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Robert Farina

Next month, scientists and science supporters will march for science. As a retired chemist I’m hoping my participation will bolster support for the practitioners of science and its methodology. But it’s a fair question to ask why such a march is necessary.

I worked as a research scientist for a large oil company for 30 years and I’m aware that science can be a tool to promote institutional agendas. But my respect for science and scientists is profound. I was born in 1950 and grew up in a time of unwavering support for science. That support enabled a young boy, whose parents never completed high school, to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry and be part of unparalleled scientific discovery. The basic sciences of physics, chemistry and biology vastly increased our knowledge of the natural world and those fruits transformed how we communicate, how we travel and how long we live.

Science is increasingly a collaborative endeavor housed in large institutions. But the public mistrusts large institutions and that mistrust is exploited by cynical people in government, industry and media to delegitimize science when it benefits their own agendas.

My confidence in science and its institutions comes from a lifetime of interaction with other scientists. Overwhelmingly they are ethical, competent, thoughtful people individuals who have trained long and hard to make their contribution. Cynical portrayals of them as tools of an institutional agenda are simply wrong. Neil Gorsuch, president Trump’s Supreme Court nominee found attacks on the judiciary “demoralizing and disheartening.” I feel the same way about my own profession.

We need more and better science to cope with the global risks of climate change and infectious disease. Increasingly it is up to the individual scientist to engage the public and define for themselves who they are and what they stand for or risk having the cynics do it for them

With a Perspective, I’m Robert Farina.

Robert Farina is a retired research scientist living in Berkeley.

CarolArnold

When I was a child, more than anything I wanted to live in Yosemite National Park. I got the idea from my favorite book, Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley, by Ansel Adams. The photos in the book are of course spectacular, and the simple story about Adams’ children living in Yosemite was compelling to my five-year old self. The children explore and play in the Valley until one day, a thunderstorm comes along, forcing them to run for their lives. They make it home in the nick of time before the rain could wash them away, at least that’s the way I imagined it. From my vantage point in the safe Bay Area suburbs, their adventures beckoned.

I remember my own family’s first trip to Yosemite. The park was sufficiently undeveloped at the time that we had to get out of the car to remove boulders from the dirt road leading into the campground. My sister and I ran and played just like Michael and Anne did, exploring every nook and cranny until the sun got low and our parents called us back.

I don’t remember any thunderstorms during that trip, but I have since experienced many when backpacking the High Sierras. There is nothing like a clap of thunder and a flash of lightening in the mountains to remind me I am only a tiny part of this grand universe. I have never been washed away by the rain that follows like I imagined Michael and Anne might, but am always reminded that respect for nature is a principle true to my heart. I enter the high country full of myself, and come away humbled.

My favorite childhood book now sits in a box in my sister’s house. I looked at it recently and realized we didn’t treat Yosemite with the respect it deserves. Red and blue scribbles adorn the pages next to the photos of Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls, a far from humble testament to my ego centered five-year old view of things. It was in growing up and experiencing the real Yosemite and other wild places that I learned to care deeply about the planet and in doing so, try my best not to scribble it up.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

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

Karina Moreno - player

There has been much hype about the super bloom in the California desert this year. But you don’t need to splurge on a trip to Anza Borrego or Joshua Tree to get a spectacular view of wildflowers right now. The East Bay hills will do the trick.

All this rain has created a natural canvas in our very own backyard: blue-eyed grass, Mariposa lilies, Indian paintbrush. Golden poppies blanket the hills around Mt. Diablo, but they’re also popping up through concrete median strips and freeways on-ramps.

I’m partial to this East Bay bounty. I’m a native, too. I grew up traipsing — sometimes trampling — the hills along the 880 Corridor: Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro.

My Mom would drag me and my sister, usually eyes rolling, to walk the Labyrinth at Sibley, plow the stream trail in Redwood, or run through the meadows at Tilden.

In 1986, when we lived off Golf Links Road near the Oakland Zoo, Mom forced me out of bed at 3 am to see Haley’s comet. I begrudgingly went along then, but of course I relish the memory now.

The East Bay trails are where I find my Mom.

Even though she still lives in her San Leandro bungalow of 25 years, she can’t be found there anymore. Not really. Alzheimer’s has taken her away, steadily, in slow motion.

So outside is where I go to be with Mom – the damp earth and pungent eucalyptus, a comforting presence that she can no longer provide.

My family and I live within walking distance of the Huckleberry trail now. What I’d give to walk its mile-loop with her and my two children today. Huckleberry is known for its narrow path lined with Pacific Madrone, a tree that I learned recently is “a delicacy for mourning doves.”

