Lisa Scheffer says look no further than our own backyard to learn that President Trump isn’t the only one who promotes vulgar stereotypes about fine places where decent people live and work.

My son is from a $#%@hole country. We have family there. I was, like so many others, outraged and offended when I heard a whole nation, made up of people whom I love, disparaged and reduced to its worst parts. But when the anger subsided, I realized how this kind of thinking is common. And to borrow a phrase, there is fault on both sides. I live in Richmond. It’s a once thriving industrial town that became troubled when the shipyards closed and the local economy collapsed. It’s full of immigrants and working-class people. There are also poor people and for many years, the city was majority Black. I moved here because I fell in love with Alvarado Park and for the living diversity we all celebrate.

In the Bay Area, one of the bluest parts of the bluest state in the country, it is considered a $#%@hole city. For years, we could not get services here. Once I contacted an online ride service whose drivers would go anywhere but Richmond. These drivers were primarily from the East Bay. No doubt some have Black Lives Matter signs in their windows, or are artists who drive as a day job.

And it’s not just Richmond that gets this treatment: I’ve heard people here disparage places like Alabama and Tennessee – places they’ve never been and say they’d never go – because in their eyes these are $#%@hole states. It’s fun to be outraged, and comments like the ones last week make it easy. But our values mean that we judge someone on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin, or how they vote or where they live.

Progress means self-reflection. It means seeing humanity in people and places that you fear. That doesn’t mean you deny problems exist, but that people are not classified and dismissed. It’s not easy. It means honesty and listening, and confronting your own preconceptions. Ask why you think some place is a $#%@hole, and then go see it for yourself. You might just fall in love.

With a Perspective, I’m Lisa Scheffer.

Lisa Scheffer is a writer and former family doctor, and longtime resident of Richmond.

Learning literacy well in the 21st century requires more than teaching Shakespeare. It requires educating students to think critically about social networks, too. Robert Barker has this Perspective.

For years I’ve watched as we public school educators have tried to engage students about their use of the Internet by focusing on cyber safety and the latest online edtech software or social network.

Students mostly roll their eyes. And for good reason.

Cyber safety is vital for students to protect their safety and privacy. But showing outdated, cautionary news reports about cyber bullying during school-wide assemblies or adopting shifting policies around cell phone use in the classroom often look like they were scripted for a Napoleon Dynamite sequel.

Embracing social networks in the classroom hasn’t fared much better:  Adults are, by definition, “out of it”; by the time we’re on Facebook, Tumblr is “fire”; by the time we’re on SnapChat, the kids are on Yik Yak or some other new platform— popular because it’s outside the awkward, lurching searchlight of adults.

Some teachers sit on the sidelines, viewing the whole social media landscape as only getting in the way of learning. But while our students are “close reading” The Catcher in The Rye, they are also inundated with thousands of multimedia messages via the Internet. And they are literally and figuratively being left to their own devices to understand them.

Tackling these challenges starts with grasping that literacy and media literacy are no longer two different subjects. And media literacy requires much more than using Google Docs or Powerpoint in the classroom.

The Center for Media Literacy outlines questions students should ask of any media message, from targeted gmail banner ads, to seemingly spontaneous, algorithm-generated news reports on Facebook to viral YouTube videos: Who created this message? What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? How might different people understand this message? What lifestyles, values, or points of view are emphasized or omitted? And finally, why is this message being sent?

Yes, kids should read great novels. But let’s realize that inside and outside of school they are daily reading hundreds of text messages, viewing distorted images of their peers, and are exposed to online discussions that can contain reckless, dangerous language.

Helping students read all of the world they live in is our job.

In Canadian schools, media literacy is a required subject. It should be here, too.

With a perspective, this is Robert Barker.

Robert Barker is a veteran public school educator currently teaching English, film and media literacy at Los Altos High School.

At 45 I started seeing double out of my right eye. Cataracts, my doctor explained. He walked me through my surgical options, then told me he’d operate when I was ready.

