Shame on U.C. Berkeley

One of the hallmark characteristics of liberty is the protected right to share and express ideas—even unpopular ones. “Freedom of Speech,” as it is often referred to, is part of the First Amendment to our Constitution; listed among the first “God given” freedoms identified in the Bill of Rights.

To place a value upon this right one must consider the American lives lost in the cause to preserve and protect it. Truly, it is among the sacred rights, bought and paid for by the blood of patriots. We each have a duty to respect, defend, and uphold it, for when we do not, we dishonor the men and women who paid dearly–many with their very lives–to secure it for us.

The full text of the First Amendment is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free          exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now if you have been paying attention, you know that the right of free speech has been under attack lately. And while it is true that there are certain limits to this freedom (yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is often cited as an example of using speech in a manner that is illegal), there are apparently a good number of citizens–many who likely claim to be well educated–who don’t understand what freedom of speech is or what it means.

In fact, when you read our feature article, Risk, Reward, and Republicanism, by Bradley Devlin, Secretary of the Berkeley College Republicans (page 20), you’ll discover that among the worst, chronic offenders in the assault on free speech is the very administration at what was once a standard-bearer in causes for freedom and liberty–the University of California at Berkeley.

When the controversial, firebrand speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, was scheduled to speak at the U.C. Berkeley campus last February, he was prevented from doing so by a large group of individuals (students and non-students) who became violent, destroying school property and threatening anyone who dared support this free speech event.  The event became an all-out riot, as the campus police simply stepped back and allowed the anarchists to have their way.

Later in the year, conservative speaker, Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak, but the U.C. administration would not allow it because they “couldn’t ensure her safety.”

The real tragedy in all of this is that, while the young students who opposed these event might be excused because they are simply too immature or ignorant to realize their error, the so-called adults in the U.C.  administration surely know better.

Shame on them for not standing up for free speech. Shame on them for dishonoring those men and women– the ones mentioned previously, with courage that they, apparently, do not possess.     

 

 

 

Top of the Hour Power

July is celebration month for Americans. We have Independence Day, summer vacations, picnics, good weather—the whole package. Generally, I’d say most people tend to be in good moods in July.

Of course we all know that nobody is happy all of the time… but don’t you know a few people that make you wonder about that? You know, the “positive” people; the ones that make you feel better whenever you’re around them. These are the people in your life that never make their problems your problem. They always encourage and edify, and their cheerfulness stems for an honest joy of living. These are the kind of people that I hope to be more like.  

My aunt Rachel, cousin Susan, and brother, Richard top my list, along with my friends Bob, Tom, Joe, Amhad, Mike, Terry, Dee, Richard, Ann, Rodney, and many others. I suppose creativity has something to do with this “positivity gene” as well, as most all of the writers and authors I work with tend to be this way, too.

Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the world’s problems however; it just means that positive people tend to offer solutions. With that in mind, here is a poem (the author, being one of my positive-thinking friends, wishes to remain anonymous), offered in the hope of creating a movement, intended to bring peace to our world:       

Top of the Hour Power

Only one man-made standard throughout our great earth

 tis the measure of time as each hour gives birth.

 The Tops of the Hours occur at the same time

 an invisible chain linking all of mankind.

 And we all have in common a power so dear

 our own private thoughts that no one can hear.

 No matter what country or race or divide

 what we say in our minds we don’t have to hide.

 What if prayer were offered to God in this way

 at the Top of the Hour from L.A. to Bombay?

 No country nor army nor ruler of man

 would wield enough power to stop or withstand

 the linking of minds throughout every nation

 tis our weapon of Love will ensure our salvation.

 Whenever you choose, come join this great throng

at any Top of the Hour you can pray right along.

So what prayer should be offered in this glorious game?

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

Every language and race and age He will hear

giving hope to us all so no one will fear

the evil on earth which threatens us so.

With the power of Love our enemies will know

at the Top of the Hour our weapon of choice

is the power of prayer offered up with one voice.

Feel free to pass this poem along to everyone you know, along with my wishes to all for a joy-filled July!

 

 

 

 

Not Dancing in a Mirror

While it was not officially branded as such, our February 2014 issue was a “special” edition of ALIVE—at least to me it was. If you’re a regular reader you may remember; it was our ALIVE… for the love of chess issue, and most of the editorial in the magazine that month had something to do with the game of chess.

Now I realize not everyone loves or even plays chess, so let me be clear—this article isn’t really about chess at all, it’s about people, and how playing the game has afforded me the opportunity to connect with players all over the world.

