It was evaluation day at preschool. I shifted uncomfortably in the little toddler seat feeling like Goliath at Lilliput’s table. My 3.5-year old’s sincere teacher spread out a sheaf of papers of work and grades. “This is your son writing his name,” she announced. She showed me incoherent scribbling. Interesting shapes, but no semblance of an alphabet. I grimaced at the 9-lettered challenge facing my son.

S I D D H A R T H.

It is a beautiful name that we as parents felt had pith, substance and meaning. “Siddharth” means one who has attained his goals. It is also the name of Gautam Buddha, the seer who attained Nirvana. The name also had attained acceptance from all sides of the family.

No, it was no Bob or Tom or Raj. It didn’t roll off the tongue and was not easy to remember. But nor do Hermione Granger or Daenerys Targaryen. And yet they have high recall value. Then again, we were in the Bay Area where names like Wochiski, Blecharczysk, Srinivasan, Thirunavukkarasu, are common.

A name represents our roots. It is a promise of your unique offering to the world. The first manifestation of the love and aspirations of the parents. A name is destined to go through various avatars in its life, but they only add to its essence.

And really, if we expect our kids to be writing legibly before they are four, thrive at Russian math, top the spelling bee, invent the flying car – surely, a 9 lettered name was not going to create a ruffle.

I took a deep breath. My son would do just fine. As if reading my thoughts, the teacher assuaged me, “Oh don’t worry, he will be writing his full name by the end of the year.” I smiled at my ambitious, all-embracing Californian teacher. I took a few notes and headed to the door.

Was that Mrs. Guilmeneau next in line?

With a Perspective, I’m Sandhya Acharya

Sandhya Acharya was formerly in corporate finance and is now mother of two boys and a dance enthusiast living in Santa Clara.

Respect is something everyone wants and many even demand. There are at least two kinds of respect: for the person and for the position the person occupies. Both are necessary for anything to function properly: friendship, marriage, business, or government. Many of the workplace mediations I do come down to whether both sides are willing to give the other both kinds of respect, and what pushes them toward doing this is the often-grudging recognition of the fact that while they do not have to love each other or even like each other, they do have a mutual goal requiring their cooperation.

At one time, liberals were presumed to champion individual rights, while conservatives stressed duty to the state. Sometime in the last century, perhaps with the emergence of the activist welfare state and conservatives’ drift toward neoliberalism, these definitions were turned largely on their heads. No matter: the fact remains that rights without responsibilities are meaningless and vice-versa.

In the English Parliament, there is the party in power and the Loyal Opposition, a label that clearly indicates that whatever their agenda, all members serve something greater than themselves – their country – and are never to act tyrannically or sulk uncooperatively in the corner. Arguments can get nasty, yes, but the Loyal Opposition would never think of deliberately sabotaging the ability of the party in power to govern.

For the past eight years, the party in opposition to the man elected to lead this country has completely lost sight of maintaining the balance of respect for person and position so imperative to the founders of our country. Government is an ongoing experiment; this is the glory of our Constitution, a network of checks and balances, not obstructions. But from the moment President Obama took office, the disloyal opposition has had only one, loudly-stated agenda: to restrict the president to a single term. Not by participating in government, but by making it impossible for him to fulfill his duties, and then bashing him for his struggles. They don’t have to like the president or love him. But their lack of respect for him and his office is an attack on the very Constitution that they loudly proclaim they cherish.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor living in the East Bay.

In the noisy chorus of anxiety and fear within the American-Muslim community since the attacks in Paris and the San Bernardino shootings, hate attacks on American-Muslims have spiked to their highest levels since 9/11. As a Muslim, it occurs to me that I have not heard two relevant words spoken: Thank you.

Thank you to the woman in Castro Valley who attacked and yelled racial epithets at three Muslim friends praying at a park in December. The video of you spurred our disunited mosques in Hayward to join for once and help found an area interfaith group. At a rally the day after Christmas, hundreds of Muslims and people of other faiths marched to denounce your actions. We would not have met without you.

