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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Regular readers know that I do a lot of work regarding end-of-life decision-making. I once discovered an advance directive written by a man who went to great lengths to define the things he believed made him “a person”:

  • The ability to understand what is happening around me.
  • Awareness of the consequences of medical decisions related to my condition.
  • Knowing who I love and care about, and being able to recognize and communicate with them.

He said that if ever he were no longer a person, based on this definition, he didn’t want his life prolonged. He also made a special request of his loved ones: “If ever anyone is in my presence discussing me or my condition, I want them to talk as if I were present.”

Reading that made me realize how often we inadvertently ignore someone’s presence. Nurse’s aides may be so focused on emptying waste or washing floors that they seem unaware of the person in the bed. Doctors sometimes consult with their associates about one’s condition and treatment while seemingly forgetting the patient can hear them. Family members will talk in the third person about something funny that Dad did when they were younger—although Dad is right there, even if he seems asleep or oblivious.

I once suffered from temporary aphasia after coming out of a surgical anesthetic—I was able to think clearly, but unable to speak or be understood. I was terrified. I was reminded of that scare at a recent recitation by the writers in the “You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway” group in Palm Desert.

One writer’s piece in particular really touched me. Patty Stevens (upper right) is a dynamic personality who is about to turn 80. She’s been in the desert 11 years from Indiana, and is the mother of six, with 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“I’m not a writer,” she says. “I just thought this was a good time for me to try, and all of a sudden, these stories started coming out. Now, I just love it.”

Stevens ran a day-care center for 38 years and entertained the children with song and dance, “but I couldn’t read in front of other people. Now I can’t wait to read out loud what I’ve written.”

Her contribution was in response to the suggestion to write from the perspective of something inanimate. She decided to take a broader view of what “inanimate” means, and created “Old Man Silenced by Stroke”:

When I was a little boy in grade school, my teacher told us to stop talking so much. … Miss Jackson told us about an old man sitting on a park bench all alone, not talking because he had used up all his words when he was young. That scared me. So I was careful to only talk when I felt I had something important to say.

I had a good life—great education—wonderful wife and three children. And to my surprise one day, I had a stroke. It was a bad stroke with no warning. I ate right. I exercised. I loved my life. And I had a very bad stroke.

Now here I am in a hospital bed with no movement of my body.

I can see and hear. But no one knows I’m here inside this wasted body.

Nurses change me, feed me, clean me, talk nice to me. I have a lot of words inside me, and I can’t speak. I saved all my words for a long life. What am I going to do with them now?

My wife came to visit and talked and talked and talked. I wanted her to STOP. I heard all about her activities. The children visited to tell me what vacations they were taking and were planning. I want to go. I want to tell them the plans I have.

My nurse will bring flowers and read cards to me. They don’t show them to me. They just read who they are from and put them on the door for others to see. Visitors laugh and tell jokes about world affairs. I want to read a paper. Please turn on the TV for me to hear and see news. …

I wish there was a plug I could pull. If God takes this much of a body and leaves these senses, it’s not fair. This is too painful.

I can still pray for others. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll do it the rest of my life. Pray for the world, for peace. And pray for others, especially those who come to visit. They need to appreciate their life more. And be considerate of others’ ears when they talk. Smile more.

I still have my life. I’m just a little short of some things, but I will give it my all till I die.

The idea of being unable to communicate may be the condition people dread most. I still remember the fear I felt. However, Patty Stevens’ “Old Man Silenced by Stroke,” albeit fictional, communicates the fact that there is still somebody in there.

Maybe my concept of personhood needs some adjusting. I think of that aforementioned man’s attempt to define what it means to be a person, and how easily I agreed with his need to be able to communicate. I think of those who find a way, through sheer will, to connect through eye blinks or artificial intelligence or because a devoted spouse can read their thoughts.

If I were trapped inside my own mind, unable to communicate in any way, I would no longer define myself as a person, although I might still be alive. What defines it for 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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

One of the joys of writing a column called “Know Your Neighbors” is the freedom to share some of my own experiences. I am, after all, your neighbor.

I’ve written before about pet peeves, including my greatest irritation—people who talk during movies. I’ve also written about how we regrettably see those unlike ourselves as “the other,” against whom we feel somehow justified in harboring prejudice and fear. Some of the hateful comments on all sides after the recent trouble in Baltimore epitomize this phenomenon.

