Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The disabled defense

   Oscar Pistorius,  the double amputee who was lionized in all corners when he ran in the 2012 Olympics – not the Paralympics for disabled athletes – on blade-like prosthetic legs, has always made it a point not  to be seen as having a disability.  Except, apparently, when it might keep him out of prison. 
   It looks like it won’t.  While he wasn’t judged guilty of murder in the shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day, 2013, he was convicted recently of “culpable homicide” or negligent killing, with the judge saying he was reckless when he shot bullets through a bathroom door while the couple were staying in a hotel room.  He was also convicted of firing a gun in a restaurant and through a car sunroof and of possession of illegal ammunition.  The odds are high that he’ll be doing some time when sentenced later. 
   Pistorius’ defense was that, being disabled, he felt helpless when he thought he heard a burglar or other intruder in the bathroom.  This feeling and the resulting fright supposedly lead to his shooting his gun.  The judge didn’t buy this from a man who had won fame and adulation for his remarkable physical accomplishments and was admired for not leading attention to his disability, noting that he could have called 24-hour security or police or run to the balcony and yell for help (after all, he was famous for running).  Also, the emotional frailty he showed throughout the trial, weeping frequently and vomiting on hearing descriptions of Steenkamp’s wounds, as well as the revelation that he was obsessed with guns and never went anywhere without one (perhaps feeling insecure due to his disability?), most likely didn’t help. 
   This is quite different from what Chrystal Morales is doing.  She is suing the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Southern California, saying that the teachers and administrators at the high school she attended in Newport Beach essentially let her slide and graduate after she suffered a traumatic brain  injury when she was hit by a drunk driver during senior year.  Ms.  Morales is asking that her diploma be revoked and that she be allowed to return to the school, since she was cheated out of a quality education when her assignments were waived and her grades were boosted after she became disabled,  leaving her ill-equipped and at a disadvantage after being allowed to graduate (she later left  a program at Coastline Community College for brain injured students, because she was failing classes) . 
   “They said, ‘Guess what?  You’re graduated, bye.  We don’t want to see you anymore,” says Tania Whiteleather, who is representing Ms.  Morales in the lawsuit, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. As the lawsuit alleges, Ms.Morales was given a book to read and report on in an English class but was never required to turn in the assignment. Also, she was receiving a D in math before the injury, but it was unexpectedly changed to an A-plus by administrators by the end of the semester.  
   Going from a D to an A-plus.  This is quite a trick.  It seems to me that Ms.  Morales is more the disabled hero for pointing it out rather than trying to take advantage of it. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reading more into it

   I couldn’t relate more when Rebecca Constantino states “Many reported fatigue from reading on a tablet.  They want to hold the book, flip the pages.”
   I feel the same way, and it makes sense to me when she goes on to  say, “Adults and children skim more and comprehend less when they read on a tablet.”  These statements are from an Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times  a couple days ago in which Ms.  Constantino, the founder and executive director of Access Books,  advocates that money should be spent on school libraries rather than on iPads for students.  The $1 billion project to provide iPads to everyone in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been horribly botched, leading to considerable controversy and drama. 
   I have always loved reading actual books and newspapers, turning the pages in my hand, and I don’t really like reading stuff online.  I’m very old-school that way.  So it is really, really weird that I now practically can’t live without my Kindle.  I need it so much that I’m now on my fourth one – they last about 5 months – and very thankful I got an extended warranty. 
   The thing is that, as much as I like holding a book or a periodical and flipping the pages, it can be difficult to do so, all the more if it’s breezy or if I don’t have a table – a problem especially when I (often) want to read outside.  Also, although I find online reading to be tiring and irritating, I don’t feel this with the Kindle, probably because swiping from page to page with my finger is easier than always scrolling with a mouse and clicking.  For me,  the Kindle is much more than a cool gadget; it has literally made my life easier. 
   This really hit me the last time I had to have my Kindle replaced, when I had to get my fourth one.  Why am I going through so many Kindles?  Do others have the same problem?  Is it a bad product?  No, I don’t think it’s a bad product.  I just think I use it much, much more than other people do.  It is not just a neat little gadget that I sometimes use.   

Friday, September 5, 2014

A summer break

    This is my Claremont Courier column coming out today.  I think it says it all. 

