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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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 lovely man who is crazy in love with her. With due deference to my late mother’s admonition that “family is about happy times, not funerals,” we all flew into Portland, Ore., from around the world to gather and celebrate.

I normally cry profusely at such events, but my tears this time were reserved for that moment when I saw my son walk his daughter down the aisle: I realized he was literally handing off his first-born child. It’s a life-changing event, and I could feel both his pride and his ambivalence.

Then the preacher asked, “Who gives this woman to be married?” My son dutifully said, “Her mother and I do,” although his wife had not accompanied them down the aisle.

The fact that we are still acting as if a father “owns” his daughter and passes that “ownership” along to another man, only abandoned in public policy in recent history (for example, women can now have credit and make medical decisions on their own), made me catch my breath. This is 2014. Why aren’t both sets of parents asked to deliver their children to each other? 

Also on my mind: The highly publicized rantings of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. We’re all aware of the sensationalized, “You can do anything but … don’t bring him to my games,” statements regarding her public appearance with Magic Johnson, among others.

Sterling was apparently upset that his girlfriend/mistress/assistant (take your pick), who describes herself as Mexican and black (“You're supposed to be a delicate White or a delicate Latina girl," he told her), was somehow disrespecting him by appearing publicly with a black man. His racism and ignorance were appropriately publicly censured. But what hasn’t really been discussed is that he apparently holds the belief that his image is based on her behavior, like an employer who tells you how to act with customers, because you are representing him or her and are expected to do nothing that would put that employer in a bad light.

Sterling’s racism is proven by his concern about appearances, just as my father was. (To be charitable, perhaps it was only my father’s perception about the racism of his parents.)

Then there’s the appropriate outrage, finally, about the girls abducted in Nigeria by some fringe group of idiots who believe that publicly educating females means the end of their world, a notion only abolished from our own public policy in the 20th century. Girls need to be married off, not educated, say the extremists in Nigeria, and somehow, they make the illogical leap that they should therefore fund their activities by selling the girls to men who will own them. Even in America, some can’t abide the notion of true gender equality.

So within the space of one week, I experienced my reaction to two weddings and racism, with the ownership of women as the unifying theme among seemingly disparate events. I suppose I could be accused of letting my feminist politics overwhelm and define things that are merely social conventions, or public displays of ignorance, or ego-involvement events, or self-defined religious extremists going against their own religious teachings.

But I’m trying to figure out how to make sense of and promote understanding of the pernicious effect of seeing others of our own species as inferior. This instinct is in all of us, perhaps inherited from a tribal “us vs. them” mentality, but leading inevitably to borders between lands, to slavery, to “the final solution,” to women as property. It pervades everything. It is held on a level often so unconscious that we can’t believe it is motivating us in any way. It permeates our religious teachings and our cultural norms.

Unless and until we can “own” this part of our nature, and do whatever is necessary to obliterate it, ownership of women—and others—will continue to be part of the reality of being human.

We could start with absolute public censure of people like Donald Sterling, regardless of position or fortune, and making it impossible for anyone with those views to do business or participate in our institutions.

We could make it the social norm that brides walk down the aisle on their own, proudly going toward their own future without anyone passing them on.

We could adjudicate that people cannot be defined or punished based on whom they love or with whom they associate.

We could recognize that each of us carries this addiction to superiority around inside of us, and the manifestations, while appearing very different, all spring from the same source.

The first step toward sobriety is acknowledging there is a problem.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At this time of year—when Passover, Easter and Earth Day are upon us—we tend toward reflection on rebirth, resurrection, the passion for freedom, and the hope for preservation and continuity of our species. Some do this reflection through religion; some do so through nature; others do so through an honest belief in the triumph of reason and the power of knowledge.

William Edelen is one of the latter.

Born in West Texas, Edelen was originally ordained as a Presbyterian minister after studies at the University of Chicago, but he migrated to the Congregational church more than 30 years ago. Why the shift? 

“The Presbyterians were always looking over my shoulder, listening to what I was preaching to make sure I was doing the dogma,” he says. 

He has ultimately come to see himself as a humanist. How did that come about? “Just through thinking.”

Edelen taught comparative religion at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., and has published several books.

I first met “Bill” Edelen here in the desert about 20 years ago, when our paths crossed during public events. I was impressed by him, especially since I had read his syndicated newspaper columns and found his views candid and refreshing. He eschewed traditional dogma and always seemed to be attempting to find the core connections that could transcend differences and bind us together as human beings. He preaches the beauty of uncertainty.

“I was made a brother by the Lakota Sioux,” he explains, “and they say, ‘You must embrace the mystery.’ Everything is relative to the mind that entertains it.”

Edelen describes his approach to philosophical and faith questions as anthropological in nature, asking: “Is it constructive or destructive to human evolution? Things are always changing; there are no absolutes.” He embraces the Unitarian credo: “To question is the answer.”

“The letters to the editor about my columns have been hilarious,” says Edelen. “I especially remember the guy who said, ‘You’re destroying Christianity. I hope you’ll burn in hell forever.’ And he signed it, ‘In the love of Christ.’

“And then there was my very favorite: ‘We consider you a termite in the woodwork of civilization.’ Isn’t that great? People say, ‘I don’t want to learn something that goes against my faith.’ I say there is nothing more interesting than learning, questioning, thinking.”

An early influence on Edelen was Frank Cross, one of the interpreters of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“He stood in front of a class I attended,” says Edelen, “and he said, ‘This is the Bible. We’re stuck with it. Please let’s make the best of it.’ And I knew then that this was someone I wanted to hear.”

