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Flash: Berkeley Feels Second Vallejo Area Quake

Thursday February 16, 2012 - 09:10:00 AM

A second earthquake, also with estimated magnitude of 3.7, struck near Vallejo this morning at 9:13 a.m. and was felt in Berkeley.

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Flash: Appeals Court Rules for Berkeley Hillside Preservation--City Must Do a Full EIR on Mitch Kapor's Proposed House

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday February 15, 2012 - 09:46:00 PM

Today the California Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Berkeley must do a full environmental impact report on software entrepreneur Mitch Kapor's plan, with his wife Freada Kapor-Klein, to build a house of close to 10,000 square feet with a ten car garage at 2707 Rose in the Berkeley Hills.

The court reversed a lower court decision by Judge Frank Roesch that an EIR was not required, and supported the contention of a group calling itself Berkeley Hillside Preservation, with named appellants Susan Nunes Fadley and Lesley Emmington Jones, that the proposed construction was not categorically exempt under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that environmental concerns should be reviewed in an environmental impact report (EIR). 

The court's decision said that the preservation group "presented substantial, and virtually uncontradicted, evidence that the proposed single-family residence to be constructed was unusual, based on its size... Of more than 17,000 single-family residences in Berkeley, only 17—or a tenth of a percent—are larger than 6,000 square feet, whereas the proposed construction will result in a residence that is more than 9,800 square feet." 

The court further concluded that because the proposed house was such an unusual size, and "because there was substantial evidence in the record to support a fair argument that the proposed construction will have a significant effect on the environment ... the application of a categorical exemption [exempting single family homes from CEQA review] was inappropriate here, and the trial court erred in denying appellants‟ petition for a writ of mandate." 

The trial court has been ordered to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to set aside the approval of use permits and its finding of a categorical exemption, and to order the preparation of an EIR. 

Appellants, represented by attorney Susan Brandt Hawley, were also awarded their costs on appeal,which means that attorney's fees must be paid by the defendants and respondents, the City of Berkeley, the Kapors and the firm of their architect, Donn Logan. 

The full text of the decision can be found here

Background information can be found here.

Press Release: Berkeley Hillside Preservation Wins CEQA Appeal Berkeley

From Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorney for appellants
Thursday February 16, 2012 - 03:26:00 PM

On February 15th, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the Alameda County Superior Court and ruled that the City of Berkeley’s approval of the 10,000 square foot Kapor residence and 10-car garage proposed for a steep lot in the Berkeley Hills was unlawful. The Court agreed with Berkeley Hillside Preservation that the project is not exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.  

Wide community opposition arose when the City failed to require any environmental study. The precedent-setting published appellate opinion clarifies the standard of review and holds that CEQA exemptions cannot be used when there is expert opinion or other substantial evidence that a project may have significant environmental impacts. Here, renowned geotechnical expert Dr. Lawrence Karp provided expert evidence of unstudied “massive grading” and potential for seismic lurching of hillside fills.  

The appellate court ruled that the Kapor house, which one appellate Justice characterized as “humongous” at the appellate argument, is not a typical single-family residence that merits exemption from CEQA. The Court ordered that a peremptory writ issue to order the City of Berkeley “to set aside the approval of use permits and its finding of a categorical exemption, and to order the preparation of an EIR” before further consideration of the project’s four required use permits. 

The Court said that “because there was substantial evidence in the record to support a fair argument that the proposed construction will have a significant effect on the environment, the application of a categorical exemption was inappropriate here, and the trial court erred in denying [the] petition for a writ of mandate.” “We are grateful for this comprehensive ruling and look forward to an EIR process that will take an objective look at the project, its environmental impacts, and feasible mitigation measures and alternatives, “ said appellant Susan Nunes Fadley.

Berkeley City Council Renews Mutual Aid Agreements Without Amendments

Wednesday February 15, 2012 - 05:36:00 PM

Last night, despite verbal protests from a long list of civil liberties organizations, the Berkeley City Council voted, with only one dissent, to renew a package of mutual aid agreements with a variety of organizations, which were supported by Berkeley's police chief and city manager. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, in conjunction with a group of commissioners and civic organizations, had proposed modifications to the agreements which were intended to address their deficiencies, but the text of his proposed amendments was not delivered to the council until 8:30 during last night's meeting, enabling six councilmembers to avoid going on record as supporting them. Councilmembers Anderson and Worthington spoke in favor of the changes, but the amendments failed, and when the final vote on the agreements was taken, only Kriss Worthington voted no. Arreguin said after the meeting ended that the contracts will be up for renewal in a year, and in the intervening time the council and city staff will have time to prepare desired changes.

The testimony and council discussion can be seen below, despite the misleading heading at the beginning of the video clip.

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New: Earthquake Near Vallejo Felt in Berkeley

Wednesday February 15, 2012 - 06:36:00 PM

At 6:09 p.m. today Berkeley residents felt a magnitude 3.7 earthquake centered near Vallejo. 

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According to the U.S Geologic Service, the epicenter was at a depth of 9.3 kilometers. (5.8 miles). No damage has been reported.

The Pacific Steel Casting Situation (News Analyis)

By Steve Martinot
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:33:00 AM

People are back in the streets because of Pacific Steel Casting Company. In the past, it has been the issue of pollution. The workers have struck over the issue of health and safety (the same issue, as seen from inside). And now, some 200 workers are protesting unjust job termination, owing to intervention by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), in violation of the spirit of Berkeley as a sanctuary city. This factory remains a problem. There will be a march to publicize this problem on Friday, Feb. 17. 

Here's a bit of the story (aka history). 

The factory is a foundry, opened in 1934. It is the fourth largest foundry in the US. 

Last Feb, 2011, ICE demanded that the company provide I-9 info (Employment Eligibility Verification Form, for checking on resident status) for all employees, known as an I-9 audit. ICE didn't begin its audit until October, 2011, and submitted its report in Jan, 2012. The result of the report was that 200 workers were fired for not passing ICE muster, that is, not having proper residency. The plant employs some 600 people, of which 575 are in the union, a local of the Glass, Molders, and Pottery Union. The company has affirmed that there are upwards of 30 different nationalities represented among its employees. 

In June 2011, Berkeley City Council requested that Pacific Steel Casting not cooperate with ICE, because the I-9 audit could result in people losing their jobs, which would mean grave hardship for them and their families, and be detrimental for the overall employment and economic picture of the city of Berkeley. Berkeley again affirmed that it was a city of refuge (sanctuary), which means it provides services to all residents, regardless of status, and that would include the same standards of job security that all other workers have. Indeed, one worker, who has worked at Pacific Steel for 12 years, has recently been accepted for a kidney transplant at UCSF, having suffered from kidney disease years earlier. Without it, his life is threatened. But since he was one of the workers fired, UCSF is saying that they will not do the transplant, since he lost his health insurance. In other words, ICE and Pacific Steel are threatening his life. 

There had been a strike in March, 2011, because the company was demanding reduction in health benefits. The work is hard, the conditions toxic (as in any foundry), and people are forced to work without a break. One former employee, Roberto Rodriguez, who worked at Pacific Steel for 40 years and retired, is suing the company for several million dollars. The money he is demanding is back pay for having to work during contgract-provided lunch and coffeebreak periods. He is also suing for damage to his health from the pollution in the factory. 

There has been an on-going campaign among people in the neighborhood against the toxicity of the emissions from the factory. In 2006, several large marches of hundreds of people occurred targetting the factory, demanding that the factory stop polluting the area. A suit was filed demanding compliance with environemtnal law, and compensation to neighbors who have suffered harm and injury because of the factory. A spokesperson for the factory has stated that the anti-pollution suit of 2006 could force Pacific Steel into financial ruin, and thus reducing city employment. The pollution situation remains as it had been for the community near the plant, and the neighborhood continues struggling against the problem. 

In response to those who accuse immigrants of taking “American workers” jobs, it doesn’t appear that there are many people from the vicinity of the factory who are clamoring to be hired there. The workers fired from the plant last month are requesting support for being rehired on the basis of (1) they have been unjustly denied their jobs which they need and deserve as much as anyone else; (2) Berkeley is a sanctuary city because it believes that all people should have the same human rights, the main one being survival, for which one needs an income, and thus a job, and (3) they have been fighting their own struggle for cleaner and safer conditions in the plant, which links them to the neighborhood's own struggle. 

There will be a march by the workers fired from Pacific Steel on Friday, Feb. 17. They are asking that all people who believe in the primacy of human rights to join them in support. The march will begin after a rally at MLK Park in Berkeley (civic center, opposite City Hall) at 10 am, and proceed to the Pacific Steel plant. 


Steve Martinot

Appeals Court Considers Challenge to Affirmative Action Ban

By Julia Cheever (BCN)
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 08:09:00 AM

Lawyers for 46 minority students and a civil rights group asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco today to allow them to go forward with their challenge to a voter-approved ban on affirmative action in University of California admissions. 

"We're asking that you give the students in this case their day in court," attorney Shanta Driver told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. circuit Court of Appeals. 

The students and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action want the appeals court to overturn a lower court ruling dismissing their 2010 lawsuit and to allow a trial on their challenge to Proposition 209. 

The proposition, a 1996 voter initiative, prohibited government preferences for minority groups and women in public education, employment and contracting. 

The students' lawsuit contests only the part of the measure than bans affirmative action for minority students applying to UC campuses. 

George B. Washington, another attorney for the students, argued, "It is a special law, directed only at blacks and Latinos." 

In an earlier case, the federal appeals court upheld Proposition 209 in its entirety in 1997. 

But the students contend that circumstances have changed because a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed the University of Michigan to consider race as a one of a number of admissions factors. 

The students also say that courts have never looked at the actual effect of Proposition 209, which they say has resulted in a sharp drop in the numbers of blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans at the flagship university campuses. 

Ralph Kasarda, a lawyer for Proposition 209 sponsor Ward Connerly, argued that the 1997 appeals court ruling definitively foreclosed the new lawsuit. 

He told the court that the initiative does not prevent students from seeking preferences to overcome other factors, such as economic disadvantages, that might hinder their admission to the university. 

Proposition 209 "is no barrier to the plaintiffs to petition the University of California to adopt any admissions policy that does not discriminate on the basis of race," Kasarda told the court. The panel took the case under submission after hearing 45 minutes of arguments and will issue a written ruling at a later date. 

Gov. Jerry Brown has weighed in on the case, asking the court to reopen the challenge to Proposition 209.  

Deputy California Attorney General Antonette Cordero, representing Brown, told the court, "We believe Proposition 209 does not level the playing field." 

Instead, Cordero argued, the measure creates "an unequal political structure" for minority groups.

Berkeley Neighborhood Leaders Meet, Set Priorities (Participant Account)

By Martha Nicoloff
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:25:00 AM

For the first time in many years a city wide gathering of neighborhood leaders was held Saturday at the Hillside Club The objective of the meeting was to increase contact, explore local issues and to have more impact on City government. 

A priority list includes the following concerns; 

  • West Berkeley wants a reduction of 100 foot buildings permitted in the current plan for residential neighborhoods.
  • South of campus wants to stop mini-dorms in older houses that have been converted to as many as 19 bedrooms, often causing rowdy late night parties.
  • Save old city hall from demolition, it is a city icon, the first building to have historic designation. Find sources for funding for earthquake reinforcement.
  • Have a say in the selection of the new planning director. - Get on the city's list for email notices concerning zoning decisions and design review issues.
  • Stop commercial sized day care use in neighborhoods zoned for duplex units.
  • A group of citizens is researching the indebtedness of the city, and has discovered that promised reports have not materialized offering solutions. They are hoping to put an initiative on the November ballot.
The forty representatives attending approved meeting again in the near future. Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) organized the meeting. 

Martha Nicoloff is the co-author of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. 

Occupy Oakland Spotlights Police Actions in Forum

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 08:08:00 AM

Occupy Oakland protesters sought to draw connections between police actions at recent demonstrations and what they say is a history of misconduct by the department at a forum held at the Grand Lake Theater on Thursday. 

Protesters gathered at the theater near Lake Merritt for Occupy Oakland's "Citizen Police Review Board" event, which was organized after a meeting by the city's official police review board on recent protests was canceled. 

One topic of discussion was the threat of the Oakland Police Department being placed under court-ordered federal receivership because of delays in making reforms required by a 2003 class action settlement. 

In that case, a group of 119 Oakland residents had alleged that a number of police officers who called themselves "the Riders" made false arrests, beat suspects and planted evidence, among other abuses.  

The deadline for implementing the reforms was initially 2008, and was later extended to 2010 -- but 10 of the 51 required changes still have not been made.  

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson last month gave a court-appointed monitor more power over the Police Department and said he would not rule out receivership if the reforms weren't implemented. 