Once in a while, however, we get the chance to see ourselves as “them”—in other words, we, ourselves, become like those people to whom we feel superior, those people who don’t know how to behave the way we believe they should. It happened to me recently, when those two earlier themes collided.

I decided to go to the movies early on a Tuesday afternoon not too long ago to see Kevin Costner in McFarland. Our busy season is all but over, so I assumed the theater would be almost empty, assuring I could enjoy a pleasant and blissfully quiet experience. I got my popcorn and soda, and walked into the small theater—which was amazingly more than half full. The lights were still on, because the previews had not yet begun, and before I even started down the aisle, I thought perhaps I had made a big mistake.

The people seated throughout the room, except for a few random couples scattered about, were clearly a rowdy bunch, talking trash to each other, being loud and boisterous, and shouting across the room to loud laughter with coarse language. The mostly male group had tattoos and leather jackets. My first thought was, “Oh, my God, a motorcycle club must have decided today was a good day to go to the movies. Maybe I should leave right now, traipse around the mall for a couple of hours, and come back to a later show, or ask for my money back and call it a day.”

I paused a moment while I considered what to do. I already had my popcorn, so what would I do with that if I left? And if I walked around the mall, I would surely spend money I really didn’t have to spend. Even in that short experience of the audience, I knew this would not be a crowd that would react well to the “Shhh!” at which I have become quite the expert. No, these were not the type of people I would want to confront.

Then it occurred to me that this might be the best possible environment in which to confront my knee-jerk reaction to people who talk back to the screen or who can’t seem to control their need to question what’s going on. (“Why did he say that?” “Isn’t that the actress who was in that TV show?” “What’s he going to do next?”) This might be my chance to grow as a person and learn to incorporate in my movie-going experience the reality that I have to share the theater with others who haven’t learned good manners. Wouldn’t that make me the truly superior one?

As I found a seat, one of the members of the “gang” made a comment about how I had chosen exactly the right row to sit in; I just half-smiled and sat. I began to listen to the banter floating around the room and gleaned that these were not bikers; rather, they were members of the Coachella music-festival crew, waiting out jobs for the following weekend at Stagecoach. They were either stagehands or security, and it sounded like most were vagabonds who move around and work shows across the country.

When the previews of coming attractions began, the comments around the theater changed to responses to what was on the screen. Some were downright funny, and I laughed along in spite of myself. My favorite was when a new movie with Helen Hunt was previewed, and the closing shot was of her saying to her love interest, “Just use my body until I’m through with you.” The group hooted and hollered at that one!

The lights began to dim; the feature film was about to begin. I settled in and told myself I could learn to incorporate the raucousness and still enjoy the movie without feeling it was my job to keep order and appropriateness in the environment.

As the lights went dark and the opening credits began to roll, from somewhere toward the front of the theater, I heard a loud, “Shhh! It’s starting!” Amazingly, the entire room went silent.

It stayed that way throughout.

McFarland is a good movie with a good message. It has quality production values, fine acting and an engaging cast, and the after-credits feature images of the real people who were part of the actual story, and say where they are now. I admit to a few tears (but I also cry at parades and football games).

Perhaps the best review of the film that I can give is that just before the final credits rolled, when the film ended, the room exploded with applause. I was, frankly, stunned. How often do you hear a movie audience show that kind of appreciation?

My prejudice about the guys in that theater, and my snap-judgment stereotyping, filled me with fear. I almost turned tail and ran. I’m so glad I didn’t.

People who don’t look and act like you do are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, even if they travel in “gangs.” Obviously, blue-collar gypsies (talk about a stereotype) ought to be respected, not feared, and presumed innocent until actions prove them guilty of something.

When you come right down to it, we’re really all the same: We just want to spend an afternoon enjoying a good movie. Just don’t talk while the movie is on!

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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

One category of gun deaths goes beyond even National Rifle Association-inspired “no restrictions on guns” inanity: when small children get guns and accidentally shoot someone.