In the words of Buckminster Fuller: "William Edelen is an original thinker in the oldest of thinking worlds, that is, thinking about God. He's in love with the truth. Edelen dares to do his own thinking. He has wide experience to enrich that thinking."

Edelen settled in the desert at the behest of Rancho Mirage-based publishing magnate and philanthropist Walter Annenberg, who had read Edelen’s newspaper columns and sponsored him to start a symposium in the desert. 

“He sent me a letter,” says Edelen, “and said, ‘I’ve been reading your columns. I consider them monumental in raising the levels of religious literacy.’”

Edelen’s weekly symposium began more than 25 years ago and is still held on alternate Sundays at the old Tennis Club in Palm Springs. 

At 92 years old, and despite physical challenges within the past several years, Edelen is still going strong. His symposiums are a wonderful place to meet interesting people here in the desert. I have often attended, and had the privilege of interviewing Edelen on my radio show. You can get on his weekly e-blast list and find out when the next gathering will be held by sending a request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve had the experience of meeting two living beings with visible auras—and I don’t even believe in that stuff. The first was Cesar Chavez, with whom I was privileged to share a stage in Coachella many years ago. I couldn’t believe it at first when I saw his aura. I thought it must surely be a trick of the sun. I looked away, and then looked at him again, and there it was: a visible halo of light around this ordinary man. Well, maybe not so ordinary after all.

There is another man whose aura I have seen. His name is William Edelen, and he is a preacher—a man of great wisdom, humor, depth and intelligence. I am privileged to be counted among his friends.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I recently attended a seminar on technological literacy in K-12 classrooms, held at California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. It was conducted by one of the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, Jessica Pack, from our own James Workman Middle School in Cathedral City, along with Derrick Lawson, principal of Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle School in La Quinta.

Soon after, I received an amazing book, Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, about what he sees as an attempt to destroy public education.

Let me explain how these subjects are connected.

Jessica Pack is one of those teachers we would all remember if we had been lucky enough to be in her classroom. She teaches language arts, social studies and technology to sixth-graders. Her enthusiasm about introducing varying types of technology to her students, and her pride in the results she has seen, is genuine and joyful.

“For me,” says Pack, “anything less than a passionate approach to education isn’t enough. I am a change agent, constantly learning and changing as a professional in order to transform my classroom further, and reach my students more effectively than ever before.”

Pack’s approach to teaching is to establish a “memorable, extraordinary and safe place” for students to learn. She is involved in organizations that promote a technology-rich classroom environment, and acknowledges that in her classroom, the students are often teaching each other.

In Pack’s classroom, students are encouraged to create their own short films, using technology to demonstrate and share what they are learning. “When students use technology, they are absolutely fearless,” says Pack. “Instead of just being consumers of education, they become producers, showing their thinking and reasoning, and demonstrating mastery of subject matter.”

Samples of the short films made by Pack’s students were awe-inspiring, particularly because the students had planned, written, produced, filmed and acted in the films—and the subjects they tackled were substantive and meaningful.

Lawson, speaking in his enthusiastic, rapid-fire style, gave anecdotal evidence showing the difference the effective integration of technology can make in the classroom, particularly for students for whom routine memorization or outdated methods of teaching just don’t work. One example he gave was when eighth-grade students worked in teams to pick a current news event and relate it directly to an issue covered by the Bill of Rights. “The students get more invested in what they are learning.”

“We’re no longer in the Industrial Revolution when it comes to education,” Lawson says. “We have to match the learning tool to the student. We’re looking for evidence of learning and what we can do to enhance that learning. We have to know how to embed learning so it sticks and can be demonstrated.”

After the encouraging view of current educational methods presented at the seminar, I began to read Kuhn’s book. I’ve often talked about what I see as an assault on public education in the “reform” movements of recent years—privatization, charter schools, “choice,” reduced funding, endless testing, teacher-bashing, and depressing statistics about the lack of educational equity, particularly for poor and minority students. Kuhn hits all of that from the perspective of an educator and administrator who is committed to public education and sees it as under attack from the “save the test but not the teachers” approach to education.

“I write this book to warn that the folks spending their leisure time declaring the American public school system an utter failure have an embarrassing number of conflicting interests and ulterior motives. … They tenaciously peddle their remarkably consistent message: Schools are bad. Unions are the problem. The free market is the solution. … (M)aybe they’re misleading us.”

When you witness for yourself the dedication and professionalism of teachers in our local public schools—who have to teach all students and not just those they pick and choose, and who are attempting to reach their students while keeping up with technological changes that happen faster than anyone can anticipate—you realize that Kuhn’s concerns about America’s commitment to public education are valid. Our free public education system is necessary if we are to survive as a culture.

Regarding the concept of testing as the be-all and end-all of evaluating our educational system, Kuhn writes that because “school- and teacher-ranking systems are built on mathematics, they are presented as unassailably objective. … The tests themselves may be objective … but the structures elaborated on the tests are often fraught with subjectivity and perfectly suited for behind-the-scenes manipulation.”

Kuhn describes the move toward low-cost fixes along with “investors and CEOs with stakes in educational technology or charter-school management organizations” as “an alliance of the well-meaning and the self-serving … It is ultimately cheaper and faster to cut down unions than it is to dig up our structural inequalities.

“In a young century already noted for brazen corporate malfeasance in fields ranging from energy to mortgage finance to banking to insurance, a ceaseless PR campaign dedicated to the devaluation of our public school system led by corporate lobbyists and billionaire anti-unionists should give us all pause. The crusade to cheapen this public trust is breathtaking for its audacity and its tenacity.”