Jim Chanin, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in the Riders case, spoke at Thursday's Occupy event, saying that if he does not see major reforms by the department this year, he will press the judge to place the department under federal control. 

"It's taken too long," Chanin said. "We're going to move for receivership if there's not a radical improvement in this calendar year." 

Chanin said the department appears to be unable to accomplish the reforms on its own.  

"They really don't have very good perceptive powers about what they can do themselves," he said. 

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan released a statement last month saying there would be "swift and decisive action" to implement the reforms. 

"We are committed to taking action and making demonstrable progress on the reforms necessary to ensure that we meet our collective goal," Quan and Howard said in a statement. 

Chanin also compared the recent clashes with protesters to an April 1, 2003, protest at the Port of Oakland at which police fired less-then-lethal weapons on protesters attempting to disrupt the operations of two shippers with government contracts related to the Iraq War. 

He said that after the 2003 protest, he helped draft a new crowd-control policy for Oakland police with the American Civil Liberties Union. He read from that policy during Thursday's event, and charged that police had repeatedly violated it during Occupy Oakland demonstrations. 

"Not only was there no medical aid on site, in some cases people who tried to give medical aid were themselves gassed by police," Chanin said. 

Following Chanin's talk, Occupy Oakland protester and citizen journalist Spencer Mills, who streams protests online, played video clips to show instances of when he said officers violated the crowd-control policy. 

Among the clips was footage of tear gas and smoke grenades being fired on crowds on Oct. 25, including at protesters attempting to help a wounded demonstrator on the ground. There was footage of police using batons on protesters on the ground and firing a beanbag round at a demonstrator filming police.  

"The goal here is not to demonize the police," Mills said. 

He alleged, however, that Oakland police have shown a lack of control. 

Mills has also been a vocal critic of violence coming from protesters, and has shouted on his streams at protesters throwing bottles, denouncing them as "cowards."  

Protesters have been violent toward police on a number of occasions, including during a Jan. 28 demonstration in which the Police Department claimed its officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks and other objects. That same day, a group broke into and vandalized City Hall. Hundreds were arrested. 

Before Mills spoke, Stan Oden, a professor at Sacramento State University and a former Black Panther, drew connections between protests today and those in the 1960s. 

Patrick Caceras, assistant to the city administrator, appeared on behalf of the city of Oakland and the official Citizens Police Review Board, and told the crowd that, given recent developments, the review board forum had needed to be postponed. 

Caceras said the forum would be rescheduled, but that new considerations came up after the Jan. 28 demonstration. For example, he said, prosecutors sought stay-away orders to prevent protesters who were arrested that day from returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza, and because of that they would not have been able to legally attend any meeting at City Hall.  

He said the city is looking to find a venue that will allow everyone to attend, and to focus on more recent protests as well as demonstrations on Oct. 25 and Nov. 2. 

Police Chief Howard Jordan was invited by protesters for a question-and-answer session, but did not attend Thursday's meeting.

Press Release: Berkeley City Council to Discuss Mutual Aid and Other Police Reforms

From Anthony Sanchez, Aide to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:27:00 AM

In response to concerns of police involvement in activities ranging from domestic surveillance and reporting, to the use of mutual aid to crackdown on political demonstrations, Berkeley City Council will consider changes its policy on mutual aid requests and to agreements with local and federal law enforcement agencies this Tuesday night. 

City law requires that the Berkeley City Council review and approve mutual aid and other agreements with law enforcement agencies. These agreements are routinely approved without much discussion. However, the system of mutual aid has come under scrutiny after multiple law enforcement agencies were called to neighboring Oakland to respond to the removal of the encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza and other demonstrations. Also last year other law enforcement agencies were called onto the UC Berkeley campus to remove the Occupy Cal encampment. In both cases, footage was taken of excessive use of force towards demonstrators. These incidents have raised important questions about whether mutual aid should be called for protests and how to best protect the civil liberties of those involved in civil disobedience and preventing excessive use of force.  

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin has proposed several recommendations to change Berkeley’s mutual aid policy, including not automatically responding to mutual aid requests involving civil disobedience where no other crimes have been committed. Additionally, the new policy asks that the Berkeley Police Department carefully evaluate all mutual aid requests, and, if tactics are being used that are unsafe or unlawful, the Police Department can remove all personnel from the scene, if necessary. 

In addition to adopting a new mutual aid policy which is attached, the Council will consider changing its relationship with federal intelligence gathering and reporting programs; modify its jail policy to prohibit handing over illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities; and look at changing its criminal intelligence policy so that people involved in civil disobedience and First Amendment activities are not the subjects of police investigation. 

The purpose of these reforms is to ensure that Berkeley’s agreements comport with its values and policies, and the agreements include adequate civil and human right safeguards.

Man Arrested In Massive Caffe Med Cop-Op, Back On Streets In Four Hours

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday February 15, 2012 - 07:35:00 PM
Entering men's shelter.
Ted Friedman
Entering men's shelter.
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at Berkeley men's shelter, basement Veteran's Memorial Building.
Ted Friedman
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at Berkeley men's shelter, basement Veteran's Memorial Building.
We moved Michael's belongings, Sunday, including the broom, from behind a car in a parking space--to alongside the apartment building. Mid-week, he had not returned.
Ted Friedman
We moved Michael's belongings, Sunday, including the broom, from behind a car in a parking space--to alongside the apartment building. Mid-week, he had not returned.
Lockers for homeless gear, at Berkeley Men's Shelter.
Ted Friedman
Lockers for homeless gear, at Berkeley Men's Shelter.

After yet another Caffe Med Berkeley Cop-Op Friday, to restrain a mentally ill man, it seemed the man was on his way to a forty-eight hour mental evaluation. But that's not the way it went down, as the Cop-Op devolved into a cop-out. 

As we reported in the Planet Saturday, the latest in a string of BPD cop-ops at the Med, Berkeley's—if not the world's—most notorious coffee house/cafe, started out as what seemed a routine 5150. 

Routine or not, the police intervention at the Med had required five squad cars; and a fire-truck; and an ambulance; and a squad of police; and plenty of paramedics. 

To Southsiders, the 5150, a police action to protect the public and the mentally ill from harm, is part of the Southside scene. Although not always, a 5150 invariably leads to a minimum 48 hours psych-hold, for evaluation. 

But a tipster in the Med said that Michael, busted Friday night, was back in the Med Saturday morning. He was, inexplicably, sweeping the floor with a straw broom. 

I was incredulous, even talked my tipster friend into a case of mistaken identity. But the next day I saw Michael near the Med where he had been busted on Friday. 

He said that he had been released from an emergency room four hours after his arrest. 

"They shot me up with a drug cocktail, I lay around at a doctor's house, and they released me." 

Michael was desperate for cigarette money, saying if he didn't get some cash for smokes, he'd steal them. I emptied out the slim assets in my billfold, $12, and handed it over. 

"I can get two packs with this," he noted. 

Michael doesn't remember which emergency room he was in, but he knows he didn't have to go to John George, a mental health treatment facility, something he had demanded, when he was arrested. 

Michael and I headed downtown for an agency I believed could help him. It was Sunday. I just wanted to show him the offices where someone could save him once more. Michael had been saved, and been lost, many times. 

First we had to visit the site where Michael had parked his shopping cart packed with his most recent belongings. 

He had parked his cart in a parking space behind a car. I pointed out that the car's owner would have busted the cart, and we moved it to a nearby walkway.  

Michael wanted to carry his broom. The broom was one of his shopping cart treasures. He said the broom showed he was willing to work. I said we should leave it behind. 

So we set out for downtown, without the broom. On our way, we discussed mutual friends, especially David, who was a schizophrenic who died a few years ago. It was David whom Michael was "contacting" when he was busted at the Med, calling in artillery directed by David, his field commander. 

Michael told a story from his childhood in Traverse City, Michigan, when he and his pals had dug a deep hole to China to bury a squirrel He had lived on a lake on the outskirts of town, he said. 

I had lived on such a lake the summer I worked in Traverse City, 50 years ago. This had been the basis of our friendship over the years. 

We now made our way to the mental health agency offices, closed, I thought, where I wanted Michael to go Monday. I just wanted to show him where it was. I got briefly lost, myself, but when I knocked on the door, someone directed us elsewhere after we asked him for a belt.  

Michael now desperately needed a belt to support his ill-fitting pants. We headed for Goodwill, where Michael lifted a belt.  

"How do you do that?" I asked. "They don't bother me," he said. He showed me a wallet he had lifted. The world was his oyster. 

In a Berkeley Shelter 

The homeless outreach program's caseworkers operate out of a basement in Berkeley's historic dstrict, across from Civic Center Park, and old City Hall (1906). Our destination, the 1928 Veteran's Memorial Building, has seen better days. It houses such agencies as the Berkeley Historical Society,and a Berkeley historical museum. 

But the basement belongs to a local drug and mental health program and a men's shelter. Emerging from a side walkway, we entered what had once been a splendid courtyard, but now hosting homeless men sprawled helplessly on the ground, perhaps waiting for shelter beds, not yet available. 

Michael had probably been there before. He noticed that I had taken a wrong turn, and declined to use the men's room, for some reason. He said that he absolutely wouldn't use it. 

The few men we saw inside seemed depressed. The man in charge showed us where Michael would go to meet with a case manager the next day, when the offices would be manned. 

Michael said there was no way he would ever stay in the men's shelter to our right—caged. That's right, three small "cells" with bunk beds secured by a metal gate. 

The shelter would not open for hours. Most of the men we saw were probably there to secure a bunk for the night. 

I considered the possibility dim that Michael could find his way to a case worker who could help him get his meds and disability check. No more than six months ago, I had directed him to help downtown, but he never made it there. 

Our visit was one day too soon to get help. 

As Michael lit up outside the memorial building, I said I'd walk ahead to the Berkeley library, a few blocks away. He said he'd catch up, but he didn't. 

I wasn't sure how I could arrange with him to go to the case worker, Monday, and remembered my own morning-appointment with my shrink, a possible schedule conflict.  

Too late, I realized I should have arranged to meet Michael at the Med,Monday and been his advocate with the case worker.  

The next day, when the case worker was available, it rained in torrents. Good for farmers, and reservoirs, but as a friend said—"not for the homeless."By mid-week, Michael had not shown up to see a case manager, even though he said he was unable to get his meds, or his disability check. 

Most of Ted Friedman's Planet articles begin on Berkeley's Southside, magnet for the mentally ill.

My Eventful Visit to a Zen Temple (First Person)

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:40:00 AM

My visit of a couple of years ago to a Zen place of worship has left me with some loose ends that I don't know exactly how to resolve. When I went there I had already practiced meditation of another sort, and had done this diligently. By the time I went to this Zen temple, I believe I already had achieved some degree of meditative attainment, and yet was not accustomed to Zen practices. 

I went there to the Zen temple to take a beginning class. However, I had been to a different Zen center before and I had read numerous books on Zen. So I was not completely unfamiliar with my surroundings. When one of the Zen masters said that I was holding the laminated sheet, and standing there with hands together in a "good" way, I instantaneously felt self conscious in the sense of awkwardness. I was surprised by my own reaction, and I was surprised by my reaction with receiving a compliment not being pleasurable. 

I was intimidated by the customs at this Zen center. There was a particular way the blanket was to be folded, and I couldn't master this. I was wearing shorts, which I was told I wasn't supposed to wear. I wondered what I would wear the following week, since I did not own sweatpants. I was surprised at the rationale for not wearing shorts. It was out of the concern that someone would be sexually aroused, and this would take away from the focus of that person upon the Buddha. When changing positions, one was not supposed to point one's legs toward the statue of the Buddha at the front of the meditation room, this was said to be obscene. However, my thought was that we were dealing with a statue which is an inanimate object, and so I believed that this rule made no sense. When bowing, there was a certain thing we were supposed to do with our hands that I could not master. Altogether, I was finding my visit to be an awkward enterprise. 

When finally meditating (and they had asked me to sit on the side since I could not fold my legs, I am too fat) I heard a voice in my head asking if I didn't want to be acknowledged, apparently as someone with attainment. My mental health background wanted me to classify this voice as a delusion. However, my meditative background did not urge me to do this. 

When taking shoes off and putting them back on, someone provided me with a stool, since I am a "big" man. I was dealing with people who, despite being very traditional, were extremely aware as well as being extremely considerate. 

After we meditated, either in the meditation hall or in the classroom, one of the Zen masters announced that the following week, they would be picking people for a discussion group. At that point, in the back of my mind, I was aware that I wouldn't be back. Discussion groups about meditation make me too "attached" concerning the amount of progress I have made. It is a way that my ego gets reinforced, and it seems to detract from my meditation attempts. This is a real issue for me regardless of whether my meditative progress is real or imagined. 

