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One Victim in String of Oakland Shootings Was Berkeley High Student

By Scott Morris (BCN) and Planet
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 02:29:00 PM

Police in Oakland are investigating a string of overnight shootings and a possible homicide at a home in the Oakland Hills, police said. According to the Oakland Tribune, one victim was an 18-year-old Berkeley High student. 

Three people were injured in three separate shootings in North and West Oakland just this morning. 

At 4:07 a.m., police responded to a shooting in the 3400 block of Adeline Street. The victim was transported to a hospital. 

At 8:18 a.m., police responded to reports that two males on bikes were shooting at each other in the 6300 block of Market Street. 

One victim, identified by the Tribune as a Berkeley High Student, was located at the scene and transported to a hospital. 

Gabe Zatz-Gilman, a resident of the neighborhood, said that while he was driving to work this morning, he saw a victim lying in the street with a crowd of people around him. 

Also around 8 a.m., police found a shooting victim in a car in the 3100 block of Adeline Street. That victim was also transported to a hospital. 

Police are also investigating a case in which a person was found dead in his home in the 2300 block of Thackeray Drive, in the Oakland Hills, this morning. No further details were immediately available. 

On Wednesday night, a group of people outside a taco truck at the corner of 44th Avenue and International Boulevard shot at a passing vehicle at 9:15 p.m., police said. No injuries were reported. 

In a separate case, a person was critically injured while he was standing on a sidewalk in the 3400 block of Davis Street at about 11:20 p.m. 

That adds up to five shootings in the city within 12 hours, in addition to the body that was found.

Updated: Suspect Arraigned for Death of Berkeley Homeowner

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM

An Alameda man was arraigned today on a murder charge for allegedly killing a homeowner in the Berkeley hills on Saturday night.

Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23, is scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday to see if the Public Defender's Office will represent him on the charge that he killed 67-year-old Peter Cukor outside Cukor's home at 2 Park Gate Road at about 9 p.m. Saturday.

Dewitt is the grandson of the late former Alameda city councilman and interim Alameda Mayor Al Dewitt, who died in 2003. Daniel Dewitt's father, Al Dewitt Jr., said outside court today that Dewitt has suffered from mental illness since the age of 18. 

Al Dewitt Jr. said he and his wife, Candy Dewitt, have been trying to get their son into a permanent treatment program or have him held in custody but court officials always released him after he received brief periods of treatment. 

"We always had a fear of him hurting himself or someone else," Dewitt said. 

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Berkeley police Detective David Marble, Cukor, who owned a logistics consulting firm, called police at 8:45 p.m. Saturday to report that there was a suspicious person in his garage. 

Marble said in the statement that the person, later identified as Dewitt, left the property after Cukor told him to, but that Cukor and his wife, Andrea Cukor, later saw Dewitt enter their front gate, which leads to their front door. 

Peter Cukor again told Dewitt to get off of his property and Dewitt "said he was a psychic and he was told to go through the front gate to find Zoey," Marble wrote. 

Dewitt then left the property again and Cukor walked across the street to a Berkeley fire station that's located there, "probably to ask for assistance from the firefighters to help deal with Dewitt," according to Marble. 

However, no one was there because firefighters were out on a call. 

Marble said that when Cukor returned to his property, Dewitt "confronted" him in his driveway and "viciously assaulted" Cukor, hitting him in the head. 

The charge filed against Dewitt alleges that he used a ceramic planter to kill Cukor. 

Andrea Cukor witnessed part of the assault and called 911, according to Marble. Peter Cukor was then taken to a hospital, where he died. 

Berkeley police officers who responded to the scene saw a person nearby who matched the suspect's description and arrested Dewitt, who had fresh blood on his hands, sweatshirt, pants and shoes, Marble said. 

In addition, the knuckles on Dewitt's right hand appeared to be swollen and Andrea Cukor identified him as the person who had assaulted her husband, according to Marble. 

After he was arrested, Dewitt admitted that he was on the Cukors' property and had looked through their windows, Marble said. 

Dewitt described the interior of the Cukors' house and "admitted that he was looking for his fiancee Zoey," Marble wrote. 

The detective said he believes that DNA testing will prove that the blood on Dewitt's clothing will match the blood of Peter Cukor. 

Al Dewitt Jr. said his son doesn't have a girlfriend named "Zoey" and that Zoey is only a figment of his imagination. 

"Zoey is a fictitious girlfriend that he's had for about a year now," Dewitt said. 

Dewitt said his son "has been in and out of the system many times" but he didn't specify if he meant his son has been in jail or in mental institutions. 

A spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office said Daniel Dewitt was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of making annoying phone calls in 2010 to a woman who was a former classmate and he has a pending misdemeanor battery case for allegedly punching and kicking a nurse at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro in 2010.

As Berkeley Questions BPD Over Hills "Murder," and Cops Blame Occupy, We Offer Some Answers (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM

Berkeley police have reportedly said they were "monitoring" an Occupy Oakland-Occupy Cal protest, which arrived on Telegraph from Oakland at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, more than an hour after a "murder" in the hills.

Two of my Planet articles written on Sunday, cast doubt on that. One article covered the Saturday Oakland-Cal demo, and another covered an anti-Bank of America protest on Telegraph. I was at both protests.

Cop-count: on upper Telegraph at noon, Saturday, as the BA protest began: zero, 0, zip. Cop-count at 10:20 p.m., on lower Teley, when Occupy Oakland arrived to unite with Occupy Cal, blocking traffic and chanting "Fuck the police": zero, 0, zip. 

A massive police response to the hills murder—Berkeley's second of the year—apparently thinned police ranks Saturday, on what seemed a busy policing day. 

BPD Cop-count at International House, 11:30 p.m., as the protest was about to end peacefully: twelve officers who buzzed the event in three command vehicles. 

It's remarkable that BPD showed up at Cal, since UCPD had twelve of its own officers defending I-House, where a conference at which some Occupy members were speaking was underway. 

OC and OO had united that evening. Now BPD was uniting with UCPD. 

The twelve man BPD show-of-force squad did not return. 

A BPD robbery detail at San Pablo and University Saturday night, was described by a witness as possibly twenty cars, but more likely no more than six 

But BPD, perhaps recovering from staffing demands by 12:15 a.m., showed up outside Moe's Books, on Teley, to investigate a robbery. 

Berkeley police had their hands full with the murder in the hills, which undoubtedly caused them not to monitor the arrival of OO on Telegraph, although, they might have kept an eye out by watching "You Stream," a radical live stream of the event, or by using police dispatches from Oakland—or through a clandestine stakeout. 

District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf interrupted our telephone interview Tuesday afternoon to face the cameras at a hastily arranged press conference at her Northside Berkeley home. Berkeley's second murder of the year was the hook. 

Wengraf tells me it's "the murder in the hills angle" that has caused the media stampede. Meanwhile, Wengraf assures her district 6 constituents they can count on "24/7 police protection," even if some might say they reside in Berkeley hills mansions, where they are, admittedly, remote from hoi polloi below. 

Wengraf has requested 911 logs and other police records in an attempt to untangle the mysteries surrounding BPD's response to a brutal murder on Shasta Rd., in Berkeley's Park Hills neighborhood. 

"If necessary, I'll use the freedom of information act to get the information I need " to figure out what happened that night, the determined councilwoman said. 

A preliminary investigation suggests the crime was committed by a mentally ill man, off his medications. "Our whole system is broken," she lamented. 

She responded to a question on the mood of the neighborhood. "I don't think anyone's hysterical at this point," she said. People understand, "but they want answers." 

The 162-officer Berkeley police department reportedly has 11 vacant positions, since 2009 budget cuts forced the city to reduce its workforce by 210 employees—mostly through attrition. 

How many officers were available for duty Saturday will be difficult—perhaps impossible—to learn. 

Would eleven new hires have helped police improve on a day like Saturday, when they did a pretty darned good job with the men they deployed? 

Ted Friedman reports from Southside. 




Mother of Suspect in Berkeley Murder Says He is Mentally Ill

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:26:00 PM

The mother of a 23-year-old man who is accused of beating a Berkeley hills homeowner to death said today that he's been mentally ill for more than four years but was neglected by the mental health system. 

Candy Dewitt, the mother of Daniel Jordan Dewitt of Alameda, said her son became mentally ill after he turned 18 but she was never able to get him into a permanent treatment program. 

"He would be taken to the hospital and given treatment for a few days at a time and then be put back out on the streets again," Dewitt said. 

Berkeley police arrested Daniel Dewitt Saturday night for allegedly killing Peter Cukor, 67, who lived on Park Gate Road near the Shasta Road entrance to Tilden Park. 

Cukor owned a consulting company that provided logistics help for the transportation industry. 