                                                BACKTO SCHOOL AND A YOUNG MAN’S GAME

   There were lots of choices.  Red.  Blue.  Green.  Purple. 
   “Purple, “ I said. 
   Then, I thought for a minute.  Would purple go with most of what I wear?   I do wear mismatched high-tops, not to mention rainbow laces, but I can and do change them everyday. 
   “Green. “ I changed my mind.  Green would still be colorful and interesting, not boring, but it would fit in with more of my outfits. Green goes with both blue and brown, right? 
   After all, I wasn’t picking out a shirt or some pants or another pair of high-tops.  No, I’d be stuck with this for a while. 
   Who knew that casts were now a fashion accessory, coming in a variety of bright, exciting colors?  I remember when they were all white, except when friends painted and signed them.  And who knew I would I be having a cast put on my right foot,  much less being asked what color I wanted it to be?  (It actually turned out that my cast is more of a nice, cool coral.) 
   Maybe this was appropriate, with summer ending and all that.  I’m sure there are a few students in Claremont returning  to school with a broken foot or arm.  Summer is all about adventure,  at least for students, and broken bones sometimes comes with adventure. And breaking a bone is almost a rite of passage when growing up.  
   But I have never broken or fractured a bone,  and I’m a long way from being a student.  Maybe I still have some growing up to do, even now. 
   And I wasn’t on an adventure when I broke – actually fractured – my right foot. What’s more,  I didn’t know for a while that my foot had a fracture. 
   I was just out, as usual, and barely a block from my house, when  I hit my right foot as I was going up  a curb. So much for adventure.  My foot  hurt for a day or two and then was fine.  I thought I had sprained it, as I have more than enough in the past, and that it had gotten better nice and quickly,  just in time for a camping trip (now, there’s some adventure , especially since it was the weekend of the freak rain storm).  It was not until two weeks later that I found I couldn’t stand pressure on my foot, and it swelled up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade float. 
   It was a few days before I could get this lovely green coral cast put on, and it’s much more comfortable and really just more of an inconvenience than anything.  Imagine dragging around a five-pound weight.  But, although this is probably something a good number of people know about and don’t have to imagine, even if it might be a not unusual part of the end-of-summer/back-to-school experience,  breaking (or fracturing) a bone isn’t something I’d recommend.  I would rather have lived my life without this experience. 
   Then again, I never thought I’d in my lifetime see school in Claremont  start in late August and have it be old news now in early September. And that was late, with schools in Pomona and Los Angeles starting two earlier.  Sure, this has been the case for several years, but this is still a strange new world where Labor Day is just another holiday (and an odd one, with school just underway) and not the last blast of summer vacation. 
   No longer does Labor Day mean that it is time to get ready for school to start.  And what about white shoes?   Is it now okay to wear them before Labor Day?  Or does anyone still wear white shoes? 
   It also turns out that my palate has changed.  Either that, or school food is still school food. 
   Which is the case is tough to say.  I have remarked before on how what the college students get to eat on the campuses here is worlds away from what I had to choose from in the dormitory dining hall when I was at U.C Riverside.  Not only is the range of choices eye-popping,  with attractive vegetarian and vegan options, the food is not bad.  A long way from mystery meat. 
   Still, when I went to the school food tasting fair at El Roble Junior High a few weeks ago –this was before I found out my foot was fractured - I was reminded that, sometimes, things stay the same even as they change.  I had heard in previous yearsabout this annual opportunity to taste and rate the food to be served in Claremont’s schools and decided to check it out. 
   It was exciting, at least at  first, to see the line-up of vendors around the school auditorium.  But I have to say that the potato tacos tasted not unlike the burritos served when I was a kid in school, and the mac and cheese was just mac and cheese. Some of the granola bars were better than others, but yogurt is yogurt, and, no, I wasn’t interest in the Round Table pizza. 
   Jaded palate?  Mature palate?  I don’t know, but, as I said, it was  still school food.  As if I was expecting something else. 
   No, the thing the struck me about the Wednesday morning event was how festive it was, with families on an outing and costumed characters and face painting in the mix.  Two weeks before classes started, it was a nice, gentle nudge for going back to school. 
   Perhaps it’s the new Labor Day.  It’s certainly easier than a fractured foot. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where is Charles Dickens when we need him?

   “If we were to move again, now that I’ve had this space for Lola, I would want it again,” said  Melanie Dean, referring to her dog. “It’s hard to go backwards.
   Ms. Dean was talking about the “pet suite” featured in her Dallas house.  According to an article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times  Business section not too long ago, these pet suites are an option in more and more homes being built, and a typical one is 170 square feet and includes a tiled washing station with leash tie-downs and a hand-held sprayer, a pet dryer, a cabinet with built-in bedding, a stackable washer/dryer combo (separate from the human laundry room ), a flat-screen TV and a patio door that opens to a dog run. One developer says that this is building houses with the lap dog of luxury in mind.  Ms.  Dean reports  that having the pet suite helps keeps her dog’s things organized and that her parents are getting a new house with a pet suite. 
   I suspect that Ms.  Dean, who didn’t have a dog when she moved into her house and liked the pet suite, and her parents aren’t among the 4 in 10 Americans who are “just getting by” or struggling to do so five years after the Great Recession, as the Federal Reserve found in a survey.  The survey, which revealed that some people are worse off than they were five years ago, was reported in an article on the same page as the pet suite story. 
   These two articles on the same front page really tell a tale of two societies.  It truly is the best of times and the worst of times when, according to one article, dogs have their own flat-screen televisions to watch while, according to the other article, one-third of survey respondents say that they had put off medical care in the prior 12 months because they could not afford it (presumably, Obamacare has since kicked in for many of these people). What else can you say when one article on the page talks about the booming pet-care industry, expected to reach about $60 billion this year and capitalizing on a trend that experts call “pet humanization,“  featuring fitness programs, organic, gluten-free food, some even prepared by private chefs and including $7-per-ounce caviar (salmon roe for dogs and trout eggs for cats)  first made “as kind of a joke, “ and spa-like kennels that offer full-body massage, detoxifying thermal wraps and transportation in a Bentley, Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini Gallardo while the other reports that one-fourth of households have education debt of some kind, averaging $27, 840, leaving one-fifth of the borrowers behind in payments or facing collections, a significant number of people rely on family and friends for money and fewer than 40% of households had a rainy-day fund to cover expenses for three months?