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.