Prior to the internet, if you wanted to play chess with someone far away, your only option was to play chess by mail, via the good old U.S. Postal Service—but those games could easily last months or even years. Then, in about 1990, email was introduced and you could play using one of the few email services like AOL. While that moved things along at a much better pace, you were still limited in terms of who you could play with. The fact was, unless you belonged to a chess club (something few and far between) one’s entire chess-opponent-universe consisted of people you already knew; those friends and relatives who just happened to enjoy playing chess too. In my case, that meant my dad, my younger brother, one friend, and one cousin that I only saw at family get-togethers a couple of times a year.

Of course by then there were chess programs that allowed you to play against your computer, but computer chess just wasn’t the same experience as playing with another person. It was like dancing in a mirror—dry, cold, and unsatisfying.

By the time I graduated from high school, chess had moved pretty far into my life’s rear view mirror. In the years that followed, every so often I’d encounter someone who played, but it was pretty rare.

Then came the iPhone.

I was a Blackberry user until about 2008 when I switched to my first iPhone. I used it primarily for business, so email and calls were about it for me. I had little use for apps, and while I knew there were chess apps, I assumed they were all just mobile versions of computer play. For several years, I never really thought about my iPhone in terms of playing chess (I know, pretty dumb of me).

Then, in 2012, something clicked in my head. I had the urge to play chess but had no one close by to play with, so I began searching the app store to see what was available. I discovered several different apps that facilitated live play and after trying out a few, I settled on an app called Social Chess. There was a free version that allowed you to play up to five games at a time, which I tried for a month or so, but soon decided that the enhanced benefits offered in the paid version were well worth the $9.95 price.

Now, five years later, I have to say that the real benefit of the Social Chess app has less to do with the chess and more to do with the “social” than I could ever have imagined. I have played chess with people in nearly very state in the U.S., as well as countries all over the world, including Russia, Australia, Germany, France, Indonesia, Cuba, India, Mexico, Iran, Ukraine, Malta, England, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and many others. All totaled, since July 2012, I have played a total of 2,185 games (1,138 wins, 953 losses, 94 draws).

The best part of this system is that alongside your chess games, you can converse through a text add-on function, enjoying conversations with your opponents. I’ve made some very interesting acquaintances, learned a lot about much more than chess, and best of all, have made some wonderful friends that I never would have met, if not for our mutual interest in chess.

Today, I typically have anywhere from a dozen to thirty games going at any one time, so it’s not uncommon to have an amazing geographic cross section of conversations happening all at once. For example, right now I have 18 games going with two different players in Mexico, two in Russia, one in India, one in Germany, one in Michigan, two in New York, one in Florida, one in Berkeley, one in Louisiana, and one in Los Angeles. Another five of my current games are with players who prefer to play without revealing their location.

Of course, just like anyone you meet in life, not everyone who plays wants to connect much beyond the game itself. Some partake in the app for the game alone, and while I’m fine with that, I much prefer playing with the people I’ve met who have become friends.

Take the last two I listed of my current games for example. The player in Louisiana, Matt, is a husband and father who works on a barge that travels up and down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico for extended  periods. We’ve been playing for about four years and have a game going almost all the time. He often has to work on holidays, so I know our games during those times become a good way for him to pass the time until he can reunite with his family. I’ve learned a lot about the work Matt does, but more importantly, about the kind of man he is. I have learned that his family has good reason to be very proud of him.

The player in Los Angeles, Felicity Ann, has become a very good, close friend. She has even become an occasional contributing writer in ALIVE (she’s listed in our masthead), and had her first article in that special 2014 chess issue. Felicity currently works as a bakery manager, volunteers at her local library, and is multi-talented artist to boot. We exchange gifts at birthdays and holidays, and she is one of the brightest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Who would have guessed that of all of that can be learned from playing lots of chess, and considering that chess was created as a substitute for war, isn’t it ironic that the best thing about it would be learning about other cultures, other people, and most of all, making new friends.

Yes, I certainly do enjoy playing chess, but unlike dancing in a mirror, it really is the game’s connection with people that makes it worthwhile playing at all.

 

    

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often referred to as “The Royal Game,” chess is considered, by most accounts, the world’s oldest game, having been played at least since the sixth and probably fifth century. The game is thought to have originated in India, although some argue that China was its true birthplace. The earliest known literary reference to chess was from India, in a Sanskrit romance called The Vasavadatta, in 590 A.D. Another, slightly later reference comes from Persia, from about 600 A.D., in another ancient romance called Kárnamák.

 

 

 

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: — the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily…

Benjamin Franklin, “The Morals of Chess” (article) (1750).

 

Just Ask: How Are Your Doing?

