Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
Saving a dog, L.A. freeway style

On the I-5 Freeway on Tuesday, just north of Commerce, the northbound traffic was finally starting to pick up when the silver Mercedes came to a dead stop in front of me in the fast lane. And then the driver got out. Oh, great, I thought. What looniness have we got here?

The middle-aged man scurried forward along the median. By poking my head out the window, I could see that he was running after a little stray terrier-type dog. It got too far away and he returned to his car.

But then another car pulled over, just ahead of the dog, and a thirty-something woman got out. The Mercedes man pulled up closer to the dog. A third car pulled partway into the lane between them so the dog was surrounded. And together the three people approached the dog from several directions.

I pulled my Subaru up to provide a barrier between traffic and the silver car and then, amazingly enough, a small armada of cars stopped in a protective ring around the "first responders," a signal to oncoming cars that...

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A silver lining from the Isla Vista tragedy: New power to take guns from the unstable

The pro-gun crowd will be foaming, but Gov. Jerry Brown today signed into law AB 1014, by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), that will let family members or police seek a court order to temporarily remove lawfully owned weapons from the home of someone deemed at risk of committing violence.

The Gun Violence Restraining Order bill arose after the horror of the Isla Vista rampage this year, and stands as a common-sense approach to dealing with a persistent problem in American society: mentally unstable individuals in possession of firearms. 

And while the gun-rights folks dislike the measure and invent all sorts of abuse scenarios -- ex-spouses or ex-lovers dropping a dime on each other out of spite -- the law has protections that would make that difficult.

More generally, this is the kind of modest law aimed at protecting the public safety that does not impinge on the rights that gun advocates insist they have to own guns (I've addressed that in part here). And it is just the...

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Los Angeles leaves the flat-roof society

Think of the nation’s most impressive skylines. New York City has Art Deco points atop the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and the spire capping the new One World Trade Center tower. Besides the soaring Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears tower), Chicago’s skyscrapers are capped with pyramids and diamonds. Even the array of buildings in Dallas – Dallas?! –  is more eye-catching than Los Angeles’ bland skyline that is mostly a bunch of tall rectangles with flat tops.

But no more. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city has finally ended its longstanding requirement to build only flat roofs on skyscrapers, which clears the way for new buildings topped by spires, slanted or other types of roofs. The change could remake L.A.’s boxy skyline, unshackle architects and elevate the look of Los Angeles' cityscape, Emily Alpert Reyes reported.

The old rule, which has been in place since 1974, was supposed to ensure that a helicopter could land on top of tall buildings in...

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Parsing the Forest Service's (bad) proposed photo regulations

Early last month the U.S. Forest Service posted a proposed regulation that seemed to set the stage for government control of journalists’ access to public lands, with the added insult of wanting to charge hikers for photographing or filming their experiences in public wilderness areas.

The problem, it turns out, has less to do with government overreach than with the amorphously worded proposed regulation, which left an effort to standardize a permitting process open to much broader interpretation, at least according to the Forest Service. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t intend to chill investigative reporting or whistle-blowing, a potential result of the proposed regulations. But the wording needs to be clarified.

The Forest Service oversees 191 million acres of public land, including designated wilderness areas, national monuments (such as the one being considered for the San Gabriel Mountains), recreation areas and scenic sites. These lands are separate from...

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L.A. Unified's bond committee demonstrates how to ask questions about iPads

It’s no surprise that the annual standardized tests for students have had some troubling effects on schools as well as positive ones. Too much teaching to the test, too much time devoted to review for the test instead of teaching new material, school years started earlier so more learning can take place before the tests. On top of that, the new Common Core tests require major outlays of cash for computers that students need to take the exams.

Now, according to the bond oversight committee of the Los Angeles Unified School District and an article by Times education writer Howard Blume, L.A. Unified is asking for more money than it needs for computer devices for students because it wants to test all students during the first two hours of the day, when they’re fresher and thus likely to do better.

If that’s true, we have indeed reached the point of letting tests twist basic school operations out of joint and beyond reason.

Of course L.A. Unified wants to do what it can to improve scores,...

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Alaska actually wants to use the Jim Crow approach in defending its gay marriage ban

States that try to defend their bans on same-sex marriage have a couple of stock arguments that they tend to fall back on. One is that gay marriage harms traditional heterosexual marriage, an assertion that failed in California’s Proposition 8 trial and elsewhere because even the defendants couldn’t come up with a single example or explanation to back up that canard.

There’s always the claim that children are best raised by married, heterosexual parents, which not only lacks clear evidence, but more importantly, is at complete odds with societal reality. Lack of marriage rights doesn’t keep gay and lesbian couples from having or adopting children; it only keeps their families from having the protections and esteem conferred on other families. And no one stops other couples from marrying based on whether they would make ideal parents. It’s mind-boggling to contemplate all the people who wouldn’t qualify.

A corollary to both those arguments is that states have an interest in maintaining...

