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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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