I recently saw a news story on TV about people who had survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. The story included the accounts of two men who had both decided to take their own lives relatively early in life. One man, now in his mid thirties, jumped when he was only in his late teens.

Out of the estimated 1,700 people who have jumped off the bridge, only about 30 have survived. The experience for both men was nearly identical in terms of how they felt and what they realized, just moments after their hands left the rail—instant regret and the realization that they had made a fatal mistake.

One of the men, Kevin Hines, was only a teenager when he jumped in September 2000. He explained how, as he walked out on the bridge walkway, he had hoped someone passing would ask him if he was “okay,” because he had made up his mind that that would be his indicator—the only “sign” he needed—to change his mind and not jump. When one woman finally did stop him, sadly, she did not pick up on the despair in his eyes, and only asked him to take a picture. He obliged, handed back her camera, then leapt over the rail. In his own words, Hines explained, “I said to myself, ‘What have I done, I don’t want to die, God please save me.’ The moment I hit freefall was an instant regret – I recognized that I made the greatest mistake in my life and I thought it was too late.”

When I heard this my heart sank. How likely is it that so very many others of those who did not survive had these same exact thoughts? It is the picture of tragedy nearly too painful; too dreadful to consider.

This past April, construction began on a suicide prevention net on the Golden Gate Bridge. While this is a laudable project, the real solution to this kind of problem lies elsewhere. In some cases it’s addressing the needs of the mentally ill, but in many others—probably the majority—the solution can only be found within each of us. It has to do with how we see each other and whether we allow ourselves to be vulnerable—to lower our guard enough to truly empathize with others, and take the time to do so.

In my religious tradition, we believe that evil exists and that the “head” of evil is sometimes called the “Great Deceiver” or “The Father of Lies.” One of his greatest, most common lies is to have people believe they are “worthless” beings; people without value or purpose. Both of the men in that TV special had been deceived, as they instantly realized the moment they jumped. They, like everyone—like you and like me—are special, unique creations of a loving God who wants each of us to live full, meaningful lives of joy and love.  

So, the next time you’re off on vacation and you stop and ask someone to take your picture, be sure to look in their eyes for at least a moment and connect. They may just be waiting for you to ask them an important, life-altering question like, “How are you doing?”    

A Special Kind of Stupid

In recent news it was reported that BART is losing somewhere between $15 million and $25 million per year due to riders who intentionally evade paying fares—“cheaters.” In one report on KTVU, reporter Amber Lee interviewed one of the cheaters—a young female college student—who admitted, on camera, that she rode BART regularly (daily) without paying. With a sheepish grin she remarked, “No, I don’t feel bad about it because, for one, I need to get where I need to go.” She further excused her theft habit by explaining that she didn’t have enough money for the fare because she didn’t have a job.

Later in the KTVU report, BART Director Bevan Dufty said with a smile (that was oddly similar to the college student’s) that “fixes” for the problem could take a “little while” because “BART is not as fast moving as our trains are…”   

Let’s put this admission into the proper perspective for a moment. While the bulk of BART operations are funded by riders’ fares, about 25% of operations rely upon taxpayer dollars. Add to this the billions in additional taxpayer funding for expansion and improvement projects and it’s clear, whether you ride BART or not, we are paying a lot for this transit system. This past November alone, Bay Area residents agreed to an additional $3.5 billion dollars in sales taxes to fund improvements to the system.

Now for a little more perspective, let’s think about how long BART has been in operation. I believe this coming September will mark its 45th year. Even assuming that those “cheater losses” were considerably less in previous years, the executives at BART just told us that due to their incompetence, at a minimum, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have essentially been “flushed.”

Is it just me, or does this strike you as just plain stupid? Apparently these losses don’t impact Mr.Dufty’s take-home pay, nor does it affect the compensation of BART management. But it ought to. If BART was operated without the “welfare” benefit of taxpayer dollars (like a business) this kind of operational “oversight” would have been handled in year one.

The sad fact is, when it comes to so many taxpayer-supported agencies, programs, and services like BART, proper accountability and fiscal responsibility are generally after-thoughts at best. And as stupid as all this might seem, there is apparently a special kind of stupid in California these days—it’s those who continue voting “yes” for tax increases that continue to prop up incompetent, misguided services like BART.       

Rejoice, World Class Poets of the East Bay

I am so happy to report that our first annual poetry contest was a terrific success. Even though the window for submissions was relatively brief, we received a good number of them—so many in fact, it was a challenge to rate them in the few days available to do so.  

Before I get to the punch line in announcing our winner, I would like to express my thanks to all of the poets that took the time to submit their work. I hope you all know that when it comes to artistic expression in any form—be it poetry, painting, photography, prose, music, or something else—ratings of any kind are always, purely subjective. It was obvious to everyone here at ALIVE that sincere, creative effort went into every poem we received, and we enjoyed reading each and every one, without exception.    