The perfect place to mourn loss, but also to celebrate life.

With a Perspective, I’m Karina Moreno.

Karina Moreno works for a San Francisco-based non-profit that fights poverty in the Bay Area.

Paul Wolber new

Data are the facts scientists measure, while interpretations are the stories scientists tell to make sense of those facts and predict new facts they might measure. I believe that the failure to understand this important distinction lies at the core of much of the public confusion over scientific issues like climate change and evolution. Scientists argue over interpretations of data with a ferocity that can be startling. But data that have been reproduced by multiple researchers rule the roost, and an interpretation that ignores the data is bogus.

Politicians of all philosophies try to spin or suppress scientific interpretations that disagree with their agendas, such as the interpretation that the measured fact of climate change is due to human activities. But the very worst interfere with the collection of data that might lead to inconvenient interpretations, or even hide or destroy repositories of such data. Today, there is great fear in the scientific community that the US government may stop collecting the data that has documented climate change for over a century, and may even erase collections of such data.

It is important that the public strongly resist such actions. Changing climate helped make humans what they are. It could also wipe us out. For our own protection, it is important to be aware of what is happening, regardless of the cause. And if, as I believe, humans are responsible, and if, as I fear, our leaders are dithering away the chance to blunt or reverse human impact on climate, then it is important that history tattoos the responsibility for whatever happens on the faces of today’s leaders in the indelible ink of data.

Hopefully, someone will still be around to learn the lessons.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Wolber.

Paul Wolber is a scientist and technical manager in Silicon Valley’s biotech industry.

Jane Shamaeva

On the first day of my course, “American Voices,” I give the students two poems called “America.” Walt Whitman, a nineteenth-century white poet, describes America as,

“Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
…Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love.”

Yet, Claude McKay, a Harlem Renaissance poet, writes about America:

“She feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life.”

As a class, we explore the way writers see our country through the lens of their experience. We focus on the importance of lifting all American voices. Afterwards, students create posters that express their own views of America.

What would be on my poster? I came to the U.S. from Russia at the age of 12, when Russia was struggling to preserve its fledgling democracy. Despite not knowing who Madonna was or how to play softball, I knew that I was welcome at my San Francisco public school. Since then, as an immigrant, I have not encountered any adversity and was even able to become an English teacher.

But this year, my 12-year-old daughter, whose name is recognizably Russian, hesitates to reveal at school that she is a child of Russian immigrants. On the one hand, she senses, Trump’s policies are anti-immigrant; on the other, Bay Area liberals criticize Russia because of its interference in the presidential election.

Knowing that my daughter’s immigrant family pride is waning, I realize that my view of America has shifted. Lines from Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s poem resonate with me. Initially, he is sarcastic:

“America its them bad Russians.
…The Russia’s power mad.”

But he concludes with,

“America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.”

For me, this job is about preserving the acceptance and encouragement I have felt as an immigrant.

With a Perspective, I am Jane Shamaeva.

Jane Shamaeva is a high school English teacher. She lives in Oakland.

Pamela Kan

The manufacturing firm which I run, founded by my father, has been going strong for 65 years. For me, this isn’t just a business or a job, it’s personal.

During the recent election season, we heard many a politician and pundit either extolling the virtues of U.S. manufacturing or waxing nostalgic about how that part of our economy is from some bygone era. Like all things, the reality is far more nuanced than what fits neatly into a tweet or a sound bite. U.S. manufacturing is quite strong with solid indications of future growth.

But ironically, that’s the problem. U.S. labor statistics project we will be short some two million manufacturing workers in the next 10 years.

Worrying about how we continue to build our team is already what keeps me and every other U.S. manufacturer up at night. Here’s just one example. We had tons of business coming in and tight deadlines to meet, but that master machinist position we had begun recruiting for months earlier sat vacant and did so for almost a year. We were endlessly scrambling to cover the scheduling gap. Now that we have that new member of the team, it will only be a matter of time before the next seasoned veteran begins to consider retirement.

Why is U.S. production so short of these skilled workers?

I think it comes down to messaging. It sends the right message when manufacturers connect with communities through classroom presentations and factory tours, maker fairs, and by encouraging all kids to explore hands-on STEM curricula. It sends the wrong message when the cover of Girl’s Life pushes fashion & beauty and Boy’s Life highlights future careers. It also sends the wrong message when talking heads suggest all skilled workers will someday be replaced by automation. In fact, production teams are ever more dependent on one another to contribute their ideas and expertise to running high tech operations.