Over the next few years my right eye deteriorated from double images to quadruple images to just blurry shapes and colors. It wasn’t a crisis, though, because my left eye still had crisp, 20/20 vision.

When the cataracts seriously interfered with my depth perception, it was surgery time. My doctor cut open my right  eye, removed my damaged lens and slipped in an artificial one. The next day the bandages came off, I opened my eye, and saw the world in 20/20 again. Gleefully I looked through my new right eye, then my old left eye, one at a time, marveling at what I’d gained. But something was different between the images: they were different colors. In my brand new right eye, light was brighter and colors cooler. In my trusty, old, left eye, light was dimmer and colors warmer. It was as though one eye saw the room lit by fluorescent bulbs, and the other eye saw the same room lit by incandescents.

I asked my doctor if I was imagining this. I wasn’t. He explained that as the lenses in our eyes age they become “tea stained.” I asked which color scheme was the right one. Both, he said. My new, right lens was seeing the world  pretty close to the way I’d seen it as a child. The old, left lens was looking at the world the way a 49 year old would. Aging literally brings a more autumnal view of the world.

A few months later I was jogging at night along Valencia Street. Curious to test my post-surgery vision, I looked at the busy bars and restaurants through just one eye, then the other. To my new, right eye the street was filled with bright excitement, and I felt the night-life rush of my 20s. Switching to my left eye, the street changed to sepia-tones and I was back in my late 40s. I knew cataract surgery would help me navigate through space. I didn’t  know it would also let me travel through time.

With a Perspective, I’m Evan Sagerman.

Evan Sagerman is an architect and author. He lives in San Francisco.

I recently watched a video of several hundred people taking the oath of allegiance to the United States on the steps of the library in Louisville, Kentucky. I was struck by the number of cultures that were represented by the various costumes and complexions. I was aware of a profound sense of gratitude in the scene, but the gratitude I sensed was not from the new citizens, but to them.

Here were people who had endured any number of challenges to come to this country and call America home. They brought their small children to be educated and trained in our schools, they brought their aging relatives who had departed familial and racial ties to embrace what we have to offer, and they brought their families to celebrate the promise they perceived in our institutions.

I felt honored by that trust, and realized that it was we and not they who should be grateful for the ceremony. Women and men in colorful costumes that reflect pride in their heritage, brown, tan, white and black faces that would soon be enriching our neighborhoods with exciting customs and cuisines. Voices that sound curious and challenging in new ways of using language, new music, new handicrafts, new art. Surely, some were here because of intolerable living conditions where they came from, but what underlay the motivation of each new citizen was a trust and sense of hope that is inspiring and hugely complimentary to those of us who were born into this culture that for us required no expression of choice or commitment.

So my message to these new neighbors is this: Thank you for joining and complimenting us by wanting to be our neighbors. I hope that I and my countrymen and women live up to the trust you have expressed. Please know that regardless of your race or religion or country of origin you are very welcome.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Murphy.

Larry Murphy is the retired owner of an Irish pub. He lives in Sonoma.

America has a long history of limiting the right to vote, but Tom Epstein says California is enacting new laws to expand the voter rolls and make it easier to vote.

As we enter 2018, hundreds of new state laws take effect in California, including one allowing counties to send everyone a mail-in ballot. It can then be dropped off at early voting sites until Election Day. At a time when voting rights are under attack, that’s a good thing.

Other recent laws will register you to vote when you get a new driver’s license; or you can even register on Election Day. These reforms increased voter rolls by nearly 10% the past two years and a million more Californians voted in 2016 than ever before.

These steps to encourage voting stand in stark contrast to centuries of barriers that began with the Founders. At the country’s birth, the white men who wrote the Constitution gave only themselves the right to cast a ballot.

It took the Civil War to legalize voting by African-Americans, but literacy tests and poll taxes disenfranchised many until they were outlawed by the Voting Rights Act in 1967.

Women were banned from voting until 1920 and ethnic minorities fared even worse. Native Americans obtained full voting rights in 1924 and many Asian-Americans and Latinos were not enfranchised until decades later.

