Michael Ellis takes note of a prominent feature of the night sky and what it says about classical notions of beauty.

In the Western sky shortly after the sun sets these days is a brilliant celestial object. It sparkles, brightly glows and outshines every one of its neighbors. It is, of course, our sister planet, Venus, named for the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty. The Greeks knew this same Goddess as Aphrodite and for centuries all around the Meditterrean festivals were held in her honor and numerous temples built for her worship.

Venerate love? Sure, most of us have no problem with that. The Greeks celebrated physical passion and elevated it to a religious station. But Shakespeare told us that beauty is only skin deep and we tend to think of beauty as being merely superficial, not of real value. We feel guilty when we appreciate a man or a woman for their physical appearance as if there was no real substance in that.

Ah, but the Greeks worshipped Aphrodite precisely because her beauty was at the surface. Beauty was of value just for its own sake. For the Greeks, it animated the universe. Beauty cries out to make us stay in the present. There is nothing hidden, no deep meanings. Aphrodite radiates and that is enough to suffuse the world.

I found myself recently at a cosmetic department. All around me were women putting on lipstick, eye shadow, perfume and trying on hats, dresses, slacks. There were mirrors everywhere. The salespeople and the clients were dressed to the hilt. Nothing seemed left to chance. Every hair, scarf, skirt, was arranged just so. I was mesmerized.

The Greek word kosmos originally referred to the right placing of multiple things in the world. Cosmetics, then, is the art of adornment, the careful placing of jewelry, the application of paint, the plucking of eyebrows. In careful ordering of the face, beauty is created which brings symmetry to the cosmos. I love that concept. We create beauty and bring order to our lives.

So don’t feel guilty. Behold and revel in all that is beautiful.

Shimmering Venus is in the West and all is right in the cosmos.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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

What’s school for? Marilyn Englander takes aim at a popular answer to that basic question.

I talk to lots of parents about their teenagers’ education. Almost always parents say they want their kids to love learning, to enjoy school. They describe the perfect school as one that will help their kid to “pursue his passion.” These seem to be positive goals, but they point in the wrong direction. It’s undeniably motivating and inspiring for a young person to nurture a passion, but a solid education is essential first.

When I listen to how parents and kids evaluate the quality of middle and high schools, I first acknowledge the powerful force of what I call the Kid Lobby. Any parent — or teacher —- can attest to its ferocious power. Kids advocating for fun and comfort are relentless in trying to get what they want. The pleasure principle is the chief catalyst in most people’s behavior until well past their teen years.

Here’s what adolescents want: to stay comfortable, to be free from adult nagging (which adults call evaluation), to do what they love and are good at. Sometimes — in fact, often — this is characterized as pursuing the student’s “passion.” Allow the student to draw instead of write, to focus on his love of whales instead of learning history, to spend time on sports drills rather than math facts.

But here’s what it takes to grow into a clear-thinking, well-informed, effective adult: solid control of knowledge across the disciplines (above Wikipedia-level), a tolerance for pursuing work that’s difficult or not intrinsically of great personal interest, persistence to keep going in spite of frustrations and setbacks, and discipline to work hard every day to move projects forward.

Broad and deep learning, tolerance, persistence and discipline — not what teens want to work on, but definitely what they need — to become competent adults, and to gain mastery in a passion.

Pushing teenagers to develop these qualities provokes resistance at first, but teens almost always come around. Learning to be competent is not 100% “fun”, but real learning is astonishingly rewarding, and addictive. Even better than fun.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.

Some of our most important body functions are autonomic – they just happen without our thinking about it. But if one doesn’t just happen anymore, we are plunged into a frightening world. Julia Shippey has this Perspective.

I never thought breathing was something I had to worry about. You breathe in air and you breathe out carbon dioxide, as simple as that. There’s nothing else to it. I took it for granted, being able to simply breathe every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. But now it’s all I think about.

When I was in 6th grade not too long ago we were running the mile in PE class.I wasn’t running slow, but I wasn’t running fast either. I was somewhere in the middle. All of sudden I got short of breath. It felt like my airway was slowly closing and getting smaller. The air felt thin. Oxygen wasn’t getting into my lungs, instead I just breathed it back out. I panicked. Millions of thoughts ran through my mind. What do I do? Why am I not breathing right? What is happening? I stopped running and tried to take a deep breath, but it wasn’t working.