For me and my team, manufacturing is very personal, and if we take the time and effort to connect with our communities, future generations will be more apt to say the same.

With a Perspective, this is Pamela Kan.

Pamela Kan is president of an East Bay manufacturing company who promotes STEM education and high tech careers in manufacturing.

Paul Staley

Holidays are subversive. They disrupt our routine by suspending-if only for a day-the demands of our normal schedules.

Their subversion extends in many directions. Christmas represents many things, but at a fundamental level it inverts our spatial relationships. Things that we typically keep inside our houses-like lights and decorations-get put up on the outside, while at the same time we literally drag trees in from the outdoors and give them places of honor inside our homes. What is outside goes inside and vice versa. Halloween presents a similar opportunity to display publicly an identity or alter ego that we might ordinarily conceal.

Holidays challenge our notions of time. Religious holidays whose observances are set by a lunar calendar slide around from year to year, reminding us that there are other ways of parsing our orbit around the sun than the 365 day grid we use to schedule our lives.

But we push holidays around as well. We have untethered some from their historical dates in order to create the convenience and blessing of the three day weekend. Breweries have hijacked certain ethnic holidays and transformed them into adult frat parties. An occasion as inherently solemn as Memorial Day has become the starting bell for the pleasures of summer.

But there are also the occasions that feel like lost opportunities to recognize and to celebrate things that are missing in our lives. Take today for example. The spring equinox is a moment of celestial balance, a time when darkness and light share roughly equal portions of the day. Why should its observance be left to the astronomers or people with an excessive regard for all things Druid?

We live in an age of the hyper-partisan and in a country marked by enormous disparities in wealth and income. This could be our day to subvert all that. We would celebrate balance and equality, tolerance and moderation. And best of all, this would be a two-for-one offer, since we can do this all over again when the autumnal equinox rolls around in September.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.

Jolie Kanat

The Yiddish term “yahrzeit” translates literally as “year time.” It’s the word we use to annually commemorate the death day of someone we love. We light a special candle. There are prayers, the Yizkor, which means “to remember”, and the Kaddish, which means “holy”. The tradition taps our history and our hearts.

There is respect and honor in remembrance. But the thought occurred to me in the recent month of my mother’s fourth yahrzeit that if she could, she would call me and say, “Get over it, go have lunch.” At the risk of making my rabbi and the sages frown, I agree with my mother. My sadness has no use, and it wouldn’t please her.

She would say, “Don’t waste a candle, go do something for someone. Give them a candle.”

It’s weird to mark death when life is what matters. Death takes a moment and, like any loss or betrayal, may not be worthy of all the attention we give it, while the impact of my mother’s life is forever, and on many generations.

And besides, she haunts me daily as if she never left. From the ether I hear, “Make a corned beef for your father.” Or “Can you be a little nicer to your sister?” Or “You sure you don’t want to change out of those sweatpants before going out to dinner?”

I have a habit of reworking thoughts in my mind to make them more real for me. So, I will secretly be morphing the name of this commemoration from “yahrzeit”- a reminder of death- to “lebnzeit”, a commemoration of life.

My mother’s response would probably be, “Since when do you speak so much Yiddish?”

That said, this year on my mother’s yahrzeit, or “lebnzeit,” my 92 year-old father and I floated on a vessel from the Blue and Gold Fleet for one glorious hour under the Golden Gate Bridge, celebrating my mother’s humor, her impact and her advice spanning the eons.

With a Perspective, I am Jolie Kanat.

Jolie Kanat is executive director of a supported living services agency in Marin.

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It’s the first day of school. I wake up at 6:45, get dressed, eat breakfast, and head out with all my school supplies: a Chromebook, a pencil, some paper, binders, a backpack…

…and a label.

When we were in 3rd grade, we were all friends. We could hang out with whoever we wanted. We could be whoever we wanted. But in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, everything changed. Girls who I had hung out with a week before school started now acted like I had never existed. The girls I had made fairy houses with and had told ghost stories to were gone, replaced by groups that wouldn’t accept me.

I had been labeled a Goody Goody.

Over three months, the things I could say, wear, or do without getting sideway glances and snide comments diminished until all I was left with were a few broken pieces of myself.

I started to wonder if other kids maybe felt the same way I did. So I hatched a plan to find out. I put together a survey and asked middle school students questions about labeling. Here are some of the labels that I heard back: Nerd, Drama Queen, Dumb Blond, Loser, Freak, Weirdo, Popular Girl, Dumb Jock, Science Dork. I then created stickers with these middle school labels and randomly placed the stickers on each seat in our school auditorium. At an assembly, I asked every kid in the school to put them on. Everyone was able to feel at the same time what labeling really meant.