Teachers need to be supported and valued for the professionals they are, and we need to let them know we recognize and appreciate their commitment to preparing the Americans of the future.

I learned at the seminar that education is about a lot more than preparing students to enter the workforce. It’s about teaching students to create, to work together, to respect differences, and to think for themselves, question everything and share what they learn. Every student is entitled to that, and only public taxpayer-supported education guarantees that for all.

Stop falling for schemes that attempt to shovel tax dollars into private education. Don’t be misled by what sound like quick-fixes or a return to “the good old days.”

Public education is essential for the socialization and citizenship of future generations, and the survival of our collective and ever-evolving culture. In Kuhn’s words: “Reform should be done by educators, not to them.”

The educators I saw at the Cal State seminar prove that Kuhn is right.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can coincidentally coincide.

I recently wrote about Cathy Greenblat and her stirring book, Love, Loss, and Laughter, featuring photographs of people with various types of dementia and reminding us that “someone is in there.” Cathy has inspired a local coalition of individuals and organizations to make Coachella Valley into a “dementia-friendly community,” patterned on similar projects around the world.

And now for something seemingly unconnected: The Board is a group of men, mostly of a certain age, that gets together monthly for lunch to gab, exchange stories, listen to speakers and generally socialize. They also occasionally have an event where womenfolk are invited. I recently attended just such an event, the day after attending a meeting of the “dementia-friendly” group, where one of The Board’s members, Larry Delrose, showed a film he wrote and co-produced, called Night Club.

Delrose’s film includes such film stars as Mickey Rooney, Sally Kellerman and Ernest Borgnine, in a story that centers on a residence facility where many patients have dementia. The film shows both the compassion and care given to such patients, as well as the callousness often encountered. It includes scenes that members of the audience laughed at nervously—possibly because the film showed many people in a situation in which we’re afraid we’ll one day find ourselves.

Delrose is a Rancho Mirage resident who has been in the Coachella Valley for 34 years. At 63, he has been married for 40 years, and has two daughters and five grandkids. He previously was a real estate investor, wrote a book called Directions to a Happy Life, and began acting and movie-making later in life in an effort to “pursue what you love to do in life.”

Why a movie on this subject? “I thought the movie business needs more mainstream movies that address social issues (instead of) extreme violence, dysfunctional families, horror and action,” says Delrose. “I thought I could present socially aware subjects to the moviegoer in a way that they could learn something about life, without being preachy, corny or too depressing.”

In her pursuit of photographs of people with dementia-related illnesses, Greenblat was determined to capture what makes them laugh, sing and dance. Delrose affirms that “music, dancing and being around younger people can help all older people feel better, especially music, (which) is like a free anti-depressant drug.”

This conclusion led Delrose, in part, to Night Club: “I want to make movies that expose a social issue for thought, make it a great script, get some well-known skilled actors, and bring in lots of kids and music. Night Club was a test for me to see if my idea was right, and based on how I saw people react, I now know that I’m on to something.”

What would it take to de-fuse the stigma attached to a diagnosis of “dementia”? We had a president, Ronald Reagan, who may have already been experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s while still in office. Singer Glen Campbell went on tour after his diagnosis, and only recently had to cancel performances due to escalating memory issues—although he is continuing to speak out about his condition.

Other famous people have gone public with their diagnosis and have helped de-stigmatize Alzheimer’s: actors Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Estelle Getty; renowned composer Aaron Copeland; boxer Sugar Ray Robinson; singer Perry Como; and basketball coach Pat Summitt.

I can remember when the word “cancer” struck fear even in those who had not received the diagnosis. We whispered the word. We didn’t talk publicly about it. Then first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan shared their own experiences with us, along with many others. Now cancer is recognized as a disease that can be detected and in some cases cured, or at least somewhat controlled; we have learned not to shun or fear people who have it. We speak out about it and walk with signs to raise awareness. Although we still fear hearing the diagnosis, we no longer worry about “catching it.”

A similar transformation took place around HIV/AIDS. None of us want to be told we have it, but we no longer fear being around people who have been diagnosed, as when people were afraid to send their children to school because they might “catch it.”

That is one of the goals of a “dementia-friendly community”—to not only de-stigmatize those with the condition, but to educate ourselves and our communities to understand that “someone is in there.”

The next time the person in front of you in line at Starbucks is confused by too many choices, or someone at the checkout counter at the market has trouble counting out change, instead of getting impatient and huffy, offer to help. That is the first step toward the Coachella Valley being a dementia-friendly community—and we all have an investment in that.

You can make a difference.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

He’s known as Peter the Reader to the students he meets with weekly at Bubbling Wells Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs.

Peter Fredric of Palm Springs is literally—and literarily—changing lives.

“I saw an article in the paper,” says Fredric, “and I was looking for an opportunity to do something in the community. So, since I love reading and communicating, I decided to check it out.”

What Fredric checked out was BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools). The original idea was to use actors to engage students in the joy of reading.

“I did some work as an announcer and reporter for television, became a tech writer, an account executive, came to the desert to build affordable homes, and worked with local KESQ in their creative-arts department,” says Fredric. “I began my first classroom assignment with BookPALS in 2007. I just wanted to make a difference.”

That same impulse led Tere Britton, a Rancho Mirage resident, to take on managing the BookPALS program in the Coachella Valley.

Britton worked with NBC in community relations when she was a single young woman. After a move to Chicago, where she was involved on the boards of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Art Institute, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Britton eventually settled in the desert.

“I saw a posting in 2007 from Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT) looking for someone to run a local BookPALS program,” says Britton. “I remembered that when I was in the third-grade, an actor visited our class and read to us, and I was mesmerized.