According to the company's website, Cukor had an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. 

Berkeley police said they initially received a report on Saturday night of a suspicious person who possibly was trespassing on the homeowner's property. 

They said they later received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Road and immediately responded. 

The victim was treated at the scene by the first police officer who responded before being taken to a local trauma center by Berkeley Fire Department paramedics, police said. 

He was pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Dewitt is scheduled to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday. The District Attorney's Office is still reviewing the case and hasn't yet filed any charges. 

Candy Dewitt said her son graduated from Alameda High School in 2007 and played on the school's football team. She said, "He was a good kid and was very well-liked by his teachers and other students." 

Dewitt said that because the mental health system neglected her son, "They have now made victims of two more people," referring to the homicide victim and her son. 

Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, whose district includes the area where the homicide occurred, said she's asked police for a detailed timeline of what happened Saturday night because "there has been a lot of innuendo." 

Wengraf said, "People who live in the area initially were very frightened and rightfully so because it was a horrendous crime and everyone was very shaken. 

But she said, "It's now looking like this was an isolated incident and a very unique incident and this is not an unsafe area so everyone is feeling a little better." 

Wengraf said police have told her that Dewitt wasn't armed with any weapons and "he seemed confused and was hiding in the bushes." 

Cukor and his wife, Andrea Cukor, filed a lawsuit to try to block the construction of a new Berkeley fire station at 3000 Shasta Road, which is across the street from their home. 

In November of 1992, a year after a major fire caused widespread damage in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved a $55 million bond measure to fund critical improvements for disaster preparedness, including a new fire station. 

Berkeley officials said the new station would replace another aging station nearby and provide quicker response times to fires. 

The Cukors' suit blocked the new station for many years but on Nov. 5, 2003, a judge ruled in favor of the city and in 2004 the new station was approved by the city's zoning board and the City Council. 

The fire station finally opened on Oct. 31, 2006.

Press Release: Berkeley Homicide; Updated Information Release

From Lt. Andrew Greenwood, BPD
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:19:00 PM

Today the Berkeley Police Department is releasing updated and additional information regarding the homicide from Saturday night, February 18, 2012.

Several published and on-line reports relied on a single account of an inaccurate chronology of this incident. Please note below the actual timelines of the initial stages of this case.

At approximately 8:45 PM, BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller reported an encounter with an unknown person “hanging around” his property, and asked that an officer be sent to investigate. This call for service was queued for dispatch. 

At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest march which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. Concerns about the potential for violence associated with the march resulted in plans to allocate officers to monitor the march. 

At approximately 9:00 PM, an officer, seeing several pending calls for service, including two “suspicious circumstances”, offered to respond to either of the calls. The officer’s offer was declined, as only in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched. 

Two minutes later, at approximately 9:02 PM, BPD received a phone call reporting an attack in progress. The previous call information was updated and officers were dispatched within one minute. Officers were cleared to proceed using their emergency lights and sirens to the Park Gate location. 

The first officer broadcast arrival on scene in the northeastern hill neighborhood within five minutes of being dispatched. Numerous officers arrived over the next few minutes. 

An officer located the victim, called for paramedic assistance, and began providing first aid. Berkeley Fire Department paramedics had also been assigned to respond, and were en route. Paramedics arrived on scene and took over care of the victim. 

Within fifteen minutes, at approximately 9:22 PM, the suspect was located nearby, detained, and subsequently arrested. 

BPD is confirming the identity of the homicide victim as Peter Myron Cukor, 67 yrs old, of Berkeley. 

We are not releasing the booking photo at this time. We anticipate releasing the booking photo after our investigators are sure that all potential witness interviews have been completed, and no further witness identifications are necessary. Release of a booking photo in the early stages of an investigation can compromise identifications, the investigation, and subsequent prosecution. 

We are not releasing the recordings of the calls at this time. 

The investigation in this case continues and is on-going. The suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, remains in custody. Mr. Dewitt is scheduled to be arraigned on February 22, 2012, at 2:00 PM, in Department 112 at the Alameda County Courthouse. 

We are urging anyone who may know anything about this crime to please call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741, or the non-emergency number at (510) 981-5900. Any additional information may be critical in the efforts towards the charging and prosecution of this case. 

Chief Michael Meehan said, “This case cannot help but deeply affect the members of our community and the men and women of our police department, who are devoting their working lives to protecting this community. We are carefully reviewing the circumstances of this case in depth to ensure everything possible was done to properly respond to this tragic event.” 

We have no further information available at this time.

New: Early Morning Fire Burns West Berkeley Cottage at Art Studio

By Bay City News
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 10:19:00 AM

Firefighters are crediting a smoke alarm with alerting residents to an early morning fire that burned this morning at an artist's live and work space in West Berkeley. 

The blaze was reported at 3:25 a.m. in the 800 block of Page Street, at a building that contains residential and studio space, Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief Donna McCracken said.  

She described the structure as a "rambling, single-story property that has been tacked onto over the years." 

The owner rents out the original cottage portion of the property and lives in a rear area, she said.  

McCracken said it appears the fire started on the building's exterior and spread into the front rental cottage.  

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 15 minutes, she said. The cottage sustained moderate damage, she said.  

There were two people in the cottage and two others in the rear live and work space when the fire started. All four escaped safely, thanks to the smoke alarm, she said.  

"It's such a small cottage they could have been quickly overcome by smoke," McCracken said.  

Two firefighters were nipped by a frazzled Chihuaha named "Chuco," who "kind of wigged out" as they tried to help him, McCracken said. 

The dog's owner informed firefighters that Chuco's vaccinations were up to date, and the firefighters were not seriously injured. 

The studio space contains a number of sculptures and other pieces of art, but no artwork was damaged, she said.  

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Homeless Shelter and Classical Chorus Converge

By Lydia Gans
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:26:00 PM

"It was a dark and stormy night ...” some of us may remember those words from when we were kids sitting around a campfire shivering in anticipation of a scary story. On a recent dark and stormy Monday night two very different stories were taking place at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Inside the church assembly hall some 200 singers of the Berkeley Community chorus and Orchestra (BCCO) were rehearsing the dramatic Requiem Mass of Antonin Dvorak in preparation for their spring concert. At 10 o'clock director Ming Luke ended the rehearsal and everyone hustled to stack the chairs and move risers and piano into the far end of the room. The exhausted but inspired singers closed their music books and headed for their homes.

Outside on the dark street a large group of homeless people were gathered with their meager possessions waiting to to be sheltered inside. The music rehearsal venue was turned into an emergency storm shelter for the homeless. Word had been sent out that the shelter would be set up because cold and rainy weather was expected. It is not a regular homeless shelter. There is only enough money to operate it about 35 nights out of the year in extremely inclement weather. Funding comes almost entirely from the city of Berkeley with some additional support from Dorothy Day House which operates the shelter. 

J.C. Orton runs the shelter. Fifteen minutes before it opens he hands out tickets. The space can only accommodate 50 people. On this night 10 people had to be turned away. There is no place for those ten who were turned away from this shelter of last resort. 

By about 10:30 everyone is settled inside. The people sleep on foam covered mats on the floor. “Don't have to worry about bed bugs” J.C. explains. Everyone is provided with clean sheets. It is warm enough so that the sheet is sufficient. On the first four or five nights that the shelter operates Orton also gives out sleeping bags to anyone who might need one. “(T)hen if we're not open the next night they get to take the sleeping bag with them which allows them the effects of the shelter to extend beyond the shelter itself. They come to the shelter without a bag, they leave with a bag. It's like an added bonus.” For the next 8 hours these 50 homeless people could rest comfortably with a roof over their head. but by 6:15 in the morning everyone had to be out so the place could be cleaned and everything cleared away by 7 o'clock. First Congregational Church has been providing the shelter space for the 2 years free of charge. St. Marks Episcopal was home to the storm shelter for last 7 years prior to that, also without charge. 

Dorothy Day House employs J.C. to run the shelter. He is usually there when it opens, often with snacks or, on some nights, with soup left over from the Catholic Worker serving at People's Park. There are ten people who act as shelter operators, actually spending the nights on the premises. They are people who themselves are homeless or have experienced homelessness. 

J.C. keeps data on the characteristics of the shelter population. There generally are about four times as many men as women. There are eight or ten veterans who show up regularly. As for age distribution, 5% are 18 to 25, 65% are 25 to 55, and 28% are over 55. Over the years the aging of the baby boomer generation is showing up in an increasing proportion of older homeless people coming in. 

