Perspectives

Go Play! You Can Read This Later.

was during the Great Malaise of the Jimmy Carter years that Zippy the Pinhead, clown prince of non sequiturs, first wondered, “Are we having fun yet?” The questioner was a simpleton, but time has endowed his question with the ring of profundity.

Or is that an alarm bell? A warning from our inner child to slow down, ease off, throw our hands in the air like we just don’t care?

Listen up, America. We are failing at play.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.

Locker Room Talk with the Boys of the Berkeley Gazette

Once upon a time, Berkeley had its own daily newspaper, the Berkeley Gazette, and for a brief, semi-glorious moment, it had two sports-reporting brothers. The paper was small enough that the brothers weren’t exclusively sports-reporters, but being born and bred in Berkeley, with Bear-blood in their veins, they wasted as much ink and newsprint on Cal’s sports program as they could possibly get away with.

Polling in PJs: A Day in the Life of an Election Worker

Tonight, I’m cleaning out my garage. Not because it’s dirty or cluttered, but because I’m expecting a lot of guests tomorrow. I need to move some boxes, sweep the floor, finally put those pots and pans on the shelf. I also need to set up the tables, lay out the reading material, and hang some signs. Cleaning is deceptively relaxing; tomorrow has the potential to be hectic, and there’s a lot at stake. I don’t know exactly who’s going to show up—certainly some people I’ve never met before—but I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

After the Playa: Decompressing with Burning Man’s Lawyer

Every morning on the playa, Ally Deraps wakes up in her trailer and stumbles outside into the dust to make breakfast, joining friends climbing out of tents and teepees for a bowl of oatmeal in the shade. She chooses an outfit for the day, usually something bright or themed. Then, around 10:30, she grabs a can of coffee and her Motorola radio and hops on her playa bike (furry purple seat, powder blue frame, strung with colored lights and sparkly pipe cleaners) for the 20-minute commute across Burning Man to work.

Kuwa Bora, or Friendly Advice From a Fellow Mzungu

Dear Melania,

I hear you’re going to Kenya—that’s great! Kenya has a special place in my heart. It was my home for a year while I worked at a remote field site studying baboon social behavior. Not unlike your job at the White House, I’d dare to say.

The Mannequin In the Room

Years ago, I worked for a San Francisco woman who had a mannequin named Lady Lillian. I found that odd, but I was there to cook, not judge.

I took the job because it meant I could cook in a quiet space and would have access to health care.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Columnist

“Let’s go for a walk.”

Five seemingly innocuous little words, but they were enough to scare the hell out of me. I had read enough John le Carré spy novels to know what comes next: “…where we can talk without being overheard.”

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Q&A: Former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel on Dark Money

When most people think of Watergate, they likely think of the hotel break-in, the Saturday Night Massacre, or the Nixon tapes. But few know that, at its heart, Watergate was a campaign finance scandal. The Watergate Hotel burglars were paid with campaign funds, and the subsequent investigation uncovered millions in illegal payments to the Nixon White House by corporations—some of which arrived in bags of cash.

Will Secession Ever Succeed? Revisiting a Centuries-Old Conflict

A lot has changed since the 1992 Summer Olympics brought worldwide attention to the northeast Spanish region of Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona. Today, Catalonia—the birthplace of architect Antoni Gaudí and painter Salvador Dalí, and one of Spain’s wealthiest regions—is in a bitter political struggle with the central government in Madrid over the issue of Catalan independence.

Silicon Valley Wants to Hack Your Kid’s School

For some years now, Republicans have endeavored to “fix” American education by promoting charter schools, vouchers and merit-based raises. Progressives typically have decried these efforts, maintaining they come at the expense of public schools, particularly public schools that serve disadvantaged students. Variation in educational achievement, they claim, has more to do with student demographics, district funding and English proficiency than, say, the educational chops of individual teachers.

Press-Democrat Staff on Surviving the Fires and Winning Pulitzer

The North Bay fires were national news mere hours after they ignited early in the morning of October 9. The dawn sun, glimmering wanly through the pall of smoke cloaking Sonoma and Napa Counties, illuminated the smoldering ruins of hundreds of homes. No relief was imminent: the hot, dry winds that had sent the flames howling from Calistoga to Santa Rosa continued unabated, and the forecast was for more of the same.  This was a natural catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina—possibly worse.

A Tour of the Gourmet Ghetto with “the Balzac of Berkeley”

L. John Harris, food writer, filmmaker, Gourmet Ghetto fixture, has been called the “Balzac of Berkeley.” But on a recent drizzly morning, he could have passed for Proust as he stood outside the original Peet’s, describing the caffeinated madeleine moment he had at the shop nearly 50 years before.

“It was a house blend, mostly likely a French roast, and it reminded me of coffee that I’d had in Europe,” he said. “We’ve all had food epiphanies that flood us with memories. This was one of those for me.”

A Personal Perspective on Guns—and a Modest Proposal

The kids seem to have made a difference this time, likely because they weren’t toddlers and pre-teens. They were adolescents—articulate and impassioned, even fierce. They took their rage to both the halls of power and the streets within a day of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and they made an impact.  Even President Donald Trump—while citing National Rifle Association leaders as “Great American patriots”—has indicated some support, however tepid, for banning bump stocks and boosting the legal purchase age for assault-style weapons.

Mar-a-Lago on the Line

I miss the days when I had Donald Trump on speed dial. Not that I enjoyed our conversations—if converse is the right term. Even then, years before he hit the campaign trail, the Donald was a monologist.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

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