I later did the same experiment with adults at a Rotary Club and learned that the pain of middle school labeling doesn’t go away.

Labeling limits our beautifully complex, multi-faceted selves to one word. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t live our life to our fullest potential. While, realistically, labels won’t go anywhere, we need to push past them. We need to question the labels we’ve been given and the labels we give others. It’s only then that we can see the potential in others and in ourselves.

With a Perspective, I’m Martha Fishburne.

Martha Fishburne is an 8th grade student in Marin.

Joe Epstein

President Obama nixed the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, arguing that allowing them would undercut American leadership in weaning from carbon-based energy.

On January 17th, President Trump signed executive orders to move the pipeline projects forward, boasting about creating tens of thousands jobs and that only U.S.-made steel and steel pipe would be used.

Trump’s “buy only-American-steel” declaration could actually doom the Keystone project before it begins.

About 40-50 percent of the Keystone pipe is already made, mostly from foreign steel. About 230 miles of it has been stockpiled along the North Dakota portion of its route since 2011.

Little known is that a large part of the steel used in the pipe is from Evraz, a Russian company that has plants in the U.S. and is owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, close ally of Vladimir Putin, and a Trump family friend.

The Buy American provision could also face legal push back and be challenged at the World Trade Organization, whose rules require equal treatment of imported and domestic goods.

Trump must realize that you can?t renegotiate the origin of pipe that has already been bought and made by foreign companies.

Evraz’s participation takes on added significance because of suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the murky ties among Trump, Putin and Russia’s oligarchical business sector.

There is a lot support in the U.S. for finishing the pipelines and for creating a trillion-dollar infrastructure mandate. But finishing Keystone’s remaining 700 miles becomes difficult at best if only domestically sourced steel may be used.

I know from personal experience that the Federal Government rules governing “Made in America” are stringent and only allow the use of steel mined and melted in the U.S. If there is any hope to use American-made steel and enforce a Buy America policy as Trump claims he will do, then the definition must be changed to include steel melted abroad and finished in the U.S.

With a Perspective, I’m Joe Epstein.

Joe Epstein is a past president of the Commonwealth Club of California and a San Francisco-based merchant of foreign and domestic steel.

Aaron Foppe

There is an old saying in medicine “when you hear hoof beats, think of horses not zebras”. But what if you’re the one zebra in a herd of 50,000? Say hello to my son, the zebra. He is three and a half and has a condition known as Common Variable Immune Deficiency.

Essentially, the instructions that make an immune system were just left out of his genetic blueprints. He undergoes treatment every week to replace it, but even so he is sick nearly constantly. Everyone in the pediatrics ward is on a first name basis with me and my family. We’re there anywhere between one and three days a week. But even when home, my wife and I spend a lot of time disinfecting the house.

It’s not exactly a lifestyle conducive to friendships. In the beginning, everyone offered well-intentioned advice: “Don’t give up on a miracle from modern medicine or God”, “There is always light at the end of the tunnel” and my favorite, “Remember, this too shall pass.”

But friendships melt away when I explain that this won’t pass for my son, that it will kill him. Yes, it will eventually pass for me; statistically speaking, as zebras of this breed have an average life expectancy of 42.

People disappear when you tell them that a miracle from modern medicine will need to come in the form of reprogramming his DNA or a complete bone marrow transplant. The former is a fairy tale and the latter has about a 90% fail rate and means a greatly diminished quality of life for those unfortunate enough to survive it.

Zebras know a truth, unfathomable to most, which is that sometimes there truly is no light at the end of the tunnel, nor will there ever be. The lesson that my zebra has taught me is that if it’s only going to get worse from here, then the best moment of our lives is now.

When I am lying with him in the hospital bed, I do everything I can to be with him completely. I feel his heartbeat, and I watch the particles in the air move when he breathes. When I do this, the tunnel vanishes all together and we become immensely alive, for this moment and not any other.

With a Perspective, I’m Aaron Foppe.

Aaron Foppe is a salesman. He lives in Santa Rosa.

Sarah Gmach

When Donald Trump took the oath of office it reminded me of the oath I took as a doctor. I raised my right hand, pledging to “Do No Harm.” Like so many of my colleagues, I am a U.S. citizen with foreign-born parents, one of the many first and second-generation immigrants increasingly populating American medical schools. From 1980 to 2004, medical school graduates identifying themselves as “white” fell from 85 to 64%. More than a quarter of practicing physicians are foreign born. My Silicon Valley group practice is a staggering 80% foreign-born. America’s doctors have become as diverse as the patients we serve.