Expressing his feelings about the shelter, J.C. says, “I think it's a fantastic situation where we're able to take 50 people a night for somewhere up to 40 nights or 2000 people- nights and take these people not just a matter of giving them a cookie or a blanket or a hearty handshake or wishing them the best but taking the responsibility for 8 to 12 hours on all those nights - taking a personal responsibility for them. And the satisfaction of being able to give that depth of service to my mind's eye is overwhelming.”

FIRST PERSON: When to Say "Yes" and When to Say "No" to Panhandlers

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

Panhandling has always been an important part of human existence, ever since people were put in poverty by a society that sometimes lacks mercy. It is not fair or accurate to say that you should never give money to a panhandler. There are people who would perish without the generosity of strangers. We can not presume to know that they created their own problems and should reap the results. There are plenty of people who became poor largely due to circumstances that weren't under their control. 

I have given coins out of my pocket to panhandlers under certain circumstances, and sometimes not, when I felt that it would jeopardize me or someone to do so. I have compiled a guide that works for me concerning when I give a few coins in my pocket or not. Since I rarely carry cash except for these few coins which serve as meter money or candy bar money, I am not in a situation of getting my wallet out. 

To begin with, since I am a smoker I get asked for cigarettes a lot. However, many of those who ask me for one look like they could possibly be underage. In these instances, I always refuse. (I do not have to give a reason.) On the other hand, if someone appears close to my age and also does not appear to be an undercover cop, I will often give someone a smoke when asked. For those who believe that smoking is a horrendous evil, just ignore this part of the manuscript. 

When someone is holding a sign at a freeway off ramp, I drive by without helping that person. I send that person good thoughts. However, I do not want to create a hazardous situation that could cause a car accident. You are not doing anyone a favor when you block traffic to give to a panhandler, especially when this causes a car accident that could entail someone getting injured. 

Is someone appears threatening to me, I do not give help. This is entirely by my perception and does not rely on an attempt at objectivity. If I feel threatened, it is bad for me to help the person who is associated with that feeling, even if it is only in my own mind. I will remain polite to that person and will speak respectfully, but will not give money in return for intimidation. (Of course this idea does not include the IRS.) How do you know if someone is truly threatening you? Often you don't know and must operate by what feels real from your own limited perspective. If someone is exchanging threat for cash, it is not a gift, it is extortion. This is a bully-ism and is a different idea than the threat of a crime being perpetrated, which I cover next. 

If it is late at night, if the situation seems scary, or if you think you could be a victim of robbery or violence, then you must do whatever works in that situation. Usually that entails getting some distance as quickly as possible, and doing so without increasing your vulnerability-which getting out your wallet or getting close to a person would do. I was in front of a Macy's at a mall when three gentlemen who appeared to be sporting a tough guy fashion, (you know, the goatees and scarves over the heads) approached me and one of them said, "Give it up." Rather than standing there waiting for them to get closer, I quickly stood from the bench (where I had been reading) and ran into the Macy's so that anything that would happen would be recorded by their security cameras. The three followed me in but then realized they were among Macy's shoppers, and they proceeded to look like idiots, and then they left. 

A few years ago, I was in front of a McDonald's and had just bought a couple of hamburgers, when a man begged for help and said that he was starving to death and had problems with his blood sugar. I handed my hamburger to that man. He was quite grateful. 

When I am on foot, and in public where everything feels safe, and someone asks for spare change in a respectful way (they do not need to humiliate themselves or beg, they just need to be polite) I will give that person whatever change is in my pocket, which might total less than a dollar, or which could be a couple dollars. If I had more income and if I carried cash more often, I would give more. In addition to the change I am offering, I am giving the message of unconditional love. This does something to better the human condition.

Details About Berkeley Hills Killing Emerge Slowly--New BPD Release Lacks Name of Victim

Monday February 20, 2012 - 06:55:00 PM

Berkeley Police continue to withhold the name of the man who was killed by a trespasser outside his home in the Berkeley Hills on Saturday night. However, more details about the story have emerged in a variety of Bay Area publications. Some of these have been confirmed in a Saturday evening press release from the Berkeley Police.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle identifies the owner of the home where the crime took place and the probable victim as Peter Cukor, 67, a consultant with a logistics business. 

A report in the Alameda Patch said that the suspect who is in custody, Daniel Jordan DeWitt of Alameda, was a 2007 graduate of Alameda High School and a member of a prominent Alameda family. According to the Alameda Patch, his late grandfather, Al DeWitt, was the first African-American to serve on Alameda's City Council. 

His mother, Candy DeWitt, was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that her son had a history of mental illness, and details about what occurred the night of the killing seem consistent with this explanation if her son was indeed the assailant. The Chronicle story, based on information from unidentified sources, said the intruder hit the victim with a potted plant, and Jordan DeWitt, the suspect, was apprehended within a block of the Cukor home, apparently having made little attempt to flee. 

Various reports indicate that the reason the Berkeley police were slow to respond is that they were monitoring Occupy Oakland's Saturday night march into Berkeley. The latest BPD press release describes the sequence of events thus: 


"BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller calmly reported an encounter with a strange person on his property, and asked for an officer to respond. This call for service was queued for dispatch.  

"At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. 

"BPD subsequently received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Rd. Officers were immediately dispatched to that call." 


However, Planet reporter Ted Friedman, one of the few who covered the march, said that few City of Berkeley Police were visible at the Occupy protest. The BPD press release does not offer a timetable for the Saturday night events surrounding the murder, including the response times. 



Press Release: Berkeley Police Department; additional information re: 2/18/12 Homicide X

From Lt. Andrew Greenwood, Berkeley Police Department
Monday February 20, 2012 - 06:53:00 PM

Coverage of the February 18 homicide generated a number of questions today. We are offering this additional information regarding the homicide from Saturday night, February 18, 2012: 

BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller calmly reported an encounter with a strange person on his property, and asked for an officer to respond. This call for service was queued for dispatch. 

At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. 

BPD subsequently received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Rd. Officers were immediately dispatched to that call. 

Officers located the victim and immediately provided first aid. Berkeley Fire Department paramedics had also been assigned to respond, and were en route. Paramedics arrived on scene and took over care of the victim. 

We are not identifying the victim at this time. 

We are not releasing the booking photo at this time. We are working to insure that any subsequent identifications are not compromised through release of the photograph. 

We have no further information available at this time. 

The investigation in this case continues and is on-going. The suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, remains in custody.

New: Occupy Oakland Marches to Berkeley to Stick it To Cops and Memorialize

By Ted Friedman
Sunday February 19, 2012 - 09:26:00 PM
Occupy Oakland hits the streets of Berkeley, saturday night.
Ted Friedman
Occupy Oakland hits the streets of Berkeley, saturday night.
 Running Wolf, Saturday, giving a rousing speech at Occupy Oakland's Cal Berkeley appearance, perhaps to give each other mutual aid.
Ted Friedman
Running Wolf, Saturday, giving a rousing speech at Occupy Oakland's Cal Berkeley appearance, perhaps to give each other mutual aid.
Bad business Saturday might at Haas School of Business, a mutual aid protest, in which Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal join to condemn business as usual at Haas School of Business.
Ted Friedman
Bad business Saturday might at Haas School of Business, a mutual aid protest, in which Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal join to condemn business as usual at Haas School of Business.
Occupy Cal, which teamed with Occupy Oakland for this protest, secured permission, from International House, rear, to pitch tents on cramped lawn in return for agreeing to not camp on I-H steps.
Ted Friedman
Occupy Cal, which teamed with Occupy Oakland for this protest, secured permission, from International House, rear, to pitch tents on cramped lawn in return for agreeing to not camp on I-H steps.

When Berkeley's bad-ass brothers next door pay a Telegraph Avenue visit to its smaller uptown brothers, you might expect trouble on the Avenue. You might also expect that the marchers from downtown Oakland might be met by police. 

But expectations went unfulfilled, as OO made nice, with self-memorials, while sticking it to cops. 

The action had been billed as yet another "Fuck the Police," march, just the most recent in a series of FTP marches that often end in violence. 

It takes two to tangle, as the saying goes, and our cops didn't tango. Nor did they tangle. 

Based on a tip, I surveyed Telegraph, starting at 9:45, looking for cops. At 10:15, I headed for the Andronicos parking lot, an ideal police staging area. The lot was vacant, but by 10:20, I could hear the marchers approaching Derby and Telegraph. 

They blocked traffic, but some cars honked their approvals. “Fuck the police” was chanted not like a mantra, but like an exercise in oral interpretation. Still there are only so many ways to intone the weird idea, which could be analyzed by critics as a latent love of police. 

Love and hate have mated before, and often make a handsome twosome. 

By the time the marchers, fifty strong, reached the basement of university police headquarters at the south side of Sproul Hall, the FTP theme was at high pitch, and it perseverated. 