Thank you to the man in Sacramento who fired off an angry email to my mosque asking why we could not speak louder than Muslims who distort verses in the Qur’an. You inspired me to study the Qur’an in a way I hadn’t since I was a kid. I’m on Chapter 7.

Thank you to the Unitarian Universalist church in the East Bay that wrote a letter of support to the Bay Area Muslim community. I called my local Shia mosque to deliver the letter. For the first time, I talked with an Imam who is Shia. I now better understand the beliefs of this minority Muslim community.

Thank you to those in the media who write narratives that do not represent us. In increasing numbers, young Muslim-American are choosing high social-impact careers like journalism and politics to tell our story as only we can.

Thank you to Donald Trump, Ben Carson and other presidential candidates. You have torn the fig leaf off Islamophobia like only you could. Your rhetoric of fear and hate has united our disjointed community.

Today, there are an estimated 250,000 Muslims-Americans living in the Bay Area. We have been in the U.S. since its founding. The time is now for us to integrate more fully.

After the fog of Islamophobia has lifted, we will look back with grateful clarity and be thankful to each person who has brought us to where we are.

With a Perspective, I’m Munir Safi.

Munir Safi is a mosque manager who lives in Hayward.

The human urge to place things into neat little categories is at once a necessary tool for survival as well as a sometimes useless — and even harmful — instinct.

Like most people, I learned to compartmentalize animals into arbitrary categories of those we love and those we eat, those we live with and those we use.

Interestingly, we also categorize people according to the animals they have an affinity for. We ask: “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” As if we have to choose. Growing up, I did choose. I was what people approvingly call a “dog person.” And I made certain not to be mistaken for a “cat person.”

Even though I had never spent any time with cats, I bought into the myth that cats were aloof, unsocial, manipulative, unaffectionate and independent to a fault. As an animal advocate of more than two decades, it pains me to say that I genuinely disliked cats for the first 20 years of my life.

It wasn’t that I had ever had a bad experience with cats. I had no
experience with them, until I started housesitting for a family in my early 20s. It wasn’t the humans who changed my mind. It was their cats.

They were — despite what people had said — affectionate, social, vocal and responsive. As soon as I was able, I adopted two cats of my own and two more when they died, and I honestly can’t imagine living without these enchanting creatures.

And I’m proud to say that they’re stellar ambassadors for their species, shaping and changing perceptions for the better — whether in person or via the photos I post of them every day. They epitomize the best of the feline traits, while exhibiting characteristics people think are reserved only for dogs. They greet me at the door when I come home, they come when I call their name, they bring me their toys and drop them at my feet.

In other words, cats don’t fit into one neat little compartment — just like humans don’t.

We don’t have to choose which particular species we have more affection for. We can be “animal people,” who revel in the company of the feathered and the furry. The more relevant question is “who do we want to live with?”

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.

In the 1960s, anthropologists Lowell Bean gave himself a challenge. Anthropologists were asking how religions helped people survive and regulate food. Many religions have taboos restricting what people can eat. Anthropologists saw this as inefficient: food taboos keep you from getting needed calories. Bean put that theory to the test.

Over several years, he worked with the Cahuilla, a native group living in the Mojave Desert. The Cahuilla have strong cultural traditions, including language, religious ceremonies and a deep understanding of their ancestral lands.
Bean found that Cahuilla ceremonies regulated trade and how surplus was shared. Every aspect of life had a religious component defining the individual’s role in the community. Bean concluded that religion not only helped distribute food, it maintained peace amongst people living in one of the most difficult environments in the world.

His research has important implications for us now. He showed that, when religion, trade and resources are intertwined. If you mess with one, the others are in danger. I recently spoke with some Marshall Islanders. Their country is disappearing, inundated as a result of sea level rise. Their frustration was palpable. Their ancestral traditions tied to their homes will be lost. The people can move, but the islands that their culture is tied to cannot. They will survive, but their current way of life will be destroyed.

