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Know Your Neighbors

20 May 2015
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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…
06 May 2015
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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…
22 Apr 2015
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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…
08 Apr 2015
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Thursday, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day—devoted to encouraging you to fill out an advance directive indicating who should speak for you if you can’t, and what end-of-life treatments you do and do not want. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to think or talk about this … KEEP READING! Also, I’m not just talking to aging coots and crones—if you’re a legal adult, 18 or older, I’m talking to you! National Healthcare Decisions Day is an “unofficial” national holiday—a collaborative national, state and community initiative to ensure that the information, opportunity and access needed to document end-of-life healthcare decisions are available to all adults capable of making informed decisions. It’s meant to educate and empower you about your rights and the importance of your wishes being respected. Some quick background on the law: The first major decision about a constitutional right to refuse treatment was way back in…
25 Mar 2015
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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…
11 Mar 2015
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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…
25 Feb 2015
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My friend in Indian Wells was in his 80s, a retired executive and published author suffering from a recurrence of cancer. He had successfully fought it for several years, even entering an experimental drug program—but it was finally clear the cancer could not be beaten. As his ability to move around freely diminished, he realized he would not be able to write nor to pursue his voracious reading habit much longer. He called and asked if I would meet with him to talk about his end-of-life choices, because of my long work on such issues; I immediately said I’d be there. He laid out his concerns and had clearly thought through his options—including shortening his own life. He felt the quality of his life quickly ebbing away. With no spouse and no children (though he had other close family connections), he finally did make the choice to end his life—secretly…
12 Feb 2015
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I began smoking marijuana in the 1960s, when my memory says it was cheaper, purer and more fun. Of course, we know what pot does to one’s memory. Pot-smokers tend to know other pot-smokers, so even when you move to a new area, you manage to find each other. When I returned to the Coachella Valley in 2007, after seven years away to attend law school in San Diego, I had a local friend who, likewise, had a friend. I sometimes cadged from a pal in Los Angeles. In spite of the difficulty of getting pot, I resisted even thinking about getting a “license.” Then I talked to someone who had one—and I realized I was being silly. (Besides, I don’t plan on ever running for public office again.) This is not a rah-rah endorsement of smoking pot. It’s not natural for lungs, and it can impair driving. Like liquor…
28 Jan 2015
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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…
14 Jan 2015
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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…