It happens far too often:

  • Elmo, Mo.: A 5-year-old found his grandpa’s loaded gun and killed his 9-month-old baby brother with a shot in the head.
  • Emerson, Neb.: A 4-year-old got a rifle from a gun case underneath a bed and shot his mother while playing with it. The bullet went through a wall and a recliner, hitting her in the side.
  • Newark, N.J.: A 9-year-old girl was shot by her 12-year-old brother playing with a handgun in their home. The mother faced child-endangerment charges.
  • Hayden, Idaho: A 2-year-old killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart. She had a loaded weapon in her purse and a concealed-weapons permit. 
  • Tulsa, Okla: An Army veteran, 26, was killed after being shot in the head by her 3-year-old son. The child found a handgun and fired one shot.
  • Louisville, Ky.: A 4-year-old accidentally killed herself when she grabbed a handgun left by a relative on a piece of furniture. Charges against the relative were dropped.
  • Cleveland: A 1-year-old boy was killed by a 3-year-old family member when he picked up a gun, which went off. "It’s a sad day for Cleveland," said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams on newsnet5, an ABC affiliate. "This fascination we have with handguns … in this country has to stop. This is a senseless loss of life." The person responsible for bringing the weapon into the home and leaving it where the child could get to it was said to likely face charges.
  • Detroit: A 30-year-old Michigan mother was charged with second-degree child abuse after her 4-year-old son shot himself in the thigh. She apparently fell asleep on the couch after returning from a shooting range, leaving her handgun in her holster.

Locally, deaths and injuries from guns are in the news virtually every day, and the headlines are cumulatively alarming. Statistics show that more than 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns—and as many as 1.7 million of those homes include guns which are loaded and unlocked. More than two-thirds of accidental shootings by children could have been avoided if guns had been responsibly stored, according to Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“Nearly two children are killed in unintentional shootings in America each week,” Watts wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post. “America’s epidemic of gun violence has been sustained for so long that even toddlers and children shooting children is becoming a terrifying new normal.”

Moms Demand Action is the national organization Watts began after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn. The group is dedicated to demanding action from lawmakers, companies and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun-law reforms that protect children: child access prevention (CAP) laws. Although the NRA says such laws infringe on Second Amendment rights, polling shows that about 82 percent of Americans—and 81 percent of gun owners—favor allowing charges against adult gun owners if a child gets a negligently stored gun, and death or serious injury results. 

Dori Smith, a Palm Desert resident since 1999, feels we’ve gone backward since Sandy Hook.

“Part of what we loved here, coming from Connecticut with lots of time spent in New York, was how safe we felt,” she says. “But now, murders—particularly gun murders—–are seemingly increasing even in our beautiful valley.” 

Dori decided to join Moms Demand Action and start a local chapter. The kickoff meeting was held in a park with about 15 local residents: a retired rabbi and his wife; a former NRA member and proud gun owner who wants smarter laws to protect children; an elder-law lawyer and his wife who believe we need common-sense laws that hold adults responsible; two retired teachers who are concerned about guns on school grounds; and others with specific connections to gun violence. One person has a son who was held up at gunpoint; another has a mentally ill cousin who bought guns in a state with lax laws; another has a friend who was shot.

Marlene Levine, a 12-year resident of La Quinta who has been in the desert for 35 years, recalls an incident when her son was in the second-grade and was with a young friend—who wanted to show off the gun in his lunch box.

“To this day,” she says, “I remain thankful for the alert playground aide who saw that something odd was happening.”

There are no federal CAP laws or any national requirements for gun owners to safely store firearms. California is one of 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have enacted criminal liability on persons who negligently store firearms where anyone under 18 could get access, regardless of whether the minor actually gains access or uses the gun. 

These laws do make a difference. A 1999 study found that more than 75 percent of the guns used in youth-suicide attempts or resulting in unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend. CAP laws resulted in lowered suicide rates among 14- to 17-year-olds, as well as a decrease in unintentional injury in homes with children. In 12 states where such laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23 percent among children younger than 15. 

Dori Smith wants to expand the influence of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here in the Coachella Valley.

“This is an issue that should transcend politics,” she says. “It’s about keeping our children safe.”

As Moms founder Shannon Watts says, “There is no such thing as an accidental shooting when it involves a child shooting himself or herself or another person with a carelessly stored gun. It’s due to an adult gun owners’ negligence.”

We should not be satisfied that California has stiff CAP laws when children in other states are at risk. As a nation, we can surely do better.

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.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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’s the advice we’re always given by people who seem to have found a way to make their lives about following their passion: “Do what you love, and you’ll never feel like you’re ‘working.’”

