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Community Voices

15 Sep 2015
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We had barely covered the first 10 miles of trail, hiking north from the California-Mexico border, when my hiking partner, Flash, and I found the first Pacific Crest Trail casualty. A man in his 20s, face flushed red from heat, watched us approach with clear embarrassment. He sat in a small patch of shade next to a pack bristling with a solar charger and the latest, most-expensive gear. “You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you?” he asked. Flash and I eyed each other. We were each carrying six liters, enough to easily take us the first 20 waterless miles to the Lake Morena campground. We had planned our water carry days before: One liter for every five miles, with a little extra to account for the heat. It was before noon, and a big climb out of Hauser Canyon awaited us. How much could we spare? It was…
11 Sep 2015
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As I watched thousands of the faithful cheer ecstatically at the release of Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis, I felt both revulsion and empathy. If I’m being honest, the revulsion and the empathy were not in equal parts. To be clear, my empathy is with the faithful—not Ms. Davis, nor the politicians using her gambit for their own electoral power grabs. I believe that, for many, religion is a balm, something that provides genuine comfort and guidance. I honor and respect that. I also happen to believe that, for some, religion is a convenient cloak behind which bigotry in its most virulent forms finds justification. Ms. Davis is a four-times-married, fairly recent convert to Apostolic Christianity. She is also, paradoxically, a Democrat—although we shouldn’t be so surprised. Southern Democrats have been their own rare breed for decades now, so it’s no surprise she is not part of the Bernie…
02 Sep 2015
Many Republicans predicted that the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” would send this country into utter chaos. Of course, this didn’t happen. Nonetheless, there is murmuring among a few 2016 Republican presidential candidates that repealing the ACA would be one of the first things they’d do if elected. But in reality, the plan is working so well that it would be political suicide to try to repeal it at this point—and I am one of the millions of Americans who have benefited from the plan. On July 3, 2014, I was diagnosed with a detached retina. A blow to the back of the head a week earlier and two subsequent airplane rides caused the injury. I was in South Bend, Ind., meeting my partner’s family for the first time, when I got the news. I was given a choice: I could have surgery in Indiana, and be forbidden to fly…
20 Jul 2015
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I watched Caitlyn Jenner’s extraordinary speech at the ESPY Awards with fascination. She was poised and passionate, funny and inspirational. It was a heckuva coming-out party. And she was a knockout! Say what you will, but girl definitely has found the right stylist. Leading up to the awards show and now its aftermath, I’ve seen social media all atwitter questioning whether Caitlyn deserved an award for “courage.” Seems there are three camps on this. First, there are those who wholeheartedly endorse Caitlyn as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Prize. The second group honors the impact she will have, but are skeptical about and uncomfortable with the notion that she has done anything courageous. The third group is the usual assemblage of online haters who consider Caitlyn an abomination and an affront to all things American, Christian or civil. I actually fall into a subsection of the first group (and…
15 May 2015
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On a recent trip to California, I visited the North Coast, where spring usually means green hills with deep grass, strewn with lupine and bright orange poppies bobbing in sea breezes. This year, we found stunted grass, browning hills and the local news obsessing over the worst drought in California's recorded history. Suddenly, the most populous state in the country faces a harsh reality, with water shortages threatening all aspects of life, from the economy, to our food supply, to the very livability of our homes. Holed up in Bodega Bay, I heard Gov. Jerry Brown on the radio talking about mandatory water-use restrictions for California's 39 million people. Brown usually can be counted on to take on issues realistically, yet when asked if he would restrict the amount of water that goes to agriculture, he demurred. Agriculture had suffered enough already, he said. While we are all grateful to…
22 Jan 2015
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There is a stigma that often comes from women talking about menstruation publicly. And the shame happens in many ways. Last year, the online publication Jezebel published an article titled called “What Life Is Like When Getting Your Period Means You Are Shunned.” It profiled the life of a 16-year-old girl in Western Nepal named Radha, who, like all the other women in her village, could “not enter her house or eat anything but boiled rice” while she was menstruating. Radha was not allowed to touch other people during her menstruation cycle, because she’d “pollute them” and perhaps make them sick. She wasn't allowed to sleep in her own house. She must join the rest of the women in the village who happen to be menstruating that week in a tiny shed far away from the village. The Western world claims to be more progressive, yet even here, there are…
26 Dec 2014
College scholarships for traditional students just out of high school are in relative abundance in the Coachella Valley due to the giving nature of our local community. But what about nontraditional students—individuals who took a detour after high school for one reason or another, and then realized later in life that higher education or occupational training is needed to improve their economic situation and make positive changes in their lives? That’s where the Girlfriend Factor (GFF) comes in. GFF is a local nonprofit that provides educational grants and emotional support to local adult women so they can return to school to achieve their goals and dreams. To date, GFF has helped more than 100 women return to school. The Girlfriend Factor was founded in 2005 by Joan Busick and a group of friends. A CPA who runs her own business in Palm Desert, Joan has a special place in her…
16 Dec 2014
Robert Stearns, the executive director of ArtsOasis, passed away Wednesday, Dec. 3, after a brief illness. There is so much to say about my dear friend and colleague. Robert (pictured to the right, in a photo from last year) graduated from the University of California at San Diego in fine arts and art history. He then began his incredible career in the arts, which started in the early ’70s in arts and cultural management with the Paula Cooper Gallery and The Kitchen in New York City. He curated exhibitions, developed education projects and served as a senior staffer at some of the country’s leading contemporary arts institutions. He was the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the performing arts program director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the inaugural director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. He also served as an adviser…
10 Oct 2014
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The brown paper bag I carried out of the bookstore wasn’t there for the sake of discretion. Truth be told, the bookstore refuses to handle plastic anymore. Ideally, the clerk told me, the store was on the verge of going entirely bagless, so I was lucky to be handed a brown paper sack. But it was raining, fortunately, and as I walked down the sidewalk trying to shield my new purchase, I secretly imagined a few genuine watermarks marring the surface of a page or two—indelible reminders that the spine of the West’s summer drought had finally been broken. When (and if) the electronic book revolution gets more flexible and affordable, this bookstore might also be going bookless. Despite our latest national fixation with banning disposable plastic bags, nobody knows exactly how the future will be packaged. From an eBook merchandiser’s point of view, the traditional book is the archetype…
07 Oct 2014
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came to the Mojave Desert this September to announce a multi-agency effort to boost renewable energy development in the desert. But first, she had to go on a hike. “We went out into the Big Morongo (Canyon) Preserve,” she told reporters. “Fifteen, 20 minutes from here, there are wetlands. Wetlands, and 254 different bird species. Who knew?” I remember being amazed, too, on a 2008 visit to that same preserve with a couple of California conservationists. I thought I knew the dry desert, its banded sunsets and varieties of lizards. But Morongo was a wonderland of seeps and birds, where a couple of times we stopped to behold a desert tortoise munching on purple flowers. It was also a wonderland through which the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had hoped to string a transmission corridor. The city planned to call it the Green Path…