State laws limiting voting rights became much more prevalent after the 2010 election when Republicans won control of many statehouses. Unsupported claims of voter fraud were used to justify new barriers for young and minority voters.

When the Supreme Court ended federal review of new voter laws in certain Southern states in 2013, many immediately passed voter suppression measures. In all, 23 states adopted new restrictions since 2010, including photo ID rules, early voting cutbacks and registration barriers.

Fortunately, we live in a state going the opposite direction by expanding our electorate and making it easier, not harder, to vote. Now, more potential voters must give life to this bold, against-the-tide policy by registering and voting.

Let’s send a message to the rest of the country that more voters, not less, is the future of democracy.

With a Perspective, I’m Tom Epstein.

Epstein is a writer and community volunteer who lives in the East Bay.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a journalist. Increasingly that profession sparks more skepticism than respect, as the distinction between Edward R. Murrow and Gawker is blurred.

I was lunching with relatives when a friend of theirs walked up. As introductions were made and the gentleman learned I was a journalist, his tone changed. Leveling his gaze he said, “So you’re one of them.”

It was the third time in a year I’ve been called out for being a journalist. Each time it happens it leaves me speechless: I expect this when I travel to places where a free press is not valued, but not at home.

I know there are hack journalists out there, but they are the exception. The reporters I know have degrees in journalism. Like me, they took classes in law and ethics as well as news writing and reporting—where the evils of editorial sensationalism and misinformation were hammered home regularly.

The digital age has not been kind to traditional journalism or its legitimacy. Nowadays anyone with a computer can self-identify as a journalist. Meanwhile, online media organizations spring up overnight, making it ever harder to separate legitimate news gatherers from activists and propagandists.

This means we all need to take care. If something appears as “news” then it should be just that. Editorials are for opinions and commentary. Objectivity is not easy to maintain but it is the goal legitimate journalists strive for, and the public should hold us to that.

Media freedom may be a right but it’s not a guarantee. Even in America, journalists struggle to do their jobs. Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit that tracks media freedom worldwide, currently ranks the United States 43rd out of 180 countries.

The next time someone thinks to dismiss my profession, perhaps I’ll summon the Founding Fathers who created the First Amendment for a reason: a free press equals free thought. A democracy cannot exist without either.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Preston Hubbard.

Holly Hubbard Preston is journalist on sabbatical to write a novel about real and imagined walls in the former East Germany.

High school student Makayla Pearce’s hair actually has a name and her struggle to control it has taught her lessons in identity and acceptance.

4C hair — the most tightly coiled, thick, and stubborn hair that exists. Its limbs spiral relentlessly into the air, reluctant to lie smoothly, and instead choosing to defy gravity.

My story begins as a young child, sitting between my mother’s legs as she pulled the comb through the puff on top of my head. I often would look up at her, wishing for her smooth curtain of black silk that cascaded down her back. As I grew my hair grew with me, and we both enviously observed the flowing tresses of other women, finding no representation of ourselves. I found refuge in the tools that used heat to provide me with the appearance of everyone else.

I eventually noticed my forest had diminished. It had become small and broken, almost lifeless without it’s crutches. I tried to hide my hair and push it down, feeling anxious when I thought of revealing it’s nappy nature. I desired loosely wound curls, or the long straight strands that my mother wore. I wanted everything that I didn’t have, and became as wounded as my forest.

I recently found the true beauty in my natural hair. As I became comfortable with myself, I learned that my forest of 4C hair needed it’s comfort as well. Gradually, I began to put down the dryer, and embraced the thick strands that yearned for my love.

I can only hope that the joy I found in accepting my hair will spread to those who struggle with their traits as well. There’s pure beauty in the fact that one can embrace their insecurities and learn to love them, just as I have learned to love my crazy 4C hair.

With a Perspective, I’m Makayla Pearce.

Makayla Pearce is a junior at the San Domenico School in San Anselmo and lives in Oakland.