I must confess that our contest was the brainchild of the award-winning poet / writer / editor, Nadine Lockhart of Poetry Flash. Although we’ve received numerous, unsolicited submissions from poets over the years, it was Nadine’s enthusiastic, creative approach that motivated us to embrace the idea for this annual contest. We leaned heavily upon Nadine’s enormous knowledge and talent in judging the poems we received, and cannot thank her enough for all of the work she invested to help make this month’s ALIVE special.

Ironically, of the dozens of submissions that we received, it just so happens that one of the very first ones submitted was unanimously chosen as the winner of our contest. It is “Zephyr” by Ricardo Tavarez of Oakland. Congratulations, Ricardo!

In addition to Ricardo’s poem, we felt that two others deserved honorable mention: “Cesar Chavez,” by Juan R. Sequiera of Pleasant Hill, and “With Every Step I Take,” by Avotcja of Emeryville.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in our first poetry contest. We look forward to seeing more of your creative work next year!

ALIVE Poetry Contest

April just happens to be National Poetry Month and here at ALIVE, we want to showcase our local poets. With that in mind, we are calling for poetry submissions for what we hope will be our first annual poetry contest.

The guidelines for our first go at this are simple:

  • We will award a $100 Diablo Jewelers gift certificate to the winner in each of two categories—Young Poets, ages 12-17, and Adults, 18 and older. 
  • Anyone within ALIVE’s distribution area is eligible (if you’re reading this, like to write poetry, and are at least twelve years old, you can enter).
  • You may submit up to three poems, and there is no cost to enter.
  • You may send your poem(s) as WORD file attachments by email to info@aliveeastbay.com, or via US Mail to ALIVE Magazine, 3200-A Danville Blvd., Suite 204, Alamo, CA 94507.
  • Previously published work is okay, though please note where and when it was previously published, along with your submission.
  • All submissions must be received at our office in Alamo no later than March 20, 2017.     

Shorter poetic works are preferred over longer poems, partially due to publication restraints. Sonnet length is a beautiful thing—14 lines, though sophisticated Haiku (3  lines of 17 syllables in a 5-7-5 format) may be chosen. On the other hand, so might longer poems of merit; however, there is a 40-line limit.

We love surprising, creative, unexpected word art; we don’t love clichés or narratives with overt messages. We are looking for “music and mystery” in the lyric; whole lives in the images.

By submitting your work, you are granting us permission to publish it in ALIVE Magazine, at our discretion, however authors will otherwise retain copyright  to their work.

Please include complete contact information with each poem submitted, including name, address, email, and phone number.

The winning poems will be published in the April issue of ALIVE, along with other selected “poems of merit.”

On your mark… get set… ready… write!

 

America’s Ring of Devotion

With Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day being in February, it seems appropriate to consider “love of country” and our flag, for just as a special ring on one’s finger symbolizes love and devotion to another, so too does the American flag symbolize the same toward our beloved nation. 

The Stars and Stripes represents something greater than a token banner displayed on holidays; it stands for a unique idea that is America—a nation founded upon the notion that life and liberty are precious and inseparable, and that the full value of the former is only  fully realized under the blessing of the latter.

The Americans with the fullest understanding and appreciation of what our flag represents are the patriots who have fought, are fighting, or who may one day fight under its banner. These are the men and women of our armed forces, first responders, and their families.

And while some suggest it ought to again be deemed a crime to deface the American flag—something that was once the case but later determined unconstitutional—I’d say that just like that ring on one’s    finger, the only way the symbolism of devotion is meaningful and relevant is when it is honored voluntarily. With all due respect to those who think otherwise, I’d bet those patriots just mentioned would likely be the first to defend any American who might choose to burn the flag. Indeed, burning or trampling upon Old Glory is protected “free speech”—but just because one has the freedom to do something   doesn’t mean one should do something.

It is by a full, clear, and deep understanding of what our flag truly  represents that those patriots defend the right of others to burn it, and it is what makes me and others repel at the very idea of ever disgracing it in any way.   

While it is true that being critical of the flag is a protected right, it is also true that, just as there are customs of respect for those “special rings,” so too are there specific customs and practices that apply to our flag. For example, a damaged or faded flag ought to be replaced. It should not be flown in inclement weather, nor should it be displayed after sunset, unless it is illuminated. 

Over the years, it has become a habit of mine to pay attention to American flags wherever I see them, and I am appalled at how poorly and carelessly they are often displayed, even over government buildings. Frequently, I see torn and ragged flags, un-illuminated flags at night, and flags flying during heavy rains.