Later, there was some kind of hubbub among the Zen masters, and I could tell that the head Zen master was very upset about something. I was terrified at some point that an object might have fallen from my pocket during walking or sitting meditation. This object whether it rested on my seat or on the floor could have been perceived as a defilement of their meditation temple. No one confronted me about it, and it was probably my imagination that this happened. However, the head Zen master was upset about something, and I had no way of knowing what it was. 

When the master was exiting, one of the students in the classroom issued the word, "Fake." And I saw, for just an instant before he regained composure, the Zen master's head snapped toward the gentleman in anger. 

One of the points illustrated by this story is something that was said by a meditation practitioner who was a master or close to it, who worked at a Zen temple I went to in the 1980's: Becoming an ordained master in Zen Buddhism is not an indication of attainment, it is one of commitment. Secondly, you can devote your life to enlightenment and you can practice meditation for ten, twenty, or thirty years, yet you could still retain the seed of anger, which is an indication you're not "there" yet. There are some people who enter the doors of a Zen temple, or even some of those who enter the priesthood in the Christian religion, who do so because they can't deal with the messiness, disorganization and lack of safety in the normal, non meditative world. Escapism, it's called. 

My practice has always been directed toward getting some relief from my internal suffering, while at the same time, not depriving myself of any of the goodies or the difficulties of the non meditative world. It is not in my character to be a renunciant. Secondly, my life is too short to have the goal of being a perfect practitioner. If I feel somewhat better after meditating, I have accomplished something. 

I am sure that over the thousands of years since the Buddha lived, just as in Christianity, the original message has been distorted. Sometimes I try to imagine traveling back in time and being in the Buddha's or Jesus' presence so that I could receive the original message undiluted.

Cal “Occupy” Emerges Once Again (Photo Essay)

By Steven Finacom
Friday February 10, 2012 - 03:36:00 PM

The first good rainstorm of the year last week, and the fine weather that has followed, seem to have sparked a newly fertile “Occupy” demonstration on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. 

When I walked by in the early morning today, Thursday February 9, 2012, there was nothing except a few slogans scrawled in chalk on the plaza. At lunch time, there were a number of signs and objects and a circle of people sitting on the Savio Steps and talking. 

And, by mid-afternoon, when I went by on a work break, it seemed as if another full-fledged “Occupy” encampment was unfolding.  

Four small tents had been erected on the broad flat between the two tiers of steps, an information tent and tables were up, and a large red and white mushroom-like object was emplaced on the lawn. 

There were banners and signs aplenty, , some spread on the steps, others leaning against the portico of Sproul Hall, none yet tied to trees or taped to walls.  

Today's signage seemed to have two themes—one a play on upcoming Valentine’s Day (including a profusion of hearts, of various sizes, and an “Occupy Your Hearts” slogan) and the other solidarity with Occupy Oakland. “Oakland is our neighbor, not another planet,” read one banner.  

Another set of placards displayed pictures of the controversial police actions last Fall at the Berkeley campus and UC Davis Occupy encampments, each labeled “Administration Approved.” 

As I walked by, a man wearing a Guy Fawkes plastic mask—popularized by some in both the Occupy and ‘Anonymous’ movements—passed in the other direction saying into cell phone, “Hey, you want to come and occupy? They’re putting up tents.” 

The Daily Cal later reported that the gathering was on the 3rd month anniversary of November 9 protests last year, and that UC police had asked the demonstrators to take down the tents, and were refused. A “General Assembly” had been scheduled for 6:00 PM. The OccupyCalCampus twitter feed reported a little before 8:00 PM that "The dean of student affairs and two cops will be making an announcement...come participate in the dialogue..."  

Here are a number of pictures of the apparently budding demonstration. 

Link: https://sites.google.com/site/occupycalnet/

Occupy is Back at UC Berkeley

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday February 10, 2012 - 03:32:00 PM

Occupy Cal protesters have set up seven tents on Sproul Plaza on the University of California at Berkeley campus, according to a spokesman for the group. 

Navid Shaghaghi, a senior who is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, said protesters returned to Sproul Plaza on Thursday to mark the three-month anniversary of a large demonstration on Nov. 9 that resulted in about 40 people being arrested. 

"We're here to re-establish the occupation of our space and to display to the campus community that we haven't gone away," Shaghaghi said. UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes said campus police have issued repeated warnings to the protesters that it is a violation of university policy to have tents on campus. 

Holmes said police "are continuing to monitor the situation" but haven't made any arrests or confiscated any tents so far. 

In addition to marking the anniversary of the Nov. 9 arrests, Shaghaghi said protesters are back at Sproul Plaza because "not much has changed since last time." 

He said although the UC Board of Regents has postponed tuition increases, students are still worried that tuition will be increased in the near future. 

"There's still a lot of stuff to be worked through," Shaghaghi said. 

He said protesters are in the process of deciding whether to continue their encampment at Sproul Plaza over the weekend or to disband and then return on Monday. 

Shaghaghi said about 30 people slept at Sproul Plaza Thursday night. 

He said they've participated in a variety of activities, including dancing and playing Frisbee, soccer and chess. 

"It's been very exciting and a great community-building event," Shaghaghi said. 

He said Occupy Cal protesters and activists at other campuses across the state will stage large protests the first week of March to ask for more funding for education. 

Holmes said university officials understand the protesters' concerns about tuition costs and are trying to communicate with protesters that they're working hard to keep tuition costs affordable and point out that about 65 percent of students receive at least some financial aid. 

About 40 percent of students have all of their costs paid by financial aid, Holmes said.

Berkeley People's Park Tree-Poker Convicted for Convictions While Sticking Up For Indian Rights

By Ted Friedman
Friday February 10, 2012 - 06:38:00 PM

Even though I had vowed to cover the story to the bitter end, the end became too bitter for me.  

The case had begun in January when a tree-sitter poked a man in the hand with a camping knife in People's Park, and was charged, first, with attempted murder, then assault with a deadly weapon, and eventually possession of a police helmet. 

But, when Matt ("Midnight") Dodt was convicted, last week, of trespassing, during a three-month tree-sit in People's Park, and, aiming a laser at a university cop (twice), I was not covering the three-day trial. Dodt had refused my many attempts to interview him. 

Word was, Dodt and his friend, Judith Gipps, disliked my reporting of Dodt's People's Park tree-sit protest, which began in November. Gipps had been critical, when I called what she called a "poking"—a stabbing. 

In fact I had reported from the first, and exclusively, that the "stabbing" was probably a poking. The poking "victim," Drayco, refused medical treatment for 24 hours, before university police coaxed him into their squad car, and drove him to an emergency room. 

I also reported that university police were, reportedly, lazering Dodt days before the poking that ended in the protest.  

I was the first reporter on the scene when Dodt, allegedly, "stabbed" Drayco in a tree with a camping knife. Drayco was not, as reported in all media last week, coming up Matt's tree to "talk to him." 

Drayco was on his way up to kick Dodt's ass. Drayco had been drinking with Sasquatch all afternoon in People's Park's dysfunctional strip, the West End, where they concluded that Dodt and his half-assed sit-in had outlived their usefulness in the park. 

I saw Drayco in action recently at Occupy Berkeley, as he boasted to the general assembly that he was going to plank ("re-bar") someone to restore OB's purloined kitchen. I had been trying to interview Drayco for months, but that won't happen. 

Drayco is in Santa Rita Jail serving a sentence for planking someone at the OB tent-city, perhaps over OB's kitchen. 

No, Drayco was not on his way up Dodt’s tree for a meet-and-greet. A witness on the ground at the time of the stabbing, at 9 p.m. (I got there at 9:30) told me the conversation went like this: "[indistinct], then, Dodt: well if you feel that way, come on up, then."  

UCPD later used that against Dodt when they charged him, reporting that Dodt had invited Drayco up the tree. I've seen Drayco worked up, as he was that night. He's not the inviting type. 

Police first charged Dodt with attempted murder, claiming he tried to slit Drayco's throat. 

I wondered where Dodt, a peaceful local activist, who worked eight years for the SF Coalition to End Homlessness, had picked up his self defense skills. "Matt had lived in the Tenderloin," I was told. 

Why then was Dodt not mounting a self-defense case? 

According to a source close to the case, the three-day courtroom drama rested on behind the scenes maneuvering. The aiming a laser charge—had not Dodt's sentence been suspended—could have led to more jail time. 

Dodt had previously served two months at Santa Rita Alameda County Jail.  

It is little wonder that Dodt, and his friend dislike me. From the start of the ninety-day tree sit in the North east section of People's Park, I had poked fun. With me it was all about humanizing the story, sometimes at Matt's expense. 

Only after the alleged stabbing had I learned what a brave and dedicated activist Dodt was. But that was too late to do anyone any good. 

I wrote Dodt's attorney a character reference for a probation hearing, which Dodt lost. 

The first time I talked to Matt in November, he had just gone up the tree. One of his complaints was that a city council candidate had dissed People's Park. I returned the next day with the news that the council candidate had lost. What would Matt come up with next? 

Matt was waiting for Running Wolf to cook something up. RW, who organized the successful Oak Grove protest, noted that the Oak Grove action (at Memorial Stadium) had grown slowly, and that the People's Park action could build, much the same way. 

Eventually, the tree sit was protesting bad treatment of the homeless, and claiming Ohlone owned the park. 

There is no evidence for the Ohlone claim, and even Ohlone aren't interested. 

According to the scant (150 word) Chronicle coverage of Dodt's three-day-trial, Matt responded to an illegal lodging charge by contending that the university did not own the park, but that Ohlone Indians did. 

Wouldn't it be wiser to argue that Dodt's illegal tenancy was with tacit consent, since university cops were leaving him in the tree,—until the poking incident? 

As the university operations officer on the scene the night of the arrest told me, 

"we're aware of Berkeley's tradition of protest, and we try to respect that," but he added, "I don't think this protest was very effective." Perhaps Dodt disliked my reporting the officer's assessment. 

But enough, with the Perry-Mason second guessing. 

Now Dodt is on three-years probation, and has a stay-away from People's Park and the university—an order—he had wanted to avoid. 

He had his three days in court, and he cost the university a lot of time and money. For Matt, and Running Wolf, that's a victory, not a conviction. 

And Matt, don't go away mad, man. 


Ted Friedman lives a hop-skip-and-jump from the scene of the poking in the park. Two more tree-sits followed that of Matt Dodt.

Mental Health Day at Caffe Med Goes Haywire; Cops, Once More, Invade Coffee House of Whack

By Ted Friedman
Friday February 10, 2012 - 05:54:00 PM
Rat-trapped at Caffe Med, Friday, a mentally-ill man, with flare, is surrounded by police, who "just want to help."
Ted Friedman
Rat-trapped at Caffe Med, Friday, a mentally-ill man, with flare, is surrounded by police, who "just want to help."
"David, send in support; they're surrounding me."  A 5150 incident at Caffe Med, Friday
Ted Friedman
"David, send in support; they're surrounding me." A 5150 incident at Caffe Med, Friday

You could almost have seen it coming. 

I was talking to a Berkeley Mental Health commissioner outside the Caffe Med, about mental health, Thursday, when my old friend Michael moved in. Michael has experimented with schizophrenia for the thirty-five years I've known him. 

I say "experimented" because Michael is one of those schizophrenics who seem to relish it. Still, he certainly topped himself, Friday. 

He was together enough, according to the look-the-other-way system that makes me the cold-blooded mammal I am. He moved into my conversation with the mental health commissioner, greeting me, disrupting the conversation, and shoulder butting me, in a friendly way. 

He was mildly demented. This time, though, he seemed amused by it all. Any paramedic would have called it mania. 

I had noticed him earlier, going through the most-shopped trash can in all of Berkeley--the one not far from the door of the Caffe Mediterraneum. The pickings were lean. But something always turns up. 

He pulled out a plastic bag full of empty styrofoam containers, and twirled it above his head. 

Although, I didn't speak with Michael until later, in the evening, I was aware of his movements, as he darted about the Med. He seemed momentarily cured, as he spoke with me of mutual friends. I hoped he wouldn't threaten me. 

Thirty-five years ago, our friends--his roommates--warned me that Michael was "dangerous." 

Six months ago I had offered to walk him to treatment, at an agency downtown. 

Last week I warned the owner of the Med to keep an eye on Michael, having previously vouched for him. 

Perhaps my conflicted views on Michael stem from my own shaky mental health, which was what the health commissioner and I were discussing earlier. Later, I saw the name of my condition on the cover of a book being read at an adjoining table. 

I browsed the self-help book. 

Although Michael had been asked to leave repeatedly, he now was having his way with the Med. I hardly noticed. I was lost in the clouds in my laptop. 

Then a cop came in. I was about to tell her that the owner was not in. She was looking for someone. 

That someone was Michael, I learned soon enough. And before I could piece it all together, Michael was trapped, like a rat in a trap, at the rear of the caffe up against the counter-rail, in front of the kitchen. There was no way out, and Michael didn't like it. 