Those of us studying climate change have been mystified by people who don’t believe it exists, despite global scientific consensus. I don’t mean industries trying to discredit the research. I mean the people on the street who don’t believe the science. This denial, I think, stems from the big changes we need to make. These changes will require many people to lose their jobs, to move their families. For many, human-caused climate change is inconsistent with religious beliefs, and asking them to accept something contrary to their world view and to abandon their way of life will be met with fierce resistance.

We’re going to need empathy from both sides of the debate to arrive at a solution to this global crisis.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Mike Newland is an archaeologist with the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University in Santa Rosa.

Like Hollywood, the Presidential candidates are selling our dreams back to us.

The Republicans offer their old fantasy flick of tough-guy-kicks-butt. The candidates fetishize cowboy boots, big guns and red power ties. The only effective diplomacy is a loaded gun, compromise is sellout, and every problem is the same: the bad guys are winning because the people in charge are too wimpy to crush them. Islamic terrorists are schoolyard bullies, liberals and moderates are Officer Krupke, and Obama is both.

Bernie Sanders is selling a different dream. Exit Dirty Harry. Enter Robin Hood, giving the ill-gotten gains of the filthy rich to you and me. Add Atticus Finch, the principled crusader against intolerance. The oligarchs tremble, The People rule. In the world-according-to-Bernie, there is no red America and blue America, only a blue America about to become even more blue because Kansas will realize what’s the matter with it.

These are bad movies, confusing simplicity for authenticity and both for virtue. But they may be more appealing to primary voters than no movie at all. That would be the Hillary movie. Hillary would like to be Thelma and Louise, but she isn’t wild. She would like to be Rocky, but she’s no underdog. For every simplistic storyline, she has reason to hedge that bet, and for every bet she hedges, she ends up seeming like The Candidate, that Robert Redford character who stood for nothing except his need to get elected.

Hillary was actually portrayed in a movie, by Emma Thompson in ‘Primary Colors’. She was unpretentious, accomplished, and ruthless—probably closer to Hillary than this year’s version. But that Hillary wasn’t running for President.

After the election, the movies will change as the new president faces the world, not just the voters. Prediction: the dreams that sold this year will look quaint.

Anyone for “Got hope?”

With a Perspective, I’m Jeremy Friedlander.

Jeremy Friedlander lives in San Francisco.

February 2 marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. In an alternative way of measuring time, February 2 marks the beginning of spring. The March 21st equinox is the climax of spring.

In some pre-Christian European cultures, especially in Germany, there was a custom of watching the badger come out of hibernation on the first of February to inspect the weather. The good Christian missionaries on advice from Pope Gregory I did not crush this myth but instead they subverted it and consecrated the day to Christ. The locals could watch the badger and worship Jesus all on the same day. Smart Pope.

In North America, the natives had a similar myth. But instead of the badger it was the bear. It is interesting that this same concept evolved in two entirely different cultures. Many peoples perceive, perhaps correctly, that animals have a special sense about the weather.

Our current custom was brought to the United States by English and Germans settlers. They changed the badger into the groundhog and presto! — a new holiday. One of the very first celebrations occurred in Pennsylvania Dutch (really Deutch, for German) settlements of Lancaster County in 1887. The town now closely associated with Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The popularity of His Majesty, the Punxsutawney groundhog, has swelled enormously. Reporters, radio disc jockeys and television personalities descend upon the town and its chief citizen. Every February 2, His Majesty emerges from his burrow, if he sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter weather. But if it is cloudy he will return to his burrow for a long sleep and there will be an early and mild spring.

We do not have groundhogs in California. A close relative, the yellow-bellied marmot, is found high in the Sierra Nevada. However, these marmots usually sleep right through February. Unfortunately, we’ll have to content ourselves with overpaid television meteorologists for weather predicting.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist living in Santa Rosa who leads trips throughout the world.

