Human Behavior

Spooked: Who still believes in ghosts?

Here’s a haunting observation: almost one in five Americans claims to have been in the presence of a ghost. And that number isn’t falling—to the contrary, it represents a steep increase over just a couple of decades ago.

Crash Course: Cal and its surge of foreign freshmen struggle to adjust to one another

The first time Larry Zhou traveled outside of China, it was to start his freshman year at Berkeley in 2010. The University’s bid to admit more international students—they would enhance campus diversity and pay sticker-price tuition—brought a surge of foreign arrivals with Zhou. More than a third came from Chinese territories.

Zhou, now a senior, had studied British English in high school in Suzhou, about 65 miles west of Shanghai. He did so well on a language test that his school encouraged him to study abroad, and he garnered a high verbal SAT score as well.

Growing Change

Keith Gilless, the Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, stands in the center of a circle on October 13, microphone held loosely in hand, and looks thoughtfully at his audience. The occasion is Family Field Day at the Gill Tract, and some hundred people—many with children, pets, and bikes in tow—have turned out on this sunny Sunday morning.

Strike a Pose: How Modeling Behaviors Can Change Your Outlook

Feeling downtrodden and powerless? Take a tip from the bantam rooster. It may be the most diminutive of chickens, but it struts its stuff like a cassowary. When it strides the barnyard, all the other fowl give it a wide berth.  And by practicing a similar swagger, you can achieve the same ends. By acting powerful you become, in effect – powerful.

Shuttle Diplomacy: The social toll of the “Google Bus”

In the love-hate relationship that the Bay Area has with its own economic boom, nothing seems to pack the symbolic punch of the “Google Bus” (an imprecise but convenient short-hand for the private shuttles operated by nearly 40 regional tech and biotech companies.) Especially in San Francisco, these shuttles—double-decked, dark-windowed, and usually unidentified— have come to represent that which separates the coding and DNA-splicing haves from the Luddites and erstwhile English majors who make up the have-nots.

Merit in the Mirror: California whites redefine it to reflect their kids

Boil the American Dream down to a single maxim and it’s this: “If you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to get what’s yours.” Our mutual commitment to meritocracy is, we’re told, about as central to our national character as baseball. Divvying up gains based on ability and hard work (as oppposed to, say, your family’s social status, race or religion) is not only a workable way to organize an economically productive society—it also seems fundamentally fair.

To Forgive and Forget

Having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be a painfully long and sad way to say good-bye. It also reaffirms the adage about laughing to keep from crying. After my mother’s memory became seriously impaired, my older sister and I never knew how much of Mom would be there when we visited her at the assisted living facility. She changed from moment to moment, which is how she lived the final months of her life, from moment to moment. Buddhists spend their whole lives trying to live in the moment. By that standard, Mom was enlightened.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

Climbing the Spiral Staircase

My parents met in 1941 as editors at the University of California Press. To my mother’s annoyance, the press manager assigned my father a desk in her small office. The new hire—a mountain climber, tall, unpolished—irritated her not just by his personality and his invasion of her space, but by his salary. Gender equality was not yet a blip on the radar. (Radar itself, coined just the year before, was not yet a blip on the radar.) My mother had seniority, yet from his first day my father, with his Y chromosome, drew a paycheck nearly equal to hers.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

The Kids Are Alright

If you’re reading this, you were once a child. We won’t all become parents, or get married, or live to a ripe old age, but we’ve all experienced childhood. And yet, for all its universality, it is by no means a fixed idea or immutable reality. Our very notions of childhood—the nature of the experience, what expectations and privileges attend to it, how long it lasts—these things have changed with time and circumstance, and differ across cultures.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

Rock-a-Bye Baby

I knew parenting would be trouble even before it began. Back when my wife, Beth, and I were just starting to think about having a child of our own, I asked my dad about baby sleep arrangements. Dad’s a psychotherapist specializing in the ways that early childhood experience shapes adults, and he has strong feelings about this stuff. Forcing babies to sleep alone, he said, ends the period (starting in the womb) in which children understand themselves to be part of a larger whole.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

His Truth is Marching On

The nerve center of the Christian Reconstruction movement is located in the tiny Gold Rush town of Vallecito, about three hours east of San Francisco, off Highway 4. The founder of the movement, the late conservative theologian Rousas John Rushdoony ’38, C.Sing. ’39, M.A. ’40, relocated here from Los Angeles in 1975, fearing civil unrest and World War III. He believed that in the event of nuclear attack, the area’s prevailing winds would mitigate the fallout.

From the Fall 2012 Politics Issue issue of California.

What a Way to Go: Woman Who Created the Darwin Awards Wants to be a Winner Someday

Wendy Northcutt has made a host of obscure people famous, and although very few lived to savor their notoriety, she anticipates one day sharing their dubious honor. It almost happened when a recent heat wave gave her the idea to “air-condition” her sweltering home: She pried up an oubliette floor grate in her hallway, intending to install a fan to suck up the basement’s cooler air. But she left to answer the phone, and hours later she strode back down the hall and obliviously stepped into the gaping hole. In the milliseconds as her body swooshed down, she thought “Oh nooooooooooo!

From the Summer 2011 The Soundtrack of Berkeley issue of California.

Get Thee to a Nonery

For those of a certain age, Sproul Plaza today seems like an analog locale on Bizarro World, the cube-shaped planet from the Superman comics where everything is backwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, of course, Sproul was a hotbed of social activism. And to an extent, that remains true: The placards are still abundant, and there are plenty of undergrads handing out flyers and advocating in earnest.

From the Spring 2011 Articles of Faith issue of California.

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