Three UCPD officers positioned themselves outside the doors of their headquarters, which are located beneath a flight of stairs to the ground floor. The stairs to the headquarters were barricaded. 

That the protestors were not going to fuck with the police now seemed likely. But then, the police seemed uninterested in fucking back, anyway. 

As one protestor explained, "without Oakland police beating on us, we're peaceful." 

I joined the march for its ascent up Bancroft Way to International House, a Rockefeller write-off in the 1920s, home, at various times, to six Nobel prize winners. The idea of men and women living under the same college roof was scandalous. 

Why march to I-House? To support Occupy Cal, and to support Occupiers who were speaking at an I-House event. Occupy Cal has ties to Occupy Oakland, but not to Occupy Berkeley, whose student members have thrown in with OC. 

While pretending to "Fuck the Police," the two neighboring Occupys rubbed each other’s backs. 

With the permission of I-House management, Cal Occupiers had pitched six tents on a small patch of ground out front. 

Four grim-faced university cops, at the I-H doorway in riot gear, blocked entry to anyone, but I-House residents. 

Occupy Oaklanders chanted Fuck the Police. It is the kind of slogan that grows on you—like sneezing. 

But there were also short speeches. Berkeley boy Zachary Running Wolf Brown, who recently turned 49, and announced he was again opposing Tom Bates for mayor, seemed greatly popular with OO. 

Brown drew many cheers and hoots of approval with his emotional account of the action four years ago at Memorial Stadium to save sixty-six oak trees, a two-and-a-half year protest which Brown claimed had been costly to the university. 

Brown claimed that his speech brought tears to the eyes of one of the cops. That's as intimate as it got at Fuck the Police. 

At 11:30, two jam-packed-with-cops black sedans passed I-House. Their glares almost seemed to say, "well fuck you, too," but they'll just deny it. It was a brief appearance. The police never returned. 

Nor did they stir, when later a thinned OO of mostly students left I-H to tour campus sites connected with Occupy—radical tourism. 

First tour stop, was the remains of the oak grove, which was acknowledged as the father of the Occupy movement. Then on to Haas School of Business, which was soundly drubbed for living up to its name, as a score of Haas hires were criticized for their economics. 

Next up, Doe Library, where tenters had surprised police by relocating their tents in the dark of night, Wheeler Hall where OB had dumbfounded university police by rigging a balcony so that any attempt to dislodge occupiers would have tossed them all to their deaths. 

"Even Cal cops couldn't do that," the tour guide noted. Last stop was the Sproul Hall steps, scene last year of protests reaching thousands. Fuck the Police was down to less than ten. But at least no one was hurt, except perhaps the police, and, they'll just deny it 

Ted Friedman finds most of his Planet stories on the South side. 

New: Rev. Billy's Roadshow in Berkeley Occupies Telegraph B of A—Sort Of

By Ted Friedman
Sunday February 19, 2012 - 06:04:00 PM
Rev. Billy working the crowd, which grew to 35, Saturday outside Caffe Med, on Teley. "Never trust a man in white shoes," he cautioned.
Ted Friedman
Rev. Billy working the crowd, which grew to 35, Saturday outside Caffe Med, on Teley. "Never trust a man in white shoes," he cautioned.
Early closing at BA, Telegraph, Saturday. Protestors are banging on bank windows, making demands. Rev. Billy is seventh from left.
Ted Friedman
Early closing at BA, Telegraph, Saturday. Protestors are banging on bank windows, making demands. Rev. Billy is seventh from left.
Reverend Billy blocking BA ATM, saturday, on Telegraph
Ted Friedman
Reverend Billy blocking BA ATM, saturday, on Telegraph

The whole bizarre incident started, as usual, in front of the Caffe Mediterraneum—center of the universe, where a tall man who resembles Jay Leno had attracted a crowd. 

Saying, "never trust a man in white shoes," he carried on like a Southern Baptist preacher, a white-suited version of Johnny Cash, as a Berkeley Poet Laureate, Julia Vinograd, later symbolized him for her next poem. 

For the past forty years Berkeley has hosted scores of entertaining street performers, such as Moon Man (selling lots on the moon), Polka Dot Man, Ricky Starr, Stoney Burke, Bubble Lady, the Nude Duo, Naked Man, and Hate Man. 

Reverend Billy, as he bills himself, is Billy Talen, a "comic preacher," performance artist, and anti-consumerist activist, famous in the big apple, and beyond. He has been a guest of Steven Colbert, and was arrested at Goldman Sachs last year, in an Occupy action organized by Cornell West. 

In Berkeley for a conference at the university, Billy wasted no time, Saturday afternoon, mounting an Occupy protest against Bank of America, whom he accused of being one of the worst threats to the world's survival, ecology-wise, and financially-wise. 

In less than an hour, he had worked up a group of passersby and a core of supporters recruited through social networking to march on the Bank of America at Telegraph and Durant—a bank so damaged by a quarter century of window-breaking protests, it now resembles a walled fortress against the world. 

Less than an hour was needed to mobilize more than thirty-five "congregants" to take aggressive action against the bank, while Occupy Berkeley, reduced to a rabble, continues its Hamlet-quibbles downtown. 

With the goal of "invading BA's secret vaults" to see the people's money, and striking a blow "to their genitals, their tender spot" Rev. Billy led his ecstatic congregation, northward—to BA, stopping briefly in front of Pappy's Pub, for more exhorting. 

The idea was to be worked, up, as in ecstatic religious fervor. Moans of ecstasy and angst reverberated on Telegraph, a street with a history of both. 

After going to the wrong BA door, thinking the exit, locked from inside, was an entrance—a mistake made even by locals, Billy steered his congregation around the corner to the entranceway leading to the "secret vault." 

And, of course, the bank's golden balls. 

Billy commanded his followers to enter the bank in groups of no more than four. It was then one hour before BA's weekend closing. Although the first wave of occupiers got inside the bank, the door was soon locked, locking them in. 

After getting some pictures I wanted from inside, I and four others, were asked, by the branch manager to exit through the side exit we had thought was a way in. This would have been a great opportunity for sitting-in, while the fevered congregation banged mightily on the bank's glass doorway from outside. 

But I took my last photos, and rejoined the group outside. The bank closed, 45 minutes before its usual closing. 

Billy, a veteran street performer, went to plan B—assaulting the ATM stations on the Telegraph side of the BA fortress. There were no police anywhere on the avenue. 

But the assaults to the ATMs, while gnashing, and forceful, were not destructive. 

Crossed forearms, a signal adopted by Occupy to block an idea or proposal, were used to angrily block BA and its policies. But the secret vaults, and, of course, the gold balls, were unscathed—although they took a pretty-good metaphorical beating. 

It was then back to the Med, and Billy was hungry. 

Seated with his fans, and dining on a big salad, a burrito—cappuccino in hand—Billy told the wondrous story of his mid-life transformation from play-producer at Fort Mason in the eighties to street performer on Times Square, performing as Rev. Billy across the street from the Disney store, and a block and a half from the New York Times. 

At first New Yorkers "thought I was really a preacher, and wanted to know my denomination ("Church of Stop Shopping," if you want to know)," Billy said. He had fielded just such questions on Telegraph. 

He told us that he owes his success to a now ninety-year old man, related to 

Tennessee Williams on the Lanier side of the family. "I talk to Sydney everyday," Billy said. It was Sydney, who goaded Billy to give up his job, wife, and SF ways for the big apple. 

Billy soon made the leap from street performing a block and a half from the New York Times, to the front page of its Sunday Magazine. His audience world-wide is in the millions. 

Quite a success story in big-apple-town, which may have more street-talkers than Berkeley. His seat-of-the-pants protests ain't too shabby, either. 


Ted Friedman reports for the Planet from South side, stories center of the universe. 


New: Bay Bridge Reopens Early

By Bay City News Service
Sunday February 19, 2012 - 06:07:00 PM

The Bay Bridge's westbound upper deck will reopen this evening, more than 24 hours ahead of schedule following a planned holiday weekend closure for demolition and construction work.  

With all planned demolition and maintenance work completed, California Department of Transportation Officials say they will begin removing cones from the bridge and approaches around 7 p.m.  

The first vehicles are expected to cross the bridge around 8 p.m., Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said.  

Motorists passing through the toll plaza are asked to drive carefully, since the merge will be different. While 20 lanes will still merge down to 5, they will curve slightly to the south, Ney said. 

California Highway Patrol officers will escort the first drivers across and drivers are reminded to follow their lead and use patience when crossing the bridge tonight.  

"Don't drive past any CHP vehicles unless told to do so, don't enter into any coned off areas," said CHP spokesman Officer Sam Morgan. 

