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Richard Friedlander

The debate over the Bill of Rights was one of the most contentious of our Constitutional Convention. The proponents and their antagonists represented the two poles of human behavior: the need to be governed and the desire to be free of all restraint. In the end, the creative tension produced an ingenious, if imperfect, compromise consistent with the living spirit of the Constitution itself. A momentous event for us, yes, but just another battle in the on-going conflict between John Locke’s view that government is the true source of freedom, and John Jacques Rousseau’s exaltation of the natural state, where reason is uncorrupted by the compromises civilization requires.

At different times, one gains the ascendancy and then the other. The French Revolution started as a libertarian bloodbath and ended with a return to monarchy. Our own revolution pitted loyalists against rebels, as did the Civil War, and the contest continues down to this moment, making us what we are for better or worse. To whom the common good is to be entrusted is a question in which everyone feels they have a stake. Traditional group allegiances are shattering as we shift toward the exercise of individual identity.

Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg are heroes to some, traitors to others. Citizens now assert a right to recall judges with whom they personally disagree. California ballot propositions promote direct democracy. Social media provides an instant channel for expressing personal opinions with little or no regulation or accountability. Corporations fly whichever flag is convenient to them: creatures of the state on some issues, individuals on others. In a box office breaking musical featuring we, the people, the hero is an avowed elitist bent on curtailing immigration.

Back and forth the pendulum swings, in personal and public life, never resting for long in one spot. A good thing, too, because too much of anything is too much: we’ve seen what happens when either the establishment or the mob wields absolute power. The Greek fabulist, Aesop, may have had the final say on the matter thousands of years ago. The frogs demanded a king. So, they were given a log. When they complained that the log did nothing, they were given a stork. Who ate up all the frogs.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

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

Jack Green

Ryan was one of the strongest people I had ever met, but you’d never have known it just by looking at him. A bespectacled boy of 13, lightly dusted with dark brown freckles that would lift off his cheeks when I made him laugh, and an unkempt mop on his head of the same color. He wasn’t in peak condition, but he didn’t care to be. To some, Ryan was just a nerd, geek, loser, or some other hateful word spat at him like venom from passersby. The curious thing about Ryan, however, is he never seemed to mind. He always looked happy, always a slight grin, never a care in the world.

Ryan didn’t open up to anyone but me. I learned from Ryan his dream of becoming an author, and stories he would write about space and the great beyond outside of “our little green and blue marble.” When he talked about the universe, his eyes would reflect the stars he spoke of, even in broad daylight. He dreamed of being as far from this world as possible. It wasn’t until later that I learned why.

Ryan told me he was moving the night before he left. We were walking at night through our quiet town, listening to the wind through the bare branches and the shuffling of the occasional pedestrian past us. Normally Ryan was chipper on these walks, but this evening he was silent. I thought nothing of it until I heard a sharp inhale, only to look over and see tears across each cheek. “I need to tell you something,” he whispered.

I thought I had known Ryan, but his parents’ divorce, their eviction, his mental illness and his craving not to be alive were news to me. That cold February evening on a park bench, Ryan clutching my jacket tightly, crying into my chest with my arms around him was the last time I saw or heard from him. I never got a new house address from him. His phone would go straight to voicemail, until one day his number belonged to someone else. Spring came, summer passed, and still no hint of the astronaut gone missing. That is, until I found a letter in my winter jacket pocket, the one I hadn’t touched since the last night with him. Inside was a note that read:

“Dear Jack, I am no longer on Earth. I’m happier here. Thank you. Sincerely, Ryan.”

I often think of how I was too late to help him. All I hope is that wherever he is now, drifting through galaxies and stars through the endless ocean of space, a true astronaut at last, he is happy, looking at our little green and blue marble.

With a perspective, I’m Jack Green.

Jack Green is 17, and a junior at Redwood High School in Larkspur.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

As January 20th approaches, not everyone is talking about the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Some of us, namely me, are talking about the word ‘inauguration’ itself and the animals hidden within. An inauguration is the act of starting something new — like a business or a practice or a presidency — and its origins go all the way back to the politics of ancient Rome when religion was organized under a strict system of priestly offices, one of the most powerful of which was made up of the nine augurs. The main role of the augurs was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the omens, aka the auguries, a practice referred to as “taking the auspices.”

They did this by reading the flight patterns, songs, and eating habits of birds.

An augur was literally “a diviner of birds.” The augurs were consulted prior to any major decision — be it related to war, commerce, or religion — and were depended upon to predict whether the undertaking in question was auspicious or inauspicious.

