Monday, December 23, 2013

No laughing matter

   Robin Williams is pretty funny, and his new show on CBS, “The Crazy Ones,” in which he stars as the senior partner in an ad agency, is pretty good. An ad agency makes for an interesting sitcom setting, with lots of fun, creative possibilities for story-lines. Partly because of this, the show is finally a good vehicle for Williams’ vamping style - all the more after some of the sappy, wince-inducing films he has stared in (as with Whoopi Goldberg, Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to do with him).
   Michael J. Fox is also starring in a new show this season, “The Michael J. Fox Show” on NBC, which is pretty good. In this sitcom, Fox, beloved from his days on “Family Ties” and in the “Back to the Future” movies and who has had Parkinson’s disease, is charming as a husband and father with Parkinson’s who returns to his job as a television news anchorman. Some of the comedy is smartly (in both senses) based on his mild disability and having difficulty doing some things. The way people see him as “brave” is also mocked.     So why has Williams’ show been a hit, while Fox’s show is regarded as a “flop.” Apparently, many more people are watching “The Crazy Ones” than are watching “The Michael J. Fox Show.” Why is this, when both are pretty good sitcoms, as sitcoms go?
   I can’t help but wonder if people are uncomfortable with laughing at someone who is disabled. It may be too big of a shift, at least in the broader, commercial, for people to laugh at someone who they normally would, or should, have compassion or pity for. Also, that people are used to, and fondly remember, seeing the guy not disabled probably doesn’t make this any easier.
   But can’t having compassion for someone include laughter? Could it be that we can laugh with Fox and not at him? Or is disability just the serious stuff of tragedy?
   As for people finding the disabled brave and inspiring, maybe it is too hard for people to laugh at it when it’s something that they need in their lives.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Letting their light shine

   Here’s another of my recent columns from the Claremont Courier.


   Gustavo Arellano said that he has 5200 friends on Facebook. He said that Facebook only allows people to have 5000 friends but that, “like a typical Mexican, I snuck in another 200.”
   He encouraged the rest of us to be fans of his on Facebook. Or follow him on Twitter or Instagram. (I’m probably forgetting another social media site he mentioned.)
   That is, of course, if we liked what he had to say. But there’s no doubt lots of people like what he has to say or at least like hearing what he has to say. It is clear that Gustavo Arellano is popular, that he has lots of followers, be they friends or fans. One could say that Mr. Arellano is hot now.
   When he spoke a few weeks ago at the Atheneum at Claremont McKenna College, Mr. Arellano, the editor of the O.C Weekly and author of several books who is best known for his now widely syndicated “Ask a Mexican” column, made a point of letting this be known. He spent some time at the start of his presentation listing and explaining what he does and how to follow him. He said that it is important for any speaker to do this, “because it might be the only chance you get.”
   This wasn’t just a case of someone with a big head. It is evident that Mr. Arellano, who speaks in a energetic, upbeat manner and looks like a friendly nerd with his glasses, is popular precisely because he is so forthright. It is easy to see how people are attracted to what he says because of how the straightforward way he says it increases understanding and helps makes things better.
   Being the editor of an alternative weekly newspaper is no doubt the perfect gig for him - and all the more in a place like Orange County which likes to put up a homogeneous front. Here, in doing and overseeing long, investigative pieces, he can fully practice that most old-fashioned and radical journalistic motto: “Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” But it is in his work in his work in his “Ask a Mexican” column where Mr. Arellano shines.
   As he explains, the column, in which he answers questions submitted by readers, allows him to take on stereotypes head-on. The way he takes stereotypes about Mexican and immigrants, legal or not, and plays with them and “turn[s] them on their head” is evident in the very title of the column as well as the accompanying upside-down punctuation and image of a fat, unshaven, brown-skinned man with a huge sombrero. Mr. Arellano emphasized that he answers all questions that he gets, no matter how ugly, how nasty.
   To him, being open and honest like this is the key to breaking down barriers and building understanding.
   Mr. Arellano is also a food critic - did I say he’s energetic?  - and went on to explain that food often does the same thing. He has written a book called “Taco U.S.A” about how Mexican food has literally taken over America. In his talk, he mentioned tid-bits like salsa now being more consumed than ketchup in the U.S and the fact that, contrary to what is thought, hard-shelled tacos actually do come from a region of Mexico and were in fact stolen from Glenn Bell, the guy who opened  Taco Bell, from a Mexican restaurant across the street in San Bernardino. While he doesn’t recommend the food from Taco Bell, he is hopeful that liking Mexicans’ food so much makes it harder to dislike them.
   I was reminded of the evening a week earlier when I saw Ben Harper perform at Bridges Auditorium. This was another case, I realized, of someone sharing remarkable talent and energy and, in so doing, promoting understanding and community.
   This case, though, was particularly striking, even poignant, coming out of this community, from Claremont. As is well-known here, the singer/songwriter, who can be heard on the radio and has been featured in television programs such as the PBS News Hour, is the son of Ellen Chase, and grandson of the late Charles and Dorothy Chase, owner and proprietors of the landmark Folk Music Center in the Village.
   Ben Harper, who I recall loading the backpack on my wheelchair with items I bought when I would go shopping and he worked at Bentley’s Market (where Rhino Records is - this was something like 25 years ago), is very much a local boy who has done good.
   This was certainly clear at Big Bridges, with the cavernous hall suddenly an intimate venue, not big and cold, as the huge crowd warmly cheered him on throughout the evening. Not only was there passionate applause, there were many shouts of encouragement (“We love you, Ben!”) and some affectionate teasing.
   That Mr. Harper was alone on the expansive stage, placed on what looked to be an Oriental rug with only a chair, a variety of guitars and a piano and with a large replica of the Folk Music Center logo hanging in the background, added to the intimate, communal feel. Indeed, I thought he talked too much, but the chatting and Claremont rememiscances made the two-and-a-half-hour performance, with no intermission and two multi-song encores, feel like it was taking place with friends in a living room.
   I would have loved to hear more of his songs in that honeyed voice that I was immediately struck by when I first heard his debut album, “Welcome to the Cruel World” - songs with a folk grounding and with soul and gospel twists like “Waiting on an Angel” and “Pleasure and Pain” and with sharp, provocative lyrics, as in “Like a King” and “Mama’s Got a New Friend.” This isn’t a complaint, though, for it was a real treat to see Mr. Harper performing solo and holding such a large stage and audience.
   Even more of a treat was when, during the first encore, his mother joined him on stage for a couple songs. As was noted, the son-mother duo have an album coming out on Mother’s Day next year.
    At the end of the evening, with repeated thunderous applause and standing ovations, it was obvious that Mr. Harper was touched. He expressed deep gratitude, saying that “homecoming concerts come with a lot of pressure” but that “you guys lifted me up.”
   Well, the reason we lifted him up is that this local boy, with his sweet talent and sharp energy, lifts us all up, making us an even better community. Appropriately in this season of gratitude and gifts, Mr. Harper certainly has many friends and even more to sneak in.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving thanks in Claremont

    This was my column in the November 15 Claremont Courier. Need I say more?


   When I Nyoman Wenten put on the mask, the world changed.
   Yes, his face had disappeared, replaced by another face, one with a garish, lascivious, all but evil smile. But he wasn’t just dressing up. He wasn’t just putting on a costume, putting on a mask. When he put the mask on, he was suddenly, for a few minutes, a garish, lascivious man, a charming snake of a character, glad-handing those around him.
   Mr. Wenten had the audience mesmerized, seized with laughter and amazement. Indeed, the world had changed, and we were in a place where we were in the throes of this sly stranger, so easily seduced by him. All this was done with a mask - a point made clear with this being the last of a series of masks that Mr. Wenten donned, creating not only different but varying degrees of effects.
   This was a stunning highlight in an evening of highlights late last month as Mr. Wenten, who leads the Pomona College gamelan dance program, joined Leonard Pronko and Thomas Leabhart, two other professors in Pomona College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, in a panel discussion on “Movement in Theater: Tradition and Innovation.” Moderated by Laurie Cameron, who directs the college’s Dance Program, the presentation in the college’s intimate Rose Hills Theater was most appropriate in this season of harvest. With Mr. Wenten, Leabhart and Pronko, all of whom have earned international acclaim, not only speaking about but also demonstrating their craft, it was a cornucopia of the extraordinary theatrical talent and wisdom that Pomona College and Claremont is privileged to enjoy.
   That Mr. Wenten, a native of Bali, came from a long line of great artists, including a grandfather who was a master puppeteer who he first studied with, and is one of the island’s most accomplished dancers and musicians is no surprise. There is a long list of productions, collaborations and performances that he has been involved in all over the world, but his great poise and discipline, his rich talent, was evident in the way he sat and smiled, in the way he walked and moved his arms, even before he took up any mask.
   Even though Thomas Leabhart does not come from a long line of renowned artists, he is certainly a master in his field, a physical movement discipline called Corporeal mime. As he explained and demonstrated, often with the tiniest of movements, the idea is not to imitate, as in pantomime, but to capture a spirit or essence, even an idea, in movement.
   I have long admired this in his work at Pomona College, where Mr. Leabhart has taught since 1982. While many of the plays he has directed here don’t feature what I think of as mime, there is a noticeable sensitivity, a delicate quality, yes, an elegance. I still think of a production of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind that he directed years ago, emphasizing compassion in what could be a melodramatic domestic violence drama with off-kilter characters.
   Mr. Leabhart got much of his training in France, where he still teaches every summer and every January. He mentioned that while Hollywood is important and valuable, it is vital to do art for more than “the filthy lucre,” and it is clear that he is dedicated to his craft. He can be found every afternoon at 4:15 teaching Corporeal Mime.
   And then there was Leonard Pronko, who has been teaching at Pomona College since 1957 (“Do the math,” as Ms. Cameron said in introducing him). I have always known Mr. Pronko as a legend in Claremont, putting on Kabuki plays with the students and being one of the few - or only? - Americans to be trained in the tradition-steeped Kabuki theater in Japan. What I didn’t know is that he didn’t get interested in theater until several years after he began teaching at Pomona, having gotten his B.A, M.A and Ph.D in French and Spanish language and literature and starting off at the college as an instructor in French, occasionally teaching Spanish and Italian. It wasn’t until after he taught courses on French theater, occasionally directed plays and taught drama courses in the theater department and spent a sabbatical mostly in Asia and subsequently studied kabuki at the National Theater of Japan that he found his home in the theater department.
   Although, as he noted repeatedly, he is not as agile as in years past, Mr. Pronko demonstrated vividly how, in kabuki, small movements and gestures can convey volumes. He also showed how a prop like a fan can be anything from a sword to a vessel for drinking tea.
   This discipline and theatricality has been seen in not only the kabuki plays in English but also the many, many other plays he has directed here when not involved in other projects in numerous countries. Over the years, I have enjoyed seeing the kabuki works and how they have influenced his other period productions of works by the likes of Ibsen, Schiller, Wilde and Molliere, and it has been particularly pleasant to see these period pieces (perhaps influenced by a colleague?) not only done with poise but getting more and more refined and naturalistic.
   Seeing these fine men of the theater, each wearing a shirt that nicely reflected their distinct craft, talk about and share their art was a real treat. It was a delectable taste and a sweet reminder of the wisdom and talent that the colleges and Claremont are blessed to have in their midst.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fields of violence

