Say Goodbye to Election Day

The March 3 Presidential Primary Election will be the first to comply with the 2016 California Voter’s Choice Act giving voters more flexibility but less connection to their community.

No longer does one have to wait until Election Day.  Now, voting centers (replacing polling places) open for business Feb. 22.  That’s 10 days to cast your votes.  It almost makes campaigning up until Election Day irrelevant.

Plus, you don’t have to vote in your neighborhood; anywhere in the county is okay.

Now, there is less chance you will see the people who live on your street casting ballots.  Just what we need in today’s community-starved times, eliminating one of the rare opportunities to observe with one’s own eyes democracy in action and sharing it with fellow Americans. The patriotic pleasure of going in person during the designated hours on that one day and bumping into neighbors will become a story to share with your grandchildren.

If convenience supersedes community, why not allow everyone to vote via their cell phones, any time, any day during an election year?  That way no one has to ever vote in person again.  Democracy lite.  Already people are spoiled buying everything they need online, not having to mingle with humans in a mall.  Soon, people won’t ever have to interact with others.

Cell phones and the internet have trained people to turn themselves inward, not looking up literally, cocooning themselves away from others.

How bizarre it is to be out walking my dog and instead of saying “hi” to people, watching blank stares past me, earbuds transporting them to someplace other than the here and now. The person right in front of them does not exist.

However, in trying to make voting as painless as possible, they are inviting more uninformed people to join the democratic process.

It doesn’t bother me if only 60% of the electorate chooses to participate.  What is troublesome is how little so many know about the country they live in.

I was shocked to learn that my journalism students, who one would think would be the most aware teenagers on campus regarding issues in the world, did not know the name of the Vice President.

Further, they did not know who their representative was.  Imagine not knowing that the most famous congressman today, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who spearheaded the impeachment inquiry on President Trump, represents the area in which they live.

In just one week, I learned that students know very little about Abraham Lincoln even though they benefit from staying home on a day dedicated to his service to America.

Not one of my students have ever seen Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland.   Shouldn’t their parents have taken their children to such an entertaining yet educational attraction?

And when Vermont appeared in a lesson, I couldn’t find one student who knew what part of the country that state can be found.  “The southwest” and “the northwest” were the answers I received.  From honors students.

How can a 16-year-old go through 11 years of education and not know basic information?

One of the primary reasons for free public education to all is to ensure that students share a common base of knowledge, including what is means to be an American.

We should put more time in educating our youth about the country they live in in order to ensure the future electorate be informed, productive citizens.

And we should expect people to make a minimum effort to walk to their neighborhood polling place.  It is one’s civic duty.

“Good Boys,” Bad Filmmakers

Last year we had the #MeToo movement about respecting women and condemning sexual harassment of any kind.  Now it is time for a #KidsToo movement that calls for respecting children.

Adults, especially those whose products permeate our lives, need to be the guardians of the little ones.  Too much material is inappropriate for children to see and hear.

Recall the five-minute viral video last month where family members were shouting expletives and throwing punches in front of complete strangers at Disneyland?  That such barbaric behavior would occur in front of innocent youngsters at a place that is supposed to be a buffer to ugliness demonstrates something deeply troubling about people.

Just last weekend the film “Good Boys,” assigned an R rating “for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout—all involving tweens,” opened number one at the box office, proving once again that the bar for raunchiness keeps dropping lower.

Like e-cigarette companies who target young people with colors and scents to get them hooked into vaping, Universal marketed “Good Boys” at 12-year-olds who are the age of the characters.  One wonders how many tweens gained access to seeing it.

In his negative review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore said that “you may simply be no-laugh disgusted when a string of used anal beads are given to a 12-year-old girl to wear as a necklace.”

No thank you.  I don’t need to pay money to see that.

Knowing that the filmmakers’ resume includes “Superbad” and “Sausage Party” tells you all you need to know about the craft of these “artists.”

I wish writers would exercise more self-control.  Not every repulsive thought that enters one’s mind needs to be aired or shared.

Comedy doesn’t have to be filthy.  Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld are two comics who have had successful careers without resorting to a tsunami of scatological references.

