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Know Your Neighbors

05 Nov 2014
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How do you start up something new? No matter how worthy the cause, you need individuals who see a need and are willing to volunteer a substantial amount of time to satisfy that need. A local coalition has cropped up committed to creating a “Dementia-Friendly Coachella Valley,” composed of individuals who represent local nonprofit organizations, those diagnosed with or caring for someone with a dementia-related disease (like Alzheimer’s), medical professionals and interested citizens. The DF-CV group recently sponsored the first Dementia-Friendly Café as a way to expand awareness that those living with a diagnosis of a dementia-related disease are still able to enjoy life, socialize and be in a public setting without fear. They wanted to create a “safe space” in which people could come together for a purely social event. What is a safe space? To me, it’s a place where one can be truly oneself, relaxed and able…
22 Oct 2014
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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:…
08 Oct 2014
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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…
24 Sep 2014
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The new development in Orange County featured lovely homes, wide streets and lots of families. Block parties were common in the neighborhood, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. The couple on the corner socialized—always as a couple. In fact, the wife didn’t even drive: Her husband took her to the market. They seemed inseparable and always appeared happy. The other wives were jealous. “My husband would never go to the market with me,” they would say, enviously. It wasn’t until much later that we found out he was beating the crap out of her behind their lovely drapes. Perhaps that explained why she never socialized by herself and often would not be seen for several days at a time. With the recent high-profile stories of “domestic” abuse—named as if were somehow tamer than other violence—I’ve been thinking about that woman, and how isolated she must have felt. In those…
10 Sep 2014
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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…
27 Aug 2014
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I’m having a problem with some of our neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s just that—my problem. Social Rule System Theory, a field of sociological study, analyzes how human social activity is organized and regulated. These often informal rules include language, customs and codes of conduct. The theory holds that the “making, interpretation and implementation of social rules are universal in human society.” It’s how we learn to live with other people. Many social rules are culturally influenced. This helps explain why people from densely populated areas, like Southeast Asia or New York, tend to push to the front of any line rather than neatly lining up to wait their turn. Where they come from, if you wait, your turn will never come. A New Yorker friend, Peter, recalled his experience in London, where people were confusedly dithering about while lining up to get on a bus. He purposefully strode to the front…
13 Aug 2014
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A 55-year-old Michigan man recently shot through a locked screen door at a 19-year-old woman, who was pounding on his door in the middle of the night, apparently drunk. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, because his life was in no way being imminently threatened, and he had ample time to call 911. In Long Beach, an 80-year-old man recently surprised two burglars inside his home. They beat him up, and when he was able to get to another room and get his gun, he shot at them, chasing them from his home out to the alley, where he shot the young woman as she was running away. He said afterward, “The lady didn’t run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice.” The burglars were unarmed. No decision has been made about whether the homeowner will face any charges. Can it…
30 Jul 2014
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Being in love is a state of temporary insanity during which everything you find cute will eventually turn into the things that drive you crazy. I should know: I’ve been married four times. My first three marriages don’t add up collectively to five years (a fact I’m not particularly proud of—but I am from California). I left each one knowing that I had to learn from the experience to avoid making the same mistakes again. My fourth lasted more than 25 years, so obviously, I finally got it right. Young people go into love with stars in their eyes. Mature people bring a more cynical eye to it all, along with lots of baggage—broken hearts, families, long-established habits, etc. I have friends who won’t live together because they don’t want to ruin anything. But compromises and adjustments are always necessary, particularly in mature relationships. Here are some things I’ve learned.…
16 Jul 2014
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We’ve seen lots of reminders of 1964 this year—partly because it was 50 years ago, a nice milestone, and partly because we are facing issues today that eerily echo the issues of that year. Maybe history does always repeat itself. Maybe we just keep making the same mistakes. I recently watched a documentary about 1964’s Freedom Summer project, when college students volunteered to register black voters in Mississippi, an effort that got three young volunteers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—killed. That summer’s activity broke the back of Jim Crow laws in the South, but only after 35 shooting incidents, six activists murdered, 80 beatings, and 65 houses and churches burned. It was also the year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, originally proposed by President Kennedy and signed by President Johnson. It abolished racial segregation in education, workplaces and public accommodations, and outlawed discrimination based on race,…
02 Jul 2014
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Alejandra Franco is a remarkable young woman. She’s heading into her senior year at Desert Mirage High School, but first, she is excited about her trip this summer to study at Yale University in their Global Scholars Program for high school students. “I kept getting emails from Yale and other colleges trying to recruit me,” she says, “but I want to study at Yale, so this was a wonderful opportunity. I didn’t expect to get picked when I applied, because there are so many other talented students out there. Then they offered me a full scholarship. I just had to find a way to pay for the plane ticket, and got help from the local migrant program. I’ll be studying politics, law and economics.” How does a young woman living in Thermal, in a school district often portrayed as underprivileged and underperforming, find the way toward becoming the first in…