From the Latin noun ‘augur‘ was derived the verb inaugurare, “to foretell the future from the flights of birds”. This term was applied to the installation of someone in office after the appropriate omens, or predictions, had been determined. This became the word we use to elect politicians into office with the hope that their inauguration will prove to be auspicious.

By the time inaugurare reached English as ‘inaugurate’ and ‘inauguration’, the association with the divination of birds had been forgotten. But in each of these words — inaugurate, inaugural, inauguration, auspices, auspicious, and inauspicious, the birds remain in their shared Latin root, avis, meaning ‘birds’.

The function of the augurs wasn’t necessarily to enact policy but to discover whether or not the gods approved of a proposed course of action.

I wonder what the gods are thinking now. Perhaps we should ask the birds.

With a Perspective, I’m Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen-Patrick Goudreau is an animal advocate and author living in Oakland.

ben-carlson

Well, it’s “two thousand seventeen,” according to people who like to say things the long way. Why not “twenty seventeen”?

But syllables are cheap, you say. Our housing costs are skyrocketing and the Fed has raised interest rates, but syllables? They’re free! Heck, why not add another one and say it’s “two thousand *and* seventeen.”

Well I’ll tell you why not: I’m busy! Aren’t you? Do you even realize how many cat videos you haven’t seen yet?

But the crazy thing is, even news announcers say “two-thousand” instead of “twenty” when they say the year. And those people are professional talkers whose air time is managed down to the micro-second, so if they don’t see the gross wastefulness of their ways, this may be a lost cause.

Now I know what you’re thinking — saying “two thousand seventeen” instead of “twenty seventeen” just takes, what? A tenth of a second longer? Well you’re not looking at the big picture. Say it ten times a day for a decade, that’s an hour of your short life you’re not gonna get back. Multiply that by more than three hundred million native English speakers and you can see the scale of the problem.

So how did we get into this dire situation? It started during the first decade of this millennium, when it took no longer to say “two thousand one” than to say “twenty-oh-one”: an even four syllables either way.

The year “twenty ten” is when we could really have started to save time, but nope — people just kept saying “two thousand ten,” “two thousand eleven,” like zombies, if zombies could count.

The light at the end of this dark tunnel is three years from now, when the year “twenty twenty” arrives. How will anyone be able to resist the catchy symmetry? I have faith we’ll finally get back on track and start conserving syllables once again, because we’ve done it before — before this wayward millennium began.

After all, we didn’t sing “tonight we’re gonna party like it’s one thousand nine hundred and ninety nine.” Now did we?

With a Perspective, I’m Ben Carlson.

Ben Carlson is a public relations consultant who lives in San Francisco.

Susan Dix Lyons

I’m driving the 101 north as a soft rain falls on my windshield. I read the exit signs mechanically, searching for distraction. Bayshore Boulevard. Cow Palace. Candlestick Park.

I’ve just dropped my oldest son at the airport after his first holiday home from college, and everything is draped in grey. The road. The sky. The bay. They all fade into each other, one vanishing horizon.

I don’t want him to go.

There. I said it.

I don’t want to watch from behind as his steps take him away from me. I don’t want to lose the blast of his too-loud voice. I don’t want to walk into his room and find that everything is noiseless and still. The plaid comforter on his bed. The LEGO starship on his dresser. the Sports Illustrated and loose socks. I don’t want to forget his face as he looked up at me, way up, so long ago, and said, “Hold me, Mama.”

I don’t. Want. That. I want to go back to the beginning and take every step with him again, only this time I won’t miss a single thing, a beat, an expression. I will hold his unfurled fist against the sun and marvel at the way that each finger, every tender move, seems to sharpen the light in the entire, blinding, spinning-too-fast world. That first blue cry. The lip pushed up with anger. The stunned-rhapsodic eyes of a goal scored, the smear of boyhood defeat.

I want him to stay, and yet – yes, I want him to go. I want him to create his own room, his own space, the small monuments of becoming. I want to know that he doesn’t need me anymore.

I want him to stay. But more than anything in my mortal and electric being, I want him to go – knowing that life has been totally, righteously unleashed before him.

Go, my sweet, fierce son. Go.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is founder of an international healthcare nonprofit based in the North Bay.

michaelellis450

There are 12 months, each with its own personality. So of course anything with personality has to have a name, and the names tells us where they came from.

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of portals. He is always depicted with one face facing forward and the other backward. And January 1 has always been a time of reflection on the past and some potential actions for the coming year.

Febra was the Roman festival of purification. This was generally held on the 15th of February. And the idea was to have some spring-cleaning.

March is named for the god of war, Mars. This used to be the first day of the year for the ancient Romans. And that makes perfect sense because much is beginning anew in this month. Mars was not only the god of war but also the guardian of agriculture.