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The Chipotle protests: People are species chauvinists, but so are cats and dogs

Animal-rights activists have been targeting much of their venom lately toward Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants but not other eateries that serve meat. Restaurants seldom bother much with whether the animals butchered for the menu items were treated humanely or raised using higher standards; Chipotle has actually done more than most to source from more humane livestock operations, avoid chickens that have been fed antibiotics and buy grass-fed beef when it’s available.

Over the weekend, one animal group, Direct Action Everywhere, was planning protests inside various Chipotle restaurants. The killing of animals to create Chipotle dishes is, a press release said, speciesism. I couldn’t quite believe the term existed, but according to the online dictionary, this is a word that has been in use since the early 1970s, meaning discrimination against animals. In a way, Chipotle is in the crosshairs because it has done more than most other restaurants -- and has advertised this widely. The...

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Come November, what's a fringe voter to do in this top-two system?

Four years ago California voters approved Proposition 14, which scrapped the existing primary election system for most elected offices and replaced it with the top-two system we used in June. It was billed as a way to force Democratic and Republican politicians to cater to the center of the broad electorate rather than to the extremes of their own parties. But in effect, Prop. 14 has disenfranchised me and tens of thousands of other voters.

Let me explain how.

Under the old primary system, party members voted for who they thought would be their best standard-bearer in the fall general election (the history of that process is available here). So the November ballot (usually) had a candidate for most offices on each party line, from the American Independents on the far right through the relatively centrist Republicans and Democrats to the “feminist socialist” Peace and Freedom Party on the far left (the number of ballot-qualified parties can vary by election cycle based on registration...

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Why is Mayor Garcetti polishing the soda industry's image?

To hear Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office tell it, the city is being honored with a wonderful new health initiative brought to it by the soda industry. The details are unclear from the press release but this is all part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an alliance that former President Clinton built with the food industry to persuade it to take steps toward providing healthier food. Its steps so far have been considered modest at best.

"I'm thrilled that Los Angeles was chosen as one of the pilot cities for Alliance for a Healthier Generation initiative and look forward to working with President Clinton, AHG and the American Beverage Association to set the agenda locally," the mayor said in the press release.

How about if we don't let the purveyors of high-calorie junk drinks have anything to do with setting the health agenda in L.A.? Public health advocates see this new push as unlikely to make any difference, except perhaps to give the beverage industry more reason...

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The Great Recession: The financial crisis that keeps on giving

The Great Recession has lasted a lot longer for some than for others.

A new survey from Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development found that “one in five workers - or nearly 30 million people - say they were laid off from a job in the past five years," dating back to the end of the recession in June 2009. "Nearly 4 in 10 of these laid-off workers say they searched for a job for more than seven months before finding another one; one in five workers laid off during the past five years never found another job.”

And the jobs found by the lucky often were worse jobs than they had lost. Some 44% said the new job was inferior to the lost job, a reflection of the economic recovery in which white-collar mid-wage jobs disappeared after the financial collapse, but as the economy regained steam the new jobs came predominately in the lower-paying service sector.

Workers over age 45 have had more trouble finding work, as have African Americans. Still, it was a broad...

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Rewriting the DMV test for real-life driving

I’ll be taking the DMV driving test anon to renew my license, but the handbook of California’s rules of the road looks a bit dated when it comes to driving as it’s practiced here and now.

If we were to rewrite the answers to match the way we actually drive, this is how a sample test might look:

CALIFORNIA HAS A NEW LAW GOVERNING MOTORISTS AND BICYCLISTS. IT REQUIRES THAT

a) A driver must leave at least three feet between car and bicyclist unless the driver received a grade below a “C” in third-grade arithmetic.

b) Drivers who curse at bicyclists must do so in words that can be lip-read through the passenger-side window at a distance of no less than three feet.

c) Drivers trying to get a nervous laugh out of their passengers may pretend to swerve into cyclists only on streets with dedicated bike lanes.

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING IS AGAINST THE LAW FOR MOTORISTS UNLESS THEY ARE

a) Law enforcement officers.

b) Steering with their knees.

c) Only using consonants.

DRIVING ABOVE THE POSTED...

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Is Scott Panetti sane enough to be executed? The devil is in the details

There is no doubt that Scott Panetti murdered his mother-in-law and father-in-law in 1992, then took his estranged wife and daughter hostage before police talked him into surrendering. There’s also no doubt that Panetti is mentally ill (among other delusions, he thinks he’s in the center of a battle between God and Satan).

But is Panetti too mentally ill to understand why the state of Texas wants to execute him? Texas says no, his lawyers and a raft of psychiatrists say yes, and the arbiter could well be the Supreme Court, which sometime in the next few days will announce whether it has granted certiorari for the second time in an appeal in the case.

As The Times’ editorial board has written, and I’ve argued here on the blog, the death penalty should be abolished. Beyond its inherent immorality, the death penalty is inconsistently applied, atrociously prone to error and manipulation, and inhumane even when the executioners manage to get it right. Yes, murderers act inhumanely, too, but...

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