I was up late reading Facebook posts about ISIS, crime, and the buffoons running for president. The next morning, I stepped over a mound left in front of my house by a dog’s irresponsible owner. And I passed a hipster Airbnb’er, which made me worry that my neighborhood’s becoming a Holiday Inn.

Just then, I heard a man call out in pain. His finger had been caught in his truck’s tail lift and was now wedged in its hinges, pointing up to the sky – but severed from his bloody hand. I ran to him and called 911. My call was put on hold. A contractor – working on the house next door – appeared with a First-Aid kit. A neighbor asked from his window if we needed help. “Ice and some plastic bags!” an African-American woman, who’d pulled her car over, called out. A middle-aged Latina arrived and told us to sit the man up so he wouldn’t lose consciousness. As the Airbnb’er and contractor held him steady, blood dripped onto their coats. They noticed, but didn’t budge. The neighbor appeared with towels and a blanket.

911 finally answered and, 13 minutes later, the paramedics arrived. They said my call had been dispatched incorrectly as a non-emergency.

There are a lot of things wrong in this city and the world can be a scary place. But that day, six strangers worked together like well-rehearsed actors on the stage of life, our roles assigned by the immediacy of need. We didn’t ask each other’s names. We didn’t know who’s Muslim or Jewish or whether we supported Trump or Clinton. We were male and female, young and old, white and black. When it was over, we said awkward good-byes and dispersed like dancers in a Flash Mob. But our willingness to help a stranger gave me a glimpse into what the world could be if we spent less time fearing each other and complaining on Facebook.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Findling.

Debbie Findling produces a weekly e-newsletter exploring ancient and trending Jewish issues.

I won the lottery.
No, not that mega-one earlier this year.
I won an existential lottery.
My windfall wears diapers at ten, watches the same cartoon over and over, will watch the wind for hours on end, and would rather play with a spinning sand toy than an xbox.  His smile is piercing. His cries are heart breaking.
I am grateful that my husband’s DNA and mine collided with cosmic force 11 years ago. And whether it was divine intervention, or simply evolution, the result was our son Mason, one gene short of a full deck. A rare anomaly and gift of the first order, whose mere existence has forged such humility and grace in myself, equivalent to winning the lottery of life.
I am grateful for our exceptional children’s hospital. They have helped us navigate brain surgeries, seizures, MRIs, daily medicine regiments, and on and on. ┬áTheir dedication gives Mason the ability to live and thrive, and in turn touch the lives of so many others.
I am grateful we have found a school where Mason and his peers, who require constant attention and vigilance, get more than an education, they get a welcoming community, ne that frees them of the confines of their vast anomalies allowing them to enjoy a life without limits, or as few as possible.
This good fortune of a life with Mason brings a wealth of perspective. Some days are more bitter than sweet. But when a work crisis arises, it always pales in comparison to enduring his brain surgeries. When Mason’s brother complains that life isn’t fair because Mason gets more iPad, I agree and hope to shape his worldview into one that is abundant with compassion and understanding.
What luck I have to live such a rich life, each day grounded in a deep debt of gratitude to all the teachers, doctors, therapists, social workers, caregivers, and friends, who support Mason and our family. I hope my gratitude enriches their lives as well.
With a Perspective, I’m Kyri McClellan.
Kyri McClellan lives in San Rafael with her husband and two sons.

For a long time, the practice of psychiatry was to treat children who identified with a gender other than their genetic makeup as if they had a disorder and the Diagnostic Manual labeled it as such: ‘Gender Identity Disorder’.

When the work on the new DSM V spilled over into public debate, the head of the committee, an experienced and influential researcher from Toronto, argued that what “comes closest to being a necessary variable for these children is that there was a parent (read here ‘mother’) fostering this belief.” Most of these young children were boys. He argued that even if children were born that way, gender was malleable, and therapy needed. It was important to change the child’s views, before adolescence.

