Archive for August, 2015

ANCHOR BABIES AND OPEN EARS

Tuesday night, I attended a workshop, “Speaking Across Conflict,” at Congregation Sherith Israel. It related to heated discussions—and lack of discussions—about Israel among Jews. Rabbi Melissa Weintraub led the workshop. She is co-director of Resetting the Table, a program of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ Civility Campaign. The basics are simple. Implementing them is challenging.

Rabbi Weintraub emphasizes listening to people with whom you disagree. You focus on what’s important to others—the hard part—rather than on how to counter their positions. After listening, you can offer your own views. Regrettably, shouting is a hallmark of Israeli politics and Jewish responses. It also corrodes American politics. Republicans and Democrats shun dialogue and define accusations as valid arguments. Acrimony abounds. Little gets accomplished.

Immigration is an issue generating more heat than light. The nation faces three basic choices: One: Open our borders to everyone. Two: Close our borders to everyone. Three: Establish quotas regarding how many immigrants we take in and their qualifications. The last option represents our current law, but it badly needs updating. Times have changed since my parents and father became citizens 101 years ago.

The hue and cry is deafening. Some Americans can’t understand why people who enter America in violation of the law can stay here. They’re accused of being anti-immigrant. They’re not. They support immigration within the law. Others cannot imagine how the nation can purge itself of eleven million people who arrived illegally. (Yes, it’s illegal to violate the law). Many “illegals” have lived here peacefully and productively for years. Solving the problem requires a new mindset. We have to listen to each other’s concerns, acknowledge them and find ways to compromise, understanding that this issue cannot be framed in simplistic black and white.

Take “anchor babies” or birthright citizenship. Donald Trump wants to do away with automatically granting citizenship to babies born in the U.S. of non-citizens. The right screams, “Hell, yes!” The left screams, “Hell, no!”

Let me say that I think Donald Trump is a joke. A bad one. He’s a lightning rod for know-nothings, addressing legitimate issues in infantile ways. That being said, I have doubts about birthright citizenship. I recognize the existence of the 14th Amendment and the practical concerns regarding authenticating parental citizenship, as well as adopting a new Constitutional amendment. But birthright citizenship is hardly a universal concept.

Of the developed nations, only the U.S. and Canada provide birthright citizenship. Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia—among many others—restrict citizenship for babies born within their borders. I don’t suggest that other nations’ laws are inherently better than ours. I’ll skip Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iran, thank you. But reasoned arguments relating to birthright citizenship can be made pro and con.

It’s time we recognize that it’s not treasonous to listen to different views. It’s also time we replace presidential debates with actual discussions. Candidates would be required to listen and acknowledge when other candidates present their views at lengths greater than those of sound bites. They would wait their turn then offer their own positions—uninterrupted.

Running our mouths does nothing but run down the nation. We might discover a lot more substance between our ears if we take our fingers out of them.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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WOES OF TODAY’S FREELANCER

When I turned 60, I moved my office from downtown back home and put my freelance copywriting business on a gentle glide path to retirement. A year ago, I turned 70 and pronounced myself officially retired. I’d done well. Could I achieve as much in today’s work environment? I shudder to think about it.

Work for a corporation? I never wanted to and never did. Yes, some companies treat their employees well. My son Aaron works for Square. He can eat all his meals in their restaurant and enjoys other perks. And there’s money to be made. But much of the technology industry maintains a “start-up” culture. Life is work. Toil twelve hours a day or more six or seven days a week.

Amazon takes that to the max as reported by the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld (August 15). The company’s long established, yet “workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’” Thank you, no.

I freelanced. I wrote ad and marketing copy clients ranging from Fortune 100 to micro. Given the pros and cons of technology, I don’t know how freelancers are making it today. The pros are obvious. Websites now advertise jobs for freelancers. “Back in the day,” I beat the bushes. But I built personal relationships with my clients. Some lasted 10 years, 20 years and more.

That leads to the cons. Technology often limits the quality of communication and relationship building. Clients go online to fish for the lowest bid. But many skills cannot be considered commodities. Writing is one. Not everyone can listen sensitively then solve a problem. Anyone can string words together. Few can choose the right words and put them in the right order.

Clients need to know the people who work for them. This encourages meeting face to face. Skype is serviceable, but only to a point. I always tried to meet a prospect in the flesh, particularly at the client’s workplace. I wanted to make an impression. I also wanted clues as to whether or not working for that person made sense.

Freelance websites make that harder. Freelancers often compete not so much in the area of skills as in bids—that commodity approach. Competitors and even spambots can drive hourly or project fees down to rock bottom. Clients getting $10-an-hour copy or art don’t do themselves any favors. Freelancers find it tough to make a living in a world in which technology, in the name of productivity and efficiency, often devalues human contact. If you’ve seen people gathered around a restaurant table, each engrossed in a cell phone, you understand.

Our society claims enlightenment. Yet we worship at the shrine of the Initial Public Offering and seek the blessings of the free market that often pummels us. Creativity counts only as long as it contributes to the bottom line. Employees are expendable. But don’t get me wrong. American business doesn’t crush the human spirit. It just ignores it.

I’ve entered my dinosaur years, and I’m proud. In many ways, dinosaurs prove to be more human than what passes for human today.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

THE RIFF RAFF AT OUTSIDE LANDS

It was another step up on another big stage. Last Saturday, Hurray for the Riff Raff—my son Yosi, resident fiddler—performed at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Carolyn and I were among the few seniors in a sold-out venue of 70,000 youthful partygoers. Here’s my report.

The more I see and hear, the more I appreciate the quality and integrity of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s singer/songwriter, creates music that entertains while being socially conscious and thought provoking.

The band’s set went well. They opened performances at Sutro Stage at twelve-twenty. A good crowd assembled and had a great time, singing along and dancing. Of course, Carolyn and I were right up front. Note: Yosi changed bows during the performance. He explained later that wood bows often don’t do well outdoors; carbon fiber bows resist the weather.

After the performance, Carolyn and I, along with our son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy went to the VIP hospitality pavilion overlooking the Polo Field. A tent at least 150 feet long, it offered tables and chairs, and other seating with a view of the Land’s End stage where Sir Elton John closed the festival Sunday night.

I ordered a beer. I was “carded.” I was required to get a green wristband proving I was 21. Well, I was—50 years ago. A young woman asked for ID. The man with her laughed and informed her that I really was old enough to drink. But who knows? Soon I might have to show ID to prove I’m not too old. Beer in hand, I listened to a band whose female singer strutted the stage a la Mick Jagger. She was better looking, but I knew this only from the giant TV screens flanking the stage. From the VIP tent, performers were specks. Fortunately, the sound system was good.

Drinks consumed, we wandered a bit. The crowd swelled. By two o’clock, getting from place to place over the large area fenced off for the festival proved time consuming. Lines at the port-a-potties—there were many—stood 12 deep. The festival map offered a reasonable approximation of various venues and highlights—food, drinks, merchandise, a beauty bar—but was a bit fuzzy on detail. We tried to get into a comedy show but couldn’t. I left at three, my mission accomplished—almost.

As it happened, the band’s Airbnb accommodations were in a dicey neighborhood. As band members checked the place out on Friday after driving up from Los Angeles where they played the Skirball Center, they saw drug deals going down right outside. Yosi called. Could the band stay at our house? The band camped out for two nights. We provided breakfasts. By Sunday, all but Yosi remained.

What’s next? The Riff Raff will record a new CD in Nashville. In November, they’ll play the Fox Theater in Oakland, opening on tour for City and Colour (Dallas Green.). They’ll also perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall on January 29.

Am I proud? Believe it. Do I take credit? No way. Hurray for the Riff Raff keeps moving up thanks to hard work and dedication. Alynda, Yosi and the band have paid their dues. And it never hurts to make great music.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

STORY POWER

During the past week, two signs from the heavens got me thinking. This is all a bit subjective, of course, but my train of thought led me from a red-tailed hawk and white, storybook clouds to our over-busy lives, one of my all-time favorite TV shows and the function of fiction.

On a recent walk in the Presidio, I saw the red-tailed hawk hovering on a thermal as I approached Immigrant Point overlooking the Pacific, the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands. The hawk floated virtually motionless. How elegant. How simple. Hawks fly, eat, mate and sleep. Humans live far more complex lives. We run ourselves in circles. Then we complain. Yet most people take pride in their busyness. It seems to validate their lives in a society that less worships productivity than its impression.

The clouds appeared during a morning walk on Lake Street. They looked just like the clouds at the opening of The Simpsons—a perfect blend of white on blue. (In August we’re usually foggy—a double miracle of sorts.) I literally stopped and stared. I halfway expected to see the yellow-gold THE SIMPSONS title and hear the singing that introduces the show.

What’s true in our lives? What’s merely illusion? Which do we care about? Often what we know to be true moves us less than the stories we read and hear. Even truth becomes a story of sorts.

Most people know that an American hunter killed Cecil, a black-maned lion with celebrity status in Zimbabwe. Protests abounded. Cecil could have been the fictional Bambi. Some people protested the protests. War has displaced millions of people in the Middle East. A quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria alone. Refugees are flooding Europe. Here, an old adage comes into play. A million deaths is a statistic. A single death is a tragedy—and the stuff of stories.

In 2012 Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl, was shot and badly wounded. Much of the world was outraged. Where was the outrage when thousands of other Pakistanis were murdered over the years? When violence ripped through neighboring Afghanistan? When Islamic State later beheaded hundreds and enslaved women? People responded, yes. But Malala captured their hearts. She was a recognizable individual. She had a name and a face. She wasn’t just a news report; she was a story. Thus on to fiction…

Yes, I read nonfiction. I’m a big fan of Robert Kaplan’s incisive geopolitical books. Nonfiction enlightens the mind. But fiction touches the heart. A year ago, I finally read John Steinbeck’s deservedly classic The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, there was a bit too much repetition for my taste. But wow! How could you not understand the suffering caused by the Dust Bowl and the Depression by coming to know the Joad family?

Economists write books. Politicians make speeches. But giving people a human story with which they can identify—why presidents host “ordinary people” at their State of the Union addresses—creates both understanding and empathy.

That red-tailed hawk and those clouds hit me where I feel. The nation, indeed the world, might be better off if we read more fiction, saw more plays and attended more independent films to get out of our heads a bit and nourish our hearts.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.