Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Park-ed outside

   Yes, it is good that Los Angeles will be getting more parks, or parklets, as well as more plazas and bike parking. And it’s great that this will be done relatively quickly, without much of the bureaucracy that can take months and cost a considerable amount, and that each project will have a year-long trial period.     Through a program called “People St,” operated through the city’s Department of Transportation, community groups can apply to convert a piece of city street into a parklet, a plaza or bike parking for a year without going through the lengthy and expensive process of getting approval from multiple city departments, a process that often involves hiring an architect and maybe a permit expediter for thousands of dollars. If a project is successful, the community can then work toward making it permanent.
   The applicants would provide furnishings and daily maintenance, and the transportation department has preapproved designs and will direct traffic analysis by city staff. Projects approved in the first round can be installed by November - “lightning speed for City Hall,” according to a Los Angeles Times editorial.
   The Times all but gushes over the plan, rightfully saying that it will “make L.A more friendly to walkers and bicyclists and...create a more vibrant street culture” and “injects a sense of experimentation and community leadership into the city’s decision-making process.” Concluding with the sentence “It’s too early to declare a new day at City Hall, but this could be a model for L.A, and a good one,” the editorial is titled “Let 100 parklets bloom.”
   I totally agree with all this, for sure - I’m all for green spaces and places and processes that promote community, not using cars, etc. - but I’m wondering if these parklets will count as the parks that convicted and registered sexual offenders cannot live near. I’m wondering if this will he used as another way to restrict where these people who have served their time in prison can live and to drive them out of the community (making them more estranged, probably homeless and likelier to commit crime again).
   Why didn’t the Times editorial bring this up, especially when the paper had an article a couple years ago about small parks popping up in areas around the city with the explicit purpose of not letting convicted sexual offenders live there? Did the Times, in its understandable enthusiasm, forget this?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An irresponsible message?

   “Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the sheets.”
   As funny and clever as it is, I’m not at all sure this is smart advertising.
   It is more like a provocation, more like fuel on the flames.
   I have to admit that I don’t keep up on a lot of blogs and online chatter, but I’m surprised I haven’t heard an outcry over this ad in Colorado (of all places) promoting Obamacare and featuring a woman showing off her birth control pills and eyeing a man next to her. This ad was mentioned in a recent Los Angeles Times article about the blitz of advertising aimed at getting people - especially young, healthy people - to sign up for the new affordable, often subsidized health insurance before this year’s enrollment deadline at the end of this month.
   This ad may attract young, healthy people. It’s fun and sexy and makes health insurance look not only not threatening but pretty attractive. The ad will also, it seems to me, attract the wrath of conservatives who are already riled up enough over the new health insurance law (and who have major institutes in Colorado).
   To them, this ad no doubt promotes sex - free sex, sex for fun, sex without responsibility. To the conservatives, this is surely an ad for sex. It is an ad for irresponsibility. What’s more, as the conservatives would see it, it is promoting sex and irresponsibility paid for by the government with public funds.
   I have seen this same argument in letters in the paper from people griping about the provision in the new law allowing young people to stay on their parents’ policy until they are 26. As I have written here, they claim that this encourages young people to be irresponsible and even to be “coddled.” There has also been people like Rush Limbaugh saying things like woman who advocate government-funded contraceptives want to be publicly funded whores.
   As the whore comment shows, things get particularly touchy and explosive for the conservatives when it comes to sex. They can’t stand the idea of people having sex just for pleasure and fun, for anything other than procreation - and then to be paid for with the pain of child birth and the burden of child-raising (why they’re also against abortion). Indeed, I have long felt that this is why there is considerable anti-gay sentiment among conservatives. To them, gay sex is sex without responsibility. In some corners, there was glee in the early days of AIDS when it was called “the gay plague.” And now, gay marriage and gay adoption is even more confounding and crazy-making for these folks.
   The Times article also mentions Luis Garcia, a 23-year-old Santa Ana resident who hasn’t seen any of the ads and only heard from friends that there’s some sort of penalty for not signing up for insurance. He wasn’t aware of any deadline to enroll but, with recently losing his job, says, “I’m interested.”
   I want to ask what rock he has been hiding under. I also wonder how many more are like him and hope that these ads reach them. But I’m not sure if the “between the sheets” ad is the right one to do it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Life-long learning

   Again, there’s lots to be said for living in Claremont. Here’s my Claremont Courier column from a couple weeks ago.