Therapy involved getting the family to encourage the child to play only with masculine toys and strongly encourage play with boys. Also, the child was in therapy to help him understand what problem in his life he was attempting to solve by a wish to be of the other gender — a conundrum for any person in therapy when the therapist starts from a particular belief, which likely is wrong.

Last month, it was announced that the Toronto psychologist was no longer affiliated with the clinic, which is being closed.

In the Bay area there is a large group of therapists who believe along with other major clinics in the world that what is needed is to accept and support the child as they come to understand who they are. We differ from some in that we , when appropriate, support a child’s changing gender, even at a young

As many as one in 200 adults say they are transgender, and we are seeing many more children questioning their assigned gender, so the development in Toronto is welcome as many children will be
spared having to convince us of what we take for granted about ourselves.

With a Perspective, I am Herb Schreier.

Dr. Herb Schreier works for the Department of Psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital Research Center in Oakland.

Like the recent occupiers of a wildlife refuge in Oregon, I too am a user of public lands. I don’t graze cattle, log trees, hunt ducks, mine minerals, or drive off-road, but I have hiked and camped many times on land owned and managed by the federal government.

All of the activities I mention are legal, but regulated, uses of our public lands and at times, my preferred activity has been disrupted by these other uses. I have been awakened in my tent to the clanging of cowbells, the whine of chain saws or the explosion of rifles. I have coughed up dust raised by jeeps in the backcountry and been forced off ski trails by snowmobiles. I don’t like these disruptions, but I understand them.

The long history of federal ownership of public lands dates back to early European settlement of the West. Prior to that time, these lands belonged to American Indians, and before them, to the numerous wildlife species that proliferated in seemingly endless habitats. With European settlement, these massive open spaces were up for grabs. Many exploited this opportunity, running huge numbers of cattle or cutting down vast expanses of forest. Eventually, and for various reasons, many acres of wilderness reverted to the federal government to be managed with the overall public interest in mind.

The debate rages as to what constitutes public interest. Some see livestock grazing as superior to all other uses, and would like this use to be exclusive. I, on the other hand, would prefer our public lands be managed for wildlife and outdoor recreation. Others have different opinions.

We live in a society that however awkwardly operates as a democracy, requiring ALL people be involved in decisions about its affairs. In the case of public lands, our society has determined that a variety of activities should take place. I don’t like to see cow patties in a stream from which I draw my drinking water, but know that shared use requires I sometimes deal with it. Without shared use, the alternative might be no trespassing signs. I’d take cow patties any day.

With a Perspective I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is an environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

I remember as a little girl cruising around the streets of San Francisco in my dad’s bright red ’68 Impala, me and my sister in the backseat and my mom in the passenger seat with my dad’s arm wrapped around her. As the years went by, I’ve held onto that memory.

When I was three, Sunday drives changed. It wasn’t the four of us in a convertible anymore; it was my mom driving me and my sister four hours away to visit my dad in prison. I remember standing in line watching the sad faces of the families who weren’t able to see their loved ones that day because their shorts were too short or their shirt color blended in with the inmates’ uniforms.

My dad looked different each time we saw him. His hair and beard grew quickly. For a while he wore tan clothes, then orange. Sometimes we had to talk to him through a glass window. When we were allowed contact visits, I always sat on his lap.

He’d always hand me a comb and tell me to brush his short hair, and the guards would give my parents a warning each time they got too close to each other.

In letters, my dad wrote that he’d think about us every day, even when he wasn’t able to call. And he’d tell us not to worry.

But I always worried.

I remember feeling so relieved when he was finally released, but then when I was 11 years old, my mom and my dad were both sent to jail. It left me feeling upset, sad, scared, disappointed, and alone. Going to school knowing all my friends went home to their parents made me cry. I had to communicate with mine through letters, visits or phone calls.