One of the P.E. teachers noticed I had stopped running and came rushing over to me. Everyone was telling me to just breathe, to take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. But I couldn’t. ‘Breathe,’ I told myself. ‘Just breathe.’ It took about one minute for me to get my breathing back under control.

I ended up getting an inhaler from my pediatrician and I used it almost every morning I had P.E. It helped, most of the time.

Asthma is defined as a condition in which a person’s airway becomes inflamed, narrow and swollen, and it produces extra mucus, which makes it difficult to breathe. I think that’s an understatement. When you can’t breathe, fear overtakes you. It becomes your biggest enemy. Your brain becomes overfilled with thoughts and emotions and you stop thinking about the world around you; you’re frozen in a world of chaos.

Some asthma is life threatening. Mine isn’t and for that I’m thankful. I’m lucky. I realize now I can’t take anything for granted, not even something I do every single day. Everyone breathes. You are breathing right now and you probably aren’t even paying attention to it. You can’t take having clean water for granted, you can’t take being able to come home to a warm house everyday for granted, and you can’t take being able to breathe easily for granted.

With a Perspective, I’m Julia Shippey.

Julia Shippey attends Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

I’m not ashamed to say that I have a copy of a little book by my bedside entitled ‘Wisdom from The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember’. It features quotes and anecdotes by Fred Rogers about courage, love, inner discipline, and, of course, being good neighbors as citizens of the world

For those of you who don’t know who Mr. Rogers was (he died in 2003) he hosted a revolutionary children’s television show called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for over three decades. Wearing his signature zippered cardigan, knitted by his mother, and joined by his puppet friends, he spread the message of kindness and love, always respecting kids and never talking down to them.

It was just announced that the U.S. Postal Service will immortalize Mr. Rogers with a Forever postage stamp. A documentary about Fred Rogers recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. And if this isn’t enough, Oakland’s own Tom Hanks has recently signed on to star in a biopic about Mr. Rogers.

Why all the sudden interest in Mr. Rogers? He’s certainly been spoofed before— Saturday Night Live comes to mind—but this is different. This man, who was gentle and encouraged kids to be their best, authentic selves was also very special off-screen. In 1997, Fred Rogers testified before a Senate subcommittee to push for public broadcasting funds. Amazing. He also moved an entire Emmy Awards audience to complete silence—and many to tears—when he instructed them to think of someone to whom they owed gratitude.

Mr. Rogers’ widow Joanne recently told the New York Times that she thought he’d be pleased with the idea of a stamp in his honor. She said, “I think that people must need him. Just look at what goes on in the world. He always wanted to provide a haven and a comfortable lap for children, and I think that is what so many of us need right now.”

My favorite Mr. Rogers’ quote? “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

With a Perspective, I’m C.J. Hirschfield.

C.J. Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland.

She greets me at the door with a smile. I place plastic booties on my shoes. She directs me past the large screen TV silently displaying pictures of war-torn Syria. Inside the bathroom, she explains that her marble floor has spots in a strange circular pattern.

“I think it was the cleaning lady,” she says.

The marble floor is calcium carbonate. “The easiest way to think of it,” I explain, “is that you are walking on bones, a bed of long-dead sea creatures crushed and compressed by time, mined and polished. The acid from her cleaning solution ate away the shine.”

“Can you fix it?” she asks. “It’s driving me crazy.”

I nod, write up a bid. Long before this, I worked in the optical industry, explaining lenses and dispersion and the bending of light.

We walk past the TV again. A talking head reports on the possibility of another planet with similar characteristics to Earth, one in which there may be life.

I thank the woman and head for the company Prius. I turn on the radio, mixing the rantings of right wing doomsayers with the auto-tuned voices of pop stars. My windshield has a horizontal crack caused by a small pebble from a concrete truck, mass times acceleration, the sun glinting off of it, stinging my retina. I squint and pull over in the shade.

I accept that the world is a random sequence of events strung together to make it Monday. I know that a too careful examination of the universe — even with my limited understanding of it — will open a door to the measure of my importance, or lack thereof, in this world. I choose to go on, knowing that not accepting value for my brief and infinitesimal time on Earth would be a mistake.

This is life. Family and friends await. And lemon meringue pie. And a baby’s laugh.

Then a song comes on the radio, filled with angst and love and unrealistic hope, and I shift into drive.

With a Perspective, I’m Les Bloch.

Les Bloch is a construction project manager.