In part, a ring symbolizes an eternal connection; a continuity of  mutual respect and support that has no end. It doesn’t imply perfection nor demand it; it merely encourages each in the relationship to strive in a common direction—one defined by love.

Seeing as how not all of us serve in the military or as first responders, we ought to think of the American flag as the ring that binds us as citizens. According it due respect is just one simple way to show that  same respect to those patriots who do serve.    

2016 = 2017 (not)

We begin this new year as we always do—with a choice of expectations. many tend to look back and put all their chips in that basket, believing future outcomes will be based upon what took place in the prior year. While this approach is valid to a degree, we ought to apportion it less significance than we do; as personal development guru Anthony Robbins reminds us: “The past does not equal the future.” Indeed, one advantage of having lived a while is being able to compare the present to the past and know that Robbins has it right; it’s what enables one to comfortably laugh at those comic strips showing a guy with a long, scraggly beard holding a sign that reads, “The End is Near.”

With that in mind, and in deference to those feeling “less than enthusiastic” about the future because of the turmoil during the past one or several years, I say: Don’t worry so much because things will likely turn out much better than you are expecting. I can say this because I remember the circumstances and mood in America during the late 1970s and the transition that followed, and it seems to me that the anxiety felt by roughly half the nation today is much as it was immediately before and shortly after the presidential election of 1980.

During much of the 1970s our problems seemed dire and many Americans thought we had little to look forward to. For starters, there was a recession. It was called “the worst economy since the Great Depression.” Sound familiar? We had rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates, and a collapsing stock market. Our supply of energy seemed doomed. Gas prices soared as it became such a scarce commodity that rationing was imposed along with a mandated national speed limit of 55 mph intended to “save fuel.” In some areas around the country, Christmas lights were prohibited in order to trim energy use.  

And terrorism didn’t start on 9/11 either, as the Middle East was a cauldron of conflict throughout the 1970s. Airplane hijacking was an ongoing problem and in 1979, America suffered the ultimate humiliation as sixty-six American diplomats and citizens at the American Embassy in Tehran were taken hostage. Fifty-six remained as prisoners for 444 days.  

Prior to the 1980 election, these problems served as the  backdrop for pundits and many Americans who worried that Ronald Reagan would sink America into an abyss and start World War III, should he win.     

Of course he did win, and what appeared then to many as “hopeless” soon became what most historians today consider a period of robust prosperity and unrivaled progress in America. And instead of causing World War III, Reagan ushered in the collapsed of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

There are striking similarities between then and now, and while nothing is ever certain, we need to know that 2016 is no predictor of 2017. We have every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.

The past does not equal the future. 

Holiday Ups and Downs

Notwithstanding the commercialism, most people experience joy and a greater sense of emotional connection to one another during the holidays. Even so, there are some who tend to feel depressed this time of year, too. Of course it’s not one hundred percent in either direction—certainly no one is happy all the time, and I hope no one is gloomy 24/7 between Thanksgiving and New Years. The question is: Is there a way to make sure we tilt toward the “joy” side of the balance sheet?    smdepositphotos_16919033_original-1        

Many years ago, a good friend and mentor told me, “The person you become in life will primarily be determined by two things: the books you read and the people you associate with.” He also said that, “You don’t attract in life what you want but who you are.” Better than thirty years later, I’d say both of these statements are largely true.

The essential message in this advice is to be careful in choosing what we allow to influence us. Input from media—books, movies, TV, social media, magazines and the like—as well as the people we choose to spend time with, influence our attitudes and decisions to such a degree that they shape our character, the direction we take in life, and ultimately where we end up and who we become. Oh yes, and how we feel much of the time, too.

The ideas one has, as well as how someone feels about just about everything and everyone will be vastly different for the person who reads more classic literature, scripture, and books on personal development, than the person whose reading is dominated by Twitter feeds, romance novels and People (or Hustler) Magazine. And when we choose to surround ourselves with thoughtful, positive, edifying peers, we will speak, act and feel differently, from those whose associations are primarily with dour, petty, angry or otherwise negative people.

With the holidays upon us, I highly recommend some of my friends’ advice. Feeling down or depressed? Turn off the Computer or TV and pick up a book by Og Mandino, Stephen Covey, John Maxwell, Denis Waitley or Robert Schuller. Want to smile more during the holidays? Look for people who tend to smile and get around those people. And when it comes to interactions with others, decide to be a builder rather than a demolition expert.  

On behalf of everyone here at ALIVE, we wish you all the best in happiness, health, and prosperity for this holiday season and beyond.