“We now have 50 readers in 14 schools from Desert Hot Springs to Indio. I try to assign readers to schools as close to their homes as possible. Readers don’t have to be in show business; anyone can volunteer.

“Many of the classrooms we visit are in socioeconomic areas where students aren’t being read to at home, for lots of reasons, not least of which can be language difficulties. When you read to kids, it’s so important and fundamental to their lives.”

Jill Mincer Singer, of Palm Springs, is also a BookPALS reader. After a long, successful career as a designer, Singer is now semi-retired. “I decided I wanted to do something worthwhile for children. I heard about BookPALS from a friend, and it seemed like such a good idea.

“When I walk into a school and down the corridors, and the kids yell out, ‘Hi Mrs. Jill! You read to me last year!’ or ‘I love the book we’re reading!’ it makes me feel good. There is so much joy in their faces, and they’re so appreciative to have us coming into their classroom.”

Does a reader need special talents? “No,” says Singer. “Whoever reads should just be pleasant, friendly, speak clearly and use some inflection based on the story, or the kids won’t stay engaged.”

Peter Fredric says a reader just needs to enjoy reading, care about kids and show up. “The students come to depend on me to be there. You build a relationship with them, and you see that you can make such a difference in a child’s life. One girl told me she is now reading to her mother and helping her mother learn English. Toward the end of the year, I even have them read to me.”

Says Tere Britton (right): “There are no specific qualifications. Our focus is to stimulate interest in reading and writing. The teachers teach them how to read; what we do is encourage them to enjoy reading, and to want to do it on their own. We are enabling them to become critical thinkers, and exposing them to new ideas and concepts. And this program gives students a chance to relate to people in the community from diverse backgrounds whom they might never otherwise meet. Every reader brings something special to the classroom.”

BookPALS readers don’t need to choose the books themselves; school librarians will find age-appropriate books, or classroom teachers make suggestions, although many readers enjoy digging through the children’s section of the library. Britton provides training, and teachers are completely supportive of the program.

I read for BookPALS one morning a week for two years, at Cathedral City Elementary School in third-, fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. With my grandchildren far away, it gave me a chance to interact with children, and it quickly became the highlight of each week.

I learned how dedicated elementary teachers are, how anxious to learn the children are, and how much a program like this can impact students’ future success in school and after. I keep the stack of valentines they made for me, including the one that said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

A personal awakening came when I discovered a delightful book called The Cheese. It’s a funny story of “The Farmer in the Dell” from the point of view of the cheese that ends up standing alone at the end of the song. Before I began to read, I asked how many remembered the song—and only one hand went up. I realized these third-graders came primarily from homes where the cultures differed from what I experienced growing up, and they hadn’t been exposed to things we tend to take for granted. What a thrill for me when, after I sang the song for them and explained the game, they understood and loved the irony of the book.

My greatest joy came when reading a story with a twist, like Stone Soup and watching as a face here, and then a face there, lit up with recognition of where the story was going. These were students whose thinking skills were being stimulated, and I left those encounters so full of appreciation for what they were giving me.

BookPALS gives a book to each child annually. “For some students,” says Britton, “it may be the first book of their own they’ve ever gotten. I tell them, ‘This is your very own book. You can even start your own library.’”

Talk to your neighbors and friends about this program, and consider giving a couple of hours a week to an activity in which you will make a difference, and you will enrich your life in ways you’ll never be able to measure. You will just feel it, and it will fill your heart with pride and joy.

Peter Fredric says, “Real men do read to kids.”

Jill Mincer Singer says, “Doing this makes me feel so very, very good.”

Tere Britton says, “We encourage children to know the magic of books. Children learn through our readers how to enjoy reading. This is a labor of love.”

For more information, or to get involved, email Tere Britton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Scroll down to watch a video on BookPALS. 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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Cathy Greenblat is a newcomer to the desert; she’s now settling in Palm Springs after living in Nice, France.

Greenblat earned her Ph.D. in sociology at Columbia University. She has published numerous books and papers, and has lectured in South America, Europe, India, Africa, Israel, the Far East and throughout the United States. She is soon heading for Indonesia and Australia.

In 2002, Greenblat gave up a tenured professorship at Rutgers to pursue her labor of love: photography and its ability to depict the sociology of aging.

Through the Coachella Valley Regional Office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Greenblat has been presenting her work locally. Her photographic display and its accompanying book, published in 2012, is called Love, Loss, and Laughter: Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently.

Initially focusing on person-centered care facilities in the United States with her 2004 book, Alive With Alzheimer’s, Greenblat’s photos now depict not only Alzheimer’s patients in the United States, but also in Mexico, France, India, Japan and the Dominican Republic. Her intention is to challenge stereotypes.

“People with Alzheimer’s are not, as they are often depicted, ‘empty shells,’ completely lost,” says Greenblat. “I believe (photography) to be the most effective vehicle to open people’s eyes … a better way to ‘face’ issues that are generally avoided.”

Greenblat’s photos capture the sheer joy, free laughter and loving interactions people with Alzheimer’s can have, in images documenting the impact of competent care and exposure to music and the arts.

One patient had been all but bedridden for several years—basically warehoused in a nursing-home facility. After his family had him moved to a place that features a person-centered approach specifically for Alzheimer’s care, his demeanor completely changed. Greenblat shows the once-inert man is clapping, smiling, moving along to music and even getting up to dance.

Cathy Greenblat’s pictures are worth seeing for the joy they evoke—the laughter between a grandparent and grandchild, for example, and the genuine affection between caring staff and their patients. Her photos allowed me to fully experience the reality that she describes: “Someone is in there … Quality health care allows people with Alzheimer’s to sustain connections to others and to their own past lives.”