Personally I have always been bothered whenever I hear young actors say obscenities.  It immediately takes me out of the movie, my mind thinking about the kind of parents who would allow their children to say foul language just for the money and glory of being in a film or TV show.

What’s shocking is when you see a movie which has little to no profanity such as “Yesterday,” one of the best films I’ve seen this year.  A fantasy film that depicts life without the music of the Beatles, this sweet-natured and well-acted tale retains its charm without the foul language.

The New York Times recently reported on lewd display ads on the New York Subway trains including one for the “At Home with Amy Sedaris” TV show picturing her holding two piping bags right where her breasts are, squeezing them with an expression of orgasmic delight.

Another ad depicts an erect cactus that promotes, you guessed it, an erectile dysfunction product.  Think of the young children riding the subways through the New York city boroughs and having no choice but to see this barrage of inappropriate material.

Parents and teachers have a tough enough time as it is modeling proper language and behavior.

Not all consumers have sophomoric mentalities.  If a person chooses to make money in the public marketplace, that individual has a civic responsibility for the material that is published.   People used to be cognizant whenever children were around, toning down their actions and words.  Create work that is sublime, not subhuman.




Watch Out for the Other Guys

Do you stop at stop signs?   So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.”   What’s next: “breath in and out”?

Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I actually stop, not slow down, not a California stop, but an honest to goodness full and complete stop.  About the only place where you see this is at the rides at Disneyland.

I do this even when no one else is around to see me do it.  I want to have the muscle memory to instinctively make full stops just in case a police officer may be around.

Because there are so many four-way stops in my neighborhood, I am extra sensitive to drivers who view the stop sign as optional.  Not a day goes by that I don’t observe dozens of motorists brazenly cruising through with barely a decrease in speed.

Last week city workers were putting on a fresh coat of paint on a crosswalk near a school.  There were orange cones all around this four-way stop as they did their work; they were impossible not to be seen.  Yet a truck driver going 30 miles per hour drove through the intersection as if the stop sign was not even there.  All the workers could do was mockingly applaud as he flew by.

About the only time people slow down or even stop is when multiple motorists arrive at the same time.   Then the merry-go-round game begins figuring out which driver arrived first, which one is to the right, etc.

The other day I pulled up to such an intersection.  Cars were at each of the four stop signs.  To my left was a car making a left turn.   The next driver to go was supposed to be me.   Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.

It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments.  There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.

What was going through that man’s mind behind the wheel?   Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute—to hell with everybody else.

More disturbing is to realize he did not care what anybody there thought of his daredevil antic.  He had no shame or embarrassment.

Those who ignore traffic laws must convince themselves that driving recklessly outweighs the financial penalty of being caught once in a blue moon.

In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.

So, if the law does not alter people’s behavior, the only thing left is for individuals to have a moral responsibility to do the right thing and be courteous of others.   I recognize this is so 1960-ish; however, we all could benefit from more teaching of one’s civic duty both in the home and at school.

One quick fix at four-way stops would be to install speed bumps; at least they would slow people down.

A more draconian solution would be too expensive to implement:  embed spikes into the white lines where cars need to stop.   A computer can detect which car arrives first and if a car makes a complete stop.  Not until that is determined do the spikes recede allowing clear passage.

Until then, it wouldn’t hurt to update defensive driving tip number one: “watch out for all the other guys.”


Disneyland: The Costliest Place on Earth

Many families cherish the memories of taking their children to Disneyland for the first time.   I just experienced what in all likelihood will be my last.

This week my wife and I treated our youngest son to an overnight trip at the Disneyland Hotel. A stay in a small 364 sq. ft. room is $595 with tax. This luxurious cost should be reserved for four-star hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

But I was just warming up my credit card.

This month Disney introduced tier pricing, three different prices contingent on attendance figures. Instead of the old $99 any day price, now Disneyland charges $95 for “value” days, $105 for “regular” days, and $119 for “peak” days.

The rationale is that by charging more during busier periods, fewer people will go, thus lessening the crowds.

So far it’s not working.