Before I started my job with the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford I knew a few things about Dr. King. I knew he was a civil rights leader.  I knew he gave the “I Have A Dream” speech and could quote those familiar lines about his four children and “free at last.” I knew he was assassinated for his beliefs. I knew what most of us know. He was a good man. He was a good speaker and he did good things.

I didn’t know that his handwriting makes Egyptian hieroglyphics seem easy to read. I didn’t know that he pronounced “buoyancy” as “booyancy.”  I didn’t know he was less than five feet seven inches tall.

I also didn’t know that his pacifism stretched beyond the American civil rights struggle and into international questions of war and peace. As a woman who still struggles to reconcile the world’s suffering with her own pacifism, I find Dr. King’s dedication to nonviolence strengthening and comforting like an old quilt I can pull around myself when people say my idea is idealistic and unattainable.  In a world where dictators gas their own citizens and try to exterminate entire ethnicities for their own delusional ends I question my belief that all war is wrong. Sometimes it just seems that to deny that war might seem occasionally necessary is selfish and naive. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what to do about Iraq or North Korea. Or even the discrimination and injustice that leaves people sleeping in San Francisco doorways each night. I just don’t know.

But I believe that we have to, as Dr. King said in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, find “new ways to speak for peace” because if we don’t “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”  I believe that we either find these new ways to speak or perish in the violence and oppression we seek to end.  I do not have the answers but I do believe with Dr. King that love is the way.

With a Perspective, I’m Andrea Cumbo Dowdy.

Can’t stand your aggravating commute anymore? Bruce Gutman says the two-wheeled alternative requires a little stick-to-itiveness, but pays off with big benefits.

If you live within 15 miles of your office, you should bicycle to work.

Look, I’m not the earthy, crunchy type. I didn’t start this to make the world a better place.

About 12 years ago, I worked at a company where I had to pay for valet parking. It was $200 per month, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Every 4 to 6 weeks, I would find a new ding, dent, or scratch in my beautiful Audi. After they put a dent in the hood that would cost $2,000 to repair, I was done.

I went on craigslist and bought a bike. I went online and bought a helmet and some ugly clothing. Then, I started riding. 12 miles each way, 3 to 5 days per week.

For the first month, it was terrible.
For the second month, it was terrible.
For the third month, it was terrible.
By month 6, it moved from terrible to tolerable.

I discovered that I only needed to get my bicycle clothing on in the morning and I was committed. Once I was on the way to work, I had to keep pedaling. If I wanted to get home, I had to keep pedaling.

To ensure I would get my cycling clothing on and not allow the daily commute to become monotonous, I started doing a bigger ride each weekend with a friend.

To make myself stick with weekend rides, I started planning a big climbing ride or double century to keep my cycling on track. The risk of finishing behind my buddy was a powerful motivator.

Eventually, I found other benefits:
I avoid traffic; my commute always takes about the same amount of time.
I am the fittest I’ve been since high school.
I can do most physical activities without issue.
My blood pressure is excellent and my resting pulse is in the 50s.
I am calm when I get to work in the morning.
I am more effective at work.
And I burn off most stress by the time I get home at night.
Best of all, it is easy. I put my clothes in my backpack and shower at work: I don’t have to make time for the gym.

If you’ve been thinking about this: it will be hard, but it is worth it.

With a Perspective, I’m Bruce Gutman.

Bruce Gutman is manager in the software industry and lives on the Peninsula.

Youth Radio’s Desmond Meagley doesn’t identify as as male or female. So when it comes to pronouns, people are often confused.

When I tell someone my preferred pronouns are they/them/their, I never know what to expect. Sometimes people just say “okay.” Other times, they’ll ask a whole bunch of questions I don’t really feel like answering.

For example: “You look like a boy. Why use they instead of he?”
Answer: I look like me. That’s all there is to it. When people make assumptions about me based on the clothes I’m wearing, or whether or not I’m wearing make-up, that’s on them: it has nothing to do with who or what I actually am.

