Arts & Culture, Zocalo Public Square »

LA bus videos that inspire you to breathe during your commute


Whenever I am swinging my arms — a simple warm-up exercise as part of the practice of qigong, which cultivates energy by aligning mind, breath, and body — I imagine that I look like a repenting soul performing self-flagellation to random passersby.
I’ve mused for a long time about creating an urban opera involving scenes of bus riders spontaneously starting to hurl their arms in …

Education, Featured, News, Zocalo Public Square »

Where are the safety-net programs for low income college students?

Photo by j.o.h.n. walker/ via Flickr/ CC

If I were to get pregnant, I would know just where to go for help: the local offices of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the federally funded food and nutrition program; Planned Parenthood; and the Family Resource Center. All three are places where I stood in line for hours with my siblings as a child growing up in Watts. But finding local resources to …

Arts & Culture, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

The perilous life of a camera operator

From the Slates for Sarah Facebook page.

Less than two weeks ago, I found my Facebook feed flooded with remembrances of 27-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a second assistant camerawoman who was struck by a train and killed in a terrible set accident in Georgia. My mind reeled for days. In my 10 years as a camera assistant in New York, from 1981 to 1991, I was endangered many times. But I …

Commentary, Environment, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

Fed to the lions: Marius the giraffe and conflicting zoo cultures

Via Wikipedia: Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark.

A few years ago, I attended a biannual convention of zoo nutritionists in Oklahoma for the book I was writing. Hanging out one night at the hotel bar with a group from around the United States, we got to talking about a practice in some European zoos that sounded shocking. It was called carcass-feeding, and like most Americans, I had never heard of it. …

Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

Quitting the NFL cold turkey

Photo by Parker Knight/ Flickr/ CC

Sunday’s national holiday has me feeling stressed out. The holiday, of course, is the Super Bowl, as likely to clear the streets and bring family together as Christmas. But this year it reminds me of all the insults I received when I wrote about my decision to boycott the NFL this season. One reader called me a “Nancy,” several called me a “nerd,” and someone …

Arts & Culture, Commentary, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

Sweet, high art at the Museum of Donuts

The museum of Donuts in Ontario.

I’m used to the reaction now: a snicker, a raised eyebrow, and a pause, as they wait for the punch line.  My husband, Jan, and I couldn’t possibly run something called the Museum of Donuts in Ontario, California, could we?
In fact, we could and we do.  We turn donuts into art and hang them from the walls on the downstairs floor of our apartment, …

California Elections, Commentary, Headline, Politics, Zocalo Public Square »

Is it even possible to be an informed citizen?

Photo via Flickr by Loco Steve/ CreativeCommons

To be an engaged, informed citizen in California is to be hopelessly behind in your reading.
We’re told that we need to follow the big issues in California, that we need to be informed about policy debates, and that policymakers want our feedback on major proposals.  It all sounds reasonable enough, until you see the homework. The governor stresses the importance of his budget, but …

Arts & Culture, Environment, Headline, Zocalo Public Square »

Deck the halls with California holly

Photo via Flickr by docentjoyce/ CreativeCommons

In Nancy Dale’s 1986 epic tome of Southern California native plants, “Flowering Plants,” she has this to say about toyon—aka California holly, Christmas berry, or, if you’re a botanist, “Heteromeles arbutifolia”: “It is thought that masses of this native shrub growing on the hills above Hollywood gave the community its name.”
This idea of floral origins for Hollywood is romantic. It’s also not true. Hollywood …

Commentary, Environment, Featured, News, Video, Zocalo Public Square »

Remembering the Baldwin Hills Dam disaster

Firemen escort flood victims in Baldwin Hills in the aftermath of the Baldwin Hills Dam disaster. They wade through the street using a safety rope. Photo dated: Dec. 15, 1963. 
Photography by Joe Rustan, courtesy: Los Angeles Public Library

My grandpa bought me a Honda 50 minibike for my 10th birthday. It was 1972, when the sight of a 10-year-old driving a motor bike raised few eyebrows, and I rode that Honda all over the Westside neighborhood where I lived at the time. I roared up and down the alley behind the UCLA married students’ housing on Sawtelle Boulevard and around the church …

Featured, News, Zocalo Public Square »

Feeling political strife in Thailand in Los Angeles

2010 photograph of a "Red Shirt" protest at Ratchaprasong intersection, an area in downtown Bangkok which was occupied by the red shirts between April 3, 2010, and May 19, 2010.