Just our luck we happened to go on a “peak” day paying 20 percent more than if we had visited a couple of days earlier.   And the whole area from Downtown Disney to lines for rides and food was clogged with people.

A family of four will have to budget a one-day trip to the Magic Kingdom on a peak day as it were a three-day excursion elsewhere.

First, just to walk through the gates is $476. Each meal with drink costs around $20 meaning for four people, one meal is $80; multiplied by three, the total food tab soars to $240. Add $80 for souvenirs and snacks and $18 for parking and the whole day at Disneyland costs a family of four $814.

That nearly matches the gross median weekly earnings of an American, “$825 in the fourth quarter of 2015” as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And with the ubiquitous crowds, lines lasting up to two hours for a ride, it is doubtful that they will get to experience one-quarter of the 58 attractions.

I would not mind paying an extra $20 if the Disney company would guarantee fewer people. But they do not.

The “you get what you pay for” adage does not apply here. Except for the rides, nothing at Disneyland is of high quality.

The souvenirs ranks slightly higher than those found at a carnival midway, and the food whether bought at a stand or a sit-down restaurant is the same caliber—average—at an exorbitant price.

It’s like buying Target-like clothes at Nordstrom’s prices among Black Friday-level crowds.

It is not just the $4.25 for a churro that ruins the experience; it is the line of 10 people waiting to buy one.

There is only one way to improve the Disneyland experience and that is to limit the number of people coming into the park.   Only on rare occasions does Disney do this when attendance reaches around 65,000 people.

Here’s a marketing suggestion: limit capacity to 30,000 but charge $300. I bet there would not be a shortage of people going for that promotion. Of course, by limiting attendance you are also limiting sales in food and souvenirs.

When my brother worked for Disney, he revealed an internal acronym widely circulated: GTG—Gouge the Guest.

According to Disney, its theme park division earned $2.2 billion in profits in 2013.

Ultimately, my son had a wonderful time. But at $1,200 for this 24-hour excursion (that’s $50 an hour), I’ve had my last “yo-ho-yo-ho.”

Disneyland employees are trained to tell customers, “Have a magical day!” Magic has its price.



Goodbye Nurturing Elementary School, Hello Terrifying Middle School

This week I attended my youngest son’s spring dance at his elementary school.   After 12 spring dances (counting my oldest son’s tenure), this was my final one.

Recognizing the significance of this milestone, I stayed for the whole program. The transition from 5-year-olds to 11-year-olds reflected in the song selections. I watched the younger kids dance to the Jackson Five’s “A,B,C” and the fifth graders dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” As the kids got older, their music became newer and bolder.

The playground was packed with parents, some with the ubiquitous monopods, jockeying for position behind their child’s group of chairs to capture the memories.

I even remained for the finale where all the teachers performed a group dance. Usually by this time I’m already in my car headed toward work. But this was my last spring dance, my last elementary school event (not including the promotion ceremony), and I wanted to soak it all in.

Watching the joy on the children’s faces, I couldn’t help think about how different their academic lives will soon become.

With the end of elementary school vanishes all the support and protection and peace of mind that goes along with a small campus with comforting instructors and staff.

At middle school, the 20-minute recess gets cut in half, and the population nearly doubles.

How quickly the highly confident fifth graders will transform into terrified sixth graders as they attempt to navigate to six different classrooms, some located on opposite ends of campus, in breathless five-minute passing periods.

The one nurturing all-day teacher gives way to six one-hour teachers who hurriedly corral a fresh group into the classroom hour after hour after hour.

I have never understood why public schools long ago decided that the best thing for children right before they are about to enter puberty, the most dramatic change in their lives, is to be thrust into an environment that negates much of what they thrived in during the primary grades.

Middle school is the stage where many kids get lost educationally, some never getting back on track, struggling throughout high school.

The transition from elementary to middle school should be smoother, involving only three teachers: one in the humanities that teaches English and history, one in the math and science field, and one skilled in the arts.

Or, follow the lead of some preparatory schools by extending grammar school through the eighth grade.