April is named for the beautiful goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. How perfect is that? The time when the world becomes luscious and full of wildflowers.

May means “the great one”. The great one was Maia, the goddess of the spring. She is associated with growth, though ironically not with sexual union, even though we still celebrate the Maypole, the dance symbolizing the union of male and female.

No, it is June when couples get married. Juno is the goddess of marriage and the well-being of females.

July is the month of Julius Caesar. He created a new calendar that was more accurate than the old one. And in his own honor he named a really nice month for himself.

Continuing in the spirit of self-aggrandizing, Augustus Caesar continued to improve the calendar and named this month for himself. And now September, October, November, December-that is, 7,8, 9,10. I suspect those two months added by the Roman emperors pushed these months forward.

So from seasonal identity to imperial ego to misplaced math the months give our calendar plenty of personality.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist. He lives in Santa Rosa.

desmond-meagley-war-paint

As I gear up for Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, I’m flashing back to the morning after election day. My rage, sadness, and apprehension blurred together into an emotional tidal wave.

I wanted to cry, but instead, I reached for a tube of liquid eyeliner.

This was was unusual for me. I came out as transgender at 14 and until very recently I’ve been terrified of not passing as male. I used to bind my chest so tightly it hurt my ribs. I wore layers of clothing to disguise my body shape and shoes with huge lifts hidden in them to make me look taller. I avoided make-up and ‘girly’ outfits even if I thought they looked nice. And I laughed when my straight cis friends made sexist or transphobic jokes.

I believed that being totally stealth and assimilating into masculinity would allow me to lead a normal and happy life. But all it did was force me to keep hiding. I was holding myself to a standard I didn’t actually believe in. Coloring within lines that don’t exist.

Make-up usually made me feel uncomfortable. But the morning after Donald Trump won the election, I stared at the black war paint around my eyes and I felt strong, defiant, and free.

Being stealth kept me safe. But now I want my queerness to be seen, or else discrimination will go unseen. I don’t care if my nonbinary identity isn’t “normal” enough for people to easily understand. “Normal” in our society is misogyny and queerphobia; the election just made that more apparent than ever.

This year, the Republican Party’s official platform took some of the the most anti-LGBTQ positions in its history. The platform represents the agenda of the party that now controls the House, Senate, and the White House.

I can’t predict exactly what the Trump presidency has in store for me. But on the morning of his inauguration, I’ll be preparing for battle– and eyeliner is just the beginning.

With a Perspective, I’m Desmond Meagley.

Desmond Meagley is 20 years old and attends college in Berkeley. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

keith-van-sickle

First, it was all that vacation time.

Then, the 35-hour work week.

Now, the French have established “the right to disconnect.”

Yes, a new law requires that employers negotiate with their employees on when they can send them emails. After 7 pm? No, no, that’s too late! I’ve already started my aperitif!

Coming from Silicon Valley, as I do, at first this sounded crazy. After all, around here we joke that “flexible working hours” means “you can put in your 18-hour day whenever you’d like.” We’re inventing the future: we don’t have time for vacations.

But then I reflected on the years I spent as an ex-pat working in Switzerland. Work there was confined to the regular workweek and only rarely spilled over to the weekend. More than that, stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday.

This was really annoying at first. My wife and I worked all week, which meant we had to cram our shopping into Saturday morning. What a pain. But eventually we came to appreciate everything being closed. We couldn’t shop. We couldn’t run errands. We had to take a break.

Over time we settled in and learned to do what everyone else did — enjoyed the weekend as a time for family and friends, a time for hikes in the mountains and lunches in the garden.

Living in Switzerland was wildly different from what we were used to in Silicon Valley. People worked hard just like at home, but life was somehow… less hectic.

Work wasn’t the be-all and end-all: my wife was once eating a sandwich at her desk when a colleague came by and lectured her on the importance of taking a proper lunch break. And everyone took all their vacation days: not to do so was considered unhealthy.

And yet, the Swiss economy is the envy of the world. And productivity, a key measure of economic health, is higher in France than in Germany or Japan.

So maybe those lazy French are on to something: time away from work can actually be good for you and good for the economy.

With a Perspective, I’m Keith Van Sickle.

Keith Van Sickle is a tech executive and author who splits his time between Silicon Valley and France.

Carol Denny

I know what most people mean when they describe someone as “political.” They mean they’re tedious. They mean someone who is always angry, repetitive, boring, and don’t forget repetitive. They’re afraid they’re going to dominate a gathering with speeches or worse, make them eat kale. I’ve met the people who fit this category. You can only hope they all end up having to sit next to each other someday on the same bus.