To most, mud is wet dirt to be avoided whenever possible. To Andrew Dickson, its primordial ooze is full of life.

I love mud. Most kids do. And when my Dad passed I spent many days on this water.  When the water rolls away, mudflats are revealed and birds come alive, slurping up guppies stuck in muddy tide-pools. This is not chlorinated pool or crystal clear tap water void of life.  This is where life begins again.  Where saltwater and freshwater meet.  The lungs of the Bay. A mixing zone for birds to nest and hunt from the sky when days grow short and waters clear, revealing schools of bait fish.

This tidal soup helps imagine the Dinosaur Era.  Views of dormant volcanoes Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais and pterodactyl-like Blue Heron riding the wind .  Prehistoric Sturgeon trolling Carquinez Strait.  Old Monterey Bay Shipwrecks from an era when boats fished salmon and “Nappa” was a native american word meaning “fishing village.”

And there are volcanic valley’s to the north shaped by muddy waters.  With roots that ebb and flow each growing season making the long journey down.   Volcanic veins give passage to the water table below.

This mud breeds life.  Dressed by waters that change color from rays of the sun.   Shades of blue and brown, rich with tidal energy.  We don’t consume it, we fish from it and spend our summers in it. Organic water filtered by roots and trees without chlorine; fresh and cold in the winter, salty and warm in the summer.  Mysterious at low tide, brilliant at high tide.  It lives a dynamic existence like people of the Bay Area.  Blue when the sun is low, brown when the sun is high.
And when we paddle for miles the sunlight dances with the breeze, sparkling on riffles ahead, nurturing our curiosity for what is to come around the next bend.

We are all visual beings. And sometimes what we view to be clean is dirty.  And what seems dirty is actually full of life.

With a Perspective, I’m Andrew Dickson!

Andrew Dickson guides paddle board tours on the Petaluma River and Northern Reaches of San Pablo Bay.

It’s the time of year for when highly-informed lovers of forest fungi forage for their favorites, and Peggy Hansen is one of them.

They’re secretive and fussy. They hide themselves annoyingly and cleverly, under sheets or mounds of leaves, perfect dark, damp cover to hide them as they grow. They don’t like just any kind of forest, or any kind of tree, or even any kind of soil. More often than not, they keep close company with poison oak, far too close for my particular comfort. They’re dirty, full of frills and folds, packed with debris and soil, and sometimes bugs. And mistakes can be deadly: this game is not for the untrained. So, it’s completely fair to wonder, why do I hunt for mushrooms?

These days, wild mushrooms can be found at many markets, cleaned and trimmed and without risk of getting ‘oaked’ when reaching out to harvest them. They’re pricey, to be sure, but maybe not outrageous for a special treat with a short seasonal window. And when you figure in the time I spend foraging, and the average yield per outing, in truth they might be cheaper than ones I wildcraft.

So now you’re thinking its just nuts to try to find them on my own, risking poison oak, or even poisoning–why not just buy them? The answer is all those things, all the mysteries that make them impossible to predict and difficult to find. It’s the chance to find and follow deer trails, to visit and revisit secret spots year after year and see what may be waiting. It’s the challenge and the lure of reforging a connection to our heritage, of retraining the senses to interpret so much more, and much more differently, than most of modern life allows. And, of course, it’s the omelettes, or pasta dishes, or simple slices sauteed in melted butter. It’s wilderness itself, and it tastes like nothing else.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

You’re sitting across from me at the table. It’s our date night, something we don’t do often enough. This is what’s between us: Refinancing our mortgage, investing in the kids’ 529’s, our parents getting older, a bigger car, our work, fatigue, the next family vacation, time. We wonder loosely whether to go with the mushroom tortellini or the shrimp risotto.

I look at you. Deeper than I’ve had the breath to do in weeks.

There are new lines on your face, each one a story of concern for us, your family. I look at you, only half-hearing the words of explanation and regret.

“You’re not listening to me,” you say.

I look at your face, the face I’ve loved every day since I met you, and this is what I want to say:

This morning I woke up to something complete — to you, the simple sound of you, steady and warm. This morning I woke up and all the things that unsettle me, keep me hurtling forward, were for that moment hushed, because you were there. This morning, before the sun split the sky, the world was perfect, because our children were near in their beds and I was next to you.

This morning you walked out the door after a short kiss and we went on with our days. The small and large crises, the trifling errands, the lost instruments and heartbeats, the contracts and calculations, the needs of others wrestling with our own wants — but you kept coming back to me. In moments at the computer on the road, in conversation, I was reminded of you, and why my life is always brimming.