As you may have seen in the news, political strife in Thailand has reached a boiling point again. In the capital, Bangkok, hundreds of thousands of people recently took to the streets in a huge protest against actions by the governing political party. Some protestors stormed government buildings and media stations. The pro­government group also gathered, and fighting took place. Police attempted to contain …

Commentary, Environment, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

City government is the problem – not Sriracha

Photo by tedeytan/ Flickr/CreativeCommons

Last week, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the Irwindale, California plant that produces the highly popular “rooster sauce” Sriracha to cease operations that could be emitting odors that are “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance.”
Too bad the judge didn’t apply the same logic to the city government of Irwindale and shut it down …

Commentary, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

Donuts for votes, and other ways to get people to go to the polls

Donut shop via Flickr by navets/ CreativeCommons

Until a change in the city charter 20 years ago, voters in some parts of Los Angeles were able to take stubs from their ballot, present them to local independent donut shops and receive a free dozen donuts, paid for by local Democrats.
Is it time to bring back donuts for votes? Certainly, the city is full of ideas in the wake of this year’s …

Arts & Culture, Commentary, Zocalo Public Square »

Can art save lives?

The Keiskamma Altarpiece, shown here at UCLA, is a powerful declaration of hope and solidarity in the fight against HIV/AIDS. (Photo courtesy )

Twenty-five years ago, I was foraging through a museum bookstore and came upon an eye-catching title: “AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism.” The word “AIDS,” rendered on the cover in large font, seemed more than slightly dangerous in 1988, when so many lay sick and dying and there were no effective treatments on the horizon. Equally attention-grabbing was the book’s cover photograph of “Let the Record …

Commentary, Featured, Politics, Zocalo Public Square »

Should LA be the capital of California, and would that end corruption?

Sacramento Capitol Building at night. Photo via Flickr by Michael Dunn / Creative Commons

One thing that unites Americans, pretty much wherever they are from, is the conviction that their own state is singularly corrupt. Most states, if not all, have their harrowing stories of arrested governors or legislators, and local political folklore is filled with hair-raising corruption scandals. Just in the past few weeks, in California, State Senator Ron Calderon got stripped of all his legislative assignments, …

Arts & Culture, News, Zocalo Public Square »

There’s an art gallery in my ear

Photo: Ruben Diaz, courtesy of TIF SIGFRIDS

It’s a stymieing truth that a large percentage of people attending an art opening don’t see any art. Like showing up for roll call and sneaking out of the classroom the moment the teacher turns to write something on the blackboard, we think we deserve credit just for showing up to these things; looking at the art is serious extra credit. It’s often more fun to …

Arts & Culture, Commentary, Featured, Headline, Politics, Zocalo Public Square »

The saints of Skid Row


A dozen years or so ago, I set out to find connections between the stories of 100 saints and the streets that bear their names here in Los Angeles, a city which itself is named for a saint. (Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Our Lady of the Angels – that is, the Virgin Mary).
One thing I was fairly certain of at the outset: Nearly …

Commentary, Environment, Featured, News, Zocalo Public Square »

How disaster connects California

Banner image: Edward Vielmetti

When I was a graduate student at Caltech in the 1960s, my boyfriend and I loved to take a spin up the cliff-hanging California Highway 39 that ascends in a 30-mile stretch from Azusa to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains. Smog was a serious problem back then, but we’d go up on those wonderful days when the air was clear, the sky …

Environment, Featured, News, Zocalo Public Square »

Do you know enough about your wildlife neighbors?

Aphelocoma Californica

The first thing you notice when you step out of your car in the dusty parking lot is that your cell phone has no reception. The second thing you notice is the silence. Or rather, you notice that the city—cars, traffic, concrete—has been replaced with wilderness. It’s Nature with a big N: trees, brush, creeks, waterfalls, wildflowers, and all manner of bird, bug, and …

Arts & Culture, Commentary, Education, Featured, Zocalo Public Square »

Why LA’s kids should learn to hack iPads

Photo via Flickr by Sean MacEntee / Creative Commons

Last year, 40 tablet computers were delivered to the children of two remote Ethiopian villages. The villagers were 100-percent illiterate—the kids had never seen road signs, product labels, or printed material of any kind. Technicians from the One Laptop Per Child program dropped off a stack of boxes, showed a couple of adults how to use the solar chargers, and then walked away. Within …

Commentary, Environment, Featured, water, Zocalo Public Square »

Can we fix LA’s water problem?

Via Flickr by tico_24 / Creative Commons

As a nation, we dream of energy independence. But in Los Angeles, we wouldn’t dream of water independence. The growth and prosperity of our city has been largely defined by our ability to access large quantities of pure water. Our local groundwater resources, in this partial desert with Mediterranean weather, provide only 13 percent of what we need. State politics are now consumed with …

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