Whenever I encounter a troubled student, I try to imagine him as a young child. He must have been cute once, respecting his elders, unafraid to dress in Spiderman pajamas out in public, still believing in Santa, preferring Disneyland’s Dumbo ride to Six Flags’ Goliath roller coaster.

If only we could freeze the innocence of our children, shielding them from growing up too fast.

At the conclusion of the dance, as I returned to work and walked to my classroom, a few male students passed by me spewing out filthy language about sexual acts, unconcerned that I was a teacher.   I wanted to stop and ask them, “What happened to you along the way?”

Atticus Finch tells his son Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird that “there’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you.”

I may not be able to hold back the ugliness in the world, or the shock of middle school, but I can celebrate this upcoming summer by delighting in my son’s present view of the world before it disappears.

He will never be as carefree as he was that day on the playground dancing with his fifth grade classmates, overflowing with childhood. Per the title of the American Authors song also played that day, this was the “Best Day of My Life.”

Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Children Are Abusive

What began as a curious story of a small measles outbreak in, of all places, the so-called Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, has stretched to nearly 100 cases across 8 states and into Mexico.

With all the health problems that can befall people, the last thing we need is for people themselves to harm each other by not getting vaccinated against scourges that modern medicine has already eradicated.

Parents who choose not to give their children vaccinations due to irrational mistrust of medical science not only put their own children in harm’s way, but allow diseases which should remain in history books to resurrect.

As an educator who works in a public school, I have no choice but to be tested for tuberculosis every 4 years. Why? So if I am infected I don’t pass it along to children. I can’t opt out.

However, parents do have that option by filling out the California Department of Public Health’s Personal Beliefs Exemption to Required Immunizations or PBE. Last year, the PBE was revised to require the signature of an “authorized health care practitioner.” While this requirement was intended to make it harder for the form to be completed, all a parent has to do is check off the “religious beliefs” box which requires no medical employee to sign it.

A few short months ago the Ebola hysteria consumed the nation.   Yet there is much more likelihood of a child catching measles than Ebola in this country, a disease with a 90% chance of transference when in contact with an infected individual.

Luckily, the Glendale-Burbank area has been spared thus far. Glendale Unified School District Health Services Coordinator Lynda Burlison said that in the nearly 20 years she was worked in the district, “the last case of measles that I can recall was back in 2000.”

Very few parents have submitted PBEs. Still, there are some schools which have a significant number of children who do not have all their shots.

By visiting the California Department of Education’s (CDE) website and navigating to the Shots for School link, anybody can type in a zip code and click on a specific preschool, elementary, or middle school to receive immediate information.

Schools with fewer than 70% of fully vaccinated students earn a “most vulnerable” rating by the CDE.   Based on the most current information available from the 2013-14 school year, Burbank has one such school, Walt Disney Elementary (how ironic), with 62.8% of the kids there vaccinated.

Glendale, however, has four elementary schools ranked “most vulnerable” with an “increased risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases”: Thomas Jefferson at 68.7%, John Muir at 63.8%, Benjamin Franklin at 60%, and Columbus Elementary at 56.1%.

Just south of Glendale in the Los Angeles Unified School District is Fletcher Drive Elementary where just 40.4% of children have all the required shots meaning more than half of the student population lacks full vaccination. There is an outbreak ready to happen.

If one occurs, those with waivers would be expected to remain home for up to 21 days, the incubation period for measles. This Wednesday nearly 70 non-immunized Palm Desert High School students have been required to stay home for at least two weeks due to an infected teen.

It is a cruel irony that since diseases such as polio and measles have for the most part been eradicated for so long, there exist few eyewitness accounts of people who have had to battle these ailments, leading some to think they are safe.

Maybe the government needs to blast billboards and websites with photos of children afflicted with measles to get people’s attention.

Ultimately, parents who don’t immunize their children exhibit the highest form of selfish behavior. They are taking for granted that the herd immunity of the community will protect their own children.

These militant parents are more than just anti-vaccinators—they are anti-society. As a parent, yes, job number one is protecting your child. But once a parent’s actions go beyond the boundaries of one’s home and will cause harm to other people’s children, the concept of one’s right to do whatever you want no longer applies.

It’s a small world after all.