I was reminded of you — the man who looked at me and said, Yes.

You are sitting across from me at the table. It’s our date night, and you are right. I’m not listening. I’m just holding you with my eyes and thinking, You. Always You. Only. You.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons lives in St. Helena.

Mac Clayton invests personal stuff with memory, and it’s never more stubborn than when its connected to your children.

Remember setting up house? Pots and pans. One pan, anyway. A dish or two. Coffee pot. A decent knife. Laundry basket, or maybe not, maybe just a corner of the closet. You were busy and free. You weren’t worried about all that stuff.

But it piled up, and then you moved in with someone else and his or her stuff and pretty soon you needed more room not just for the stuff but for the baby that was on the way, a prospect both exhilarating and terrifying.

That baby did it. Before her, stuff was just stuff. Now it became the cradle, an ornate antique with lace linens, in imagination if not reality. The flowered wallpaper. The changing table. The rocking chair. The toy box. The soccer goal. The study desk and lamp. The stereo. The couch with popcorn between the cushions. The television with fingerprints on the screen. And finally, the duffel bag for college.

You keep her bedroom like a silent migratory marsh pond. When her visits become less frequent, you begin saving things you think she would like for her new apartment. A set of plates she always loved. The pots you cooked all her meals in. The lamp she read by. Your attic becomes a shrine to both her past and her future.

But she never comes for her old things. She sets up her own house and finds her own mate and has her own kids. You begin to save her childhood toys for your grandchildren. Your attic is getting crowded.

And now here you are with all that stuff, which is not stuff to you but the memoir of your life. Long after you know it won’t be needed, not even by you, you keep it, knowing without admitting it that one day you will be gone and those bits of your life will remain, knitted together like the gray twigs of an old robin’s nest, still sturdy and serviceable, but abandoned.

With a Perspective, I’m Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton is an author. He lives on the Peninsula.

President Trump is said to have expressed a preference for more immigrants from countries like Norway and fewer from Africa and the Caribbean. That got the attention of Dr. David Anderson.

It is unlikely that your new cardiologist will be Norwegian.
I myself am a 67-year-old cardiologist of Norwegian heritage. Our people were farmers, my grandfather a hospital janitor and my hard working parents did not go to college. They made many sacrifices and I applied their work ethic to college and medical school. My medical school class was overwhelmingly male and white, largely Jewish and also second and third generation European from hard working families like mine.

In 2018, as I walk the halls of the hospital and confer with hospitalists, surgeons and other specialists, I am struck by how much has changed. Almost to a woman, my younger colleagues are non-European. They — or their parents — struck out from Pakistan and India and China and Iran and Nigeria to make a new life for themselves and their families.

As we work together to deliver the best of care to our patients, what do we have in common? Certainly it is not our ethnicity. No, it is more about our approach to our lives and work. Its shaped by what we saw in our parents, their hard work, their self-sacrifice, their pioneer spirit and their knowledge that they had to do more than the next guy to make it. I think our backgrounds lead us to place a high value on community and the need to serve. We understand at a basic level that all are equal and deserve our care and attention.

Of course, it is not just the doctors that have changed my world. I am mindful of the porter from El Salvador, the ward secretary from Guatemala, the charge nurse from Nigeria, all consummate professionals doing their job and often raising a family. As we chat about those families I learn that often their hard working kids will be filling future medical school classes.

I am witness to a microcosm of the American dream. Let us hold it up as an example and be happy that there will be a Fatima to replace a David and an Alvarez to replace an Anderson.

With a Perspective, I’m Dr, David Anderson.

David Anderson is a cardiologist in the East Bay with Stanford Healthcare.

The national political climate is generating anger and division and young students are soaking it in like sponges. Shane Safir believes we can create safer spaces for them.

A few months ago, a local high school was shaken by the discovery of a student Instagram account featuring racist, anti-Semitic, and ableist memes. There were swastikas plastered across student photos, anti-black slurs and students doing the Nazi salute.

At a South Bay high school where I train teachers around unconscious bias, an Asian American student posted a video of himself ripping the head off a Black doll with the caption, “Just another Tuesday morning in the South.”

And last year, my own son — an intelligent brown boy of Filipino, Irish, and Jewish descent — was called a ‘Mexican dummy’ and taunted with a Spanish accent on the playground. I saw firsthand how these slights can erode a child’s confidence.