The bridge was not scheduled to reopen until Tuesday at 5 a.m., but Ney said unexpectedly good weather had allowed work to progress quickly. "The next time we plan to close the Bay Bridge will be to open the new Bay Bridge, Labor Day weekend 2013," Ney said. 

The bridge's upper deck was closed at 8 p.m. Friday to accommodate demolition and maintenance projects related to the construction of a new eastern span. Crews demolished sections fo roadway to make way for an inclined section that will eventually carry eastbound traffic.  

The closure has pushed a surge of southbound traffic on to the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Unofficial numbers show that more than 67,600 vehicles drove south over the bridge on Saturday, up from 39,799 vehicles on the Saturday of Presidents Day in 2011, Golden Gate Transportation District spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

Flash: Berkeley Police Arrest Homicide Suspect in Berkeley Hills Killing

Press Release From Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley Police Information Officer
Sunday February 19, 2012 - 01:59:00 PM

Overnight, members of the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) arrested a male suspect for homicide just a short distance from where the crime took place.

On Saturday, February 18, 2012 at about 8:45 p.m. a community member called BPD from Shasta Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard to report a suspicious person/trespassing suspect near the garage when she and her husband returned to their home. The husband confronted the suspect and told him to leave. Minutes later, the husband walked outside and was assaulted.

View Larger Map 

The first arriving BPD officer rendered basic first aid to the victim until Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) paramedics took over and transported the victim to a local trauma center. Physicians pronounced the victim deceased at the hospital. BPD is not releasing the victim’s name until extended family and friends can be notified.
Additional BPD patrol officers went to the area to support the community member who called, as well as complete other aspects of the investigation such as securing the crime scene, completing neighborhood canvasses, talking to witnesses and searching for the suspect. A BPD patrol officer spotted a man who matched the description of the suspect within less than a block from the crime scene. Officers detained him. He was identified as the suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23 years old of Alameda. 

BPD Homicide detectives from the BPD Crimes Against Persons Unit were called in and have taken over the investigation. They have been working throughout the night and morning. This marks the second homicide of the year. 

BPD is urging anyone who may know anything about this crime to please call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741 or the 24 hour BPD non Emergency number of (510) 981-5900. If a community member wishes to remain anonymous, he/she is encouraged to call the Bay Area Crimes Stoppers (BACS) at (800)-222-TIPS (8477). Any additonal information may be critical in the efforts towards the charging and prosecution of this case.  

Two Vallejo Quakes, Felt in Berkeley, Were a Cluster, Says Expert

By James Lanaras (BCN)
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:03:00 AM

The U.S. Geological Survey has downgraded the magnitude of the most recent earthquake near Vallejo from 3.7 to 3.5. 

The quake, which was centered two miles south of Vallejo and was felt by Berkeley residents, occurred at 9:13 a.m. Thursday. On Wednesday, a 3.5-magnitude temblor occurred at 6:09 p.m. three miles south of Vallejo, according to the USGS. 

Sue Simon, the assistant to the Vallejo city attorney, said she felt both. 

"It was a small jolt then a big jolt," Simon said of this morning's quake. 

She said the jolts were about a half-second apart, and that she felt them from City Hall. 

"I was told the large windows in the building flexed out a little," Simon said. 

The USGS has received responses from throughout the Bay Area about the quake, most of them from the cities of Vallejo, Benicia, Napa, American Canyon and Martinez. 

Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, said he felt the "weak shaking" this morning that lasted a less than a second. 

He said it occurred close to the continuation of the West Napa Fault, which runs east of Santa Rosa southeast to Vallejo and is parallel to the Rodgers Creek and Hayward faults. 

Because both quakes were of magnitude 3.5, he considers them a cluster. If this morning's quake had been of a lesser magnitude, it would be considered an aftershock, Allen said. Both quakes had a depth of 5.7 miles, Allen said. 

Clusters are not that unusual, Allen said, noting that there were three or four small quakes in Berkeley in October.

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

By Ted Friedman
Friday February 17, 2012 - 09:11:00 AM
Entering men's shelter.
Ted Friedman
Entering men's shelter.
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at the Berkeley men's shelter, in the basement of the Veteran's Memorial Building.
Ted Friedman
Homeless man awaits an opening in one of three shelter "cells" at the Berkeley men's shelter, in the basement of the 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.

New: Occupy Oakland Marches to Berkeley

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Sunday February 19, 2012 - 10:10:00 AM

The weekly Occupy Oakland anti-police march headed to Berkeley Saturday night to meet with other Occupy demonstrators holding a conference at the University of California at Berkeley campus this weekend. 

Around 100 protesters gathered in Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza at around 9 p.m. and headed to Berkeley via Telegraph Avenue, according to protesters streaming video of the march over the Internet. 

There was minimal police presence around the march, and protesters blocked traffic freely on their way to Berkeley. No incidents of violence or vandalism were reported, despite a few arguments with bystanders along the way up Telegraph Avenue. 

Once arriving in Berkeley, protesters stopped briefly by the university's Sproul Hall to confront UC police there. 

Protesters then moved on to the site of the conference, UC Berkeley's International House at 2299 Piedmont Ave. 

The "Occupy the Truth" conference began Friday with a panel discussion between Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern and retired U.S. Army Col. Anne Wright. 

The conference is intended to give Occupy activists from Berkeley and Oakland a space to brainstorm ideas and reflect on strategy, organizers said. 

When Occupy Oakland protesters arrived, several tents had been set up in the lawn in front of International House, and the march from Oakland merged with a small crowd already gathered in front of the International House. 

Several university police stood inside of the building's doorway, but did not confront the crowd on the front steps. 

One Occupy Cal protester announced to the arriving crowd that they were invited to spend the night on the front lawn of International House. 

The Occupy the Truth conference is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today for its final day. 

An anti-police march has been held weekly in Oakland since Jan. 8, when protesters organized the recurring event in response to what they call continued harassment and brutality by the Oakland police. 

In recent weeks the march has spread to other cities in the Bay Area, as a similar march was held last Friday in San Francisco. 

Two arrests were reported at last Saturday's march in Oakland following a confrontation around a traffic stop by the California Highway Patrol. 

No arrests were reported this week.


The Editor's Back Fence

The Planet Website is Back

Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:22:00 PM

Thanks to all the readers who called and wrote to tell us that they missed the Berkeley Daily Planet today. There was a surprise glitch with the ownership of the berkeleydailyplanet.com domain name which was corrected about 10 this morning, but the correction takes from one to 24 hours to propagate throughout the Internet. Your renewed access will depend on your email/browser configuration, but if you're reading this you're back in touch. Our right to the name is now secured for nine more years!

We have also been experiencing intermittent server problems from our third party provider, not at the moment to be named here. We really hope they get their problems under control soon. If you can't get online at any point, please try try again.

And last but not least, email sent though some (sbcglobal.net for one) but not all email systems doesn't seem to be going through. Aargh! Computers! Please just keep trying.


Odd Bodkins: Breakfast (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 01:52:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Friends (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 01:57:00 PM


Joseph Young


Odd Bodkins: The Hot Dog Man (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday February 17, 2012 - 02:42:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

UC Berkeley’s Black Bloc Tactics

By Carol Denney
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 06:52:00 PM

The university hired a non-union crew to bulldoze the community garden and remove trees and plants in the west end of People’s Park for “maintenance” over the 2011 holidays without notice to merchants, students, residents, the People’s Park Community Advisory Board, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission, Kriss Worthington of District 7, or the City of Berkeley.

This was only Phase I of a $220,000 three-phase project, which continues to be conducted in complete secrecy. 

People’s Park is a city landmark. The People’s Park Community Advisory Board (PPCAB) was instituted on the advise of expensive, publicly funded consultants so that controversial issues could have a forum. 

The alterations in the park may seem beneficial to some. But the deliberate exclusion of the community from any of the planning, the deliberate effort to silence and sidestep an advisory board tasked with People’s Park as its arena, needs a response from any member of the community who cares about the potential downside of having the university treat our city as something that just in its way. 

The PPCAB has repeated inquired about a meeting and has been ignored by the university’s new employee on park issues. It remains ready to meet and host an opportunity to discuss the park project under city auspices, and would be happy to join with any commission wishing to assist. 

If the relevant commissions in the city are silent on this point, it is an invitation to the university to ignore community input and involvement on many other issues affecting us as citizens. Should the university be allowed to use Black Bloc tactics to make unilateral decisions about our parks and neighborhoods? It’s up to you.

People with Potential: Providing Sanity to the US’ Struggle for Israel’s Peace

by Wendy Kenin @greendoula
Friday February 17, 2012 - 02:58:00 PM

For Americans who are burnt out by the negative and aggressive public dynamic between opposing political factions on Palestine-Israel peace, hope lives! I am thrilled to introduce you to some incredible people with their priorities in order who are coming from the Holy Land and speaking sanely about how to move forward. These people have already demonstrated the ability to reach a diverse political spread of people, and they are only in the earliest stages of their work. 