But the one emotion I never felt was shame. Nothing my parents do will ever make me turn my back on them. And in some ways they’ve helped me stay out of trouble. I’ve vowed not to make the same mistakes, and if I ever have kids of my own, I won’t do anything that could separate us.

With a Perspective, I’m Gabriela Alvarez.

Gabriela Alvarez is 16 years old and lives in Hayward. She’s a youth advocate with Project WHAT! and her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

I guess I should be feeling good about the state of our society. Sure we have drought, global warming, violence, income inequality, but there’s a silver lining: There’s a lot of sharing going on, and a new kind of sharing at that. sharing that will prop up our faltering middle class. There’s ride sharing, home sharing, dog sharing. We’re sharing all sorts of things. The problem is we’re not really sharing. We’re just renting stuff out, be it a room or a ride.

This reminds me of that classic George Orwell essay, “Politics and the English Language”, in which he bemoans what he calls “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” He finds its origins in the political speak of the British Empire and the Soviet Union, but we all know it’s also found in modern advertising and corporate America. Think about it. Nowadays, I’m not renting you my house for the weekend, I’m just sharing it. And I’m no ordinary driver charging you a fare, I’m sharing a seat in my car. Welcome to the new “sharing” economy, brought to you by Silicon Valley and Wall Street, not kindergarten and the kibbutz.

My friends tell me this “sharing” nomenclature is all played out. Its’ all been said before. People are now calling it the on-demand economy or, even better, the “gig” economy, as in “I’ve got a gig driving cars at night.” Sounds artistic.

Call it what you want, but its advocates argue that it will do much to help America’s shrinking middle class The problem, however, is that the promises don’t add up. Uber drivers have rallied recently in various cities for better wages, and reports show high turnover, few benefits and mostly part-time workers. Sounds like Walmart, not a recipe for a middle class resurgence. Airbnb provides a fine side income but it can turn homes into mini-hotels, without full-time employees with benefits. These contractor-based companies, when properly regulated, offer useful social goods and some helpful side money for many. However, are they really a solution for the problems plaguing America’s struggling middle class? I’m doubtful.

But if they’re right, and we really do need to rent out, I mean share, our rooms and get driving gigs to stay in the middle class, we’d better start worrying about what’s next.

With a Perspective, I’m Josh Gnass.

Josh Gnass teaches history in Burlingame and lives with his family in San Francisco.

Around this time of year, the dreaded New Year’s resolution is a distant memory. I know this because, for the past three years, I have made the exact same resolution. And, for three straight years, it is around this time that I give up. My resolution has been exactly this; to write and submit a Perspective to KQED.

The many dreamed-up but never actually-written-down Perspectives are a time capsule tracking my experiences as a new educator. I first planned to write about how my third graders’ bickering sounded painfully similar to how our elected officials “debate,” then about how an 8-year-old’s interpretation of “Charlotte’s Web” made me weep like a baby, and finally about the irony of sitting still in desks during grad school while our professors lectured on the importance of movement in 21st century classrooms.

When I struggled to actually put these ideas to paper, though, all the advice I received followed the same underlying theme: Just do it, already! Block off time, the blogs and my neighbors advised, and just write. But the problem with a mindless focus on “doing” is that something always tends to come up — a phone call or a more important errand. Before I knew it, my New Year’s resolution shriveled up alongside the calendar month of January.

And then on one unspectacular day recently something shifted. A simple belief came into focus right above my dashboard: Hey, I think I can do this! I realized that, simmering right beneath the past three years of procrastination and blank pieces of paper was a fundamental belief that I couldn’t pull it off. Forcing myself to reconsider that belief unlocked my ability to start writing.

I am realizing that a well-known saying in education is ringing true for my own resolutions: to change student actions, you must first change their beliefs.

And so…finally…

With a Perspective, this is Caroline Kusin Pritchard.

Caroline Kusin Pritchard works for an education reform commission in San Francisco and lives in Palo Alto.

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