   Last Friday was February 14. That meant it was Valentine’s Day. It meant a day of celebrating love and romance. It meant long-stemmed roses and romantic dinners for two, red and pink cards and secret and not-so-secret admirers. The day was about sweet candies and sweet nothings.
   The day was also about women and girls getting raped and abused. It also meant women in Africa, the Middle East and other places having their genitalia mutilated, their legs and arms pulled out from their sockets, their faces burned with acid. It was also a day for all the women who don’t get candy and sweet nothings but who get cut, tortured and damaged - because they are women.
   Last Friday, February 14, was also about the 1 in 3 American women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and about the 300,000 female students at colleges and universities in the U.S who are raped and harassed each year.
   That’s because February 14 is also V Day, a day to remember, support and stand for women and girls who have been and are victims of violence. It was a reminder on Valentine’s Day that all is not sweets and red roses for far too many women and girls, simply because they are women and girls and not only in far-off countries.
   All this should have particular resonance in Claremont, with all of its colleges and its significant population of maturing students for most of the year, and it was indeed appropriate that all this was part of Eve Ensler’s message when she spoke at the Atheneum at Claremont McKenna College early this month. Ms. Ensler should know about all this; she started V Day 15 years ago.
   That was a few years after she wrote The Vagina Monologues in 1996. The Vagina Monologues is arguably what Ms. Ensler is most known for, with the series of monologues celebrating femininity having been performed by hundreds of famous actresses and countless college students over the years.
   Many of the performances and readings of this seminal work have taken place on or around V Day, no doubt pleasing Ms. Ensler, who is recognized as an activist as well as a playwright, performer and author. At the after-lunch talk, coming on the heels of the publication of her newest book, In the Body of the World: A Memoir, she talked about her work as an activist, using her writing and her connections in the theater world to raise awareness of and get support to women and girls who have been abused and violated.
   This work has included going to Africa to sit with and hold women who were bloodied and wounded, if not broken, by gender violence. It has included raising funds, often through performances of The Vagina Monologues, for hospitals that help these women.
   Furthermore, this work, as Ms. Ensler shared with the large audience at C.M.C, stemmed from being abused as a child and was boosted by a frightening and painful bout with cancer. She noted that, when one’s body has been violated and hurt, it is all too easy to separate not only from oneself but also from others and their pain and that this work has been her effort to fight this.
   But it definitely hasn’t been all pain and work for Ms. Ensler. She spoke of being thrilled about how people reacted to The Vagina Monologues and then rallied behind V Day. She talked about how happy she is that there are places like House of Ruth and Crossroads here and about how excited she is about her recent project, One Billion Rising, getting people around the world to dance and march on V Day. Her presentation ended with a remarkably moving short video featuring a montage of images from last year’s One Billion Rising (check it out on YouTube).
   There is still work to be done. Ms. Ensler acknowledged this in answering a question from a young woman who said she is bothered by men like Troy Perry and Jackson Katz, who have both spoken at the colleges in recent years and have perfectly good intentions, saying that violence against women is a men’s problem, with men needing to stand up and speak out against it. She agreed that this is a “human problem” and that the notion of a “woman’s problem” and a “men’s problem,” although all too natural, might not be helpful.
   When Ms. Ensler began her talk, she asked if there were any “vagina activists” in the audience. There was a big cheer from the many women present. When she asked if there were “supporters of vagina activists,” there was weak applause from the men scattered among the tables.
   “Come on!” Ms. Ensler chided. “We have some work to do.”
   When it comes to men and women, things are still out of balance. Indeed, I noticed I was the only man waiting in the line to get in after lunch. (Two other guys came in later.) I also noticed, while waiting in the line, a young woman wearing a tee shirt saying “I (heart) my vagina.” Yes, it was provocative, but I wondered how much more provocative, if not crazy and obscene, if a man wore a tee shirt that said, “I (heart) my penis.”