Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
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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Rob Schneider is paying the price for exercising his free-speech rights

Actor Rob Schneider is understandably miffed about State Farm dropping him from its advertisements because of his controversial opinions on childhood vaccinations. I mean, if Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey can revive Hans and Franz on State Farm's dime, why can't Schneider get a bit more airtime as the Richmeister?

Actually, if Schneider's beef stemmed purely from envy, he'd be on more solid ground. But the complaint he aired on Twitter is that his free-speech rights are being quashed, and he's wrong both on the letter and the spirit of the law.

The 1st Amendment's guarantee bars only governments, not private companies such as State Farm, from "abridging the freedom of speech." So, technically, his rights under the law weren't affected.

What's really at issue is State Farm's tolerance - and by extension, society's tolerance - for contrary views. And on the former point, it's easy to defend what State Farm did. Companies have wide latitude to choose who speaks for them. If State Farm...

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Mom tries to shield daughters from media's beauty standards, gets burned

Academics are always arguing that our standards of beauty, especially female beauty, are completely conditioned by our Western culture - and then they’re shocked, shocked when they encounter evidence that this isn’t so.

A case in point is Laura Tropp, professor of communications and media arts at Marymount Manhattan College, blogging this for Inside Higher Education:

“Because I am raising two daughters and I study media and gender, I have tried to be very careful about exposing my children to media representations of women and the body. I work to teach my daughters not to focus on looks but on inner beauty....

“I do not obsess over food choices or body image, I never make unflattering body comments about anyone’s body, and I’ve discussed inner beauty with my children. I limit their media consumption....

“Something has gone horrible wrong, though....

“I was getting dressed for work the other day when my eight-year-old told me that she didn’t find my skirt flattering. A few days later,...

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No on Proposition 46 campaign tries to start a hacker panic

Even by the political world's low standards of truthiness, a new commercial being aired by the No on Proposition 46 campaign is jaw-droppingly deceptive.

The proposition would make three major changes in the laws related to the practice of medicine in California. It would quadruple the cap on "pain and suffering" damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, require many physicians to be tested for drug and alcohol use, and force physicians and pharmacists to consult an existing state prescription database before prescribing or distributing certain medications to a patient for the first time.

Each of these elements has drawn fierce opposition from at least some part of the healthcare industry, so expect a brutal back-and-forth on the airwaves this fall. For its part, the No on 46 campaign is playing up the potential cost to consumers, in terms of both the price of care and access to doctors.

Opponents are also trying to persuade voters that the measure would expose their personal health to...

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Conservatives cheer Eric Holder's exit: Why he was such a punching bag

Atty. Gen. Eric. H. Holder Jr. has finally given conservatives a reason to cheer. He’s stepping down from his post as head of the Justice Department.

“Good riddance,” wrote W. James Antle III in response to the news, saying, “The Holder Justice Department earned a reputation for being aggressive in the enforcement of laws it liked and […] was far quicker than his boss, the first African American president, to racialize national controversies.”

Commenting on Fox News (as reported by the Daily Caller), conservative Jonah Goldberg also weighed in: “He’s basically been a political fixer, a firewall for the president of the United States. A stonewaller. [...] If John Ashcroft had behaved half as politicized as Eric Holder has, the New York Times would be sparking riots.”

In June 2012, Los Angeles Times editorial board member Michael McGough wrote about why Holder was such a punching bag for critics. His argument, reposted in full:

Besieged Attorney General Eric Holder (“Besieged” is almost...

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