According to HBO’s Alzheimer’s Project, 70 percent of people with Alzheimer's live at home, cared for by family and friends. In addition to hoping to preserve some personal dignity and a sense of connection to home, many family members may not be able to afford a care facility for their loved ones. Unless one is basically impoverished and eligible for Medi-Cal, the cost of such long-term care is not covered by Medicare or most health insurance, and few have prepared for their own situation by investing in long-term care insurance. This is an area long overdue for re-thinking by policy makers.

Phyllis Greene, a Palm Desert resident, had to make the difficult decision to move her husband to a local group-home care facility. They had prepared for this eventuality by purchasing long-term care insurance.

“I realized that when he had no independence left, had become incontinent, and would wander away, it was time,” says Greene. “I couldn’t care for him myself. I couldn’t watch him all the time. I thought I would feel guilty, but to be honest, the impact on me at that point was relief.”

Greene visits her husband several times a week. He doesn’t always know who she is, often mistaking her for his own mother. “He speaks his own language and lives in his own internal world,” says Greene. “He can get very agitated when I don’t know what he’s saying. The main thing is, I know he is getting good care and is in a safe environment.”

Bill Couturié, director of HBO’s Alzheimer Project, says the decision to place a loved one in a care facility can be wrenching.

"Not only is it very expensive to pay for care in a nursing home, but the patient is someone you love a lot—a mother, father, spouse, someone who has taken care of you—so it's only natural to want to take care of them," he says.

But Alzheimer's takes a great toll on the physical and emotional well-being not just of the patient, but of the caregiver as well. “It's not uncommon for the caregiver to die before the patient,” says Couturié.

There is a tremendous cost to the public as well. The Alzheimer’s Association says that “in 2012, nearly 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $216 billion.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In 2013, statistics showed that 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. (All Alzheimer’s is dementia, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s.) Those numbers are expected to increase to almost 14 million by 2050 as Baby Boomers continue to age.

Anyone with concerns about memory loss or other possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s can take Ohio State University’s Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE), which is designed to detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments. There is no answer sheet—you just follow the directions and then take the test to your physician for an evaluation.

The local Alzheimer’s Association office has helpful tips for caregivers and family, and sponsors caregiver support groups where people can share their stories and solutions.

“My goal is to change minds and hearts, to have this work be a catalyst for education, cultural understanding, and social action,” says Cathy Greenblat. Seeing her photos has expanded my consciousness not only about Alzheimer’s disease, but about the need for a change in public policy regarding long-term care.

My mother used to call me from her retirement apartment in Florida totally hysterical because she couldn’t find her keys. “I know I put them exactly where I always put them, but they’re not there. I’m afraid I’ve got Alzheimer’s.”

“Mom,” I would reply, “stop worrying. It’s not when you can’t find your keys—it’s when you don’t know what keys are for.”

Although it’s good to keep your sense of humor, I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s disease is not something to joke about, no matter how that may alleviate our fears.

Get the facts. Talk to your family and friends about your concerns; reach out for support; lobby for informed public policy, and see Cathy Greenblat’s photos if you get the chance. (She will be featured on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m., at the Annenberg Auditorium on the Eisenhower Medical Center campus, 39000 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage.)

There IS someone in there.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

After hearing the lamentable Rush Limbaugh refer to the “chickification of America,” because NFL football players wore pink to support breast cancer research (men have breasts too, you know, and also get cancer), I was fuming and determined to write about my anger and frustration.

In spite of that initial impulse, here’s what I’m NOT writing about today:

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As someone who was once in an abusive relationship (and if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone, men included), I’m NOT writing about how important it is that society recognize the reality of how difficult it is to leave and to stay alive. I’m NOT writing about how 44 percent of all women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by a current or former intimate partner

More than 135,000 women became extremely poor in 2012—not just poor, but “extremely” poor—and people 65 and older are now more vulnerable to poverty, up significantly from 2011. Although my big fear is to end up eating cat food, I’m NOT writing about why women haven’t demanded compensatory Social Security for those whose “job” is to be a homemaker and mother, so they can survive old age.  Nor am I writing about the growing economic disparity between those at the very top and everyone else, and its disproportionate impact on women.

• The United States is among only eight nations in the world who don’t give women paid maternity leave—it’s often unpaid if you get it at all without jeopardizing your job—and our need for universally available and affordable day care is an embarrassment among nations. But I’m NOT writing about how this affects women’s ability to hold gainful employment or complete their education and thus be economically independent. 

• Women are not present at all on the boards of major corporations. Twitter has a seven-man board with no women; 36 percent of the 2,770 largest public companies have no women on their boards; and companies with women on their boards have better overall economic results. Yet I’m NOT writing about why women aren’t controlling and influencing all investment decisions based on this regrettable fact—although if we could get rid of apartheid, we should be able to get qualified women on corporate boards.

• While “half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time,” I am NOT writing about the callousness of those who refuse to make work pay a living wage, or who demand deficit reduction by penalizing the vulnerable with food stamp cuts, or who characterize those who need assistance as lazy and unmotivated “takers,” yet won’t support the education or child care that would allow self-sufficiency. 

• Even as abortion and access to “women’s health services” are increasingly subject to ridiculous and onerous restrictions, I’m NOT writing about the difference it makes who appoints judges to federal courts—although it does.

As a political commentator, it’s enticing to address any of these issues and take both policy and political stands. But I decided to write about something bigger than issues or politics: the need to set an entirely new policy agenda. I believe that women, and men who respect women, are uniquely poised to make that happen.

