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Know Your Neighbors

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…
18 Jun 2014
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My dad couldn’t wait to retire. He started working at 14 and had done whatever he could, without an education, to support his family. I remember when he worked three jobs a week: running a catering truck, collecting coins from vending machines, and working in a gas station on weekends. He budgeted and saved to make sure he and my mother could have a comfortable lifestyle once he stopped working. He was proud to be able to retire—to do, in his view, “nothing.” I can’t help but compare my dad’s notion of retirement with what I see playing out every day here in the Coachella Valley—particularly the women in second and third careers who make a difference for their neighbors. The Democratic Women of the Desert recently presented their 2014 Women Honoring Women Awards. I was one of the recipients, given the Voice of Women’s Rights Award, partly for my…
04 Jun 2014
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If you belong to any local business or social organizations, you’re familiar with the practice of honoring students by giving out scholarships at this time of year. Almost every group raises money to support education for local students. Some groups identify students to be honored based on a student’s volunteer time with that organization. Others accept applications from all students and evaluate their achievements to select scholarship recipients. Yet others require students seeking scholarships to show their understanding of or support for the group’s interests. The Palm Springs chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, required applicants to write an essay detailing their support for women’s rights and their intention to use their continuing education to further that support. When I led that group in the early 1990s, we instituted the Barbara Wade Salm Scholarship, endowed by a former member, which is currently administered through College of…
21 May 2014
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Unless you’re one of those people targeted to receive vitriolic mailers from candidates blasting other candidates, you may not even know there’s a primary election taking place in California on Tuesday, June 3. Even if you do know about the election: Are you one of those who doesn’t think it really matters—and might blow off voting? Midterm elections are notorious for low turnouts, largely because the hype isn’t as great. They’re the elections in which nasty low blows and last-minute revelations dominate, yet they are often the elections which affect us most: city council members, judges, county supervisors, sheriffs and school board members are chosen. These are the offices closest to our everyday lives, and yet only the most ardent citizens follow these elections. In the Coachella Valley, we have a couple of really interesting races, especially in light of the new open primary that means all candidates are in…
07 May 2014
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Just before my brother’s wedding in the early 1980s, I got a death threat from my father. He said if I showed up at the wedding with my live-in significant other—in front of my grandparents—he would kill me. He may have thought he meant it. Did I mention my guy was black? My brother called and pleaded with me to come without Milt, to keep peace in the family—in spite of the fact that he and Milt were quite friendly, and we had often socialized as couples. “After all,” he said, “this is the only time I’m going to get married.” I finally agreed, with Milt’s support, to attend the ceremony, but to make a statement by skipping the reception. My brother is now very happily married to his fourth wife, and I have forever been ashamed that I caved. Another wedding just took place. My oldest granddaughter married a…