He was surrounded now by four cops. Every move they made was a threat to him. That's when he contacted his personal field commander, David, and called in the heavy artillery, complete with sound effects. 

But his connection was stalling, and he had to keep asking if David was "getting" him. 

I found myself digging the whole scene, but suspected that was part of my own mental condition. I hadn't known Michael could be so amusing. 

When the cops got Michael out the door, he had a large audience of passersby, who may have thought Telegraph was under siege, beneath the flashing lights of five Berkeley Police squad cars. A fire engine, and a paramedic ambulance, joined the festivities. 

Michael might have been playing the crowd, except that he seemed to notice only the paramedics, and cops. He got off a few threats, like "I'm going to kill you," and a paramedic, replied, "we're paramedics; we're here to help you." 

On-lookers found it hard to suppress guffaws when Michael said the cops were up his butt. 

A street guy, who had had problems with Michael earlier, was saying Michael was getting what he deserved. "I don't care if he is sick; he's a pain in the ass, and I hope they take him away for good," the street guy observed. 

But Michael saved his best stuff for his exeunt. As they lifted his gurney into the van, Michael noted, with an amazed glare, "Oh-oh this is a nine balls hoist--a real balls breaker. Watch your balls!" 

The incident had cleared the Med, except for hardcore Medheads, who have seen it all. I was questioned by a cop, after identifying myself as a long-time friend of Michael's. The cop was glad to learn Michael's name, and place of birth, but I didn't know what meds he needed, or how to contact his friends. 

The old crowd we hung with at the Med thirty years ago is gone, and I realized I had been long out of touch with Michael--except for when he is driven into the streets. 


Ted Friedman has written extensively on the Med for the Planet. Google: tedberkeleydailyplanetmed to see other Med stories.



CIR-BayCit Merger: What's in It for Places like Berkeley?

By Becky O'Malley
Monday February 13, 2012 - 01:16:00 PM

What’s up with local news these days? How is it going to be possible, in the brave new world of the corporate future, to find out what’s going around home? Here’s what one Berkeley-based superflack has to say about it on her blog:

“Merging CIR with The Bay Citizen and Berkeleyside.com would be a northern California media lover's wet dream.”

Do we believe that? And even, do most consumers of local news know what she’s talking about? 

Just to test the waters, I asked an old friend, a Richmond resident, someone who follows local politics, what he thought of the idea. 

“CIR?” he said. “Is that the place you used to work?” 

Well, yes, but that was a good 30 years ago, and a lot of water has gone over the dam since then. He had no recent image of what any non-profit with those initials might be up to these days. 

(For those who don’t know, CIR is a non-profit which describes itself as “the oldest nonprofit investigative news group in the nation”. It’s now in Berkeley, with previous digs in San Francisco and Oakland.) 

How about the Bay Citizen? “Bay Citizen?” he said quizzically. No idea what that might be. 

How about Berkeleyside.com? “Something about Berkeley, right?” He doesn’t have much interest in Berkeley stories (even though recently he did run across the mayor of Berkeley accompanying his wife to a Richmond Chamber of Commerce crab feed.) 

He gets most of his news from the Bay Area News Group, notably its West County Times/Contra Costa Times outlets, like his parents before him when the CoCo Times was locally owned. Sometimes he hears about specific stories in RichmondConfidential.com and looks them up online. 

And then there was this voicemail message from a longtime Berkeley acquaintance: 

“What do you know about the merger between the Warren Hellman groups that I read about in the Chronicle? It sounds like they have a lot of money, but I wonder what kind of politics they have. One of them had “Berkeley” in the name—have you heard of them?” 

She said she’d just been reading the Planet before she called, and seen the press release about the merger that we posted. She’d also seen the deal mentioned in the Chronicle, but couldn’t sort out what was happening. Unlike many, she’s still a Chron subscriber, though she decries the lack of local news in it. 

Another alternative for people like her is the Berkeley Voice, which is dropped free on Hills doorsteps. It’s one of the multiple weekly manifestations of BANG reporting. These localized weeklies often rerun the same copy which can be found in the CoCo Times, the Oakland Times, the San Jose Mercury and many more. Some kind of downsizing is going on there, though I’m not up on the current details. 

The real question, it seems to me, is who needs news, anyway? And is what they want “news”, or just “media”? 

What’s the media mediating these days, if it’s not the news? 

Well, there’s a lot of entertainment being passed off via various media as news, at all levels. A modicum of actual reported news produced by real reporters is endlessly recirculated and re-packaged, a process called “aggregation” if stories are reproduced verbatim. The practice of embedding a few news stories in a mass of fluff is especially bad in online publications, with Huffington Post the worst example. 

So who’s got news, real old-fashioned news news? 

RichmondConfidential.org , which describes itself as an “online news service”, has news, for one. Currently online: a riveting report of courtroom dialogue in the racial discrimination lawsuit filed by African-American police officers against Richmond's popular new (and gay) chief. 

And why is this? Because they’ve got reporters, at least 15 of them, along with editors and other useful personnel. How can they pay for all this talent? They’re students, working free or cheap, that’s how. And they have grants, too, as well as professional teachers, courtesy of the UC Berkeley Journalism School. But they’re inexperienced and from out of town, and their work suffers as a result. One of them interviewed my Richmond friend once, and he described her as clueless. 

Which brings us to the central question: who pays for reporting? 

Money, honey, was behind Warren Hellman’s gallant attempt to close the news gap by giving $5 million to start Bay Citizen. For those of you who still don’t know about it, Bay Citizen is an online attempt to replace the function of daily print newspapers, now disappearing in droves because advertisers no longer want to pick up the tab for publishing on paper. From its site: “The Bay Citizen delivers daily on its mission to enhance civic and community news coverage in the Bay Area, foster civic engagement and stimulate innovation in journalism.” 

Even though Hellman's friends and other funders kicked in another $12 million, however, no one much seems to be reading the Bay Citizen. In truth, as compared even to the Chronicle, it simply doesn’t deliver much news—seemingly no more than a couple of stories a day, and only some of those hard news. It has done some good stories, but those (and this is also true of the Chronicle) are more like magazine stories than like the hot hard news which used to be a staple of the daily press. 

Which leaves the last media category which my flack friend included in her wet dream: the one that is sometimes called “hyperlocal”. Such web-based publications often use blog software and blog-like formats, even when they bristle at being called blogs. Reader comments are a big part of the package. 

The better ones like Berkeleyside.com are locally produced with home-based talent. Some are non-profit, but the for-profit ones like Berkeleyside solicit local ads. Hope springs eternal—but clearly these ads are not numerous enough to pay many bills, even though costs are much lower than those for print publications. 

The Patch chain, owned by AOL like the Huffington Post, supplies a hyperlocal template into which solo local editors can paste ultra-hyperlocal stories. Classic “Breaking News Alert” example from a recent El Cerrito Patch: El Cerrito Police Dog, King, Dies From Sudden Illness.  

The difficulty, really, is that the best feature of hyperlocal sites, is just that: they cover the small stuff. For residents of small towns like El Cerrito or bedroom suburbs like Berkeley, this kind of news is comfort food. Merging hyperlocals with regional sites like Bay Citizen or those with statewide and national aspirations like the Center for Investigative Reporting would destroy the brand, unless the bonding were simply corporate, a la the Patch-HuffPo affliliation. 

Here’s the rest of the text of the publicist’s Berkeley Blog's take on the BayCit-CIR merger: 

“The force behind this merger seems to be Warren Hellman, now deceased, but while alive, a philanthropic founder and ongoing supporter of The Bay Citizen and a close friend of [CIR board chair Phil] Bronstein. It seems to me these nonprofits can leverage the combined talents of their journalists, photographers, web architects, operators, and funders to become the dominant media provider for citizens in the San Francisco Bay Area, if not for all northern Californians. I'd like to see Berkeleyside.com joining the mix as a feeder for local news from one of the greatest university towns in the world. Berkeley is also a global leader in initiating social, political, economic, agronomic, educational, and other memes that are well covered by the savvy editorial triumvirate at Berkeleyside.com (consisting of two Brits and one Hellman dynasty offspring).  

Seeing the dead hand of Warren Hellman reaching from the grave to control Northern California media, even extending into Berkeley, might appear to be a bit of a stretch, though he did seem to have had an interest in all three organizations. It is, however, noteworthy that the press release announcing the merger listed the San Francisco Foundation’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications as the contact person. Hellman, once chair of the Foundation’s board, was widely believed to be the dominant force in that organization as he was in many others. Maybe she’s on to something here. 

A similar but more cynical take on the situation came from commenter Clifford Barney on the Bay Citizen’s site after the potential merger was announced: [formatting sic] 

from peter lewis's story on the naming of an interim ceo for the baycit:  

“According to 2010 tax documents, The Bay Citizen had $11.4 million in revenue in 2010, primarily from private donations and foundation grants. The company reported $3.6 million in expenses in 2010, including $456,918 in salary, bonuses and other compensation for Frazier, and $261,330 in salary and other compensation for Jonathan Weber, the founding editor-in-chief of the news operation.” 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/15zCc

"According to tax documents, CIR in 2010 reported total revenue of $2.4 million, down from $4.2 million a year earlier, while total expenses rose to $4.6 million, compared to just under $2 million for 2009. Tax records indicate that CIR paid its executive director, Robert Rosenthal, $203,750 in 2010." 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/15zCc

so despite paying 20 percent of its income to just two people, the baycit finished 2010 substantially in the black. cir spent twice as much as it brought in. 

phil bronstein knows where to save nearly two million in expenses and salaries; how wonderful for cir. will cir also take over whatever cash the baycit has left? because it looks as though this "merger" resembles, as a.j. liebling would have it, the way the shark merges with its prey. 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/15AQr)” 

Tacking on one or more hyperlocals wouldn’t do much for the principals if this is the real deal, would it? I haven’t factchecked Barney’s scenario, so he might be right, but he might not. 

Another rampant rumor is that the latest Bay Citizen editor-in-chief, Steve Fainaru, a real reporter with street cred, quit in disgust because of Phil Bronstein’s proposed role as the paid chair of the merged entity. I haven’t been able to check that one either, since Fainaru wisely hasn’t answered my emails or returned my calls. Bronstein’s stints first at the old Chronicle and then at the Hearst Examiner which expropriated it were not well received by working newsies. 

As in many such situations, we’ll have to leave this one in the “Time Will Tell” column. The time, in this case, is the 30 day window that the two non-profits have given themselves to cement the merger. 

If it’s consummated, it might just become the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it goes down, will anyone be listening? Time, indeed, will tell.

The Editor's Back Fence

Why We've Been Slow and How Not to Miss Anything

Monday February 13, 2012 - 10:56:00 PM

Our server, maintained by a third party and located on their premises, has been subject to unexplained slowwdowns in the past few days, which is why we've been late posting some articles. Please check the front page, including the list of the articles over the last week in its right-hand column, to be sure not to miss anything. We hope that the problem has been fixed.


Odd Bodkins: Trouble on the Border (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday February 10, 2012 - 06:59:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Friends (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Friday February 10, 2012 - 07:18:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

The Activism Entry Point: Critiquing The Cancer in Occupy Debate

By Joseph Anderson
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 07:31:00 AM

Well, by now everyone in the Occupy movement is hotly debating "nonviolence" vs. "diversity of tactics", as recently so in, "Chris Hedges and Kristof Lopaur of Occupy Oakland debate black bloc, militancy and tactics," February 8, 2012, on KPFA in Berkeley, California.

Both Lopaur and Hedges made some critically weak, flawed, at times somewhat disingenuous or self-contradictory and, in Lopaur's case, often specious arguments in their radio debate. This so, even though I politically agree with Hedges, and although Hedges' recent commentary, "The Cancer in Occupy," seemed, journalistically, poorly supported. But, Hedges is dead on about, 'Go do violence under your own name, not the Occupy movement's.' 

Hedges would have been better off just writing his opinion, presented analytically, but he deserves great credit for using his stature to get an "Anarchist"-suppressed, but mortally important, debate firmly out in the open and over progressive airwaves. Let me say that both of them have respectively done very good progressive work. 

This is my partial, but most important, analytical response to Kristof Lopaur's (and those he represents) support for Black Bloc, or otherwise, "diversity of tactics" in the Occupy Movement. My main point: Occupy Oakland, and the Occupy movement, cannot have both a diversity of people and a "diversity of tactics" at this time – and the movement can't shortcut the process of attaining, and retaining, the first by jumping to the second. 

As most Occupy activists know by now, "diversity of tactics" is primarily, so-called, "Anarchist"/Black Bloc code phrase euphemism for advocating autonomous vandalism and gratuitous property destruction (against even small businesses and movement-sympathetic owners or managers) and recently a program of regular, police confrontation marches (lately toned down). 