Example 2: “How can one person be a they? It doesn’t make sense.”
Answer: It’s really simple. In English, we already use singular “they” all the time. Suppose you found fifty bucks on the ground. You might say, “Oh, someone dropped their money here.” That’s singular “they.” It dates back to at least the 16th century. And most major dictionaries — from Oxford to Webster’s — consider it to be grammatically correct. That should be enough.

What bothers me most is when I tell someone several times to use they/them pronouns for me, but they make no effort to do so. Being ignored like that hurts.

When I come out to people, it means I trust them. If they value my trust, they should respect who I am — including my gender pronouns. I don’t always feel safe correcting others, and I don’t like repeating myself to someone who isn’t listening. But my silence isn’t permission to keep ignoring my preferences. Seriously, stop doing that.

Lastly, it’s okay if you get my pronouns wrong by accident. It takes time to adjust to new ways of speaking and thinking. Just don’t make it my problem when you misgender me. Getting really apologetic or changing the subject to how difficult you find my pronouns makes me feel super uncomfortable. Don’t tell me you’re trying, show me by correcting yourself and moving on.

I hope this clears some things up.

With a Perspective, I’m Desmond Meagley.

 Desmond Meagley is 21 years-old and lives in Oakland. Their commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

There are good reasons to be down on members of the human species these days. But Les Bloch is having none of it.

With all the negative stuff going on in the world, we’ve forgotten one thing. Humans are incredible. Take your hand, reach up over your head and pat yourself on the back. If you hear this and you don’t have four paws, you’re in the club. Sorry Haters, but we’re not all bad.

Forget that we’re all walking around with computers in our pockets, with satellites and astronauts circling overhead. Forget that your refrigerator is filled with more food than our forefathers could collect in a month, or that you’re in your driving machine and I’m talking to you right now.

Maybe you are one of those human beings who has mastered an art. If not, there are plenty of humans who have. The proof of our excellence is not everywhere but it’s not hard to find. Go to Yoshi’s in Oakland or the SF Jazz Center to see people speak through the virtuosity of their instruments. See actors at Berkeley Rep’s Rhoda or Thrust theaters, or catch a musical at SF’s Geary or the Curran. Watch the purest of the arts — dance — at the Yerba Buena Center. Wendy Whelan dancing on stage will make you question the limits of the human body. Or go see the Chinese Circus next time it comes to the Zellerbach and try not to marvel.

Movies, video games and Netflix are great escapes, but flat cold digital escapes. To be truly inspired is to see one or a dozen humans, right before you, living and breathing, sweating and struggling against the forces and pressure of immediate performance. Without a safety net and armed with nothing but their own determination, these humans will change your attitude and light you up. They will move you from your seat. They will make you cry, or sing or laugh out loud, or hold your breath in suspense.

Yep. They are humans, alright, reaching and striving to be the best on the planet, to perform, to take their species as far as it can go, and you along with them.

Congrats, Fellow Humans. You’re alright.

With a Perspective, I’m Les Bloch.

Les Bloch works as a construction manager.

The big things in nature get our attention, but it’s the small things, often literally at our feet, that can be utterly fascinating. Peggy Hansen has this Perspective.

Look up, by all means–humble yourself before the giants, stands and fairy rings of ancient redwoods that steal breath and restore wonder. Look up, absolutely, and consider what in this great world is truly sacred. But don’t forget to look down, too.

Don’t neglect the tiny mosses, the mottled leaves, the strands and clumps of lichen, bits of bark, or rafts of cool green ferns. Don’t miss the glacial progress of banana slugs across the forest floor, bizarre and garish as they ruffle silently beside the trail. Or the single flower, a burning dot of white, in an emerald field of redwood sorrel. Don’t miss the imprints in the muddy margin of the path, where a fawn and its mother stopped to drink, and listen to the Stellar’s jays and acorn woodpeckers. Don’t miss the peeling bark of a madrone, shedding snake-like to reveal a newborn, silky recreation of itself—or the curls of discarded skin, brittle lacy sheets that coat the earth with delicate whimsy, infinite and strange.