The world is watching our divisive debate over travel bans and immigration, and I fear it will hurt a healthcare system so rooted in diversity. America is projected to have a shortage of 100,000 physicians by 2025. More than 15,000 doctors in the U.S. are from the initial travel ban countries, and they are concentrated in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, Trump territory. The American Medical Association believes the ban will worsen access to health care, noting that foreign doctors are more likely to practice in underserved and poor communities. About a fifth of Americans live in rural areas, but less than a tenth of physicians practice there. International graduates have long been a critical resource for medically underserved regions. Half of all office visits in rural America are with foreign-born doctors.

Physicians have been stranded overseas, medical schools report sought-after applicants will likely move their careers to other countries, and many young doctors, some directly affected by the ban, others not, are considering doing the same. One Belgian scientist explained: “It makes you think twice about starting a career in the U.S.”

As more immigrant groups are targeted, many skilled medical workers will go to more welcoming lands. In the only industrialized nation that doesn’t consider healthcare a basic human right, it is the most vulnerable populations that will suffer from doctor shortages and disparities in healthcare. If only the Presidential Oath included that simple promise: Do No Harm.

With a Perspective, I’m Sarah Gmach.

Dr. Sarah Gmach lives in Mountain View.

Michael Ellis

People often ask me – what’s your favorite animal? Or which bird do you like best? The question is legitimate question but I want to answer like the parent of four children – which one do you love the best? “Equally! They’re all God’s creatures.”

But I do have favorites. The Native Americans and many other aboriginal cultures around the world practice what we call animism. Animals and other natural objects are imbued with spirits that they connect to in a deep and spiritual way. They became their “totems”. This is a word from the Algonquin Indian language, meaning “sibling kin, group or family, therefore his family mark”.

So these natural objects, usually animals, are considered part of the family. Some North American native traditions believe that each person has nine different animals that help them through life, not just one. New Age practitioners have appropriated this Native practice and you can visit numerous websites that help you discover your totem animal and what it means.

I must confess a deep and abiding bond with the black-backed jackal of Africa. I could watch these remarkable canids go about their business all day long. I feel a kindred connection with them, which is a little embarrassing.

They have so many admirable qualities that I like to think I have as well. They are faithful, monogamous and excellent parents. Trim, fit and very good-looking, their pelage – silver, black, brown fur – is always neatly in place and looking sharp. They are clever, opportunistic and brave. I have watched them scavenge kills right from the jaws of lions; frustrating those cats with their chutzpah. But my favorite thing about them is just watching them move. They travel with such certainty and a bounding, self-assured gait across the landscape.

Am I projecting? Totally. But if I had a family coat-of-arms. the jackal would play a prominent role in it.

This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

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

Sierra Fang-Horvath

My mom is Chinese, with black hair and tan skin. My dad is white, with light eyes and skin the color of office paper. I, on the other hand, am an awkward midway point: dark skin, but not super dark; black hair, but not super black.

It used to be that I never thought about my mixed race. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that I attend a predominantly white suburban school, race is constantly on my mind.

Recently, my classmates and I participated in a survey calculating our privilege,

One question, asked whether band aids match my skin color. Are band aids supposed to, I wondered?

Another question, asked whether I can surround myself with people of my same race whenever I choose. I looked around my English class and saw blond hair and pale skin.

At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do.

Now, I no longer think of myself as Sierra. I’m brown Sierra.

I went to my dad in hopes that he could set things back the way they were, back to when I didn’t have to think about this.

I asked him whether people would make assumptions about me based on my skin color. His furrowed brow confirmed it: probably.

I asked whether boys wouldn’t find me pretty because I was dark, and his eyes filled with tears. He told me good dad things. That I’m beautiful and smart and capable. But the more he talked, the less I believed him.

I enjoy a lot of privileges. I’m middle class and I go to a good school. On top of that Asian Americans just seem to fare better in terms of bias and racism — at least these days.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that privilege exists. We don’t have to become defensive, and we don’t have to feel guilty for it, but we do have to know when it’s there.

I’m not white. I’m also not not-white. So it’s fuzzy figuring out exactly what privileges I benefit from.

With a Perspective, I’m Sierra Fang-Horvath.

Sierra Fang-Horvath lives in Oakland and is a junior in high school. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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