However, all these kinds of actions – either disconnected from, transiently tangential to, or occurring long after the main events – actually involve a tiny percentage of marchers or limited instances; nevertheless, when especially played up by the media, the public are quite unsympathetic and even hostile to them. Among the latest instances were the vandalism at, followed by the American flag-burning on the very steps of, City Hall. 

At the last large march, on January 28, corrugated metal or long wooden 'battle shields' were futilely deployed at the front line ostensibly to protect other marchers – dramatic but ineffective actions – but the TV news visuals made it appear from a distance as if their true purpose was aggressive. (On TV or in news photos, from a distance, you couldn't necessarily see the peace signs on the shields, a mixed visual anyway.) 

When the public sees these visuals, they can easily be manipulated by the police, mayor and media into believing virtually any lies or distortions about Occupy Oakland events. This enables the media – portraying out-of-chronology or even geographically unrelated, exaggerated, TV news video repetitions of vandalism (including graffiti defacings) – to easily convince the public that there was "widespread violence," thus providing a pretext to justify the indiscrminate police beatings and torturously drawn-out mass arrests (using bitingly cinched plastic wire handcuffs) that took place long before any vandalism occurred. On the January 28 march, *409* marchers were arrested – virtually all of them guilty of only being "kettled" by the cops! 

But, there has always been opposition within Occupy Oakland to violence (as commonly understood). That opposition within understands, in addition to any possible violence (or "diversity of tactics") from within an Occupy, the ability of the police, and ultimately the 1%, to exploit such violence by even inspiring or instigating it (especially, childish, indiscriminate or politically unintelligible acts). Thus, this also leaves an Occupy vulnerable and open to police agent provocateur actions that create alienation within the movement or a huge public opinion backlash against it – which is, after all, exactly what provocateur work is meant to accomplish!: discredit the movement, scare people from joining it, and thus divide the working public. 

Highly sectarian leftist militant ideologues constantly show that they don't even know how to relate to, or verbally and, just as importantly, visually communicate with ordinary people (by comparison, right-wing organizers understand this far better). Very few people are ready to jump directly from political inactivity (except merely voting) straight to hardcore militant, 'armed,' so-called, 'revolutionary' action, as Lopaur apparently advocates – let alone to start The Worldwide Armed Revolution To Overthrow Global Capitalism and Western Imperialism – today! 

But, political movements not only open to, but enthusiastically calling on, the general public to join need to first build up mass numbers – a diversity of people – before they can (as economic and political times get much more dire, urgent and, otherwise, essentially futureless, as in Greece) then support various forms of growing militancy for fundamental, perhaps even radical, change. 

This could be militancy, like greater direct mass action, like general strikes, or tens of thousands of people shutting down a major port or other critical centers, nodes or points of capitalist commerce or production. This so, even then not necessarily engaging in violence, but rather engaging people power – mass action's greatest resource – to pursue actions which are not only militant but hugely popular! The marchers acclaimed and the public didn't scorn the huge banner, "DEATH TO CAPITALISM!!," boldly strung across the intersection of Oakland City Center during the massive Oakland "General Strike" rally there. 

Actually, I never considered social, global and economic justice and human rights to be a morally "militant" or "radical" cause; to me, mass oppression, systematic injustice, violating people's human rights, the patriarchal control of women, legalized state murder, or neo-/colonial theft of another people's land, is what's militant and radical. 

But, those mass numbers for mass actions will only continue to build up – and be retained – if there is an entry point mass movement, even if nonviolently militant, that many political activism newcomers feel relatively safe in joining and participating with in mass direct actions – and where these newcomers feel they can reasonably trust the judgements of the organizers. 

I couldn't risk the further judgement of those, especially organizers, in Occupy Oakland who have an absolute ideological stranglehold against ANY "nonviolence" resolution. That stranglehold failed to realize that such a resolution was critical to Occupy Oakland's actions, public perception and success: to define itself based on nonviolence regardless of the actions of others. 

A generous but failed resolution, called a "Proposal on 'Action Agreements'," that I and others presented, was critical, so that the mayor, the chief-of-police, the chamber of commerce, and the mainstream media couldn't repeatedly blame and try to smear Occupy Oakland for increasing crime and for every act of violence that occured literally anywhere in Oakland, as though crime had never been happening in this big city before. Their #1 weapon is to directly associate Occupy Oakland with violence. 

In fact, downtown Oakland felt a lot safer at the time, instead of steadily and ominously semi-deserted at night, while the police chief and the mayor hid the following information: except for, then and afterwards, a huge spike in violence in downtown Oakland by the police, crime in Oakland actually dropped by 20% during the Occupy Oakland encampment. 

The now national Occupy movement, acting as it began at this stage of great public disaffection with the economic and political state of affairs, even against the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop', duopolistic, corporatist and militaristic political parties, starts as just such an entry point – especially with highly visible, physical, citizen centers, the Occupy encampments themselves. There was a place people could go to politically talk to people 24 hours a day, create a community oriented to human needs, and even creatively organize direct mass actions. 

OWS began a mass, public, political, citizens' civic engagement and organizing hub for many ordinary, but finally 'had-it,' people who realize that the current economic and political system is not serving "us" – not serving human needs (the 99%, especially of the world), but rather corporate greed (the 1%). A diversity of people were interacting and even living with a diversity of people ! 

Given this groundswell ferment, Occupy movement activists should be most concerned with building up that level of engagement and participation – gaining a diversity of people – rather than ideologically pushing autonomous "diversity of tactics," an "Anarchist"/ Black Bloc agenda to jump-start and lead "The Revolution!" And "autonomous" means too few people, or individuals, too unaccountable, deciding too important decisions, with too critical consequences for us all: sounds like the system of government we have now! The consequences on the rest of us are not "autonomous." 

The ideological agenda, imposed on the movement, would contain the seeds of the movement's own destruction. Or, at least the destruction of Occupy Oakland as a movement: it could otherwise survive paramilitarized police excesses and brazen brutality – exposing that the city can come up with millions of dollars for that and, perhaps, a million more in the always almost inevitable legal costs negotiating lawsuits for committing egregious bodily injuries and un-Constitutional mass arrests. 

In order to achieve a diversity of people, there has to be at least one general mass movement that is an entry point for people to get involved in the original goals of OWS, including demanding an alternative to the political and even economic system. But, Kristof Lapaur and the "Anarchists"/Black Bloc want this entry point movement to be one that is not committed to nonviolence (as commonly understood, not ideologically hairsplit), but indeed advocates violence (or whatever Kristof and the parochial ideologues ideologically want to call it) from the start! 

The "Anarchists"/Black Bloc (and Kristof) really seem to want to turn the Occupy movement into some kind of 'armed' guerrilla or, at least, Black Bloc, movement!: "We have to learn how to move cohesively through the streets, to take offensive [it originally said "attack"] and defensive initiatives..." (Pgh. 7, Statement of the OO Move-In Cmte's, reading like all sanguine PR releases, talking about everything but the critical problem: it never once mentioned continuing, headline-stealing, public-alienating vandalism or, lastly, flag burning). 

Lately, at certain, especially, much smaller, weekly, nighttime, "F The Police!" marches, organizers and leading participants would appear to engage in regular passive-aggressive confrontations (again, recently toned down) with the police. They played cat-&-mouse, with the march aimlessly winding over the entire downtown area and, often, surrounding neighborhoods, with no particular, practical goal. A weekly schedule of nighttime, traffic-snarling, merchants-angering exercise of directly confronting the cops – however much they do deserve it – in the streets of Oakland might make us – often brutalized by the police – feel good, but begins to lose its message, displaces that of the Occupy movement, and confuses the general public, turned off, after a while. 

What the "Anarchists"/Black Bloc contingent within Occupy Oakland has really done is, too often, snatch movement dismay or public anger from the jaws of complete victory, or 'would-be' victory. (Like, the January 28, "Move-In" march, another relatively large, peaceful [except for the police], festive turnout, showing sustained interest, even if, with the planners' methods, an ill-considered objective, Occupying the mammoth Kaiser Auditorium.) This so, 'actually doing the work of the 1%,' by subsequently generating: 

(a) negative TV news video headlines and great public disappointment (over indiscriminate downtown vandalism, naturally played up and generalized by the TV media), after an otherwise unimaginably successful day of the Oakland General Strike rally and, respectively, two massively huge nonviolent port shutdowns by up to 50,000 people, with the, otherwise, overwhelming support of a public that was awed, deeply moved, and morally with us; 

(b) later, even more negative TV news video headlines (distracting the public from even more OPD excesses and brutality that would have been the headlines) and public backlash (after city hall vandalism and American flag-burning on its very steps), instead of the same overwhelming public sympathy that UC Berkeley and Davis students and academics – who sustained the moral high ground – when they suffered brazen police brutality (the only TV news headline videos available because the students didn't 'cooperate' with the mainstream media's penchant exaggerations of, hypothetically, any student violence); 

Given the above, how is the ordinary person – who doesn't want to directly provoke, goad or engage in weekly, nighttime, mock, let alone any real, streetfighting against the police, who doesn't want to advocate, condone, or physically associate with vandalism and gratuitous property destruction in the streets of their city (let alone flag-burning and accusations of destroying children's art at City Hall), who doesn't want to be a part of that particular kind of group or movement, and who doesn't know what possible escalation of violence to expect next from such a group – supposed to feel comfortable (or even physically or legally safe) participating in such a movement? 

How do self-indulgent Black Bloc advocates compare smashing a few local business windows, setting a couple of overturned dumpsters on fire, or burning the flag for a moment, back in downtown Oakland, to, instead, a major port shutdown by 50,000 peaceful marchers for miles!? And what do you think the TV news would lead with?: "Violence again from Occupy Oakland...!" But, the greatest successes of Occupy Oakland have always been nonviolently achieved. 

Under "diversity of tactics," would an ordinary person want their employer and workplace, their church, synagogue or mosque (especially given state surveillance or criminal entrapment against Muslims), or any other social institutions to which they belong, to find out – let alone their friends and neighbors find out – that that they are actually a participant in such a movement? That kind of movement is going to alienate most people – the very kind the organizers claim they want to attract. But, I have my doubts about that claim, to hear those parochial ideologues at Occupy Oakland, including Kristof, who smack more of insular, elite vanguardism. 

Without any safe entry point mass movement for newcomers to join, the movement, especially the Occupy Oakland movement, will stagnate, dwindle down, and turn into just another politically irrelevant, small, narrow group of ideological true believers and buzzflies, incapable of any unsuppressed, true, open self-examination and, thus, who, themselves, will never succeed in meaningfully changing anything in society. 

Or, as one veteran activist anguishedly said to me, "It's sad to think that this could be just another promising [but illusory] burst of energy that's just going to wither away with sharp dissension [and regularly alienatingly controversy that fatigues people's souls and steals the main goals and successes] and flagging interest." Like, 'Oh, no..., those people again...' 

FYI: see "Proposal on 'Action Agreements'," November 20, 2011; ref. under OccupyOakland.org, Open Forum tab, Discussion, "Did DOT Pass GA?," posted February 7, 2012:by Joseph Anderson, February 8, 2012: "Nonviolence" resolution proposal presented to the Occupy Oakland General Assembly... 


Joseph Anderson is a Berkeley, CA, resident; a longtime, progressive, grassroots political and global justice activist; an occasional political commentary contributor to various publications on issues usually ranging from Black-stereotyping (including by white liberal- & media-coronated Black-on-Black 'tough-love celebrities'), police brutality, and the Israel lobby and Zionism from a true leftist perspective; has occasionally been interviewed on KPFA and elsewhere in the media; has contributed on-the-scene citizen reporting for the prominent progressive Bay Area-based journalist, Davey D; and author of, "Same-old-same-old from the corporate media [and police]: the Oakland Justice for Oscar Grant protests".

February Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday February 10, 2012 - 07:22:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Reviving Berkeley Restaurants in Tents on Burned-Out Building Site: How It Could be Done

By Thomas Lord
Friday February 10, 2012 - 03:46:00 PM

There's plans afoot to perhaps reboot Raleigh's and Intermezzo using modified shipping containers and tents in lieu of a more elaborate structure to get them going quickly. A third restaurant may enter the picture.

I think that's clever and has a lot of relevance to the local economy as impacts the 99%, so to speak.

So I wrote this open letter to the architect: 

Dear Peterson,  

Your materials choices here—tents and shipping containers—refer to a contemporary aesthetic that anticipates a post-apocalyptic, grim, meat-hook future. "Let's skip the earthquake and go straight to the tents." So I see you as an architect getting out in front of this dark future. Prettying it up. You have made excellently realistic choices with a solid chance of appealing to the youth of today who rightfully suspect that your voluntary selection of materials may yet reflect their own inescapable necessities before long. We all might soon be living in shanty-towns and shipping containers, so, yeah. This. Opening weekend will be huge, knock on wood. 

