and peace of mind.”

However, there’s another side to the story of women and guns. According to Demand Action to End Gun Violence, “ women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries” and “the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.” 

According to the Center for American Progress, “a staggering portion of violence against women is fatal, and a key driver of these homicides is access to guns. From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”   

The Second Amendment is the only one in the Bill of Rights which has an introductory clause: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Why was it written so differently from all the others? 

In 2008, the Supreme Court, for the first time in our history, held that the Second Amendment includes a constitutional right for individuals to keep a handgun in the home. The court made it clear, however, that reasonable restrictions could still apply.

I asked Bruce Jernigan what restrictions he thought made sense. He agrees with age restrictions already in place (18 for a long gun, 21 for a concealable handgun), and with denying purchase of a gun to a person with a felony criminal history or open warrants. As for mental-health restrictions, if we can find a way, then Jernigan is all for them.

“California is always on the cutting edge of new laws regarding firearms,” says Jernigan, “and restrictions based on mental health should be a priority.”

Training is encouraged, although not required, and testing is not necessary to purchase a gun—but is required, for example, to get a hunting license. 

It’s almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion about guns in the United States.  It’s hard to argue with pro-gun advocates who say, "If guns kill people, do pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons make people fat?” This is an example of “false equivalency,” a logical fallacy used as a debate tactic. 

People with pencils can write, and make mistakes, because the primary purpose of pencils is to write; people with cars can move from one place to another, even drunk, because that is the primary purpose of cars; and people with spoons can eat too much, because the primary purpose of spoons is eating. People with guns can kill because the primary purpose of guns is to kill.

Considering that two-thirds of the world’s people live in nations that are less homicidal than the United States, and women are more pro-gun control than men, it’s worth wondering: What would happen with guns if women ran America?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Being in love is a state of temporary insanity during which everything you find cute will eventually turn into the things that drive you crazy.

I should know: I’ve been married four times. My first three marriages don’t add up collectively to five years (a fact I’m not particularly proud of—but I am from California). I left each one knowing that I had to learn from the experience to avoid making the same mistakes again.

My fourth lasted more than 25 years, so obviously, I finally got it right.

Young people go into love with stars in their eyes. Mature people bring a more cynical eye to it all, along with lots of baggage—broken hearts, families, long-established habits, etc. I have friends who won’t live together because they don’t want to ruin anything. But compromises and adjustments are always necessary, particularly in mature relationships. Here are some things I’ve learned.

There are some things you’ll never agree about. We all grow up learning about relationships from the people we’ve watched in relationships, usually our parents. My mom and dad fought constantly, about almost everything. His need for control met head-on with her need to maintain her individuality. I grew up thinking you couldn’t really be in love unless you fought.

My third husband believed that somebody had to be the captain of the ship, and he would argue late into the night trying to change my mind about whatever issue was on the table. I finally told him, “It’s not that I’m not willing to spend the rest of our lives fighting about that, but it’s exhausting. We’re never going to agree, and I don’t think that means you’re supposed to decide for both of us.”

Not everything has to be resolved, and it’s OK to agree to disagree.

Your partner’s behavior is not your problem. People married to drinkers or other dysfunctional types are often guilty of ego involvement—believing someone else’s behavior is a reflection of them. Parents fall into this trap with their children’s successes and failures. However, behaviors belong to the person exhibiting them, and those behaviors don’t imply anything about you. You usually didn’t cause them, and you can’t fix them.

My first husband was an alcoholic who spent almost every evening drinking and getting increasingly agitated. A therapist at the time kept saying to me, “It’s not your problem.”

I didn’t get it. “What do you mean? Of course it’s my problem. I have to engage with him, or things will just get worse.”

One night, I found myself sitting on the stairs, watching my husband stalk around the living room. For some reason, it finally clicked: This is HIS problem, not mine, and for the first time, I refused to play. Amazingly, he left that night. We divorced shortly thereafter.

Not everything is about you.

When someone sees something that needs to be done, that someone gets to do it. Everyone enters a relationship with a mental picture of how it’s supposed to work, including role definition—who’s supposed to do what.

My fourth husband hated dishes in the sink; I don’t mind as long as they’re rinsed. I hate unmade beds; they didn’t bother him at all. So he did the dishes, and I made the bed. Sometimes, I took out the trash; sometimes, he did. There were no prescribed “roles”—we both did whatever needed doing.

“Husband” and “wife” (or whatever each person in a relationship calls himself or herself) aren’t job descriptions. You’re in the relationship together, and whatever it takes to make it work is the job of both of you.

You’re not applying for a job. My third husband was upset one day with both his female assistant and female accountant, and it spilled over onto me as we were having a drink before dinner. His grousing about his bad day came down to, “I should just fire all of you!”

“Excuse me,” I said, “I didn’t apply for a job. I’m your wife!”

Every mature relationship is between you—a whole person—and the whole person on the other side of the equation. You come with baggage and expectations, but measuring reality against what’s in your head means you’ll never be satisfied; your partner will never fully measure up; and you’ll miss the reality you can create together, moment by moment.

Expectations kill relationships.

Nobody can read your mind. My last husband was in show business, and whenever I went with him to an industry event, I always felt like an appendage. Nobody would talk to me; few even looked at me when they realized I couldn’t affect their careers. I was involved in politics, and my husband hated those gatherings at which I had to work the room, and he had to make small talk with people he didn’t know.

We set a ground rule: If either of us needed the other to attend an event, we went properly dressed and suitably social. If an event was one at which we would like the other to come, but it wasn’t necessary, then it was truly optional with no penalty.

One of the keys to a good relationship is not penalizing the other when they don’t act the way we expect them to, rather than telling them honestly exactly what we want and need. Nobody can read your mind.

Gift-giving is not about sandbagging your partner. Some people are really good at figuring out what a partner would like or need as a gift. Some people haven’t a clue. I broke off a relationship once because our first Christmas he gave me a Lazy Susan.

Here’s what works: All year long, whenever you see an ad in print, or a catalog comes, tear out pictures of things you really like, in varying price ranges. Indicate colors/sizes, and leave them around where your partner can’t help but see them. (Pasting to the bathroom mirror works well.) Warn partners well in advance of gift occasions: “My birthday is next Tuesday, and you know that’s important to me.”

When the occasion comes around, you’re assured you’ll get something you want, and you’ll be surprised, because you won’t know which thing you’re getting. Make it easy for your partner to make you happy.

Relationships aren’t easy. When you’re emotionally invested and make yourself vulnerable, you can get hurt. It helps to set some ground rules—and then experience the unfolding reality together.

Published in Know Your Neighbors