The fear and finger-pointing in our larger political culture is showing up in our schools. In a national survey of amore than 10,000 educators, 8 in 10 reported heightened anxiety in students of color and 4 in 10 had heard derogatory language directed at marginalized groups. This isn’t an accident. Our children are sponges, constantly absorbing the messages around them.

As a parent and an educator, I think about what my own responsibility and what we all can do. First, we can listen and believe students who bring these stories forward. It’s easy to minimize the impact of harmful speech, but learning requires children to feel emotionally safe and supported, not under threat.

Second, we can respond. Four in 10 educators didn’t think their schools had action plans to address hate and bias. If your child’s school doesn’t have one, now is the time to develop it. Words like inclusion and equity must be more than words.

And as parents, we can have hard conversations with our children around race and difference. Instead of offering platitudes like “treat everyone the same,” let’s acknowledge racism and other forms of injustice. Let’s teach our children to be allies and upstanders instead of bystanders.

A moment of crisis is a moment of opportunity. Creating more inclusive and humane school communities takes will and it takes courage.

With a Perspective, I’m Shane Safir.

Shane Safir is a parent, educator and author who works with schools to promote educational equity.

Youth Radio’s Sierra Fang-Horvath is facing a classic first generation problem; wishing her mom could be a little more woke.

My mom came to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was seven. As an immigrant in the 70s, she faced racism, daily. I cringe when I hear her stories about kids on the playground calling her “chink,” squinting their eyes, and mocking her accent.

So, it’s puzzling to me, now when she makes highly questionable statements about other groups.

We were talking about an ISIS terrorist attack. My mom shook her head and said, “Islam is a violent religion.” I confronted her, “It’s not okay to generalize an entire group based off of an extremist minority.”

We also fight over gender pronouns. I have a non-binary friend whose pronouns are “they/them,” but my mom keeps saying “she/her.” Whenever I ask her to try to use the correct pronouns, she complains that “they/them” is confusing.

We go back and forth. “So you think clarity is more important than respect?”

To her, I’m too politically correct. To me, she’s disrespectful. Sometimes I walk away with tears of frustration running down my face. How can someone I love so much think like that?

The problem with my mom isn’t hate — it’s lack of awareness. She was raised in a different generation and with a different culture. Her very traditional Chinese household didn’t exactly support different points of view.

But for me? I’ve grown up in a woke world. And some things that feel natural to me, will take her longer to catch on to.

Sometimes in public I still hiss at her, “Mom. You can’t say that. Not here, not ever.” But in the end, I need to be patient while she grows. And I know it’s not easy to let go of outdated beliefs that were ingrained in her as a child. But I see her trying. And to me, that makes a world of difference.

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

Sierra Fang-Horvath is 17 and lives in Oakland. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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.

Years ago, while driving in the East Bay, I was stopped in my tracks by an astonishing sight. Several cars ahead, drivers had come to a halt as a mother duck and five ducklings waddled onto Highway 80 toward San Francisco Bay on the other side. I gasped as they crossed the asphalt, the cars in the lanes where they passed idling quietly, as the ones in the farther lanes whooshed by. “They’ll never make it,” I moaned.

But just then, a good Samaritan leaped out of his idling vehicle and shooed the ducks back toward the aquatic park from where they had come. Although they were saved this time, statistics are not in their favor. An estimated 100 million animals are killed on the nation’s highways every year, and highways aren’t the only obstacles. Human development of all types has severely fragmented wildlife habitat, making it impossible for animals to move between whatever small amounts of space we have pushed them into.

We share the Earth with over 6 million terrestrial species, yet allow the others very little room. Our parks and preserves function as islands, and, like many true islands, experience high rates of extinction due to insufficient size. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this has resulted in the loss of half the planet’s wildlife over the last 40 years. To counter this trend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson advocates setting aside half the Earth for wildlife. More parks are important, he says, but it’s equally important to provide animals room to move between them.

Many conservation groups have taken up the call for what are known as landscape linkages, areas that connect one wildlife habitat with another. Some are as small as underpasses beneath highways. Others are thousands of acres. Even in the crowded Bay Area, several groups are working on such a plan. When complete, it would result in almost half the Bay Area and surrounding counties as suitable for wildlife, an idea any duck family trying to cross a local highway would surely applaud.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is an environmental planner and writer in San Francisco.

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