My experience as a mediator has shown that when two polarized sides of a debate are dug in, there is room to head right down the middle and define a new way of moving forward.

Politicians are staking out ever-more-radical positions for niche constituencies, so I am sending out a clarion call to women of every political stripe: WE can demand a new agenda. 

There are more of us. We live longer. We’re getting more educated. We already do whatever we have to do to take care of ourselves and our children. We make choices—not always good ones—and we live with the consequences. We have a collective voice, and it’s time to be heard.

Get involved. Demand, as a group along with your neighbors, to meet with elected officials at every level, and tell them you expect them to pay attention, or you will organize voters against them. If big business and the wealthy can influence public policy, organized and informed voters as a bloc can have an even greater impact.

We can’t leave it to anyone else. Change takes time. Results won’t come quickly. But we have to be present and involved, invested for the long haul.

Get informed. Educate others. Consider running for office. Vote in EVERY election, no matter how small or local. Contrary to conspiracy theories, votes do count! 

Don’t get suckered in by slick slogans designed to “sell” a candidate with sound bites that don’t really inform.

Visit nonpartisan websites like the League of Women Voters or No Labels. Spend as much time on this as you do playing computer games.

Bottom line: I think it’s time for a women’s strike. 

What if, for just two days, women (and the men who support them) across the country stayed home from work, didn’t cook or clean, didn’t deliver a tray of drinks, didn’t operate the cash register, didn’t re-hang clothes on the racks, didn’t make appointments, didn’t help people fill out forms, didn’t sell anyone’s home or didn’t process a bank deposit. 

What if a few agenda items—paid maternity leave, universal child care, comparable equal pay, a raised minimum wage, and greater representation where decisions are made—were highlighted as SO important they must no longer be ignored?

If all else fails, there’s always the Lysistrata strategy

This is adapted from a speech given to the Sun City, Palm Desert Democratic Club on Oct. 28, 2013.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m always fascinated by people who find ways to change their lives and pursue their dreams.

Leanna Bonamici, 58, of Palm Springs, is a great example of such a person.

After a career in insurance and real estate, Leanna became a wine consultant, buyer and educator, teaching classes on how to have “wine-pairing dinners.”

“It was a very engaging subject,” she says. “I loved it. People would say, ‘I have to impress my boss.’ I always told them that the best bottle of wine in the world is the one that’s your favorite!

“But after 10 years, I wanted to do more. I was interested in how to reach the masses of people who aren’t really into wine.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Leanna had wanted to be a producer—organizing projects and seeing them come to fruition. “I wanted to be behind the scenes. For years, I carried around the UCLA extension catalog, and I finally took classes in production. I’ve always loved that side of things. Anybody can have a great idea, but how do you monetize it?”

Leanna wrote to various show business experts, asking them questions about getting into the production side. “I especially contacted women in the industry. They were very congenial and helpful,” she says.

While working for an independent producer, Leanna attended a production-related event in San Diego, put on by the San Diego Film Commission and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “There were world leaders in the industry, and I knew after that what I wanted to do. I got a day job with a fundraising organization, putting on events to raise money from people in the entertainment industry. Putting on events is production—you have to know where every fire is and how to put it out.”

Leanna came to the Coachella Valley in 1998 when her mom died, and her dad got sick. She committed to being his full-time caretaker. Her first “job” here was volunteering for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“While my dad was healing,” says Leanna, “he came up with a plan to pay off the national debt! So when he read about possible bankruptcy in Desert Hot Springs, he devised a plan to help the city. In the process of speaking about it at a council meeting, someone stood up and said, ‘I’ve got a local TV show, and I’ll put you on the air.’ So I thought, ‘I can work with them and produce a wine show.’”

When Leanna learned that a post-office building in DHS was becoming available, “I was asked if I could turn the building into a studio for local producers to use.” She made a deal to buy the building. “For the next 10 months, our entire family transformed the building into a production facility for rent by others, including post-production capability. Then I began developing projects of my own.”

Leanna produced a documentary about the mineral waters of DHS, and a television series about restaurants, Two Forks Up, both of which aired locally. She also produced a feature film which, she says smiling, “is still awaiting distribution.”

Leanna’s most visible current project is Shorts Showcase, featuring short films from around the world, which runs on PBS stations throughout Southern California. “I was thinking about this project for a long time,” she says. “I especially love the documentaries. They’re real stories and history.”

Leanna is now partnering with Palm Desert resident Carole Krechman on the CV Studios Entertainment Network. “We’re building a network for premium content—no gore, violence, or porn. We just want good product,” Leanna says.

One new show is Cooking It Up With Karly, featuring 11-year-old Karly Smith, a talented youngster who demonstrates healthy food alternatives for young people and their families. Another is the 30-minute weekly series The Real Desert, featuring desert resident/historian Steve Brown.

Leanna was a founder of the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television chapter in 2001. “We bring together women and men connected to the entertainment industry, as well as raise money for scholarships that support interested young people.”

Leanna’s hope for the CV Studios Entertainment Network includes support for the development initiative articulated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership that focuses on creative arts and design as one of its core sectors for economic development.

Leanna is also supportive of the performing arts pathway being offered by Rancho Mirage High School. “I love the idea of having that here,” she says, “but there are not enough jobs. We need to back up those students by building good production facilities locally.”

If money were no object, what would Leanna be doing? “I love what we’re building with network and production capabilities. However, if I had total freedom, I would still be producing, but I’d do the wine documentaries I’ve always wanted to do. I want to tell those stories, reaching the broadest audience possible—and I’d be doing it for the fun of it as well!”