What I want to caution you about here is the problem of Authenticity. 

The grim, meat-hook, shipping-container future that haunts our collective nightmares is to be made bearable, they say, partly by three elements: 

(1) The crafty and improvisational repurposing of at-hand materials in an era of personal scarcity and against a backdrop of indifferently oppressive corporate dominance; 

(2) The semi-reliable provision of half-decent beer, food, and collective self-entertainment as form of distraction from the unending dark void which is become our collective near future; and 

(3) Productive participation, not passive consumption, as the primary role in local community. 

Now your design sets off on the right foot for (1) and (2) just fine, if you ask me—but it's on the question of the (3) that I think you need to think about the problem of Authenticity. 

The essence of your design is that nothing precious is risked. The structure can go up quickly and provide community function - - but it can as easily be taken down and replaced. By this same logic it can continuously change, in form and function. 

Now please turn that into a cycle, at least for a while. Let this structure be continuously remade, and its use be continuously tweaked for as long as it lasts. Many of the kids these days, partly thanks to the Burning Man and Shipyard and other blow-hard types, are acquiring all kind of relevant valuable crafts in metal-work, glass-work, painting, music creation, music presentation, video projection, cloth-work, yadda yadda yadda..... Damn do-gooders, what with their doing good all the time and such. The culture which is the authentic host of the "maker" aesthetic to which your design refers is also host to a wealth of up-and-coming craftspeople whose ongoing participation in the structure you propose would give you (3)—that Authenticity—"productive participation, not passive consumption, as the primary role in local community". Let the users hack and evolve it.


EATS, SHOOTS 'N' LEAVES:Amyris Drops Out of the Agrofuel Business

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 14, 2012 - 12:05:00 PM

Yep, Amyris [previously], the UC Berkeley-spawned company born of Bill Gates bucks to create an antimalarial drug then reincarnated as a corporation dedicated to creating fuels from plants, is dropping out of the fuel game — in precisely the same way it left the drug business. 

Ken Bullis of MIT’s Technology Review explains: 

Amyris said it’s giving up making fuels too. Instead, it will to focus on higher value products, such as moisturizers for cosmetics. The company learned firsthand just how difficult it is to achieve the kind of yields seen in lab tests in large-scale production. In an update call for investors, CEO John Melo said he is “humbled by the lessons we have learned.” 

This is a common theme for advanced biofuels companies. Range Fuels, one of the first of the current crop of companies, recently went out of business. Others are giving up on making biofuels too, also hoping to break into markets for higher value chemicals. Although they may be able to get more money per liter of product, some experts warn that these markets are also highly competitive. 

Amyris’s technology may still be used to make renewable fuels, but this will happen not at Amyris, but under joint ventures established with Total and Cosan. These ventures will need to build up their own production capacity, Melo told analysts. 

Read the rest

Amyris was created by Jay Keasling, who holds appointments at both UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The firm’s original purpose was to produce a low-cost version of artemisin, an antimalarial drug normally derived from the artemisia, the wormwood plant. 

Amyris bioengineers genetically tweaked microbes to excrete the chemical, but dreams of lowering costs failed to materialize, and the technology was handed over to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis to produce the drug for no profit. 

Meanwhile, thousands of small farmers who relied on growing artemisia face the prospect of loss of livelihood, given the pharma giant’s powerful marketing machinery. 

So having failed to produce a low cost drug, Amyris turned to tweaking microbes to digest cellulose, in hopes of producing fuels. 

But again costs got in the way, even after French oil giant Total invested heavily in the company, along with other investors. 

The company went public on 28 September 2010, with shares trading at $16.50, rising to a peak of $33.89 four months later. Today, as we write, they’re trading at $6.77, after hitting an all-time low of $6.59 last week. 

Lo, how the dreams of the technocrats have fallen. First it was cheap drugs to save the world, then fuel to survive the end of the oil age. Now it’s cosmetics. 

This first appeared on Richard Brenneman's blog.

ECLECTIC RANT: Jim Crow Never Left

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 10, 2012 - 07:23:00 PM

In his article, "The Caging of America" in the January 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker , Adam Gopnik quotes Robert Perkin's "Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire," who argues that the South is "the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline." That is, America's prison system is a slave plantation, a way of reimposing Jim Crow.  

Jim Crow was not the name of an actual person. Rather, it was a stereotype; the name of a rigid racial caste system. But it was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws enacted from 1876 to 1965. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens and and Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism.  

Remember, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and later the movie adaptation? While the book and especially the movie are a bit stereotypical and melodramatic, they do provide a somewhat white-washed, somewhat sanitized view of the Jim Crow laws. There is a section in the book where Skeeter, the main white character, is at the library and finds a little booklet titled, "Compilation of Jim Crow Laws of the South." Skeeter has never seen these laws in print before and is "mesmerized by how many laws exist to separate us." If you can get over the disbelief that Skeeter, a 22-year old white women born and raised in the South was so naive about Jim Crow laws and the plight of blacks in Jackson, Mississippi, the book is worth reading and the movie worth seeing, especially the performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both Academy Award nominees. 

The United States has the disgraceful distinction of being the world's largest jailer with over 2 million incarcerated. We are ahead of Russia and China. And African Americans are disproportional imprisoned due to discriminatory laws, biased enforcement, and sentencing even though white Americans commit crimes at the same rate as people of color. One-in-nine black men aged 20-34 is incarcerated. 

In 2007, states spent more than $44 billion on incarceration and related expenses, an increase of 127 percent since 1987, and the cost to states is expected to be an additional $25 billion to 2011. With a faltering economy, states cannot continue this prison growth. 

In "Sneak Preview of 'Slavery By Another Name," to be shown on PBS on February 12, 2012, the program debunks the idea that slavery ended with the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the enslavement of black Southerners continued under the guise of convict labor -- or convict leasing -- from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of World War II and was often as brutal and arbitrary as during slavery. Southern states enacted numerous criminal laws aimed at blacks. For example, it was a crime to be unemployed or to be employed and look for another job without permission and sent back to their employers to work off their debt as convict laborers.  

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery except as a sentence for a crime. Thus, for example, a farmer could not force a black person to work to pay off a private debt, but the state could force a black person to work off fines levied against them, and then the state could sell their labor to farmers and factories. Employers paid the state to lease the prisoners. Thus, those charged with arresting people had an economic interest in arresting more people because their profits increased. 

Consider that more than half of all black men without a high school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Blacks are now imprisoned seven times more often as whites. There are more black men in prison, on parole, or probation than were in slavery. African Americans go from police harassment to imprisonment, to invisible control where they are prevented from voting, discriminated against, and most likely become imprisoned again. According to Perkins, "White supremacy is the real principle, . . . [white] racial domination is the real end." If that is the goal of our prison system, then it is a great success.  

Jim Crow is alive and well today.

THE PUBLIC EYE: The GOP Problem: “It’s Halftime for America”

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 10, 2012 - 05:01:00 PM

This year’s Super Bowl program contained a commercial ”It’s Halftime in America”, featuring Clint Eastwood. Initially this seemed to be a public service pep talk for the nation, then a promo for Detroit, and it turned out to be a Chrysler ad. The commercial outraged Republicans. It’s an indication of their core problems in the 2012 Presidential contest. 

In the ad Eastwood observed that it was halftime in the football game and “It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.” He acknowledged Detroit had been through a lot. “I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one. All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?” 

Republican reacted as if they had been sucker punched. Karl Rove went on Fox News decried the ad and accused Obama of “Chicago-style politics.” (By the way, Clint Eastwood is an Independent who supported McCain in 2008.) 

“It’s Halftime in America” contained three themes that promoted Obama’s message. The first was the game is not over, America’s best days are not over. Eastwood said, “The people of Detroit… almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again… Detroit’s showing us it can be done.” 

In his State-of-the-Union address, President Obama used a similar frame, “Think about the America within our reach... An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded. We can do this. I know we can, because we’ve done it before. At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.” 

The second theme was that progress has been made. In Eastwood’s case he said, “Motor City is fighting again.” The government bailouts of the auto industry saved 1.4 million jobs and the big three companies are again making a profit. In his State-of-the-Union remarks, Obama made the same point: “In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs. And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect. Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.” After the speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 243,000 jobs had been added in January. 

The third theme was the American people have to work together. Eastwood observed, “…after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.” 

In his State-of-the-Union remarks, Obama echoed this: “No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team... And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong. “ 

Republicans are angry about the “It’s Halftime in America” ad because it flies in the face of their negative themes: Obama has failed; America has gone in the toilet; and the only way to dig ourselves out of this hole is to place our faith in corporate America. Republicans will have an uphill battle selling this to voters. 

Whether or not they have seen the Eastwood ad, Americans don’t believe the Republican message. They don’t believe that Obama has failed; the feel he has done as much as he could to clean up the mess Bush left him, considering Republican obstruction. Further, Americans don’t believe that the US economy is in the toilet. They identify with the people of Detroit who fought back. We believe it’s halftime for America and our best days lie ahead. 

Finally, voters don’t believe that the solution to our problems is to do what Republican suggest: place our faith in the one percent. Americans agree with Obama: “As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful.” 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net

WILD NEIGHBORS: The Albatross and the Anarchist

By Joe Eaton
Friday February 10, 2012 - 06:34:00 PM
Courting Laysan albatrosses on Tern Island, Hawaii.
Duncan Wright via Wikimedia Commons
Courting Laysan albatrosses on Tern Island, Hawaii.
Ocean sunfish, AKA "swimming head."
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Wikimedia Commons
Ocean sunfish, AKA "swimming head."

One of the science blogs I check regularly is Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology, currently hosted by Scientific American. Naish has a taste for the gratifyingly obscure, and the blog’s science-to-polemic ratio is high. He recently wrote about a remarkable case of mutualism—a reciprocally beneficial cooperative relationship between organisms of different species—that was described by a group of Japanese scientists in the journal Marine Biology

Two years ago the research vessel Oshoru Maru, conducting a hydrographic survey in the western North Pacific, encountered a school of 57 ocean sunfish. These truly odd fish are among the stars of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They’ve been called “swimming heads”; to Milton Love, author of Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, an ocean sunfish resembles “a Frisbee designed by Salvador Dali.” Also known as molas, sunfish feed mainly on jellyfish, salps, and other gelatinous creatures. They’re often seen at the surface, lying on their sides and waving their fins in what appears to be a random manner. Most of the fish seen from the Japanese ship had several 

parasitic copepods (marine crustaceans) attached to the bases of their dorsal fins. 

At some point a Laysan albatross—the same species as the celebrated Al, who has been visiting Point Arena every winter—joined the fish. “As time elapsed, the fish followed this particular bird,” wrote lead author Takuzo Abe and his colleagues. Eventually it approached a sunfish and picked off a copepod. This attracted another Laysan and three black-footed albatrosses. “Some ocean sunfish appeared to present themselves by swimming sideways next to birds. Sequential pictures showed a number of birds removing and ingesting at least four ecto-parasites.” 

One interesting thing about this observation is that it isn’t altogether new. In 1940, UCLA ornithologist Loye Miller speculated in a Condor article that black-footed albatrosses gleaned parasites from molas off the California coast: “A sunfish was actually seen to swim toward a pair of resting albatrosses and turn on its side. However, the birds were disturbed before I could see any actual delousing take place. It does seem likely that they might act as ‘tick birds’ for the great inert molas.” 

My friend John Westlake, a veteran whale-watching guide, says he has seen albatrosses associating with, even standing on ocean sunfish. Milton Love describes an interaction between a sunfish and a gull of uncertain species: “On two occasions, I have seen sunfish come to the surface, flop on their sides and wave their exposed pectoral fins about. On both of these occasions, a sea gull paddled over and pecked at the fish for a little while. When the bird finished, it moved away and the fish turned over and went through the same motions. The gull returned and pecked for a few moments more. Perhaps heavily parasitized fish come to the surface to elicit cleaning.” 

Such relationships have been described for a number of aquatic and terrestrial species: cleaner wrasses and cleaner shrimp that remove external parasites from a variety of reef fish; freshwater fish that perform the same service for hippos; the African tickbirds that Miller alluded to, although they may take a little blood from their ungulate associates along with the ticks. Western scrub-jays have reported to harvest ticks from black-tailed deer. It’s just one variant among the numerous ways that different organisms can interact, from casual commensalism to committed symbiosis. 

The Japanese scientists’ report would have made Petr Kropotkin, the anarchist prince and contemporary and critic of Darwin, very happy. In his book Mutual Aid, Kropotkin emphasized cooperation over competition as the key to evolution. It’s been pointed out that while Darwin and Wallace developed their evolutionary ideas after spending time in the crowded tropics, Kropotkin’s thinking bore the stamp of Siberia. With his field experience in a place where both human and animal life was sparse and widely dispersed, the Malthusian model didn’t make a lot of sense to him. What he saw was the cohesion of the reindeer herd and the tactical coordination of the wolfpack. 

Kropotkin overstated his case, of course, as the so-called Social Darwinists overstated theirs. It’s always risky to construct a theory of society from observations of animal behavior. At least he, unlike the Ron Paulite cowboy libertarians and the Black Bloc yahoos, had a theory of society. Smashing or shrinking the state only gets you so far. As Dylan didn’t say: to live outside the law you must have a high tolerance for committee meetings. 

The prince was clearly onto something important, though. (Kropotkin’s true intellectual heir is the late Lynn Margulis, who was convinced that evolution was driven by symbiotic mergers.) Cooperation, either within or across species boundaries, can enhance the fitness of the cooperating individuals. The molas that developed a way to lighten their parasite loads by getting a seabird’s attention presumably left more descendants than those that didn’t.

SENIOR POWER:On Dining Alone…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday February 10, 2012 - 04:38:00 PM

There were few people with whom gastronome M. F. K. Fisher cared “to pray, sleep, dance, sing, or share her bread and wine.” In an essay sprinkled with foody tidbits, she contended that A Is for Dining Alone. “I drive home by way of the corner Thriftmart to pick up another box of Ry Krisp, which with a can of tomato soup and a glass of California sherry will make a good nourishing meal for me as I sit on my tuffet in a circle of proofs and pocket detective stories.”  

After living alone for several years, she acknowledged that learning “…how to care for myself, at least at table. I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed, I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster. Enough of hit-or-miss suppers of tinned soup and boxed biscuits and an occasional egg just because I had failed once more to rate an invitation! I resolved to establish myself as a well-behaved female at one or two good restaurants, where I could dine alone at a pleasant table with adequate attentions rather than be pushed into a corner and given a raw or overweary waiter.”  

But after years of full-time employment, fatigue, and reluctance to shop at the end of the work-day, she re-resolved to pick up a few things on the way to work (perishables spent the day in the water cooler), and to return directly to her walk-up flat, a glass of sherry or vermouth, a hot bath, and “to hell with food.” 

“I always ate slowly, from a big tray set with a mixture of Woolworth and Spode; and I soothed my spirits beforehand… Things tasted good, and it was a relief to be away from my job and from the curious disbelieving impertinence of the people in restaurants. … snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality.”  

Fisher was talking around the subject of dining alone-- of being on her own, really -- and of cooking for one, a concern of many senior citizens. Help is as near as your pc and public library. Query your pc exactly that way – cooking for one.  

Of the numerous “hits,” a 2009 book titled The Pleasures of Cooking for One is especially informative. (I finally learned how to preserve part of an avocado, page 148.) Author Judith Jones says “Supermarkets do everything they can to make us buy more than we need, and the food industry has for more than a century been selling the idea that it is demeaning for one to cook and a waste of time when they can buy ready-made products instead.” There’s expense and there’s waste. Jones responds with strategies, and she provides lists: Essential equipment when cooking for one, Indispensable utensils, What to have in the freezer, What to have in the refrigerator, Essentials for the vegetable and fruit bins. Guidance on what to do with any leftovers.  


Alzheimer’s disease, with its inexorable loss of memory and self, understandably alarms most of us, especially since there are no cures for the condition and few promising drug treatments. But a cautiously encouraging new study in The Archives of Neurology suggests that, for some people, a daily walk or jog could lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or change its course. [New York Times, Jan. 18 and 30, 2012] 

USA Today reports that lawmakers in 9 states — Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Carolina— are advancing legislation to scale back their own pensions by closing loopholes and lucrative retirement plans that have let thousands of former lawmakers earn more in retirement than while in office. 

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) has released a new report on the state of nursing home drugging in California, "In a Stupor: What California’s Antipsychotic Drug Collaborative Reveals About Illegal Nursing Home Drugging." It analyzes the findings of the Department of Public Health's Antipsychotic Drug Collaborative with which the Department has investigated 24 nursing homes and found 147 violations of state rules regarding the use of antipsychotics on residents. The investigations confirm misuse of antipsychotics rampant in California nursing homes, deserving immediate remedial action. See also Jan. 27, 2012 New York Times discussion of CANHR's findings about nursing home pharmaceutical consultants. 

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that the House voted last week to repeal the CLASS [long term care] program, without offering any alternative to address the growing long-term care crisis among middle-class Americans. Passed as part of health reform, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program is a voluntary, fiscally responsible, long-term care insurance plan. NCOA and a broad range of senior and disability groups are working to avoid repeal in the Senate and find ways to move forward with implementation. 

This week, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, S.2077, a bill that would amend the Older Americans Act (OAA.) It seeks to toughen the federal definitions for elder abuse, neglect and exploitation and improve coordination and training for elder justice activities. The bill also codifies the National Adult Protective Resource Center at the Administration on Aging. A Feb. 8, 2012 press release from Senator Blumenthal's office: stated "A spreading epidemic of seniors who are abused or exploited by family or caregivers must be stopped…Rigorous screening and reporting to detect and deter abuse, physical or financial, is necessary to help remedy seniors who may be too fearful or embarrassed to report it themselves. This measure would require tough national standards for screening and reporting so wrongdoers can be stopped and prosecuted. There is no excuse for one in ten seniors continuing to suffer the physical injury, emotional anguish and anxiety, and financial hardship, costing upwards of $3 billion every year."  

The Elder Justice Coalition points out that, while child abuse and domestic violence screenings are well-integrated into the nation's health and community services network, elder abuse screening requirements are noticeably absent in federally-supported senior services. The Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act seeks to fill that void by encouraging the development of a strong network of elder abuse screening and support programs to identify instances of elder abuse and stop them before they happen. In some states, strong mandatory reporting laws and penalties exist for crimes against seniors, but they are ineffective without screening and reporting standards in every part of our community. On Monday, February 13th, President Obama is scheduled to release his FY 2013 budget. In last year’s budget, $21.5 million was included for the Elder Justice Act. This funding was not approved by Congress; hence, the EJA was not funded in FY 2012.  


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com.  

Current-March 30, 2012. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Saturday, Feb. 11. 10 A.M. Winter meeting of OWL Ohlone Chapter. Berkeley Co-Housing at 2220 Sacramento Street. Margie Metzler will discuss the "State of the State," reviewing the current situation with bills going through the legislature. A brown bag lunch follows.  

Saturday, Feb. 11. 12 Noon. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., AlamedaLetter “L” for Love, Luck, or Lucky @ Love! Celebrate Valentine’s Day and try your luck at Mastick’s weekly fundraising Bingo game. Bingo participants will play a special game, the “Letter L” with the opportunity to win $50. Participants are encouraged to take part in the Valentine’s Day Table Decorating Contest. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board and Bingo Committee. 510-747-7506. 

Mondays, Feb. 13 and 27. 9:30-11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. FREE—U.S. Foreign Policy. Roger Baer, Volunteer Instructor, will review the United States’ relationship with other nations of the world. Topics include: isolation, involvement, containment, nation building and humanitarian intervention, and more. Sign up. Call 510-747-7506. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler immigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Tuesday, Feb. 14. 1-2:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Multimedia Art Exhibit refreshments and Reception for artists exhibiting their works created in Mastick Senior Center classes (e.g., stained glass, creative writing, drawing, painting, ceramics, beaded jewelry design, graphic arts, etc.). In the Mastick Lobby through May 1. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Faculty recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 1 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 

Travel Opportunities Abound…Learn More., preview upcoming Extended Travel opportunities. At this time, we will also be gathering YOUR input for 2013 travel destinations. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. Actress and dancer Debbie Allen to kick up her heels with Los Angeles seniors in Los Angeles as part of a campaign between NCOA and Medtronic to promote heart health. The Pace Makers campaign also is educating older adults about the risks between MRIs and pacemakers. Workshops and dance events at senior centers, are being hosted, including the Griffith Park Adult Community Center, part of the Assistance League, a member of NCOA's National Institute of Senior Centers. Visit NCOA website. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 

Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 

Friday, Feb. 17. 9:30-11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Creating Your Personal Learning Network. Join Mike McMahon, Volunteer, Learn to use the Internet and tools like Twitter. With the rise of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, individuals can now create virtual learning classes on any topic of their choosing. Sign up. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510.  

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers General Meeting. Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. (at Geary). # 38 (not 38L) bus. 415-552-8800. 

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda.  

Overview of Medicare Coverage and Options. A representative from the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program (HICAP) will provide an overview of Medicare coverage and options including the Medicare Program (eligibility, costs, benefits, and recent changes); Medicare Supplement Plans (Medigap), Medical Advantage Plans and Medi-Cal; and provide information on Medicare’s Prescription Drug benefit. To attend this presentation, sign up in the office or call 510-747-7506. See also Feb. 28. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK. 510-981-5190. Note: Gray Panthers Berkeley office is now located in the Center for Independent Living (CIL) building on Telegraph (between Dwight and Parker), 2539 Telegraph Ave, Suite B, Berkeley, CA 94704. Phone: 510-548-9696. 

Thursday, Feb. 23. 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor, for a piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Register in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. Free.  

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. www.usoac.org 

Friday, Feb. 24. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Chamber Music in C Major. Noon concert. Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall: Mozart: String Quintet No. 3 in C major, K.515. Michael Hwang, Michaela Nachtigall, violins. Sally Jang, Melissa Panlasigui, violas. Cindy Hickox, cello. Beethoven: String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3. Vivian Hou, Jason Wu, violins. Marissa Sakoda, viola. Michael Tan, cello. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda.  

Low Income Assistance. A representative from the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program (HICAP) will provide an overview on getting help with health care costs including the Medicare program, Medi-Cal, SSI, Medicare Savings Programs, and Low Income Subsidy (extra help) for prescription drugs. The eligibility and 

application process will be reviewed. To attend this presentation, sign up in the office or call 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043.  


Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100.  

Tuesday, March 6. 1 P.M. Mastick Book Club. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. Book Club members will review House Rules by Jodi Picoult. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, March 7. 12:15-1 P.M. University Wind Ensemble: 59th Annual Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesdays, March 7 and 14. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. AARP Driver Safety Program. Specifically designed for individuals 50 and older, this eight-hour course is taught in two, four-hour sessions over a two-day period. Preregistration required; cost is $12 per person for AARP members and $14 per person for non-AARP members. Registration is payable by check ONLY made payable to AARP. Sign up in the Mastick Office. 510-747-7506.  

Thursday, March 8. 6:30 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Join board certified psychologist Dr. Marshall Zaslove for an evening meditation workshop and interaction. He will provide techniques to still the mind and meditate on the inner light to access the joy and peace that lie within each of us. He will base his presentation on the book, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, by Rajinder Singh. 510-526-7512.  

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” The story of the America's Cup begins in the mid-19th century with the family of Colonel John Stevens and an invitation to the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. Mr. Borchert will pick up the story from there and outline the fascinating history of the event. The San Francisco Bay will serve as the beautiful amphitheater for the 2013 pursuit of the Cup. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. University Baroque Ensemble: 59th Annual Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181.

MY COMMONPLACE BOOK (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Friday February 10, 2012 - 06:29:00 PM

You don’t inquire what is selling these days. You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like.  

You don’t read chapters to friends or to a long-suffering husband or wife in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested change except where you made a factual error or grammatical mistake. My motto has been all these years: not a comma. — Hans Koning (1921-2007) Prolific, award-winning writer, journalist, editor, resister of Nazis and of Vietnam War, New York Times, July 31, 2000 

I go along with Koning’s first two sentences of advice for the early stages of writing a book. In the last stage of rewriting, I usually have to part company with him. 

I confess to reading the whole thing aloud, a chapter or two a day, to my long-suffering husband, who listens silently. I read and watch, sense, feel when something doesn’t get through to him or when it suddenly (after all that reworking!) sounds rough and awkward even to me. Taking the words off the page, voicing them, is a necessary exposure. 

My last step before final rewrite is to give the manuscript to a VERY carefully selected, smart writer/friend, who totally respects me but is totally lacking in tact. Whether or not I agree with the blunt criticism I get, I need to look again at the part that didn’t quite make it for him or her. I’ll probably decide s/he’s wrong in her diagnosis, but the negative reaction tells me something needs to be tweaked. 

Anyone who is serious about writing can’t afford to be touchy. A real pro is a writer who has learned to laugh off the inner rage that surges when someone fails to swoon over our words of genius. 

