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Know Your Neighbors

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…
31 Dec 2014
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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,…
17 Dec 2014
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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…
03 Dec 2014
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Back in 1968, when the feminist movement was in full swing, a significant protest was staged in Atlantic City against the Miss America beauty pageant. The protest was organized by author Robin Morgan, who attacked “the degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol” so prevalent in the media, and the “ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.” I was part of that feminist movement, concerned about the objectification of women—paraded in bathing suits and awarded crowns based on little more than whether they met the then-common standard of “beauty,” meaning long-legged, tiny-waisted, barely talented and white-skinned. (No black woman had ever made it even into the finals.) While I did not take issue with the women who willingly participated, many of whom went on to enjoy interesting lives, I sympathized that there were so few opportunities based on anything other than superficial beauty to which they could aspire. There are concerns…
19 Nov 2014
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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.…