As for pursuing one’s dreams, I finally graduated college at 59, then got a law degree, and just completed a master’s degree in Education. Like Leanna, I believe it’s never too late to change your life.

What are you waiting for?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Embarrassing confession: I’m writing a book. I’ve been working on it for years.

After bothering neighbors who have successfully been published, I’ve now discovered that there are two sides to the story (no pun intended): the writing side—inspiration, ability, dedication, discipline; and the business side—publishers, distribution, reviews, press.

First, the business side.

With self-publishing, one generally pays a fee up front and gets limited assistance; as orders come in, books are printed to fill those purchases. The writer gets a percentage of total sales, but can also purchase books at a reduced cost and sell them on his or her own at book-signings or via websites. The publishing companies may perform other services for additional fees.

Self-publishing—including eBooks—is now so prevalent that it is no longer considered “lesser” in a world where big publishers no longer control the game.

For Dessa Reed, a Palm Springs poet, getting published put her on what she describes as “an arduous path” in 2000.

“I formed my own publishing company and did it all, from writing … to word placement on a page, getting a graphic designer to do the covers … finding a recommended book manufacturer … filling out forms … finding a distributor to accept my book who sells to (the) only company that feeds the bookstores. … Then came the marketing—book talks, emails, a million talks to ladies’ luncheons, keeping track of sales tax, etc. etc.

“I paid for all that up front, but then everything was profit … although I still had to pay 40 percent distributor commissions.”

Whew!

The first publishing experience for DeAnn Lubell, a fiction writer in La Quinta, was quite different.

“My dad knew people in the book business in New York who knew someone at Doubleday. They found a small press to publish my first book way back when I was in college. I had a baby and a job—I just knew I had to write.

“I’ve now been working with a publishing company which does books on demand. I paid a fee, and they assigned an editor to work with me, did all the indexing, and facilitated book distribution to get into national bookstores. I gotten 500,000 downloads on eBooks. They’ve been terrific to work with, but you don’t really make a lot of money.”

Neither Dessa nor DeAnn works with an agent.

“I’ve done it on my own,” says Dessa. “I tried talking to agents and publishers. You get 15 minutes to ‘pitch.’ Where I’ve gotten help is from others who have written—hearing speakers, going to workshops, and through local writing groups, like the Palm Springs Pen Women and the Palm Springs Writers Guild.

“Today, self-publishing is almost the only way to get into print,” says Dessa.

DeAnn’s experience with an agent led to frustration. “I could have had an HBO miniseries. I’ll never forgive that the opportunity was missed.”

Then there’s the writing side.

For DeAnn, inspiration came early. “I was born a writer. I was about 9 or 10 when I first tried to write a novel. My role models were (comics reporter) Brenda Starr and the heroine of the movie Foreign Correspondent. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Two months into college, I walked into the editor-in-chief of the city newspaper and announced that I wanted to be a reporter. I got hired!”

Always an avid reader, at 18, DeAnn read about the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée on the isle of Martinique, a French colony.

“The story was that as a result of politics and discrimination, the evacuation of 30,000 to 40,000 people from a small town was prevented, and all but a handful died within the first four minutes when the volcano erupted. There was a man, Fernand Clerc, who tried to get people out.

“The story captured my heart and soul. I felt the need to write about it, but I took an oath to myself that first, I would actually set foot on the island.”

“I wrote other things and worked producing ballets and writing for publications, but Martinique never left my mind. Then, in an amazing coincidence, 20 years later, we were selling our house, and Yves Clerc, Fernand’s grandson, came to look at it.

“As we talked, and I learned he was from Martinique, I told him of my fascination with the story. He arranged a two-week visit to the island along with introductions to key officials and historians. It was like winning the lottery!”

DeAnn finally published The Last Moon. “It sat for five years,” she says, until she read it with fresh eyes. “I had a revelation of how to re-form the book, and finally, it was written the way it should be.”

It has gone on to win awards from literary organizations and high praise from readers.

Dessa Reed’s inspiration came in a very different way. In 1997, Dessa was in an auto accident from which she was not expected to survive. She spent months recovering.

“It changed my life so completely,” she says. “It made me adventurous and untraditional. ... I bought a beautiful book to write in, and whenever I had a thought, I just wrote it down. It helped me through it all. And, somehow, they turned into poems.

“I had never written a poem, so I went back to school and learned about how to use language properly: metaphors, alliteration, word techniques. I had never thought of myself as a writer. I certainly wasn’t thinking of it as a career, but it turned into one.

“My passion is to help people, especially young people, express themselves,” says Dessa. “I tell students, ‘Your language skills are the most important things you’ll ever need in your life.’ I see what writing can do for people and the difference it has made in my life.”

She holds workshops, speaks to classes, has produced poetry to encourage others to work through adversity, and is now evolving into essay- and editorial-writing.

DeAnn’s advice for aspiring writers? “You have to know how to write and what the publishing world is looking for. In my case, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.”

As for me, it’s back to writing. Keep your Kindle handy!

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

We like to group things: a covey of quail, a flock of ducks, a flight of swans, a pack of wolves. I spent last week attending two very different events where neighbors come in groups.

First, I had lunch with the Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD) to hear a discussion about the current and future state of Medicare.

The program, on Sunday, Sept. 15, featured our local congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician who has been instrumental in providing health-clinic services in places ranging from Haiti to our own local poor communities; and Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, an Orange County urologist who also teaches at the University of California at Irvine and has participated on the California Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee since 1997.

A streak of tigers.

Later in the week, on Thursday, Sept. 19, I attended an evening meeting of the Palm Springs chapter of Republican Women Federated (RWF), produced by Elise Richmond. (Elise does a conservative call-in talk radio show every Sunday morning just before my own show on KNews Radio.)