Izzeldin Abuelaish
Palestinian Father who lost his daughters in the Gaza War 

Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian OBGYN who worked at an Israeli hospital delivering Palestinian and Israeli babies, does not advocate for BDS. This man, who loves and respects women, is unabashedly for peace. He won the hearts of Israeli and American Zionists alike, when he travelled on speaking tours after his daughters and niece were killed by IDF blasts to their home in January 2009. The incident shook up Israel, as Abuelaish was being interviewed on Israel television network news immediately after the shelling took place. The Gaza War ceasefire followed several days after. Since then, Dr. Abuelaish has won awards and been hosted by many faith and community organizations around the world. 

Noteably, in Greenwich, Connecticut last year, two Zionist Jews wrote heartfelt appreciation and praises for Dr. Abuelaish. 

Don Synder wrote for the Stanford Advocate May 12, 2011: We hope apostles of peace such as Dr. Abuelaish prevail in this long-festering conflict. 

Alma Rutgers devoted her 2011 Father’s Day piece in the Greenwich Time to Abuelaish: How many could experience such devastating loss and not feel hatred toward the perpetrators of injustice? And not desire revenge? Dr. Abuelaish refuses to succumb to hatred. “Hatred is an illness,” he says. “It prevents healing and peace.” 

Author of the autobiographical book, “I Shall Not Hate,” Abuelaish is currently a professor in Toronto, Canada and has created a foundation Daughters of Life to support education and leadership for girls and women, in memory of his daughters. If you ask Dr. Abuelaish, he will tell you that women should be in charge. 

Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolf
Midwives together promoting simple newborn and maternal wellness through bonding 

Aisha Saifi, a Palestinian midwife, and Leslie Wolff, an Israeli midwife, are two women collaborating to promote the practice of skin-to-skin contact after birth to improve health outcomes. Working together through a coexistence program with other midwives, currently fiscally-sponsored by the Interfaith Encounter Association, Saifi and Wolff were well received when they presented their campaign at Sweden’s Kangaroo Mothercare Conference. 

Many incredible Palestinian – Israeli coexistence efforts are simultaneously taking place across Israel, ranging in form from environmental volunteer days, to intentional dialogue groups, to interfaith programs, to educational institutes, and inter-generational cultural exchanges. 

The skin-to-skin campaign by Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolff, a transnational effort resulting from a coexistence program, exemplifies the potential powerful outcomes of coexistence work. 

The impact of the war on women and families is well-understood. Yet these midwives who serve people directly affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict have risen above the tension to raise awareness of a universal human health need, in turn nurturing humanity’s interpersonal bonding and connectedness during a time of great fragmentation. 

The effects of modernization on women are in some respects as damaging as war, in the way that maternal instincts and practices have been replaced with technology and lifestyles that are void of wisdom and continuity and that interfere in critical familial relationships. Progressive reproductive justice advocates in the United States have much to gain from these midwives who are responding to an urgent crisis with brilliance, love and wisdom. 

Alon Tal
Environmentalist brings Global Greens universal values to Israel Politics 

Other advocates who stand at the forefront of a livable future are environmentalists. Possibly the most-known environmentalist in Israel, Alon Tal might be the best qualified progressive Zionist to address the left wingers in the US who are furious with Israel. Co-Chair of the Israel Green Party, Tal speaks the language of Green Party members around the world – including that of the Green Party of the United States. 

In 2010, Tal crafted a “constructive” response to Amnesty International’s biased report on water access for Palestinians, published in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

On his current visit to the US, Tal has been talking about his work as founder of the US-based Green Zionist Alliance, and as founder of Israel’s Aravah Institute, which involves cross-border collaborations and environmental studies and advocacy. On tour, he decries the current state of democracy in Israel, presenting an honest and hopeful, socially-conscious outlook. 

The US Green Party has been boycotting Israel now for almost a decade, and its national platform calls for a one-state solution – two misguided positions built on disengagement with Israel. Being the Israeli leader of a sister party to the US Green Party, Tal is in a position to create collaborative opportunities between like-minded party members who agree on the principles described in the Global Greens Charter, through international Green channels – which are parallel to the values and global structures of today’s international spring and occupy movements. 

Local Green elected officials and candidates in the US are generally supportive of coexistence efforts, which are aligned with the Green Party of the United States’ 10 Key Values, and are open to cultural exchange with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts despite the national US Green Party’s exclusionary policies. It’s likely Tal has the mental capacity and skill to conduct critical bridge-building civility diplomacy while simultaneously running for and winning a pioneering seat for the Israel Green Party in the Knesset. 

These four people’s primary work, before politics, is in the profession of life. Dr. Abuelaish an OBGYN, midwives Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolff, take care of human beings at the beginning of life. Environmentalist Alon Tal advocates for responsible practices that heal and protect the living environment, human and earthly habitat. Spiritually it makes sense to see these birth-oriented persons at the head of a rational and loving process that offers hope to a future of peace. 

These inspirational people, while being very special, do not only exist in silos. There are thousands of people working together to make social change in Israel, and addressing these same dynamics amongst communities around the world. 

It’s very likely that these and other reasonable and inspirational people are coming through your area. But if they’re not, no one with social media has an excuse any more to stay out of societal issues. We all have a responsibility to search until we find and pursue the avenues we think will lead to peace. 

Wendy Kenin serves on the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, and is a California Delegate to the National Committee of the Green Party of the United States. By day she is the Community Engagement Specialist at UpStart Bay Area, a Jewish social innovation hub based in San Francisco. A member of the Occupy Oakland Media Committee, Wendy tweets @greendoula. Founder of the Jewish childbirth assistance network Imeinu Doulas, Wendy is a Shabbat-observant, kosher-keeping mother of 4 children in Berkeley, California. 

This piece was first published in the ACCESS blog of the American Jewish Committee.


EATS, SHOOTS 'N' LEAVES: Fast Company Makes a Major Amyris Fail

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:37:00 PM

Back in 1995, two former Harvard Business Review editors created Fast Company, which soon became the rock star of the publishing world, selling in 2000 to a branch of German publishing giant Bertelsmann for the biggest sum ever paid for a magazine, $350 million.

It’s now owned by the founder and chief executive of Morningstar, the leasing rating agency in the world of bonds.

Every year they come up with a list of Most Innovative Companies, described thusly by Wikipedia

For their Most Innovative Companies feature, Fast Company assesses thousands of businesses based on creativity, real-world impact, risk taking, and execution to create a list of just 50 companies. 

Well, they’ve just come out with this year's list, and guess what Berkeley-created company landed amongst the elite? 

That would be Amyris, the outfit started by a UC Berkeley “bioengineer” and initially bankrolled by Bill Gates to use genetically altered microbes to create a cheap antimalarial drug, which didn’t turn out to be cheap, the switched over to using gene-tweaked bugs to produce fuel. [Our previous stories on the company are here.] 

Here are the reasons Fast Company picked Amyris for this year’s top 50 list, reported by Rachel Z. Arndt: 

Last year, the California-based biotech firm opened its first commercial renewable-chemicals plant outside São Paulo. In 2012, that facility should pump out 50 million liters of sugarcane-derived farnesene. That’s enough to power many of the city’s 15,000 buses, replacing the standard high-in-sulfur fuel, which spews noxious fumes. “Carbon emissions are reduced at least 50%,” says Amyris cofounder and CTO Neil Renninger. The company also announced a deal last fall to make sugar-based rubber for Michelin tires (set to roll out in 2015). Sweet. 

There’s only one problem, which we’ve reported in detail: The company’s predicted fuel output was a pipe dream, and real 2012 production figures will be far, far smaller, with none of it devoted to fuel. Rather, Amyris will peddle the fruit of genetically bacteria as a chemical for the manufacture of perfumes, cosmetics, and such. 


http://richardbrenneman.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/blog-hindenburg.jpg Let us quote from MIT Technology Review

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.” 

The company’s dismal performance is reflected in the price of its shares, which were matching its all-time low of $6.06 this morning, rebounding to $6.14. That’s down from a record high of $33.85 little over a year ago. 

So it looks like Fast Company is slow on the uptake. We trust any potential Amyris investors will do a little further digging before they take the plunge. 

Now we can understand that magazine deadlines might have made it difficult to change what came out in print, but really, there’s no excuse for post bad information on the magazine’s website. 

Hope the company’s owner is more exacting when it comes to rating bonds. 

THE PUBLIC EYE:Class Warfare: Which Side Are You On?