   “Positive motivation is ‘Get the...up! You’re dragging, man! Pick it the...up! Suck it up!’ Because you feel like you know the guy. You feel like it’s your brother, and you’ve got to make that connection so that you can come together.”
   To retired NFL two-time All-Pro tackle Kyle Turley quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times article by Sam farmer, telling your brother - your little brother, “just like I would to my little brother in a pickup basketball game” - to “suck it up” and to “get the...up” is not only not wrong. It is expected.
   At least in the National Football League. As Turley explained, when Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito - I thought this was a joke at first! - left messages laced with racial slurs and profanities on his African-American teammate Jonathan Martin’s phone, Incognito wasn’t being a bigoted bully. Apparently reflecting what many NFL players think, Turley posits that there was nothing wrong with this behavior and also that it is possible that Incognito was carrying out orders from his coaches to “toughen up” Martin.
   Turley says it flat-out. “Positive motivation in the NFL could in the real world be considered bullying.” He goes further, saying, “It’s aboard for the real world to accept this [behavior], and nobody should, but this is not the real world. This is football.”
   Perhaps this isn’t surprising or even disturbing. Lately, we have been hearing a whole lot about the violence in playing the game and how many players are left with physical and mental disabilities, sometimes quite severe. A lawsuit resulting in the NFL pledging millions of dollars for disabled retired players, with many questions as to if the amount is enough, was big news, and there was lots of buzz about the PBS Frontline report called “League of Denial.”
   A few days after the Turley article appeared, Farmer had a story about a former NFL player whose eye was severely damaged in an initiation ritual. As the player described it, the rookie players had to run down a hallway lined with older players who hit and kicked the passing rookies in every way and as much as they could. This player had almost made it through the gauntlet when he was hit in the eye with a sock filled with coins.
   This was called an accident, but what is definitely disturbing is that this roughness and bullying is seen not only as not wrong and as expected but as an important way of bonding. As Turley put it, “You feel like it’s your brother, and you’ve got to make that connection so that you can come together.”
   Even more disturbing, as Bill Dwyre pointed out in a column accompanying the Turley article, people decry the bullying and the injuring that goes on in the NFL but continue to contribute to millions and millions of dollars going to the league (broadcast deals, tickets, merchandise, etc.). Most chilling, though, is this strange way of bonding and where it leads. As Dwyre writes, referring to a reader commenting on Jonathan Martin who left the team, “‘The other guy’s a wimp,’ says Fred from Fresno. ‘Too gutless to fight back. I sure wouldn’t want to go to war with him.”
   So that’s what all this tough playing and rough bonding, which you know happens not only in the NFL, is all about? Being able to go to war?
   Meanwhile, Incognito has filed a grievance over his suspension. And I love what Dwyre had to say to the reader: “Whatever, Fred. As soon as you get off the radio, go outside and tear some wings off a butterfly. You’ll feel better.”
   Seriously, though, it’s terrible enough that the butterfly is getting hurt. If only that was all that’s being damaged.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Watts up

   Here is a column I recently wrote for the Claremont Courier.


   I had no idea.
   It was like when I see an altar set up for the Day of the Dead. With it being the season of Halloween and El Dia de los Muertos, I thought of how, in the face of death, the lives of many, so many I didn’t know but so precious, are celebrated. I see and get to know these beloved lives in bright colors, new once again in the merry dance of skeletons, against the black.
   It was like when I go up to Mt. Baldy Village and am surprised to see a whole other world there. I don’t go for months and months, forgetting that it’s there (as if I don’t see it day after day), and then I’m amazed once again to see this nice little get-away less than half an hour away. Even if this world a short drive off isn’t a wintry white one, it’s always different.
   It was like when, as happened recently, I learned that a friend, a friend who lost his partner just a few months earlier, has lung cancer. It was a shock, a rude, abrupt shock, coming after his loss and all the more because he wasn’t a smoker. I was also reminded, though, of the important, valuable role he has played in my life and also of both the strength and fragility of our lives.
   But this was different. This was altogether different and altogether unique. I really did have no idea.
   Even if I did have some idea when I ventured out towards Los Angeles with a friend on a recent warm Saturday when there was a lull in Claremont. I wanted to go to a few places where I’ve been wanting to go for years, and one of these places was the Watts Towers. I have always heard that the Watts Towers were quite remarkable, and I had seen plenty of photographs and films, but, as I kept exclaiming to my friend, “I had no idea!”
   This was while we were on a guided tour - a tour that we happened to arrived just in time for and which made a real difference (well worth the $8 adult fee). Although one can get remarkably close to the towers without going into the property and seeing them that way is impressive,  it is the details and seeing them up close and personal that make this piece of art so very remarkable.
   It is a work of art, an outstanding example of what is called “folk art.” The Watts Towers were literally a backyard project, done right behind a small house by an Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia, who was a tile maker and construction worker by trade, a bit of a roustabout and hard-headed by nature and had no art training. The project, which Rodia had no help on - he didn’t want any - took about 30 years, ending around 1955.
   Rodia, who was also called Sam and several other names and whose first wife left him because of his drinking, may have known zero about art, but he definitely had vision, not to mention drive. I remarked to my friend that he must have been O.C.D and on acid.
   On the narrow, triangular plot, Rodia created something like a ship featuring the famed tall mast-like spires and with everything covered in cement embedded with all sorts of broken colored glass and china. As Rodia told people, this was all inspired by the gothic cathedrals, with their tall, narrow spires, and other religious art and architecture that he saw when growing up in Italy.
   Again, this was based on what he saw, not on any training in art, and, again, while seeing the towers from outside the property makes quite an impression, it is the work on the walls and smaller structures inside that is really stunning. For example, one wall features the bottoms of green 7-Up and blue Milk of Magnesia bottles - remember them? - creating an eye-popping effect. And, everywhere, there are pieces of china, from hundreds of colored plates and blue-and-white Wedgewood sets. There are pieces of tea cups and mugs with handles left on, and even the undersides of structures are covered with colored bits of all kinds.
   As I said, it is stunning and eye-popping, mind-boggling, and clearly the work of someone with unique vision and drive. One wall is embedded with shoes belonging to Rodia and his second wife, who left him because of him devoting so much time to his backyard project.
   The small house is gone - burned down around one Fourth of July, leaving behind its foundation and fireplace -  but there’s still more to this incredible story. When Rodia got tired of the project, he literally gave the property to a neighbor and moved north to Martinez. A bit later, the city of Watts wanted to raze the property, but a bunch of people raised all sorts of protests, and the city promised to leave the towers up if they survived a stress test. During the test, the truck that was chained to the towers - not the towers - fell over.
   So the towers, which Rodia walked away from after working on them for thirty years, are still there, still standing (though now with a few cables required by Cal OSHA), and I am amazed that I had not been there - yes, I really did have no idea! - and that there weren’t dozens of people there (only one other guy was one the tour, although it was awesome having the place to ourselves!). But that’s the other thing that makes the Watts Towers so very remarkable - that they’re in the middle of a neglected and drab, blighted area and right there, right on the sidewalk, with people living just across the narrow street. While I was there, a neighbor was playing loud ranchero music.
   As much as there is going on here in Claremont, with all sorts of creative activities of note, Simon Rodia and the Watts Towers are a striking reminder, in a place far and not so far off, of the power of vision and passion. They stick up, poke out, with the unlikeliest of bright colors when life is a bit too boring, a bit too expected, a bit too tiring.
   The towers have certainly given Watts, which has seen more than its share of beleaguerment, a poke. Next door is an arts center inspired by them, where the tour begins and end and where there is the buzz of community and creativity. When my friend and I were looking around the gallery, there was a piano lesson going on at the center of the room.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Something's nuts

   The judge wondered “whether any penalty is appropriate when somebody is nuts.”
   Well, at least the judge - U.S District Judge Lawrence Karlton - and California prison officials are talking about the treatment of the mentally ill in prison. It is high time this population, consisting of a mind-boggling 1 in 3 state prisoners (I could write an entire post on this!, is being discussed. And it is too bad that the reason it is being discussed is that there are videos showing mentally ill California prisoners being pepper sprayed, often as they are naked and screening and sometimes in episodes that last as long as half an hour.
   But, at least it is, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, it is being talked about.
   Then again, doesn’t the fact that this is an issue to be discussed, that there is a staggering number of mentally ill prison inmates and confusion over how to deal with them, that prison guards feel it is not only okay but appropriate to pepper spray them, often repeatedly over a while and at least sometimes with them naked, have something to do with a federal judge in open court referring to the mentally ill as “nuts?”
   Even if the judge is trying to make the situation better, the message he gives - the same message all of society gives - is that the mentally ill are, to say the least, strange and only worthy of being dealt with if not dismissed. But pepper spraying them probably isn’t p.c.
   It doesn’t help at all, although there are now new rules regarding the use of pepper spray (including allowing “sufficient time” between uses to let the chemical take effect) and dealing with the mentally ill (including using alternative tactics when pepper spray isn’t working) in California prisons, that the prison’s head psychologist testified that psychotic prisoners have no memory of being pepper sprayed and “have a higher than average threshold for pain and noxious stimuli.”
   When people - a judge, much less a psychologist - who are supposed to aid the mentally ill see the mentally ill as “nuts” who “have a higher than average threshold for pain,” something is definitely crazy and wrong. Or - to put it another way - nuts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The brink of hate

   Man! There are people who really hate President Obama. Really, really, REALLY hate him.
   They hats him so much that they shut down the federal government for more than two weeks, making life hard for millions  employed by the government and who assist them (restaurants near offices, hotels outside national parks, etc.) and inconvenient for countless others. They hate him so much that they very nearly didn’t allow the federal debt ceiling to be raised on time, which would have caused widespread panic in the U.S (people not getting their Social Security checks, etc.) and probably a global economic meltdown. They hate him so much that, in doing both of these things, they were willing to hurt America’s reputation in the eyes of the world.
   Evidently, insisting over and over and in the face of facts that Obama isn’t an U.S citizen and therefore not eligible to be president isn’t enough. If they can’t destroy Obama, then, damn it, they will destroy America. That’s how much they hate him.
   Sure, these people - conservative tea party types like Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican senator behind the latest maneuvering - don’t hate just Obama. At least at first, they were standing in the way of passing the annual federal budget and raising the debt ceiling, because they wanted to block or delay the new healthcare insurance law. Never mind that the law was passed by Congress and enacted by Obama several years ago, validated by the Supreme Court and approved by voters re-electing Obama and that it will make life easier for millions of people (at least once the not unusual glitches are worked out). They call Obamacare socialistic and communistic (as if that’s bad), but it’s not making life easier that’s the problem, especially since many people decrying the new law are poor and really could use it. What’s really going on is that they can’t stand people - especially others - getting something for nothing. To them, America means the freedom to work hard and to do one’s best in a hard life. (The only reason they don’t gripe about the disabled getting help - although they try to cut that back - is that would be just too unseemly.)
   Here’s where these folks’ hatred of Obama comes in. They can’t stand it that a black man got into the White House - and the fact that he did it not only once but twice drives them even crazier. It doesn’t matter whether or not Obama got ahead with affirmative action and was on welfare. He looks like someone who did. He looks like someone who got something for nothing. And the final kick in the pants is that Obama will get credit for a program that will give a lot of people, a lot of others, something for nothing and that very likely will end up being very good and popular.
   They rather take down America with them than to let that happen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Not understood

   “I don’t understand him.”
   You don’t say. Why do you think I was having my attendant call?
   I was having my attendant call Social Security, because I had discovered a couple weeks ago that I had lost my Medicare card. I had tried going online to order a new card, but, because I get Medicare under my dad’s Social Security number as an “adult disabled child,” the website kept tripping up, saying I was “ineligible” or “don’t match.” So much for things being easier and faster online (and this wasn’t the first time I’ve had trouble with being under my dad’s number).
   I figured the representative, when we got through after about 20 minutes, would want to speak to me and have me answer a question or two to verify who I am. This is what usually happens, and, usually, upon hearing me, the representative gets what’s going on and speaks to my attendant conducting my business.
   But not this woman. She kept insisting that I say the Social Security number to her, and when I did, she kept telling my attendant, “I don’t understand him.”
   My attendant tried to explain the situation, but the woman kept saying she couldn’t talk to my attendant, because she couldn’t understand me and verify who I was. When my attendant asked to speak to the manager, the woman said it wouldn’t make any difference, because “it is the rules.” She suggested we go to the office.
   This is exactly what I didn’t want to do - go down to Pomona and take a number and sit and wait for it to be called. I felt defeated, hurt, angry - like I was kicked to the back of the bus, if not under the bus, because of my speech.
   The next day at the Social Security office, the woman who I saw ordered another Medicare card for me and also gave me instructions for creating an online account, so I won’t have to deal with the confusion over receiving benefits under my dad’s number and with having to call. I’ll see how this works.
   Meanwhile, I was out last week riding along in my wheelchair when a woman drove up beside me and asked if I was okay. I said yeah. She then asked me, “Do you know where you’re going?” I said yeah, but I wanted to ask, “And you?” And, “And do you have a life?”
   At least she wasn’t like the woman who, some years ago, followed me in her car for blocks as I sped along in my wheelchair, repeatedly asking me if I was alright, where I was from and if I knew where I was going. She gave up when another man riding along the street in a wheelchair appeared.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good pratice

   One of the great things about living in Claremont, with all of its colleges, is that I get to always be a student. And I don’t have to worry about papers, exams and grades! Every year, once school starts in late August or early September, there is a terrific line-up of free lectures, not to mention performances, often more than one on a single evening (they also occur during the day, but I’m less likely to attend these). Unlike with the students, I don’t graduate and leave, and I get to enjoy these lectures, which are often by noted, if not famous, scholars, officials, authors, dignitaries, etc.
   If this makes me a slacker, then I’m proud to be one. And I’m a damn lucky one!
   These lectures are usually pretty good - I have heard that they get crazy amounts of money, so I guess they should be pretty good - and some are downright moving and inspiring, making me really feel like a student. On a recent Thursday night, I hit the jackpot and got a double whammy, going to hear two people I had not heard of.
   I started off by going to the Marian Miner Cook Atheneum at Claremont McKenna College, where there is dinner and a talk on most weeknights during the semester (I just go for the talks, although I understand the food, which isn’t free, is superb) and where Eric Liu kicked off the Fall semester speaking to the Freshman class. Liu, who was a consultant to the Clinton administration and writes and speaks on democracy and citizenship, spoke eloquently and fervently on being an active participant, whether in college or in society. (He noted that the C.M.C freshmen class is in an unique position, starting off with a new college president and able to “set a new tone” at the school.)
   Liu pointed out that there are three components, all equally important, to being an active participant, not only in society but in personal relationships. One is power and understanding how it is used. One is character - being honest and consistent. And the other is practice. As with writing, it is important to practice, practice, practice interacting with people and society, open to learning more, including from mistakes.
   I left a bit early, during the Q and A session, to head over to Pomona College where, in the first of a year-long series of lectures called “The Heart of Liberal Arts” on liberal arts colleges which I’m very excited about, Andrew Delbanco spoke on “What Is College For?” I was surprised to find the theater packed, but I guess I shouldn’t have been, for it turns out Delbanco, who first confessed to being like Woody Allen and disoriented anywhere west of the Brooklyn Bridge, is a well-known literary and cultural critic who teaches humanities and directs American Studies at Columbia University.
   After pointing out that colleges and universities and especially the humanities are “in trouble,” with institutions of higher education being seen these days as for the elite and spoiled, what with luxurious amenities and high cost and debt, etc., and with emphasis now on science, technology, engineering and math, Delbanco asked why we should be concerned, why we should be alarmed, about this.
   He acknowledged being biased and a romantic when it comes to college, noting that Fall is a poignant time of year for professors with the leaves falling and the weather getting cold (although maybe not here, he added half in jest) a reminder that they’re getting older as the students aren’t, but he went on to cite all kinds of references from Greek philosophy to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick supporting the case that higher learning makes one a better person, better able to relate to others. Delbanco posited that, more so than in medieval times when people went to college to learn about a specific thing, modern colleges and universities, particularly the liberal arts, are about opening the mind and dialoguing, with the ideal classroom being where one can learn about oneself and others.
   I couldn’t help but hear echoes of what I had heard Eric Liu say earlier in the evening about practicing relating with others and with society. Indeed, Delbanco, who noted that he is an Italian Jew, stressed that this is why diversity and affirmative action is important at colleges and that he is pleased that his university and Pomona College have generous financial aid and grants.
   I also couldn’t help going home that evening happy about what is happening in Claremont at the colleges and being able to see it happen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

High-tech ying and yang

   Last month, I wasn’t able to post here. After asking for advice and discussing the matter with a tech savvy friend, I learned that I can’t use Internet Explorer to post on my blog and have to use another browser (whatever that is). Whether or not it was not doing evil, Google was apparently having its way with me. I still use Internet Explorer for my other online activities, because it remembers what websites I use, saving me considerable typing, although I’m fairly certain, thanks to Mr. Snowden, that this isn’t a good thing.
   Then, last week, I had password problems and couldn’t access anything online, including my e-mail at one frantic point. I don’t know if there was a problem with my Robofill program, which fills out online forms, including passwords, automatically, again saving me considerable typing, but I felt like a total idiot not knowing any of my passwords (because Robofill takes care of that), not to mention not being able to get into any of the websites I always use. I ended up having to reset several of the passwords, with one taking at least three attempts.
   So I was cursing technology and seriously thinking of chucking my p.c - when I bought a Kindle. And am loving it and wondering how I lived without it!
   Friends know how much I love my books, and some laugh at how I pore over the printed newspaper. I shuddered the other day when   someone said I’m “going paperless.” But, yes, the Kindle, which I’ve had for nearly two weeks, makes my life easier.
   Using the Kindle is easier than dealing with the large pages in the Los Angeles Times, especially when a breeze comes through the open window or on the patio, and reading the top of the pages. With the Kindle, I can read a book at a park or the beach without worrying about the wind or the fading light. As for the newspaper, reading it on my lap was out of the question - and something I really envied others being able to do - until now. Also, I figure the Kindle will save me money, not only with books being cheaper but also with no longer having to get my books spiral bound.
   I will note that I got a Paperwhite. I didn’t get a Fire. I may be going paperless, but I don’t want to be connected to e-mail and the Web, not to mention passwords, 24/7.
   I should also point out there are things about the Kindle that frustrate me. The on/off button really could be bigger and more accessible, and the swiping and tapping is tricky at least half the time (I have thought of using a pen, but that would be another thing for me to handle). Also, it is most strange to me that there is no place for a ring or hook. It would be nice if I could put the Kindle on a chain, so that I could attach it to my wheelchair (and not lose it) and also more easily pick it up, not changing what is on the screen (not as much of an issue as I feared it would be). (The cases I’ve seen are bulky and cumbersome - the last thing I want.) But even with these challenges, the Kindle is easier and more convenient for me than dealing with fluttering pages, big pages and needing a table.
   A final note: Ads are annoying, but I find most of the ads that pop up on the Kindle to be charmingly old-fashioned and endearing, because they’re for books. Most are for schlock with titles like “The Disenchanted Widow,” “The Drowning Guard” and “The Well of Tears,” but, hey, I figure that anything that gets people to read is a good thing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hurting community

   I’m still thinking about Christopher Hubbart, the rapist about to be released in Los Angeles County who I wrote about in my last post. I’m wondering if, in what we do and don’t do, we disable the community and make him more of a threat. Here is my latest column in the Claremont Courier, published last Friday.

   “Someone in the bowels of the bureaucracy made certain assumptions and decisions - I’m not saying they weren’t made in good faith,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The decisions made apparently suggested they did not have the authority....”
   Or, as Mark Ridley-Thomas, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, put it, “We want to make sure we don’t trip over our own feet here.”
   The county supervisors were talking earlier this month about their need to review their authority over taxpayer-funded rehabilitation clinics and to end payments to clinic operators who break the law. They unanimously voted to have this review and to require the development of safeguards to ensure that parolees, troubled youths and parents who are dealing with alcohol or drug abuse are not referred to clinics whose contracts have been suspended because
   This happened after a July report by CNN and the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed widespread impropriety by California clinic operators providing substance-abuse to the poor. Such programs are funded with federal and state money through contracts awarded through the counties. Many of the abuses, including billing for nonexisting clients, took place in L.A County, the state’s most populous, where, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, $99.5 million was paid to 143 drug and alcohol rehabilitation firms serving 30,000 people.
   Really? Shouldn’t the Board of Supervisors - which supervises, after all - already have authority over, the power to supervise the firms it does business with and the ability to fire them if they are bad, much less criminal? Shouldn’t they already not send
people, especially poor, vulnerable people, to businesses that are known to be fraudulent?
   Clearly, something (like common sense) got loss “in the bowels of the bureaucracy.” This sure is a case where people “trip over our own feet.” Or here’s another way to say what’s going on: the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
   This doesn’t make things any better for Christopher Hubbart, who I wrote about several weeks ago. It doesn’t make us feel any better about him.
   Christopher Hubbart is the notorious serial rapist, known as the “pillowcase rapist,” having admittedly raped over 40 women in California, who once lived with his parents in Claremont and who was recently ordered freed from a prison hospital where he has been kept for nearly twenty years after being in and out of prison for about twenty years. Despite the fact that doctors say that it is now safe to release the 62-year-old Hubbart and that he will be heavily supervised and no longer has ties to Claremont, with his parents having died and their house having been sold, numerous officials, including in Claremont, are fighting this release, at least in this county.
   Not helping is that next to the article in the Los Angeles Times about the Board of Supervisors was an article revealing that the “person of interest” in a murder case is a released “high-risk” sex offender who had tampered with his GPS monitoring device.
    The article stated that the body of Sandra Coke, a federal investigator and Oakland resident who had been missing, was discovered and that the last person to be seen with her alive was Randy Alana, a parolee listed in the state’s Megan’s Law database with convictions for rape, rape in concert with force or violence, kidnapping with intent to commit a sex offense and oral copulation. According to the article, the database noted that Alana had been in violation of registration requirements since June 11, there was a warrant for his arrest August 6 for failure “to participate” in the monitoring program and, although an alarm sounds when a GPS device is tampered with, it was unclear when Alana tampered with his device and what parole officers knew about his whereabouts. The article also noted that Alana and Coke dated briefly two decades ago and that he had recently contacted her.
   Another article in the Times a few days later revealed that Alana had been specifically ordered to stay away from Coke.
   Again, evidently, things got loss “somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracy,” and there was plenty of “trip[ping] over our own feet,” leaving a trail of questions. Why wasn’t Alana searched for when he failed to renew his database registration on June 11? If an alarm goes off when the GPS device is tampered off, why is it “unclear” when Alana tampered with his? If someone reported seeing Alana with Coke before Coke was reported missing, why wasn’t there an all-out search then? How much of an effort was made to find Alana after the August 6 arrest warrant? With there being a restraining order, why wasn’t anything done when Alana first contacted Coke recently?
   What else was left in this case, besides too few answers, was a murdered woman, a woman known for “her good cheer, easy laugh and generous hugs” who will be remembered and missed “as an unusually kind, generous and big-hearted person” by her family and friends.
   No wonder we are afraid of Christopher Hubbart living nearby, even with heavy supervision, including a GPS monitoring device. No wonder we rather he was gone, rather not deal with this man who has been punished and who clearly is troubled and needs help.
   Is there a way, with our many resources, for Christopher Hubbart to have the opportunity to live out in the community, saving taxpayer funds, and for us to be safe? How can we be sure that, while living among us, he gets the help he so badly needs and that we are not in danger?
   It is so much easier to let him and the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the abandoned go somewhere else, “somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracy.” It is so much easier not to reach out, not to make the effort and use the resources. It is so much easier to cry and rant when we “trip over our own feet” with outrageous and tragic results.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hard to love

   Being compassionate is sometimes not easy, but is it ever just too hard? Following is one of my latest Claremont Courier columns, published on August 2,


  Oh-oh. Here he comes!
   And right when I was really settling down into summer, when I was relaxing into the sprawl of the laziest, care-free days of July and early August. Right when I was getting ready to go on a nice vacation.
    It was the week after the Fourth of July, with summer sinking into its long afternoon snooze, and there was a little article on the bottom of the page in the Los Angeles Times about a serial rapist being released from a mental hospital. Something was familiar, and I read the first two or three paragraphs - and, sure enough, Claremont was in the article. This was the man from Claremont.
   Or he was living with his parents in Claremont. His name is Christopher Hubbart, and I remember him being called the “pillowcase rapist,” having admittedly raped more than 40 women around the state and having been in and out of prison over 20 years, and I remember there being protests outside his parents’ house. This was something like 20 years ago. Actually, according to an article in these pages that I read after I returned from my trip, the Claremont protests were in 1994.
   I also remember that, at the time, there was a controversial new policy that people who committed crimes because of mental illness or a psychological condition were to be kept in a prison hospital after serving their prison time until it was deemed that the mental illness or psychological condition was remedied or under control. To the relief of all, Mr. Hubbart, described by a state official as “uncontrollably compulsive,” was a candidate for this policy and was sent away to a prison hospital. Out of sight, out of mind.
   Until now. The story in the Times was about county prosecutors and legislators fighting a ruling in May by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Gilbert T. Brown that Mr. Hubbart, having passed a psychological examination after repeated failed attempts, be freed in Los Angeles County under the condition that he be heavily supervised and continue getting treatment. In his ruling, Judge Brown stated that Mr. Hubbart, who is now 62, “would not be a danger to others due to his diagnosed mental disorder while under supervision [of a parole office] and treatment in the community.”
   According to this and subsequent articles in the Times as well as the one in the July 12 COURIER, L.A County prosecutors, supported by officials like Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, filed an injunction to keep Mr. Hubbart from being released in this county, instead proposing that he be freed in Santa Clara County, the site of his last crime. That is, if he can’t be kept behind bars.
   This request was denied, as I read in the Times a day or and two after I returned (and later in these pages). But the article also pointed out that it will take up to a year to find “appropriate housing” for Mr. Hubbart.
   It was furthermore noted in the July 12 COURIER article by Beth Hartnett that Mr. Hubbart no longer has ties to Claremont, that his parents are deceased and the family’s house has been sold.
   I’m wondering if any of this is enough. Yes, we may have another year not to worry about Mr. Hubbart, but, after this, he will be living not too far from or near or very near to us. What then?
   I’m wondering if it will be enough that Mr. Hubbart will be under heavy surveillance, that he will be wearing an electronic monitor, that he will continue to receive therapy. And as Claremont City Manager Tony Ramos has said, “We are aware of it, our chief of police is aware of it. We are keeping an eye on the situation.”
   I’m wondering if, even though, yes, he was arrested and rearrested numerous times and, yes, repeatedly failed psychological tests, it is enough that doctors and mental illness experts and subsequently a judge have deemed that Mr. Hubbart now will “not be a danger to others,” and all the more so with this heavy supervision.
   There is also the fact that Mr. Hubart is clearly well aware of his condition and that it is, to say the least, a problem. In 1994, just 8 hours after being released from prison and as noted by parole officers, “he reported feeling that he was losing control of himself.”
   Is any of this enough? I wonder. Is there room, is there a place in Claremont for someone who so clearly needs help, who so clearly needs compassion - firm compassion, yes, but compassion? Or is he just too dangerous? Is he just too sick and horrible?
   And I’m wondering why it is fair that Mr. Hubbart be freed in Santa Clara County and not in Los Angeles County. Mayor Opanyi Nasiali pointed out that Claremont is a college town. True, and very much something to think about, but aren’t there colleges in Santa Clara County?
   Then there’s the argument that it is much cheaper, saving taxpayers’ money, to house someone like Mr. Hubbart in the community, even with much monitoring, than keeping him in prison.
   I’m wondering if any of this matters, or is there no room for someone like Mr. Hubbart in Claremont? What about for another sexual offender who has completed a prison sentence, for homeless people and the services they need, for group homes for foster kids and the developmentally disabled? Or for a Trayvon Martin?
   The news and questions are difficult and don’t lay out by the summer pool so well. And they certainly don’t go off on vacation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A bit of a break

I've been away and am having difficulty with formatting - keep getting "error on page" in the post field. Can someone familiar with Blogger advise me, please?

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Sure, the County Clerk in San Diego filed an injunction to limit the scope of the Supreme Court’s Proposition 8 ruling, saying that it should only apply to the same-sex couples in the case or to the counties in which they live. Never mind that arguing with the Supreme Court over a final ruling seems crazy or that I get nervous every time I learn about these attempts to impede same-sex marriage. It was widely thought that this move, like another the week before, would be unsuccessful, and it was - it was dismissed by the California Supreme Court.

Now that they are losing the battle over same-sex marriage, in addition to such matters as the teaching of evolution and prayer in schools, the Christian conservatives are scrambling. They are desperate. That’s all I could think when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times several weeks ago about a judge rejecting a lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District - near San Diego, coincidentally - claiming that the teaching of yoga in its elementary schools violates the state law against the teaching of religion in public schools.

Really. As the headline read, “Judge finds yoga complaint a stretch.”

As funny as this, including the tongue-in-cheek headline, is, it’s no joke.

Never mind that yoga is seen to promote healthy exercise and eating habits and have the potential to decrease fighting and bullying. Never mind that Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird assured, “We are not instructing anyone in religious dogma. Yoga is very mainstream.” Never mind that the Naval Medical Center in San Diego - the good old American military - uses yoga to help military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan recover from injuries and regain self-confidence.

Dean Broyles, the president and attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a couple with two children in the Encinitas public schools, insisted during the hearing that “yoga poses are integrally linked to religious and spiritual beliefs.” After the ruling, noting that he “strongly disagrees with the judge’s ruling on the facts and the law,” Mr. Broyles declared, “This case is simply about whether public schools may entangle themselves with [religion]...and use the state’s coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable schoolchildren.”

Whether or not Mr. Broyles and his organization is specifically Christian, it sounds to me like this, along with the other cases, is simply about the religious right wanting desperately to clear the public schools and public life of other orthodoxies and agendas so that theirs is the only one left. They are trying every way they can, to an ridiculous, if not illogical extent, to not let others impose their beliefs so that they can.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rock hard out in the desert

“The family’s home was...vandalized, with ‘I hate Section 8' followed by a profanity and a racial slur. The family’s son had urine thrown at him by someone who shouted, ‘You dirty Section 8' and a racial slur. The family moved back to inner-city Los Angeles for fear of more harassment...”

This certainly sounds to me like some civil rights have been violated, to say the least.

But that’s not how city officials in the Los Angeles County towns of Palmdale and Lancaster in the desert-like Antelope Valley northeast of L.A see it. Never mind that, as reported in the Los Angeles Times last week, this incident and numerous others are recounted in a two-year investigation by the U.S Department of Justice and highlighted in a letter from U.S Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to L.A Sheriff Lee Baca. Never mind that, according to Perez, one sheriff’s supervisor told Justice Department officials that he thought all African-Americans were recently moved to the Antelope Valley were gang members.

And never mind that, as I have written about before, the investigation started when there were reports that Palmdale and Lancaster residents receiving Section 8 rental subsidies from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, who are mostly black, were subjected to surprise visits by inspectors accompanied by gun-toting sheriff deputies. Or that, during some of these inspections, people were handcuffed, held down and punched.

Or that, in the case concerning the family mentioned above and detailed by Perez, a L.A County sheriff deputy uploaded photographs of luxury vehicles in the garage of the family receiving subsidized housing to an “I Hate Section 8" Facebook page (who knew there was one!).

As ugly and damning as every little bit of all this is, officials from both cities and the county are disputing the findings and saying they won’t pay out the $12.5 million that the Justice Department has ordered that they pay to the victims of harassment and intimidation. They insist that they were only checking to see if the tenants were abiding by Section 8 rules in an effort to keep the communities safe. There are talks going on, but this could end up in court.

I have written before about R. Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster who prefers to start off City Council meetings with a prayer to Jesus. I didn’t know that he is a “veteran civil lawyer,” but apparently he is. In any case, he said, “If the county wants to pay millions, let them do it, but Lancaster isn’t going to pay 10 cents of it.” He also publicly complained that it was “unfair” that African Americans receive a disproportionately high percentage of Section 8 vouchers and that his city should be “waging a war” against the program.

Like I said, it sounds like a violation of or “waging a war” against civil rights - enough so that people feel safer back in the inner-city ghetto.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

America gives and America takes

Yes, I am glad that the U.S Supreme Court declared that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, is invalid. Even if the Prop. 8 ruling hangs by a technicality (“I’ll take it!” as I read someone quoted), this pair of decisions is an astonishing victory, leaving me awestruck and pinching myself at times and not knowing when this will stop.

But I’m also alarmed, to say the least, that the court also, the previous day, essentially took the teeth out of the venerable 1965 Voting Rights Act, declaring that the criteria for “pre-clearing” or approving changes in voting rules and procedures in certain jurisdictions known for past discrimination were out of date. Within days of the ruling, the Florida and South Carolina legislatures, controlled by the Republicans, were getting set to impose stricter voting rules (photo I.D, reduced poll hours, oddly shaped districts, etc.), making it more difficult for blacks and other minorities, who tend to vote Democratic, to vote and/or have significant impact when they do. So while gay people are cheering, other minorities are facing a tougher time.

And so it goes, and keeps going, in America, as we’re reminded as we celebrate America on the Fourth of July. Yes, we have great freedom and awesome rights in this country - the kind people in other countries die for - but, oh, how tender and fragile they are! And despite, or maybe because of, them being so hard-won.

I called the marriage rulings a “victory.” That means someone lost. And indeed, the proponents of Prop. 8 and the banning of same-sex marriage are fit to be tied and all the more so with the appellate court lifting the hold in California weeks before it normally would. Although I am pleased that these people - people who are generally the ones who make such a big patriotic deal about the freedom and rights that we are “blessed” with in America - lost, I regret that they are angry, and I see that they are trying to limit the scope of the Prop. 8 ruling, saying it wasn’t a close action suit.

As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “There almost certainly will be new legal challenges, but the era of Proposition 8 is, for practical intents and purposes, over.” While it is good to know that “the era of Proposition 8 is....over” and that it is widely agreed, even among Proposition 8 supporters, that it is highly unlikely that any legal challenges will be unsuccessful, “there almost certainly will be legal challenges.” And other challenges.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A tweak here, a tweak there....

Following is my latest Claremont Courier column appearing last Friday. I will add that California Governor Jerry Brown, who I have always liked and voted for in any office he has run for, was set to sign a bill, as part of the annual budget due July 1, allowing local governments to choose to not follow parts of the Public Records Act giving people easy and timely access to public documents. The reasoning was this would save the state millions of dollars, not having to reimburse the local governments for providing the documents. Fortunately, after much outcry from the media and public, the bill was stripped from the budget, and there is talk of making the records act an amendment to the state constitution with the mandate that local governments cover the costs. On the other hand, I saw today that Brown has signed the bill I mention below.


“After attendance at the hot topic presentations begun to dwindle, Ms. Glaudi begun seeking ways to revamp the program.”

Sounds simple enough. And smart. Sometimes, when things are not working out, it’s good to revamp, shake things up, try something new. Sort of like getting a new perspective.

That’s what Shannon Glaudi, senior recreation leader at Claremont’s Joslyn Senior Center, was thinking. As noted recently in these pages, it was in regard to a longstanding interactive morning lecture series held at the center.

It appears that she was right. And, in this case, it was indeed simple. A change of rooms played a big part in the reboot. Once the series was moved to the Oak Room dining hall, the dwindling reversed, and there was “a much bigger turnout than the select few attendants that would show up for the previous program, according to Ms. Glaudi.”

Tinkering with the morning program at a senior center is one thing. What about tinkering with Claremont’s streets?

What about changing the road when we don’t like the rules of the road?

This is essentially what is being done as Claremont officials experiments with redesigning some streets rather than raising speed limits. As strange as this sounds, it stems from a stranger requirement from the state that the speed limits be raised.

Even stranger is that the state says the speed limits have to be raised, because people are driving faster. Never mind that speed limits are supposed to limit speed.

Here’s how the reasoning, if that is what it can be called, works: Cities are required to set a speed limit within a certain number of miles per hour of the speed a majority of cars travel at. Otherwise, a speeding ticket isn’t enforceable in court.

Not only did a Radar Speed Survey conducted last year suggest that people are driving faster in Claremont, but, with recent changes in the state regulations, the City now has to set the speed limit at the nearest 5 mph rather than within 5 mph of the majority speed. This means, for example, that if the speed of the majority of drivers on a street is 28 mph, the speed limit can’t be 25 mph but has to be 30 mph.

Like I said, strange.

Many Claremonters thought it was not only strange but also unfair and dangerous, and they told City officials so, citing children playing and the like. Hence, a dozen or so street segments are being changed, with crosswalks, bike lanes and other “traffic calming measures” costing $165,000.

“What we need is really a small decrease in speed, just 1 or 2 mph on most of these streets to bring down the speed limit,” Interim City Engineer Loretta Mustafa said. “That’s what we are looking to do here.”

This scheme is most likely for the best, but Ms. Mustafa and the rest of us should be clear that that is what this is - a scheme. We shouldn’t deny - not that we are - that we’re fudging here, changing the rules when we don’t like the game.

A bit of fudging may well be perfectly harmless and may even be beneficial when it comes to a discussion program at the local senior center or even the city streets, but what about when it comes to the way the government operates or is run? Is it good when our officials fudge, change the rules when the game isn’t working for them, even if the result may be generally for the best?

Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when California legislators sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown that would allow him to attend closed meetings with county officials. The measure, AB 246, was written by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) in reaction to a county prosecutor declaring that a private 2011 meeting between the governor and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law. The topic at the meeting was Brown’s “realignment” plan to hold nonviolent felons and certain other low-level offenders in county jails rather than state lockups, following federal court orders to reduce prison crowding.

While those in favor of the bill claim it simply adds the governor to a list of officials and experts allowed under the Brown Act to attend closed-door meetings regarding public security matters, critics hold that it could be a slippery slope, used for an ever-expanding range of “public security matters,” in addition to noting that it being requested by L.A County reflects badly on the supervisors.

As Terry Francke, the general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said, “This is how they correct violations of the Brown Act when they’re caught in the act: They change the law so it will give them cover in the future.” Mr. Francke also pointed out that if the governor signs the legalization, it will mean “he knew....the meeting was illegal” when he spoke behind closed doors with the supervisors in 2011.

Likewise, there was some head-scratching here last month when there was what appeared to be rule-bending or rule-stretching at a City Council meeting. It was all the more curious and perhaps disturbing when the cause was a well-intentioned one.

The cause was the Mayors Against Illegal Guns petition encouraging the adoption of laws to ban “lethal, military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” develop technology to help law enforcement better trace illegal guns and punish those who obtain or deal such weapons and ammunition. Over 800 mayors in 44 states have signed the petition supporting the enforcement of gun laws within their respective communities and started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the cinema shooting in Aurora, and other shocking mass shootings, like the one recently not too far in Santa Monica.

The discussion at the meeting seemed to be at an end when a motion to direct the mayor to sign the petition failed on a 2-3 vote, with Mayor Opanyi Nasiali and Councilmen Corey Calaycay and Sam Pedroza uneasy with forcing the mayor petition against his will and with dealing with a “national or state” issue, as Mr. Nasiali indicated, and one that is not so clear for all Claremont residents. “It’s not for the city to put all of the residents on record,” Mr. Calaycay declared.

Mr. Pedroza began the bending and stretching by proposing a motion to “authorize” the mayor to sign the petition should he wish to do so now or in the future. The final twist came after the motion was approved, with Mr. Nasiali and Mr. Calaycay voting no, and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said that, “under the government code” and with the mayor “unavailable or [refusing] for any reason to carry out your authorization,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Lyon could “step into his shoes” and sign the petition.

Even residents in favor of the petition, like Claudia Strauss who “take[s] heart in the fact that a majority of the council and the audience came forward in support” of it, were perplexed. “I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that the mayor pro tem can step in,” she admitted. “I won’t go against legal counsel, but this is education for all of us.”

For sure.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lost in a tricked-out digital world

Not unlike the drifter who narrates the hilarious and harrowing novel, The Fuck-Up by Arthur Neseerian, about his hapless adventures in New York City, I lost the book. And I was almost done with it.

I had it next to me when I went out in my wheelchair, and I realized sometime after I returned home that it must have fallen through the gap between the seat and the armrest sometime during my bumpy journey. Just like I always thought it might - an accident waiting to happen. I went out, going along my route, hoping against hope I would find the book, but to no avail. I hope whoever found the book gets as much as a kick out of it as I was getting.

I really wanted to finish the book, so I went online to to order another copy, figuring that going to Barnes and Noble would be a waste, that I wouldn’t be lucky like I was when I stumbled across such a title on its shelves (plus I didn’t want to have to try to ask for it). I ended up ordering it and four other books. It would have been five, but I deleted one when it turned out I was confused.

The reason that I ordered more books is that, besides thinking I may as well stock up while on Amazon, I wanted to spend enough to get the free, fast shipping. However, I found out that some books aren’t eligible for the deal. These included The Fuck-Up.

Like I said, it was confusing.

I opted out of the Amazon Prime program minutes after opting for it, because I didn’t want to forget cancelling it before the $79 annual fee automatically was charged to my credit card when the 30-day Free Trial Period ran out. No doubt Amazon was counting on my forgetting and now has some sort of black mark by my name.

I kept seeing that I could get books “within minutes” if I had a Kindle. And a bunch of books appeared to be available only on Kindle. If only I could afford a Kindle! Anyone want to get me one? It’s almost my birthday.

After nearly 2 hours (when my attendant put me in bed, she said I looked exhausted - thanks!), I completed the order, which included paying extra for expedited shipping for The Fuck-Up (I really do want to read the end, and I still have to get it spiral-bound when I get it - yes, another reason to have a Kindle, but, then again, I’m old-school and prefer/like the printed page, not to mention bricks-and-mortar bookstore). I ended up paying almost $55 - not bad for 5 books, really, but considerably more than the $25 or $35 - which was it? I’m still confused - I needed to spend to get the free shipping, and I wasn’t expecting to be spending anything.

On the other hand, I don’t have to buy books for a while. Unless I fuck up and lose them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Peace for Gabriel, agony for the rest of us

The teacher “said the boy told her he had been shot in the face by a BB gun and had ‘perfectly circled bruises all over his face.’”

I can’t get these “perfectly circled bruises all over his face,” mentioned in aa article in the Los Angeles Times a couple weeks ago, out of my head. I guess I’ll never forget this and that it was one of the abuses done to an eight-year-old boy, Gabriel Fernandez, by his mother and her boyfriend.

Just like I can’t forget Johnny, who I posted about a couple years ago. Johnny was a boy about the same age abused by his mother and her boyfriend. Among other things, he was repeatedly burned all over with cigarettes and made to sit in his piss and shit and eat from a dog food bowl.

At least Johnny was rescued and reportedly thrived in a new home. Eight-year-old Gabriel, who lived in Palmdale near Los Angeles, died after suffering numerous injuries resulting from abuse, including a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns. Pellets have also been found embedded in his lungs. The mother and the boyfriend, who said that Gabriel was being punished for “lying and being dirty,” were taken into custody, charged with murder and torture.

In addition to the pellets embedded in Gabriel’s lungs and other details about the injuries that he was made to suffer, such as black eyes and a “busted lip” as noted by the teacher, a steady stream of subsequent articles in the Times revealed that the county’s Department of Children and Family Services was well aware of the boy’s situation and did precious little to protect him. Social workers got many concerned calls about the child, including from the teacher, and they knew that the mother and the boyfriend were heavily involved in drugs and criminal activities, including with other children, but they were “overwhelmed” by hundreds of pages of sometimes contradictory rules as well as tremendous pressure to keep families intact.

When social workers would interview Gabriel in front of his mother and her boyfriend about his reports of abuse, he would recant them. Duh! And when the 8-year-old expressed a desire to commit suicide, the social workers dismissed it, because the boy “had no plans for carrying it out.” Several workers have been put on “desk duty” while the case is being investigated.

So Gabriel was tortured and killed, lost due to red tape and incompetence. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been known for poorly trained and swamped staff and its shoddy work and sometimes tragic record, since before Johnny was made to endure incomprehensible abuse until he was finally rescued after dozens of allegations.

Yes, this is outrageous - and there has been many commentaries and letters in the paper expressing outrage over what happened to Gabriel. It is tragic that this county department, which does vital and wrenching work, isn’t as well-funded and supervised as it must be, and I’ll add that there is a bitter irony in caring people not being able to adopt children in many places because of being gay or lesbian.

But what really bothers me, what I really want to know, is this: How can this be a society in which a parent can even think of punishing a child by using a BB gun to leave “perfectly circled bruises all over his face?”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A progress in work

Sometimes - okay, pretty often - I just have to say “wow!” about this small town where I live, with all the things going on and getting done here. And, here in my most recent column in the Claremont Courier, I’m not even talking about the eight colleges in Claremont which recently had their graduations, all but one in one crazy weekend.


Amy Andrews isn’t someone who we see as part of the Claremont community. We don’t think of her in Claremont.

We don’t want to think of her in Claremont.

Amy Andrews was a sex slave. She was a victim of human trafficking.

This happened when she was in her early teens, about 14. She had been in and out of foster homes, an incorrigible girl, a girl who was sexually abused in some of these homes, after being abandoned by her drug-addicted mother. A man, a man who she thought was nice, took her away, and she ended up in a locked house, working as the man’s prostitute.

This didn’t happen in some backwards, under-developed country. This didn’t happen in a far-off, impoverished region. This happened right next door, here in the Inland Empire. Ms. Andrews grew up in the Ontario area and met the “nice man” while spending time in Palm Springs. The man took her to a house in Los Angeles and later to Las Vegas.

She was probably driven through Claremont.

As much of a shock as this may be - it shocked me - it really shouldn’t be. It turns out that human trafficking, which includes not only prostitution but also domestic servitude and likely a range of things, is big businesses in America and that the Inland Empire is the “capital” of human trafficking in America.

News or not, this was the subject of an interfeith community forum last month in Claremont, sponsored by the Pomona Valley Chapter of Progressive Christians Uniting and co-sponsored by a range of groups, including the Interfeith Sustainability Council of the Pomona Valley, the Pomona Valley Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Democratic Club of Claremont and the Islamic Center of Claremont. It was here that I heard Ms. Andrews tell her story, giving a firsthand account of what happened to her. Ms. Andrews, now a successful mother and studying to be a healthcare professional, is quite a powerful and compelling speaker.

The lead speaker at the forum was Claremont’s State Assembly Member Chris Holden, who is sponsoring a bill to expand law officials’ wiretapping authority, with a judge’s permission, to those they suspect of human trafficking. As Ms. Andrews pointed out, most of the business of human trafficking. Again, Ms. Andrews was most compelling, and all the more so when she asked the audience to reach out and be compassionate to those who appear to be involved in prostitution (and to do so with discretion, for they may well be supervised).

The audience - that there was one there - was perhaps the most significant thing about the forum, which also included leaders from Christian and Islamic groups. The topic was one that is ugly, not nice, easy to ignore and dismiss, to say that it doesn’t happen here in Claremont, and the fact that there were people there to listen, to learn and to find out what they can do, says a lot.

It says that there are people here who care, who get involved in work that is not easy, who do more than attend the bright events, like the one that happened a few days earlier, when Uncommon Good’s Whole Earth Building had it’s grand opening.

Taking place on a sunny and warm Saturday morning, this was every bit a celebration of the good - the good that can happen and the good that does happen when people get together to make it happen. With music and blessings and excited speeches, this was a party for everything Claremonters can get done.

What’s more, this grand opening was groundbreaking. Literally. This building, right behind the Claremont Methodist Church on Foothill Boulevard, was built mostly by hand using materials, the dirt and the rocks and the plant matter, that was on the site, saving energy and resources and preventing further pollution and global warming. It was designed by “visionary architect” Erik Peterson, of the Claremont Environmental Design Group, for the Uncommon Good organization’s offices and events.

It was exciting enough to get to go inside this brand new unique and beautiful modern adobe building, opening right in time for Earth Day, with its thick walls and warren of small yet airy spaces. It was also a special treat to see Dolores Huerta, the legendary farm labor leader who worked alongside Cesar Chavez, giving some words of congratulations. She was joined by other officials and dignitaries like Claremont Mayor Opanyi Nasiali, Chief Anthony RedBlood Morales of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and, again, Assemblymember Holden.

There were shouts of “Dolores! Dolores!” capturing the love, joy, accomplishment and pride - “Si, se puede!” - that the gathering was all about. It was indeed a bright celebration of what people in Claremont can do.

It was also a reminder that most of this work is just that - work. As Nancy Mintie, the Executive Director of Uncommon Good, emphasized during her remarks, putting the building up was exhausting, and there were days when she and her fellow workers wondered what they had gotten into.

Not only is this work that people in Claremont do hard, it is sometimes unpleasant, disturbing and downright dangerous. Reaching out to the Amy Andrews in our midst can lead to some dark, ugly and nasty places.

The people who are involved in this summer’s effort to end homelessness in Claremont know this. They are shining a light into a dark underside of Claremont, one that more often than not involves mental illness, addition and other distressing characteristics.

Not only are they shining a light on the problem, they are trying to bring light to the problem. The purposes of the campaign is not to ignore or ban the homeless in Claremont, as City officials have attempted to do in the past, but to reach out to them and help them get the resources they need - resources that are freely available but which can be not easy to get.

Like much that is done in Claremont, this is good, hard work.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He who sings prays twice

He missed the music.

I met him when I was attending a P-FLAG meeting here in Claremont (long since defunct) about a dozen years ago. He said that he was looking for a new faith community, no longer feeling welcome in the faith community that he grew up in because of his homosexuality. I could tell that religion or faith was at least as important to him as it is for me, and a friend and I suggested he might like joining us at the Quaker meeting in Claremont.

He attended the meeting for a few months, and it was nice having another gay guy there. He said that he liked the quiet and the open-mindedness, the absence of dogma. He also said that he “missed the music” and ended up joining his boyfriend at the Church of the Brethren, close by in La Verne.

Earlier this month, I skipped meeting and checked out a service at the Church of the Brethren. I had recently attended a performance there by Peterson Toscano, a gay, Quaker performance artist who deals frequently with the Bible, and I figured that a church that invited him to perform would be cool. Also, I had long heard about the Church of the Brethren, that it is a “peace church” like the Quakers, and, besides, the La Verne church is a lovely, old church.

I saw my P-FLAG friend, who I hadn’t been in contact with in years, there, singing in the choir, and his boyfriend/partner was playing the piano and had written some music for the service. It was clear that they are very happy and totally at home at the church. It was nice to see this.

It was also clear that music is quite important at the church. It seemed to be almost a tenet. In fact, other than the simple stained glass windows, the only art in the sanctuary had to do with music, depicted in three scenes from the Bible.

It made me think yet again of what I saw on a poster or banner at a Catholic mass when I was growing up: “He who sings prays twice.” I have often thought of this, even putting it on a leather bracelet that I made for a summer camp counselor.

Yes, as I suspected, the Church of the Brethren is far more Bible-oriented, with scripture read, quoted - and, of course, sung. But it all seemed, at least on a initial visit, pretty mild, pretty gentle, without much pressure to believe certain things or in a certain way. I’m not saying there was no dogma, but it wasn’t like when I was visiting the gay-based Metropolitan Community Church a couple years ago and felt, in a weird and terrible irony, that I didn’t belong if I didn’t believe in or accept Jesus as my savior, assuming I’m a sinner and/or inadequate, in need of saving. In any case, I liked the emphasis on, as was said during the service, “doing, not saying.”

I didn’t get what I wanted at the MCC, but there are also times when Quaker meeting is just too quiet and small for me, especially, I recently realized, when I have to get up early on Sunday morning. There are times when I miss the music. And, although I usually resist it, there are times when I want to be guided and read to and even lectured (a bit).

I am at home at Quaker meeting, and I’ll always be a Quaker, an unprogrammed, silent-meeting Quaker. But don’t be surprised if I sometimes show up at the Brethren, or - who knows? - another church, now and then.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Guns for kiddies

Did you know that there are guns that are made for children? Not toy guns. (That’s already a problem right there.) But real guns. The kind that shoot real bullets. The kind that kill.

I didn’t.

I didn’t know this until I read a short article last week deep inside the Los Angeles Times about a 5-year-old boy in Kentucky shooting and killing his 2-year-old sister. It was an accident.

But this wasn’t another story about a child finding a parent’s gun, with tragic results. The gun - a rifle - was given to the boy. It was a gift. A birthday gift last year.

Apparently, there are guns made for little kids. According to the article, “The rifle is a Cricket designed for children and sold under the slogan ‘My First Rifle,’ according to the company’s website. It is a smaller weapon that comes in child-like colors, including pink, red and swirls.”