The Republican Women’s event featured author and filmmaker Joel Gilbert, presenting a showing of his film, Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception, described as “the real history of Barack Obama and his family.”

The film purports to prove, via a combination of known facts and “re-creations of probable events,” that President Obama’s father wasn’t really his father, and that Obama is a committed Marxist-Socialist (with some “red diaper baby” Communism inexplicably thrown in, as if all three meant the same thing).

I had heard Gilbert interviewed before, and wanted to see for myself what his film was about. Given the opportunity within the same week, I wanted to compare the experience of the two partisan groups.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes.

Both events included women and men in attendance, although there was a greater percentage of men at the RWF event, perhaps because it was a “special event,” as opposed to a regular meeting.

Each group had a “social hour” preceding the start of the programs where members can meet and greet, renew acquaintances and catch up on news and gossip.

A murder of crows.

Food was part of each meeting as well. DWD was a lunch meeting, well-catered by the facility with a lovely table setting—in fact, extra tables had to be moved in to handle an overflow crowd. RWF had a buffet-style table with spicy wings, thick-crust pizza, garlic bread and salad. The wings were delicious!

A brood of chickens.

DWD’s attendance was diverse, with board members (including the president, Josephine Kennedy) from African-American and Hispanic heritages, spanning all ages. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A drove of donkeys.

RWF’s attendance was, at least to my eyes, all-white. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A herd of elephants.

DWD’s stated purpose is “promoting social, economic, and political policies that reflect women’s priorities.”

One of RWF’s stated missions is to “increase the effectiveness of women in the cause of good government through active political participation.”

To me, the most interesting contrast between the two groups is that DWD is clearly “Democratic” in identifying itself—part of a political party—while RWF’s website conflates “conservative” with “Republican,” as if the two were necessarily synonymous.

A business of ferrets.

The DWD meeting opened with Kennedy welcoming everyone, introducing club officers, noteworthy guests and aspiring candidates in attendance. None did more than stand and acknowledge the introduction.

A convocation of eagles.

RWF opened their meeting with a prayer, which included requesting God’s assistance to Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to hold firm in the U.S. Senate on overturning the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The prayer closed in Christ’s name. (Do they have Jewish members?) That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, something that did not happen at DWD. Introductions of club officers were also made, and State Assembly candidate Gary Jeandron was introduced and gave a short folksy speech, calling Palm Springs RWF “my club.”

A pandemonium of parrots.

The discussion of Medicare at DWD was thoughtful, loaded with facts, and frank about threats to guaranteed care for the elderly and disabled, primarily due to rising health care costs.

It was valuable to hear, from the perspective of medical doctors, the impact on the medical profession of increased demand, lowered reimbursements, and a dearth of primary-care doctors. The discussion covered proposals to increase the numbers of primary-care doctors, as well as the expansion of medical services provided by physician assistants and trained health-care workers.

A colony of penguins.

RWF showed Gilbert’s entire film, after brief opening remarks by him. The film seems designed to scare rather than to inform. It includes a narrator, supposedly President Obama’s “voice,” reporting conversations that would have taken place privately between two individuals. Gilbert does not explain how he knows what actually occurred. Oh, yeah, there’s that pesky disclaimer, a “re-creation of probable events.”

A scourge of mosquitos.

A question-and-answer session followed each program.

At DWD, the questions (including mine) centered on budget cuts, health care for the poor, the expansion of insurance coverage, and a refutation of claims of rationing of health services, particularly to the elderly. The answers were not always what the audience wanted to hear, but included serious discussion about Medicare’s future.

At RWF, questions (including mine) about how some of the dots were being connected, often based purely on conjecture, were often responded to by writer/director Gilbert with, “Look it up on Google.” Yet, when one does, one finds primarily Gilbert’s own commentary, and similar conjecture without much supporting evidence.

A fever of stingrays.

Perhaps the strangest part of the movie was the claim that President Obama had plastic surgery to redo his nose so that he wouldn’t look as much like his “real” father. However, no proof is offered other than side-by-side photos.

A wisdom of wombats.

When I first told Elise that I planned to attend the RWF meeting to see the film for myself, she jokingly responded, “Be sure to wear a trench coat—you never know what might happen!” I asked that she not introduce me; I wanted to experience the event without prejudicing how others might perceive me or change their interactions.

However, after I asked a couple of questions, Elise decided she would introduce me anyway. This came after another attendee followed up on one of my questions with what seemed like equal perplexity at the illogic of some of Gilbert’s claims. (Perhaps Elise felt the need to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t really a Republican.)

A colony of bats.

Following the meeting, a woman commented on my “nerve” to have attended, and one gentleman, who introduced himself as a lawyer who occasionally heard my show, said that although we probably wouldn’t agree on anything, he was glad to meet me and was pleased that I was there. We had a brief conversation about the claims that had been made of Obama being “an avowed Communist-Socialist.”

I suggested that Obama had never moved toward a government takeover of all means of production (socialism); and that, in fact, Obamacare would be a boon to private insurance companies. And hadn’t the stock market rebounded nicely under Obama? The lawyer acknowledged that I had a point.

A host of sparrows.

What did I learn from these encounters?

The Democratic Women of the Desert, although admittedly partisan, seemed far more interested in getting and understanding information about issues.

The Republican Women Federated, although admittedly at an event with a specific purpose, were focused on trashing the president.

Before I left the RWF event, Elise thanked me for coming and showing “such courage.”

Why on Earth would anyone need courage to attend a public meeting?

A nattering of neighbors.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors