California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, Dec. 6.

A new system of learning as schools drop Ds and Fs.
San Francisco restaurant faces backlash for ejecting cops.
And the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere.

Statewide

1

Firefighters ignited a controlled burn in Sonoma County in 2017.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 1918 letter, a forest ranger in California complained about Indians setting fires “for pure cussedness.” A century later, with much of California's wildlands dangerously overgrown, the tribal view of fire as medicine for the land has been vindicated. On Jan. 1, a new law will help revive the lost art by removing liability risk for private citizens who set prescribed burns. “We’re at a critical turning point," said Margo Robbins, a Yurok tribal member, "and we are turning in a good direction.” Al Jazeera

  
2

California is potentially moving toward an enirely new system of learning in public schools. Some of the state's largest districts — including San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Sacramento — are now phasing out Ds and Fs, allowing students to retake tests and spend more time on assignments. The purpose, reform advocates say, is to avoid derailing students with bad grades while also encouraging competency. Some teachers are not sold on the idea. EdSource

  
3

For a front-page story Saturday, The Washington Post spoke with 18 people connected to Vice President Kamala Harris about her leadership style as she contends with an exodus of staffers. Critics described the Oakland politician as "an inconsistent and at times degrading principal" burning through staff members who have succeeded in other demanding positions. Defenders said she is facing a double standard for women who are ambitious or powerful.

  
4

A pronghorn antelope in California.

Janet Delight

California is home to the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere.

The pronghorn antelope can't match a cheetah's top speed of roughly 70 mph. But it can get close — about 60 mph — and it can maintain blazing speeds over greater distances than a cheetah, cruising at 45 mph for half an hour or more. Historically, pronghorn numbered as many 500,000 across California. Today, fewer than 5,000 are concentrated in the state's northeast. Smaller herds roam the Carrizo Plain and the Bodie Hills. Blink and you might miss them. Fish & Wildlife

See pronghorn at full speed. 👉 YouTube (~3 mins)

  

Northern California

5

Marin County parents knowingly sent their Covid-19 positive child to elementary school last month, causing an outbreak. A total of eight students contracted the virus at the school in Corte Madera, health officials said; another 75 were quarantined. Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer, said the parents may have broken the law. “More importantly," he added, "it’s also a violation of just basic ethics of community responsibility.” A.P. | Marin Independent Journal

  
6

Jonathan Gerrish and his daughter Miju.

The S.F. Chronicle obtained 77 pages of investigative documents on how a young family and their dog died during a summer hike along a trail near Yosemite. Among the new details:

A survival trainer theorized that the parents panicked after being caught off guard by the heat: “It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill. When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones."
The final text the mother, Ellen Chung, sent before the family's hike was to their babysitter. It was a video of 1-year-old Miju just learning to walk.
  
7

A San Francisco restaurant was flooded with negative reviews after it ejected three police officers Friday because, the owners explained, the restaurant is a "safe space — particularly for queer and bipoc individuals." In an Instagram post, the owners of Hilda and Jesse said they respect law enforcement, but added: "The presence of the officers weapons in the restaurant made us feel uncomfortable." Police Chief William Scott called the episode "discouraging." By Sunday, the restaurant had apologized. KGO | SFist

  
8

It took two decades and seemingly endless hearings, reviews, and applications, but the Big Wave Project finally got a green light during the pandemic. The development in Half Moon Bay will provide 57 apartments for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently, in a community of their peers. Advocates of the project say it will also provide something else essential to neurodiverse people: a sense of purpose. KQED

  

Southern California

9

A flag flew at half-mast on Dec. 6, 2001, near the home of Brian Prosser, whose son, Cody Prosser, was killed in Afghanistan.

David McNew/Getty Images

Cody Prosser was killed by friendly fire on Dec. 5, 2001, making him the first California soldier to die in Afghanistan. He was just 28, deeply patriotic, with plans to start a family with his wife. In a thoroughly reported piece, the L.A. Times explored how Prosser's loved ones are processing the loss after 20 years. His mother still regrets signing the paperwork allowing him enlist before his 18th birthday. “Of course I think his death was in vain,” she said. “My son is dead."

  
10

Homicides in Los Angeles are up 46.7% compared with 2019. "The world is upside down,” Oprah Winfrey tweeted last week, expressing her grief over the killing of Jacqueline Avant. Some activists now worry how Los Angeles will respond as critics blame progressive policies around prosecution and sentencing for rising crime. “They’re trying to move us backward,” said Melina Abdullah, of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. “We don’t want to move backward; we want to move forward.” L.A. Times

  
11

Steve Simon watched a match in Madrid in 2016.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

“He’s a rarity in sports.”

Steve Simon grew up in Arcadia, played tennis at Long Beach State, and helped build Indian Wells into one of the world's top tennis events, winning admirers along the way for his quiet professionalism. Now, as the bespectacled chairman of the Women’s Tennis Association, Simon is being called the bravest administrator in sports for standing up to China over its treatment of star Peng Shuai. Telegraph | N.Y. Times

  

5 questions with ...

12

Photo: M. Fu

Mushim Patricia Ikeda, a Buddhist and mindfulness meditation teacher, author, and justice activist in the Bay Area.

Q. What is one place everyone should visit in California?

A. I think those with interest should visit (online at this point) what may be a hidden gem to many: the East Bay Meditation Center, which is friendly, welcoming, social-justice based, and financially accessible to all. If we're talking about everyone, then the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, which is located in a temperate canyon that provides amazing microclimate zones. During the pandemic, this was my only way to travel around the world, rambling from South Africa to Japan to Australasia to Northern California within a few acres of spectacularly landscaped plants, trees, and flowers. Especially during a frightening time of habitat destruction and species extinction such as the one we're in now, immersing myself even briefly in a microcosm of the planetary natural world has given me life and hope.

What’s the best book you've read or podcast you've listened to lately?

Buddhish: A Guide to the 20 Most Important Buddhist Ideas for the Curious and Skeptical,” by C. Pierce Salguero, forthcoming in March 2022. I read the galleys recently because I was invited to provide a brief testimonial. I am Buddhist, so the book actually wasn't intended for me, but I I learned a lot, and very unpleasantly. Having one's own faith tradition deconstructed by a friendly yet skeptical outsider with academic and historical chops proved to be like a plunge into icy water. I emerged wide-eyed and reinvigorated, and this book definitely changed my life.

What’s a hidden food gem in your area?

The Golden Lotus Vegan Restaurant in downtown Oakland. I'm not vegan, but the ethical dimension of eating a plant-based meal is a win-win when you also experience how delicious the food is. Vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters all devour the food from this fixture near Oakland's Chinatown. I'm particularly fond of the caramelized "chicken," the vegetable chow fun (large succulent rice noodles with big chunks of fresh broccoli, bok choy, and other vegetables), the fragrant rice clay pot with lots of savory mushrooms, and for dessert the vegan mocha cake.

You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three California figures, dead or alive, do you invite, and why? How would you get the conversation started?

I would invite John Muir, the famous naturalist and advocate for preservation of "wilderness" areas in California; Ishi (d. 1916), the last of the Yahi indigenous people in what is now California; and an interpreter who could translate Yahi to English. I'd seat Muir in a separate room outfitted with a large screen. Everyone would be served some of their favorite foods, with the style of seating and lighting that they preferred. I'd then ask Ishi (which wasn't his real name) to tell me what he wanted people in California in 2021 to know, and tell him this would be shared with other people if he would do me the honor of engaging in what in some cultures is called "talkstory." When people talkstory, they voluntarily share things from their lives, cultures, and experiences in their own words and in their own ways without interruption.

All of this would be Zoomed into the room where John Muir was sitting, so that he could see and hear Ishi. Then I would join Muir for coffee and dessert, and ask him about his experience hearing what Ishi shared and if his (colonizing) vision of "preserving wilderness" might have evolved since 1914. If I could, I'd also videoconference in both their mothers, because I'd like to hear whatever they had to say about their sons, and about their own lives.

My life in front of screens is probably not that different from many readers. This makes meditation an extremely difficult thing to consistently incorporate into my life. What would you suggest as a step toward quieting the noise in one's mind?

This has been true for years, and I've considerably upped the ante during the past two years of pandemic: I often shock people by telling them they need to stop doing meditation in a seated posture, perhaps trying to look serene, and that, if it's accessible to them, they need to do as much moving meditation as possible. Walking/rolling meditation at a relatively slow pace, running, swimming, yoga, qigong, and tai chi can all be deeply contemplative activities that yield much more benefit than assuming a fixed or stationary posture that might exacerbate the physical problems and mental overstimulation that accompany hours spent in front of screens. Get out, stay in, whatever you need to do and can do — but if you're a meditation practitioner, move it!

“5 questions with …” is a weekly feature by Finn Cohen, who edits the California Sun. Conversations are sometimes edited for brevity. Someone you’d like to see interviewed? Let him know: finn@californiasun.co.

  

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The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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