What confuses me are the people who claim they are not “political”, as if you could take it off and hang it up like a coat. I saw one recently stomping through a party trying to turn off the faucets of conversation everywhere about, for instance, the Electoral College, as though the room would flood. It’s especially entertaining to watch them parse songs as either “political” or “not political” considering the many efforts, both historic and contemporary, to prohibit indigenous music, or religious music, or music entirely.

How do they do it? My hat is off to the exhausted people who try. It’s a touchy time, after the recent election, and it’s hard dodging the mea culpas and analyses flying through the air like butterflies in spring. It’s hard to know where the third rail is in a room full of strangers, who might well be at musical, let alone political, odds.

But one thing I am sure of is that after you’ve ironed all the politics out of your Thanksgiving, your gathering, your songs, your speech, and the patterns of your life, I hope somebody lets you know that you’ve committed an extremely political act. That is, if you haven’t silenced them entirely.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a musician, writer and activist living in Berkeley.

CarolArnold

Searching for good news about the health of the planet at the beginning of a new year that could bring the opposite, I realized that one story was right in front of my nose. I had dismissed it as “just work,” something I do with other environmental projects from the years I worked for the California Coastal Conservancy, a state government agency.

Because it was work, mostly what I remember are tedious meetings, brain numbing reports and reams of bureaucratic regulations seemingly impossible to overcome. Now retired, I was involved in the project’s early planning stages. Since then, newer staff continued this process until in the early part of 2016, the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River was no longer.

Removing this dam was a huge undertaking, over twenty years in the making spanning different state and federal political regimes both conservative and liberal. Originally built in 1921 to store water, over the 94 years of its life, the dam held a reservoir that had silted in and no longer served its primary purpose. Like other dams, this one had destroyed habitat for numerous wildlife species, including the central coast steelhead trout, a threatened species. It also posed a risk to downstream landowners should the dam collapse during a flood event which was deemed more and more possible. All signs pointed to the need to remove this dam, but nobody could figure out how to do it, until they did.

The removal of the San Clemente Dam is a great environmental success story and reminds me of the fact that behind the façade of even the most hostile political regimes are good projects moving forward in the cubicles of public agencies and private nonprofits, often at a snail’s pace. They are finally completed because of inspired people who are willing to put in the long and often frustrating hours to not only plan and design the project, but to locate funding and see it through. It is largely due to these unheralded folks, not their political leaders, that the projects grind along until one day, fish return, birds nest, predators hunt, and people rejoice.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

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

marcy-fraser

Much will be written and analyzed about the death of Carrie Fisher and the subsequent death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds less than 24 hours later.

As an old hospice nurse, it didn’t shock me. However, I don’t subscribe to the medicalized version of events called “broken heart syndrome” or something akin to untreated depression or anxiety as a cause.

What I’ve learned is there is a lot going on around us that we cannot see, or understand. Life is fragile, precious and spiritual. Our connections to each other are fragile, precious and spiritual. We meet in life as bodies, we leave as spirits.

At hospice we occasionally experienced a death like this one. It made a profound impact and put us into an intimate altered space. It made us stop to respect and try to feel the unseen.

I recall twin sisters. One twin was ill with cancer. The other was healthy, and she was the caregiver. They had been with us for a month or so. The caregiving sister called me distraught one morning – “I think my sister is dead!” I left the office immediately. When I arrived – both sisters were deceased. On my way across town, the caregiving sister sat down in the chair she kept by her ill sister’s bed, and simply died. The most important job in her life was complete, and her best friend and closest person had left.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds remind me of the deep connections that are possible with each other. Reportedly they were estranged off and on through life – who isn’t!? But they worked it out so that the love they felt for each other was their focus in recent years.

It’s reported that Debbie Reynolds was at the bedside of her daughter when she died. I don’t know if they identified as Christian or Jewish or something else. I do know we need the lessons these two remarkable women are leaving us to ponder. Don’t ask too much, be willing to overlook shortcomings, to forgive, and wherever we go, we must go together.

With a Perspective, this is Marcy Fraser.

Marcy Fraser is a nurse living in San Francisco.

Marilyn englander wide

She was my best student in history, but unsure of herself. She worked hard, really wanted those A’s.

Now it was the final exam. She dove right in, typing furiously on her laptop. I roved among the students. Every time I came towards her desk, she squirmed in her seat, changed the angle of the computer screen. My teacher radar went off. I kept circling the classroom, peering over shoulders, until I knew for sure.

After the exam when everyone else had left, I explained what I had clearly seen her doing, toggling to her stored notes. I ripped up the print-out of her exam.