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:11:00 AM

Are we in the middle of a Class War? Billionaire Warren Buffett thinks so, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Most Americans agree; a recent Pew Poll found “Two-thirds of Americans said they think there are ‘very strong’ or ‘strong’ class conflicts in society.” But there’s a notable lack of enthusiasm for making fundamental change. 

One would think that with the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there would be a strong push for radical social reform. After all, 49 percent of Americans believe the US economic system to be “unfair.” But a recent Gallup Poll found that most Americans are not militant on this issue; they would rather promote policies to “grow and expand the economy” than they would to “reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor.” 

This result is perplexing. Time Magazine asked respondents if they agreed with the positions advocated by Occupy Wall Street and discovered extraordinary concurrence. 86 percent agreed that, "Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington." 79 percent agreed that, "The gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large." 71 percent agreed with "Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted." And 68 percent agreed that, "The rich should pay more taxes." Nonetheless, there was a 45-50 percent enthusiasm gap, because many Americans, who expressed these strong positive sentiments, didn't support Occupy Wall Street. On the one hand the 99-Percent are concerned about the growing economic divide, but on the other hand they appear unready to do much about it. 

Perhaps working Americans do not understand how grave the situation is. A recent Mother Jones article graphically illustrated the problem: in the last 30 years the income of the one-percent has quadrupled and everyone else has experienced no growth. The Washington Post noted that in 2008, the average family income for the bottom 90 percent was $31,244 and that was a 1 percent DECLINE from 1970. During the same period, the top .1 percent saw their income increase by 385% to $5.6 million. (The wealth divide is even more extreme; while the top 1 percent earn 21 percent of the nation’s income, they now control 36 percent of our wealth.) 

The good news is that there is growing awareness among the 99-percent that they’ve been ripped off; that they’re engaged in a decades-long class war and their side is losing. As a result working Americans are in favor of raising taxes on the 1-percent. And there’s some evidence that the 99-percent are waking up to the problem of big money in politics, the problems caused by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The bad news is that this may not be enough to save our Democracy. 

Over the last thirty years, the United States has been looted. The rich and powerful, the 1-percent, have taken a disproportionate share of the economic gains that we’ve all worked for. As a consequence America is teetering on the brink of Plutocracy. To remedy this inequity and restore Democracy, fundamental changes must be made. 

The first step is recognition that we’re in a class war and must take sides. Recently ani difranco updated the words to the old Union song, “Which Side Are You On?” They aptly summarize the current political situation: 

Thirty years of diggin’  

Got us in this hole 

The curse of Reaganomics 

Has finally taken its toll. 

Lord knows the free market 

Is anything but free 

It costs dearly to the planet 

And the likes of you and me. 

I don’t need those money lenders 

Sucking on my tit 

A little socialism 

Don’t scare me one bit! 

Which side are you on now 

Which side are you on? 


On one level, the 2012 election will be a referendum on the economy and Obama’s leadership. But at another, deeper level the election will be about class warfare: are Americans prepared to stop the looting? Are they prepared to take sides? 

Barack Obama is not a perfect candidate but at least he is willing to talk about class warfare and to propose common sense steps towards economic justice. That’s a big difference from Mitt Romney who doesn’t think we have a class problem or issues with economic fairness and says of people who suggest this “[It's] about envy. It’s about class warfare.” 

Which side are you on? 

So are we just consumers Or are we citizens? 

Are we gonna make more garbage 

Or are we gonna make amends? 

Are you part of the solution 

Or are you part of the con? 

Which side are you on now 

Which side are you on? 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Time to Protect Kid's Privacy Online

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:06:00 AM

Privacy has become a major issue in the United States and Congress is paying attention. H.R. 1895, "The Do Not Track Kids Act," , a bi-partisan bill sponsored by U.S. Representatives Ed Markey (D. MA) and Joe Barton (D. TX), is pending in Congress. H.R. 1895 would amend the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act" (COPPA) by introducing additional provisions to govern the collection and use of teens' personal information. 

COPPA, effective April 21, 2000, was passed before cookies and other tracking technologies were being used, and doesn't cover teens, who frequently use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. COPPA applies to the online collection of personal information from children under 13. COPPA spells out what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online. COPPA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has promulgated regulations to enforce COPPA. For more information on COPPA, see the FTC's "Frequently Asked Questions about the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule.

H.R. 1895 takes COPPA even further by prohibiting Internet companies from collecting personal information from anyone under 13 without parental consent, and from teens without their consent, and prohibits companies from profiling kids and teens for advertising. It also requires websites to have an "eraser button" to get rid of information collected about kids and teens. 

H.R. 1895 is motivated by sincere concerns for the collection of children and teens' personal information online. The Act, however, could result in mandatory age verification and increased collection of personal information from all users, and thus, could infringe the rights of teenagers to access completely appropriate, lawful speech online. One change to COPPA is to the entities covered by COPPA from sites that know they are collecting information "from a [specific] child" to sites that know they collect information "from children" generally. While the amendment from "a child" to "children" seems minor, It could effectively expand COPPA to apply to most general-interest websites, rather than just websites directed at children. Although teens are known to surf the internet and visit general websites as wll as those directed at children. These websites would be faced with the choice of risking violations of COPPA, or adopting a more rigorous screening system that would validate the age and identity of every user, in order to obtain appropriate parental consent from child users. Are these requirements too burdensome? 

Does H.R. 1895 raise First Amendment concerns by inadvertently blocking material that is constitutionally protected by depriving children of access to information that everybody would agree they should see? Children clearly do not have the same First Amendment rights as adults, but they do have some First Amendment rights. Children's speech rights are diminished in direct proportion to age -- the younger the child, the greater degree of permissible regulation. H.R. 1895 would seem to be permissible regulation. 

COPPA should not be confused with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), enacted on October 23, 1998. COPA sought to prohibit online sites from knowingly making available to minors material that is “harmful to minors.” Enforcement of this law was immediately subject to legal challenge under the First Amendment. In June 2004, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court injunction against the law, ruling that it was most likely unconstitutional. COPPA and the proposed amendment thereto, on the other hand, strike an appropriate balance of protecting children from marketers and sexual predators online, while allowing children to take advantage of the many benefits of the Internet. 

While no privacy protection law will ever be perfect as kids can enter fake ages when they sign up at websites and too much protection can limit kids' access to the good things on the internet, on balance H.R. 1895 is good step toward making kids safer online. 

Let your members of Congress know how you feel about H.R. 1895, "The Do Not Track Kids Act."

WILD NEIGHBORS: The Duck in the Cave

By Joe Eaton
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:27:00 AM
Two nene on Kaua'i: relatively normal geese.
Alejandro Barcenas, via Wikimedia Commons.
Two nene on Kaua'i: relatively normal geese.

Yes, it’s another Hawai’i column. “Neighbors” is a relative term.

I’ve written before about the extraordinary birds called Hawai’ian honeycreepers, or more technically drepanine finches (“dreps” for short.) They’re a classic evolutionary radiation: some generalized ancestral finch gave rise to over 50 descendant species with diverse plumage colors and specialized bill shapes and functions. For a long time there’s been speculation as to whether the ancestor originated in Asia and North America. In an earlier piece for a now-defunct magazine, I imagined a house finch or lesser goldfinch flying from California to Hawai’i with the seed of a tarweed—itself the ancestor of the equally extraordinary silversword plants—clinging to its feathers. 

Well, the geneticists have smashed that all to hell. The latest analysis of drepanine phylogeny indicates the founding species was a Eurasian rosefinch—a close relative of our house, purple, and Cassin’s finches, but no cigar. Something else must have introduced the proto-tarweed; maybe the solitaire that gave rise to the Hawai’ian thrushes, or some other North American species that died without issue. 

North American ancestry remains likely for other Hawai’ian birds, though. The nene, or Hawai’ian goose—the state bird, except on Kaua’i where the feral chicken rules—is considered to be an offshoot of the Canada goose. 

Hawai’ian waterfowl are an interesting assortment, with varying degrees of modification for island life. The nene, despite a few quirks like reduced webbing between its toes, is a pretty standard goose. And the koloa, the only surviving native duck, could pass for a female mallard (and in fact is at risk of genetic swamping by introduced mallards.) 

Other ducks evolved in bizarre directions once they reached the islands. An earlier dabbling duck colonization resulted in the moa- nalo lineage: large flightless browsers with heavy beaks like the jaws of a tortoise. The evolution of prickly leaves in island plants of the lobelia family may have been a defensive response to the foraging habits of these birds. Fossil and subfossil moa-nalo remains have been found on all the main islands except Hawai’i, the Big Island. “Moa” is the word for “chicken” in most Polynesian languages and was applied to anything at all poultry-like, as with the giant birds of New Zealand. “Moa-nalo” is a modern coinage; the Hawai’ians left no oral traditions or other records of these birds, not even recipes. 