(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book) 



Arts & Events

Around & About Opera: Goat Hall's Valentine's Party This Sunday—Songs, Arias & Duets

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 10, 2012 - 04:33:00 PM
Eliza O'Malley
Eliza O'Malley

Goat Hall Productions always come up with the most refreshing—and fun!—modus operandi for putting on a show of opera new and old. This Sunday at 8, they're throwing a benefit party for Valentine's Day at the Julia Morgan Chamber Arts House on Ashby ... and the m. o.'s been to hand over the role of impresario to the principal donors, over a dozen of whom have staked $100 per singer to hear their favorite operatic numbers, from Mozart to Puccini, Mahler and Debussy, including Goat Hall's founders, Harriet March Page and Mark Alburger performing his fine music, and Eliza O'Malley singing Delibes and Schubert. 

Admission's free, donations gladly accepted, and there's a silent auction of donated treasures, including opera tickets, records, voice lessons, a house concert, as well as beautiful household objects—and wine, pastry and candy ... but seating's limited. Call (707) 451-8396 or email hartmpage@aol.com

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Counter Attack at Berkeley's Ashby Stage—a delicious slice of theatre a la mode!

By John McMullen II
Friday February 10, 2012 - 05:07:00 PM
Lynne Hollander, Joan Mankin, Arthur Holden
Mitch Tobias
Lynne Hollander, Joan Mankin, Arthur Holden

With COUNTER ATTACK at the Ashby Stage, Joan Holden has written a moving tale of an aging waitress, capturing the craziness of the profession, the lure of the tips, the regulars, the banter, and what happens when your legs ain’t what they used to be.  

When I vacationed in Europe, I left a tip at a ristorante, and they gave it back. I guess they pay the servers a living wage there. From what I gather, tipping is sort of an American/English tradition. “Tips” came from the 18th C. English coffeehouse as an acronym on a jar at the coffee bar for, “To Insure Prompt Service.” It’s like working on commission. As any salesman or waitress or hooker will tell you, the lure and thrill and hustle for that bump is addicting. Holden’s play contains the panoply of the thrills and downsides of the server’s life. 

Joan Mankin is perfection in the role of Marlene, the veteran diner waitress. She and playwright Holden and director Sharon Lockwood have long-served the SF Mime Troupe, and are thus no strangers to big acting and commedia­-like expression. It works well here for a larger-than-life character who is part-vaudevillian entertainer of her customers, though Ms. Mankin is always magnetically realistic in her actions. There is an extended moment of her silent, contained rage when Marlene is displaced from her position which is effectively backed by the guitar soundtrack: seldom in theatre do we get such clear access to emotion that makes us feel the rage the character feels.  

Sarah Mitchell is an extraordinary actress who plays Marlene’s scheming nemesis, an Eastern European sexy émigré. Ms. Mitchell’s elastic talent takes us on a rollercoaster of feelings about the character. She embodies the spirit of the new and ambitious young who pride themselves in working without a social safety net, while hot to be out-with-the-old and in with their new ideas. The character as written by Holden is a plum part and captures a reality we bump into a lot, and Ms. Mitchell brings it to life. 

Hugo Carabajal is a treasure in his dual roles of Hispanic busboy and Hispanic politician; when he is on stage in one role, he makes us forget he was just on stage in the other. His movements are a continuous samba, and there is never a false moment.  

James Brooks as the cook is recognizable from many television appearances, and is another king-size personality. When he comes out of the kitchen with the whiskey bottle, he changes the atmosphere to a slow, bluesy end-of-shift world that is the after-glow of the adrenaline-fired profession of diner-work, and an important part of the experience.  

Holden’s writing is a combination of tight and well-plotted realism and convincing dialogue with some random incongruous harkening to Mime Troupe’s over-the-top comedy. In the denouement, Holden is not afraid to complicate and deepen the story by adding a realistic confrontation with the inevitable complications of age, and how, when we slay the dragon, we often come away injured.  

Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn composed invigorating incidental music played on electric bass and acoustic guitar by Bruce Barthol to which the characters sometimes dance. There are two songs—the latter blues number is organic and believable, while the first is jarringly incongruous.  

The set by Dan Chumley is a detailed picture of a linoleum Greek diner, with a great breakfast and your lunch choice of moussaka or the meatloaf special. The design brings the actors to the front in diagonal and serves to show how quickly the lunch crowd fills it up without making it seem empty afterwards, while helping with the difficult staging. Cassandra Carpenter’s herculean task of costuming the many changes for the multiple roles of the ensemble enlivens the stage pictures. 

Director Lockwood decided to play it safe and have no food or drink. Admittedly, it would have been a major challenge to actually have that much food and coffee, but it is always difficult to invest one’s imagination in a realistic play in which the food and drink are pantomimed. What I missed most was the smell of a diner, which a backstage little fried bacon and a couple of brewed pots of coffee could have fixed, since the quickest way to a memory is through the sense of smell.  

The Stagebridge production now at Ashby Stage (across from Ashby BART) is a mix of very professional actors and community theatre senior actors. It’s a great exercise, and some of the ensemble—who work for free and fun—are actually quite good. Whether it is tennis or chess or acting, you can’t get better unless you play with your superiors. 

That said, the production is a sometimes an uneasy marriage of amateurs and pros. The crowded diner scenes with many impatient grumpy old men and women shouting their orders seemed to need choir-like direction in delivering their lines on cue: often they speak at the same time with awkward pauses in between. Sometimes three people dining together recite their complaint in unison, which seems stagey.  

The ensemble plays multiple parts, which is as tricky as not using real food in a realistic play; it is comically effective when they go to some length to disguise themselves, but when they are immediately recognizable it falls flat and pulls us out of the fantasy.  

With that in mind, it’s a most enjoyable evening from some long-time Bay Area talent that will change your perspective the next time you have a quick bite at the counter.  

(See feature article on Joan Holden’s plays on women and work at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2012-01-20/article/39166?headline=Stagebridge-Mounts-New-Play-by-Joan-Holden-at-Berkeley-s-Ashby-Stage-Opening-Feb.-3 


COUNTER ATTACK by Joan Holden based on Candacy Taylor’s “Counter Culture: The American Coffeeshop Waitress”  

Directed by Sharon Lockwood 

At the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue Berkeley 

Through March 4, 2012 

www.stagebridge.org / 1-800-838-3006 

A Stagebridge production, producing artistic director Josiah Polhemus 

Talkback & Book Signing with Candacy Taylor, author of Counter Culture: The American Coffeeshop Waitress: Saturday, February 11, 2:00pm & 8:00pm 

Talkback with the Counter Attack cast: Thursday, February 16, 7:30pm 

Set by Dan Chumley, lighting by Will Springhorn, Jr., costumes by Cassandra Carpenter, music direction and composition by Richard “Scrumbly” Koldewyn, props by Aji Slater, stage management by Mina Yueh. 

WITH: James Brooks, Angela Dosalmas, Franklin Hall, Tara Heckathorn, Charmaine Hitchcox, Arthur Holden, Lynne Hollander, Jil Ivy, Bora Max Koknar, Marilyn Leavitt, Bill Liebman, Joan Mankin, Sarah Mitchell, Billy Pond, Miyoko Sakatani, Mel Terry, Shannon Veon-Kase. Accompaniment: Bruce Barthol. 

“Eye from the Aisle” is the reviewing name of John A. McMullen II, member Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. E J Dunne edits.

AROUND AND ABOUT FILM: Rare Gregory Markopoulos Retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 10, 2012 - 07:44:00 PM

Gregory Markopoulos (1928-92) was one of the most creative American filmmakers who emerged during or just after the Second World War. From Toledo, Ohio, on of Greek immigrants, he made his first film at 12, and studied with Josef Von Sternberg as a teenager. His sense of place, of the subliminal (Markopoulos might've said said "mythic"), of person was volatilized by an extraordinary, "almost Mannerist" use of color ("Color is Eros") and his own signature in montage, eventually expressed through rapid cutting and unusual soundtracks, with and without music. 

His uncompromising views on film led to difficulties with reviewers and scholars: a critic as important and influential as Andrew Sarris expressed hostility at what he then regarded almost as Markopoulos' "homosexual agenda," which shows how much has changed--Sarris included!--since the 60s ... the occasional homoerotic content to Markopoulos' films is mild, certainly not shocking, by today's standards. Their beauty and depth of cinematic perception, on the other hand, is something rare, seldom equaled today or anytime. 

By the 70s, Markopoulos had moved to Europe, where he and Robert Beavers, his student, fellow filmmaker and surviving partner (in every sense of the word) continued working, eventually developing Markopoulos' lifework, a radical recutting of his films, to be shown only outdoors at the site their foundation's named for Temenos, in Arcadia, Greece. Those who have seen these now-annual screenings, which Beavers inaugurated after Markopoulos' death--like Susan Oxtoby, PFA curator of the upcoming retrospective--report a completely idiosyncratic experience, using imagery from the earlier films, but without traditional montage--bursts of color and images in the midst of darkness, meant to be seen and felt along with the night sky, the dark shapes pf nature and other viewers around the amphitheater ... 

Markopoulos withdrew his films from distribution; many of these haven't been screened for over 30 years, except at rare retrospectives. (the PFA had one in the 90s.) The work of his contemporaries and peers--Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger ... --has long been shown with frequency and available on VHS, then DVD. This is a rare chance to see remarkable works like 'Twice A Man' (with a young Olympia Dukakis) and the short, startlingly lovely 'Ming Green,' besides his longest work, 'The Illiac Passion.' 

Robert Beavers will attend the first two screenings. 

Seconds of Eternity, The Films of Gregory J. Markopoulos: 7 pm, Thursday, February 9: Early Films (1940-49)--includes the Bay Area premiere of Robert Beavers' "The Suppliant." 6:30, Saturday, February 11: Eros & Myth (1960-63)--includes 'Twice A Man.' 7, Thursday, February 16: 'The Illiac Passion,' starring Andy Warhol, Taylor Mead, Jack Smith--program includes "Ming Green." Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft (on campus, up exterior stairway between Telegraph & College). $5.50-$9.50. 642-5249; bamfa.berkeley.edu 

THEATER REVIEW: 'Body Awareness' at the Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 10, 2012 - 05:14:00 PM

Body Awareness Week on campus at Shirley State college in Vermont, and the feminist professor in charge (Amy Resnick as Phyllis) bravely plunges into welcoming the audience to the festivities—while at home, her domestic partner Joyce (Jeri Lynn Cohen) is verbally scrimmaging with her post-adolescent son Jared (Patrick Russell) over his ongoing onanism, spiraling phone bills for sex calls, and her suspicions (along with Phyllis) he has Asperger's Syndrome. But Jared is having nothing of it, sniping at his mother while delving into his passion ... etymology. 

So 'Body Awareness,' Annie Baker's play that has been hailed in New York, begins onstage at the Aurora, where it won last year's Global Age Project for a full staging. From this arch, funny start, 'Body Awareness' continues to go sideways, as this fractious household opens up to take Frank (Howard Swain) in, a recorder playing, hail fellow and groovily met artist, in town for the week's celebration—to Phyillis' chagrin and Joyce's interest, a photographer who travels the country, taking nude pictures of females from infancy to advanced age and exhibiting them. 

This four-hander is expertly spun out by the excellent cast, with Joy Carlin's sharp direction, as the new menage begins to break down with suspicion and jealousy, internecine squabbles over political correctness, and Jared's insouciance. Highlights include Phyllis' decaying delivery to the Body Awareness Week audiences, a kind of negative pacing of the plot, and Frank's cheerful male advice to anxiously virginal Jared, a cornucopia of cross-eyed wisdom that spills out all over the place. 

It's a constantly amusing show, skewering "postmodern" domestic behavior while avoiding overwrought caricature. Baker's writing gives it an effortless quality, a kind of no-blame insurance that covers the hilarious verbal damage its principals seem to wreak upon each other. 

'Body Awareness' is a comedy with a satiric edge, if somewhat outdated in impact. The subject of its barbs was in full social manifestation some years ago; sitcoms now fashion running gags from this kind of material. 

Many of the newer plays seen at the Regional Rep theaters around the Bay Area—and around the country—aspire to this style, and the Aurora, through its GAP staged readings, has brought three enjoyable examples of it to its main stage: Joel Drake Johnson's 'The First Grade,' Allison Moore's 'Collapse' and now 'Body Awareness.' Of these, the first has been the one most fleshed-out as theater and social satire. 

A problem with this ubiquitous style of play is its close relationship to TV sitcoms and movies. 'The First Grade' had dense theatrical dialogue, very different from the texture of what's heard on TV or film, which satirized the social effect of sitcom patter. 'Collapse' and 'Body Awareness' are closer to being scripts for better sitcoms or TV movies, enjoyable if a little banal around the edges. Still, they're close to being at the top of their particular heap. And—like a good sitcom—provide relaxation, a fun evening. 

Tuesday through Sunday until March 4, various times, Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (near Shattuck). $30-$45. 843-4822; auroratheatre.org