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that luxury: We have mortgages, children to raise, car payments, spouses with physical challenges, fear of failure, and so on.

Every once in a while, we hear about someone who gave up the grind and, for example, moved to the hinterlands to play the guitar in small clubs, or creates blown-glass figures in his or her garage-turned-studio, or sold everything and plowed it all into starting a gourmet cake company about which he or she has always dreamed. Sometimes, those stories have successful, happy endings; sadly, most do not.

Thus, when I hear about neighbors who actually found a way to “do what you love,” I’m interested in how they got there.

John Wisor, 64, is a Palm Springs resident. He has a background as a health-care executive and management consultant. We’ve worked together from time to time in various nonprofit organizations, and I always noticed that when he shared his writing with me, his eyes would light up. John began by doing free-verse poems and tributes for friends on special occasions—weddings, anniversaries, deaths. He would print them on parchment and give them as special gifts. His work was gentle, hopeful, idealistic, warm and loving.

Then John wrote My Husband Is The Same as Yours, a tribute to the foibles of coupledom, straight and gay. He married Edward two years ago after 15 years together, and John’s comparison of relationships was his attempt to enable opponents of gay marriage to recognize the similarities rather than focusing on the differences. It’s also very funny; John’s sense of humor is infectious.

As writing increasingly became an outlet for John, he began developing tales and fables of the adventures of Iam, a small black squirrel who travels The Dream Realm, visiting places like the Land of Dreams Come True and the River of Wisdom—as told by the wise old Grandpa Grey. The stories were inspired by the joy he used to experience when reading to his former stepchildren.

“I don’t think there have been new compilations of stories that grandparents can gift and read with their grandchildren since maybe Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen,” he says—with that light in his eyes.

Enter Nila Hagood, 64, of Palm Desert. She’s the CEO of WillaB Productions, her videography and DVD production company. She’s been married to Jerry for 38 years, and her background included real estate management and insurance, plus writing newspaper columns and working with community nonprofits. However, her dream was to pursue art when she retired. “I was finally able to do everything I needed to do to survive: sculpting, crafts, needlework, painting and now videography,” she said.

Nila and John Wisor met while he was director of the Cathedral City Center (formerly the city’s senior center), and she was delivering food for those in need.

“The first thing he gave me was a compliment,” she says, “which always works!”

As they became friends, John shared his stories with Nila. “I wanted to help,” she says. “I asked John if he would mind if I took the stories and added to them. He had the ideas, and I could do illustrations.”

John was very open to Nila’s help. “She got my stories to another level,” he says. “Previously, I had always written for myself and for friends. But this is a way for a story to reinforce what kids should be learning, (lessons) that seem to be missing today, the values we grew up with. Nila wove the stories into a cohesive narrative.”

Says Nila: “What John has done is magic. The stories are unique and beautiful. Most fairy tales involve scary characters, witches and soldiers and violence, with children at risk. These stories are imaginative and intelligent, with a moral in each story about right and wrong, overcoming fear, using one’s imagination to solve problems, and how to live life and follow one’s dreams. Plus, children often don’t have exposure to how we’re all interrelated, and these stories provide that.”

Nila is a self-described “Internet hound,” and she researched the many ways to get published. As more and more individuals are now doing, they turned to a self-funding site, Kickstarter, to try to raise enough money to get the book into print. They raised more than their $3,000 goal, using a video Nila produced.

The soft-cover version of the book is now available on Amazon, and they expect it to be in hardcover this spring. Their marketing plan includes exhibiting at literary fairs and promotion via social networks, like Facebook, as well as through their website.

“I hope these tales and fables can teach us all the magic and wonder found in each other, and how we can learn from living life in this world we all share together,” John says. “Grandparents often only have moments with their grandchildren, and I want to help them make the most of it.”

I remember the books of my childhood; even as an avid reader throughout my life, I am forever tied to Stuart Little. I can still see the picture in my mind’s eye of that little mouse setting off to find his true love. His sense of optimism and hope infused my imagination and actually sustained me through some dismal times.

What’s your favorite book from childhood? For Nila, it’s Bambi. For John, it’s Little House on the Prairie. What do you want it to be for your grandkids? John Wisor and Nila Hagood hope it will be Grandpa Grey’s Timeless Tales and Fabulous Fables. For both of them, it’s been a labor of love.

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

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

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