Sure, “this was just a tragic accident” and “very, very rare,” as the county coroner says, but, on top of wondering how the parents now feel about this gift, I am left with this question: When guns are made for children, “in child-like colors,” when guns are given to five-year-olds, how can we argue, logically, sensibly, for gun restrictions using a schoolyard massacre as a reason for doing so?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Play ball - like it or not!

I didn’t think I would get all shook up by a baseball movie.

The other night, I saw “42,” and there were a couple times when I almost bursted out crying. I had read a lot about this docudrama about Jackie Robinson, the first non-white man to play major league baseball when he begun playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940's after playing in the Negro leagues, but I frankly wasn’t ready for how powerful and moving this film is.

This isn’t your typical movie about the glory and glamor of sports. And it’s not exactly a feel-good movie about making history. Sure, there are plenty of heroics and excitement, but they are more like those seen in a war zone rather than a playing fields, with Robinson facing boos, nasty racial epithets and violent threats from fans and players and with teammates and the whole team not welcome in some places. That this ugly, war zone of hate is this country is most disturbing (and seeing that Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” a city known for its Quakers, was so viciously racist at the time is particularly eye-opening and jolting).

Robinson was famously told “to be man enough not to fight back,” and he famously was. In the film, it is absolutely heart-breaking to see him break down and let out all his rage in private.

Perhaps the reason why I was shaken up so by this movie is that I can relate right now. This Spring, as baseball season is well underway, I, as a gay man and with the nation waiting for key decisions, I know a bit of what Jackie Robinson felt.

If my heart didn’t break, it definitely sank when I read about the proposal by top officials of the Boy Scouts of America, up for a vote later this month by members, to resolve the controversy over the organization’s anti-gay stance by letting gay boys be scouts while continuing to exclude homosexual adults as leaders. As unsatisfying as this compromise position is to virtually everybody for numerous reasons, what I found really upsetting was the reaction to it, with people on both sides of the issue once again saying damaging, ugly things about the other. “I think it’s strictly the religious people saying, ‘They’re terrible people, they’re not moral,’” said Howard Menzer, who heads Scouting for All, a San Diego advocacy group, as Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, called the proposal “an affront to the notion that Scouts are brave, reverent and ‘morally straight.’” Of course, what this means is that no matter what is ultimately decided, school people, if not everyone, will be unhappy to say the least.

It is hard not to feel, as a gay man, like the eye of a nasty storm, with a vital aspect of who I am being picked over and tossed about. At the risk of mixing sports metaphors, I said in an earlier post about court rulings on same-sex marriage, that I don’t like being a football, being punted between the opposing sides.

This is all the more the case as the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, are in the hands of the U.S Supreme Court, with decisions due by July. Yes, it is encouraging that many commentators are saying there will be a partial ruling, if not a broad-based, nationwide ruling, in favor of gay marriage and that a few Republican U.S Senators have changed their minds and now endorse gay marriage, we really don’t know what the decision - which will no doubt make some unhappy - will be until it’s announced. And while it is encouraging that an active, professional, male athlete (a black one, to boot) has come out as gay for the first time - a situation not unlike Robinson’s - and that a state lawmaker (also black) in Nevada (!)recently came out, it is just plain not nice that U.S Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has compared homosexuality to murder.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Best of both worlds

I am well-known for my love of live theater and for how much I enjoy living in Claremont. Here, in my column that appeared in last Friday’s Claremont Courier, they collide wonderfully.


Too bad The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee isn’t still playing. I would say run, don’t walk, to this Claremont High School theater production.

The musical, which played for two weekends last month, certainly should be still going on. When I saw it, I was simply astounded for the entire two hours. It was the best, or best done, show that I have seen in years. Of any show, including professionally done stuff in Los Angeles and Hollywood.

Not only that. I saw the play on the next to the last night, and I told my friend who was out from L.A that he had to see it. My friend, who has seen and done lots of theater in L.A and New York, saw the final performance and was floored. He said that the show was better than many professional shows he has seen and that “those kids should be getting paid to be on stage in West Hollywood.”

Indeed, it was the kids who made the show. I had seen the play before and thought it was okay and thought I wouldn’t see this production. But because it was at Sycamore School auditorium - an unusual venue and easily accessible in my wheelchair - I decided to go, and the acting was a revelation. It wasn’t just acting; these students had grown into and were living their characters.

Although the characters weren’t much more than caricatures, the students made them real and whole. All were excellent, but two of the cast members stood out. Emerson Dauwalder was hysterical as he totally tripped out playing Leaf Coneybear, the trippy, blissed-out home-schooled hippie kid. And the way Hunter Alkonis, as Mitch Mahoney, escorting the losing spelling bee contestants as part of his community service sentence, conveyed worlds of emotions in a look or a touch was breathtaking. Both also, in brief scenes, portrayed a pair of gay dads with considerable sensitivity.

No doubt the production taking place in a funky old school auditorium, much like the musical’s setting, contributed to its perfect-storm authenticity. There was also the work of the director and choreographer, D.J Gray, returning to her alma maters (C.H.S and Sycamore) after doing much professional theater work, including on Spelling Bee. And Krista Carson Elhai, who has done remarkable work as the high school theater director, clearly had a hand in the doings as producer.

While this production was done at Sycamore School for very practical reasons - the theater at the high school was being renovated and was no doubt still torn up - the unique venue not only made the show even better. In so doing, it made the opening of the new theater a couple weeks later all the more exciting. And more meaningful.

Yes, I say “new” theater. It is true that the theater was renovated, but, on top of it being renamed the Donald F. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts in honor of Ms. Elhai’s predecessor who founded the high school’s theater department and is just as legendary to those who attended C.H.S, it is definitely a new space.

While I don’t know if I can call it beautiful, the theater is certainly no longer a dingey, cramp hole with, among other features, wheelchair accommodations that were, frankly, a joke. Not only do I no longer have to maneuver through a black backstage area in my wheelchair, but with comfortable flip-up seats instead of folding metal chairs and without steep stairs and narrow passageways, the theater is now more accessible and welcoming to everybody.

Because the theater was barely accessible and not that welcoming, I wasn’t seeing most of the remarkable work that Ms. Elhai and her students were putting on. And it’s really why I went to the production at Sycamore School.

I thought about all this when I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and opening with a line-up of school and city officials and other dignitaries last month, thrilled to see the changes made. I was also delighted that they were the result of a great, true community effort, with thousands and thousands of dollars given, earning a matching grant from the state.

But what I was really thinking on the bright, early Spring afternoon was, these kids deserve this! For their hard, amazing work, stunningly evidenced in Spelling Bee, they deserve this community effort, this community support. Just as my friend said they deserve to be paid to play in West Hollywood, they deserve this nice, real, state-of-the-art theater instead of a dark hole in the wall.

These bright, creative students, many of whom may have trouble fitting in in other areas of the campus, deserve this place to be safe and to grow and be their best. Like the boy who could barely speak in a math class I was in when at the high school and who I was amazed to see not only in a theater production but singing and dancing in the production

As Andrew Lindvall, a 2010 C.H.S graduate in town during the week of the opening, commented, “Ms. Elhai was one of the first teachers I ever had who would give you the responsibility to do something and expected you to do it. There’s an intensity that has prepared me for everything I’ve done thereafter. You don’t just learn art here, you learn occupational skills.”

And there was this from C.H.S Principal Brett O’Connor: “To have students leaving with employable skills is good for the school, good for the community and good for the country. This is a program we can be very proud of.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Not what we need


Being disabled isn’t easy, and there are lots of inconveniences and indignities that go along with it. I could probably come up with as endless list if I got going. But being awaited $8,000 in a lawsuit for putting up with one?


According to the Los Angeles Times recently, 52-year-old Jose Martinez got $8,000 after being stuck on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland for half an hour when the ride broke down and was evacuated, with the music reportedly blaring the whole time, on November 27, 2007. Mr. Martinez was visiting Disneyland for the first time since he was a child, and, according to his lawyer, David Geffen, his disabilities “hit him hard and right in the face as soon as the ride stopped.”

Oh, please!

Sure, it was Hell waiting for half an hour, especially with that damn song going on. But it wasn’t like there was a fire. It wasn’t like he was in danger.

How about getting free tickets or a free year pass from Disneyland? Once, when I took an Amtrak train to San Diego on my own to spend the weekend with a friend, as I had done a number of times, and my friend put me on the train for the return trip, he got into a big argument with the conductor, who insisted my friend had to accompany me on the two-and-a-half-hour trip. Luckily, my friend didn’t end up having to stay with me, but I was upset and traumatized, feeling insulted and made to be a burden. I wrote a letter to Amtrak and was given free tickets and was told that the conductor was disciplined. I was happy with this.

Why couldn’t something like this satisfy Mr. Martinez? Instead, he has become like the woman who sued McDonald’s over hot coffee and makes the disabled look like that. He makes the disabled look silly and greedy. He gives the disabled a bad name.

This doesn’t help now when there is much commentary and chatter about an increasing number of people getting disability benefits. Never mind that there are valid reason like more people living longer. There is the notion that disability is the new welfare. Like when Homer Simpson got on disability.

What’s more, things like this only make it harder and harder to get the services and funding I need to live independently and productively. Every year, it seems I have to submit more and more documentation to prove that I’m still disabled. I want to ask why they come and look at me and try to talk to me. And how nice it would be if I could say I’m no longer disabled!