It was a terrible moment for both of us. But I was the adult. I owed her the truth of right and wrong.

As a teacher, I see the difficult terrain teenagers negotiate as they establish a sense of self, assembling personal values and ethics. Parents may not have the stamina to teach the really painful lessons, and the digital world where teens live is an echo chamber where cause and effect, acts and consequences are obscured, if not hidden. There are no referees. Meanwhile, they see the shortcuts some take to get ahead.

They do something wrong because they saw other kids do it and “nothing happened.” Or they think: “No one will find out. Everyone does it.” No one discovers the school denied a diploma to the senior who plagiarized. Parents fight disciplinary action when their student “tells just a little lie.”

Talking face to face about ethics, defeating the idea that a bad act can be “technically” okay, is critical. Adults dare not be polite.

I sat beside my student, feeling miserable too, but remembering that teaching right and wrong is the central work of all adults, and especially teachers. We are training the next generation to do the right thing.

After she finished sobbing, my student looked at me teary-eyed and blurted, “Thank you.” For stopping her, now.

Years later, she still stays in touch.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is an educator and writer who founded REAL School Marin.

j-moe

When we were looking to buy our first house, my husband and I had a short list of deal-breakers. He didn’t want to be on a bus line. I didn’t want it to be haunted, a reasonable request.

A haunted house may sound absurd if you don’t believe in ghosts, but what I really meant was I didn’t want creepy rooms, mysterious cold spots, creaky doors that open and shut on their own. Mostly, though, I didn’t want a place that held the immense sadness of lives lived there before. I wanted a cheerful place, a place with optimism and humble dreams.

We found that place, a modest pink 1939 bungalow with striped awnings. The owner had bought the house from a family who’d owned it since 1949. And they’d purchased it at auction and moved it away from a soon-to-be-built freeway to an empty lot a few blocks away.

But we wondered about the original owners. Who lived in our house when it was where the freeway now stands?

After we moved here, I learned the history of our city. I went to historical talks. I read everything I could find and I talked to long-time residents. What I pieced together was heartbreaking.

Our neighborhood had a very high Japanese population before the war. When the United States imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps, most of them lost their livelihoods, and then their homes, which the banks later auctioned off to new owners, who may or may not have known their sad history.

The man we bought our house from sent us a very sweet letter after we moved in, wishing us well and telling us a few things about the house. Amid the anecdotes, he said that when he remodeled the bathroom in the 90s — stripping it down to the studs – he found a beautiful Japanese mural hand painted on the original bathroom wall. He guessed the original owners had been one of the many Japanese American families who lost everything, including our home, during the war.

I have pieced together what probably happened to the original owners and it breaks my heart every time I look at the bathroom wall, imagining the hand-painted mural that used to be there.

I didn’t want a haunted house, but I got one. Not haunted by ghosts or demons, but haunted by history.

With a Perspective, I’m J. Moe.

J. Moe lives in a bungalow in El Cerrito.

lloyd-brown-screenshot

In 1989, I unexpectedly lost my job at the Wonder Bread factory. I had two young sons, seven and eight, growing boys always hungry. Times were kind of tough, and I didn’t know how we were going to have enough food for them.

Sometimes, we would go down to the local Chinese restaurant where I knew the head waitress. Her name was Lilly. Lilly knew I wasn’t doing too well. So when she’d see me and my sons come in she would go back in the back, and come out with all kinds of Chinese food. She never once asked me to pay.

I’ve eaten at that restaurant hundreds of times as a paying customer, and Lilly and I became good friends.

Two summers ago, I was at the restaurant when Lilly suddenly collapsed. Paramedics tried to revive her, then rushed her away. I learned the next day that Lilly had died. She wasn’t even 60 years old.

At the funeral, I told everyone how Lilly had helped my family and made me feel like I had dignity and respect in front of my kids. I told Lilly’s kids how proud she was of them, how she talked about them all the time. I told them that their mother was loved and that she touched people’s lives in ways they may have never known. It was hard for me to stand up there and talk. Nobody knew my story, and I stuck out as the only black man in a Chinese service. But I did it, because I wanted the people who loved Lilly to know the difference she’d made in the lives around her.

These days, I volunteer every Saturday at a food pantry, and for the last 10 years, I’ve worked at my local food bank, helping to provide food, dignity and respect to people in need – the same things Lilly gave to me and my sons.

In honor of Lilly, I want to remind people to be kind to one another.

You never know how far-reaching the effect might be.

With a Perspective, I’m Lloyd Jones.

Lloyd Jones is a jack-of-all-trades employee at the Marin Food Bank, making sure that food gets to the hungry.

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