Don’t miss the tree roots, twined and twisted in a complex grammar beyond our sense of language. Trees, we are discovering, have families and clans, and support networks, that reach deep underground. It turns out they converse–many plants do, we’ve begun to know–with chemical signals or through microbial messengers. And they listen, too: maybe they can hear your footfalls on the trail, or the joke your hiking companion just told. You can’t see them doing it, but isn’t it great to imagine that you can, if you really pay attention?

So yes, look up, do. But look also to the understory, the complex and tangled net of life, and death, that creates, forms, and feeds the giants towering above. Otherwise, you’re only seeing half the forest.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an organic farmer and photographer based in Santa Cruz.

A thank you note is a talisman of appreciation for another person. Simple, yet powerful .

In my classroom, we focus on gratitude by practicing the art of the handwritten note. So humble, such clout, the letter of thanks in a person’s own hand.

I require students to master friendly letter form. They protest. They already thanked the field trip drivers in person. The museum docent was just doing her job. The person who organized the speech tournament was paid. But the guest speaker spent a couple hours preparing his presentation, woke up early, put on special clothes, drove 30 minutes, gave up a morning for us. We honor his gift by spending five minutes penning words of thanks. The kids can’t figure out a good objection to this argument, so they dutifully write their notes.

Ah, and the letters need to be done with care. The writing straight, no crossed-out mistakes, the word “sincerely” spelled correctly. No binder paper, but real cards. Written in ink, with more than just the words “thank you,” and including a few original details to make the gratitude feel personal.

The thoughtful gesture of a handwritten thank you radiates goodwill both directions. And it packs a wallop.

A dad comes to pick up his son and mentions how impressed he was to get written thank you’s. The visiting librarian calls to say she has hung all the notes in her kitchen. The tournament organizer mentions his delight with our cards in the competition newsletter. My students beam.

A card is much more powerful than a text, an email, a voice message. It has presence. We hardly register the computer-generated thanks sent by charities who have received our donations. A text or an email is lost in the crowd of other messages zapped at us.

But in the anonymous mess of junk mail that arrives daily through the mail slot, a small envelope of thick creamy paper, addressed by hand, a real stamp in the corner — this catches our eye. We slit the seal and feel attention, care, reciprocal generosity. Magic.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander lives in San Raphael.

Luke Pease has been a responsible taxpayer his many years, but the new tax law may change all that.

Discount for cash? I asked as I purchased a pair of shoes. “We can let you off the tax,” she said.

Nice!

Discount for cash – my new mantra. Auto mechanics, shoe shops and restaurants I have found, are perfectly happy to waive the tax, and sometimes more, if you pay cash.

No-one likes paying tax, and I’m no exception, but as a responsible, functioning member of society, I’ve accepted that pain, along with the rationale that by acting together, and with each paying our fair share, we create a better world, a world where a modern infrastructure and a social safety net come standard. Turn on the faucet and clean, drinkable water appears! Flush the toilet and presto! – no longer my problem. What a wonderful world. That’s taxation.

But with the latest egregious tax bill having passed through congress, I’m out, I’m not paying any more. The documented lies of our President, and of those in Congress supporting this bill, have stripped the moral obligation to obey the legislation.

I have discovered in past years, that one can ‘create’ information on tax returns, but I have previously erred on the side of caution, giving the IRS the benefit of the doubt. Cost basis, I’d underestimate. Charitable donations I sometimes claimed, sometimes not. House burglarized? I’d resist the temptation to exaggerate the loss for tax purposes.

But not any more. Sure, try to find the missing transaction on that stock I bought thirteen years ago. Need another deduction – oh my car was broken into, damage incurred $5,000. You wanna say that didn’t happen – here’s the automated police report.

To maintain ethical integrity, I should donate these ill-gotten proceeds to the homeless, where it should have gone in the first place, but you know what, I think I’m gonna keep it.

After all, to paraphrase the New Yorker, the rich will get richer, but with the poor getting poorer it all averages out in the end.

With a Perspective, I’m Luke Pease.

Luke Pease lives in Oakland.

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