The most bizarre of all Hawai’ian ducks was discovered about ten few years ago, during the excavation of the Makauwahi Cave on the south shore of Kaua’i. David Burney, a paleoecologist and director of conservation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which has three units on Kaua’i, has been digging at Makauwahi for a couple of decades. His work, chronicled in his book Back to the Future in the Caves of Kaua’i, has allowed the reconstruction of a lost ecosystem, which has already begun in the cave’s vicinity. 

Burney has found the remains of other extinct creatures in the cave, but nothing to rival Talpanas lippa, the mole-duck, described in 2009 on the basis of a single specimen from Makauwahi. It was a small duck, about the size of a female mallard, and apparently flightless: Hawai’i’s approximation of a kiwi. Talpa is the Latin word for “mole,” anas for duck. Andrew Iwaniuk, Storrs Olson, and Helen James, authors of the description, concluded that the bird had “reduced visual abilities, as reflected externally by its small orbits and optic foramen.” But it compensated with a hyperdeveloped tactile sense.

“The hole in the skull for the nerve carrying the sense of touch is over ten times the diameter measured in ducks of comparable size, suggesting that it may have been more heavily reliant on the sense of touch for foraging than any living species of bird in the world,” writes Burney. Iwaniuk et al note that the living duck-billed platypus also has an enlarged trigeminal nerve. The platypus relies on electrosensory input as it hunts in murky water; the mole-duck might have done the same. It might be fair to call the bird a platypus-billed duck. 

With its small eyes and sturdy legs, Talpanas appears to have been nocturnal and land-based. There’s nothing remotely like it among contemporary ducks, although ruddy ducks and other stifftails use tactile cues rather than vision to locate prey. Burney’s conclusion is apt: “It seems that we have dug up something that nobody would have even remotely imagined to exist, had it not been for the discovery of these bones.” 

The mole-duck is long gone, of course. Its remains were found below vegetable matter that was carbon-dated as at least 5305 years old, when the cave site was a lake; one more tantalizing piece of a lost world.

SENIOR POWER The eyes have it…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday February 17, 2012 - 12:32:00 PM

Your first indication may be that notorious newspaper fine print. Held at the usual distance from your eyes, you find yourself holding the paper farther from your eyes to focus the image.  

Some gerontologists believe that it is not the graying of the hair but changes in the lens of the eye that come closest to being a universal normal age change in humans. The lens becomes thicker and heavier with age, reducing the ability to focus on close-up objects. The condition, called presbyopia, occurs in about 42% of people aged 52-64, 73% of people aged 65-74, and 92% of people 75+.  

There are things we can do when we recognize changes in our senses. The eye has the ability to adjust to see near and far objects, shading and colors, variations in lighting from almost complete darkness to sudden emergency into light. Age-related changes in vision occur in two primary areas of the eye: the lens and the retina. Presbyopia is the term used to describe slowness in changing the focus from far to near; stemming partly from the loss of elasticity in the lens. If you need simple magnification in both eyes and have no other conditions that require correction, you may try over-the-counter reading glasses, now available in some states. Always begin with the weakest glasses with which you can read. For dry eyes, use artificial tears.  

A regular complete eye examination to check for glaucoma and other serious eye diseases may detect such other undiagnosed systemic conditions as diabetes and hypertension. Four diseases are the principal causes of visual impairment and blindness in older persons: cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.  

Formation of cataracts is generally considered a disease, although some believe that if you live long enough, it’s inevitable. This is one of several examples that illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing between some normal age changes and disease.  

In (too) many communities, cataract surgery is regarded as “day surgery” or “ambulatory surgery” wherein the medical community expects the patient to deliver her/himself to the hospital at the crack of dawn (try getting a taxi then) and, in a few hours, to be picked up by friends or relatives, taxi prohibited. That s/he may have no family and or live alone is not considered. 

Nevertheless, I urge anyone whose ophthalmologist has diagnosed need for cataract surgery to proceed! It is amazing what a difference it can make. I was stuck for transportation to and from the hospital… until I mentioned it to a senior center staff member. Of course, that was in olden days… 

A Japanese friend’s 84 year old mother, who lives alone in the Greater Tokyo area, had cataract surgery on both eyes, one at a time, a day apart. If a patient is living with someone, s/he can go home. Okaa-san chose to remain in the hospital “for some days because she preferred to do so. It was costly, but she didn't want to go home until she was able to go out for grocery shopping, etc..” The total cost was $720. She paid $520.00, mainly for the hospital stay. Japan has a mandatory (universal) health care system. Her monthly health insurance payment is $70. 

Eye floaters are spots in your vision. They may look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes. Most are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside your eyes becomes more liquid. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together and can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as floaters. 

If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of an emergency that requires prompt attention. Spots may eventually settle down and drift out of the line of vision 

“Age-related vision problems” is a slide show by the Mayo Clinic staff, available online. 


An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine (M.D.) who diagnoses and treats eye diseases and performs eye surgery. Ophthalmologists used to expect the patient to have the prescription filled by an optician, and then return to have it checked! That too was in olden days. 

Forty three ophthalmology physicians in or near Berkeley, California are listed as accepting the Medicare-approved amount on all claims. This is called “accepting Medicare assignment.” Always consult My Medicare for the names of physicians who accept Medicare assignment in your area. Medicare will respond “Accepts Medicare-approved amount on all claims.” Nevertheless, double check when making your initial appointment.  

It’s becoming difficult for senior citizens to feel for physicians’ alleged money problems. When attempting to make a doctor’s appointment, you are asked about your insurance; it can be unwise to respond “Medi Medi” (stands for Medicare and Medi-Cal), or “Medi-Cal” or even “Medicare!” Some physicians require a senior citizen (even a long-time patient) with Medicare to also have a secondary insurer other than Medi-Cal. These tend to be eeking out a living in sports med, orthopedics, cosmetic surgery… 

Let me know of senior citizen deny-ers!  

Medicare does not cover eyeglasses other than one prescription following cataract surgery. 

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry (O.D.) who is trained to examine, diagnose, and treat conditions of the visual system. Both can prescribe corrective lenses.  

An optician fits and makes eyeglasses and, in some states, fits contact lenses from a doctor’s prescription.  

I am not a medical doctor. 

Here’s a tip. When you get “new glasses,” i.e. when your lens prescription is updated or otherwise changed, the optician may ask you if you “want the old lenses.” Always say Yes! Keep them in a safe place.  


Meredith M. Whiteside, OD, FAAO, Associate Clinical Professor; Director, Geriatric & Elder Care Outreach Clinic, shares with Senior Power information about general eye care and the University of California, Berkeley Optometric clinic, which is open 7 days a week. For those who have a medical condition that prevents them from leaving their home or nursing facility to receive eye care, there is the Home Visit Clinic. In order to ensure that those who really need in home care receive it, documentation is required from (typically) the patient's physician who certifies the person's disability and gives a summary of the medical conditions including medications. The scheduling person for this program at U.C. Berkeley Optometry is Theresa Bertero, who can be reached at 510 642-2020x1. 

Whiteside mentions another clinic that may be of use to Senior Power column readers who are patients at the Over 60 Health Center. There is an optometry clinic that runs 2 days per week. She points out that the Lions Club does some vision screenings for seniors at well. The person in charge of that program is Ed Schroth (pronounced "Sch-rOat"). He can be reached at (925) 432-3013. 



President Obama's budget request for fiscal year 2013 includes investments in some programs for seniors, but cuts in others. Older Americans Act funding would generally be frozen, and Medicare spending would be reduced by $302.8 billion over 10 years. 


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 4, 2012. STAGEBRIDGE presents the World Premiere of Counter Attack!, a new play by Joan Holden, starring Joan Mankin as Marlene, an aging waitress who discovers that her lifelong position is suddenly under attack. You¹d be surprised to discover what really goes on behind the counter. Inspired by Candacy Taylor¹s 2009 book, Counter Culture, the American Coffee Shop Waitress. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. For show times and to reserve ticketst: www.stagebridge.org or 510-444-4755 x114. 

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

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.  

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. 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. Sign up in the office or 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. 

Friday, March 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Dept. of Music students perform chamber music. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

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: Robert Calonico, drector Ron Nelson: Savannah River Holiday, Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite 1. March: Seventeen Come Sunday 2. Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy 3. March: Folk Songs from Somerset Morten Lauridsen/arr. H. Robert Reynolds: O Magnum Mysterium Steven Bryant: Stampede Henry Fillmore/arr. Loras Schissel: Lassus Trombone. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 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. Designed for individuals 50+, this 8 hour course is taught in 2, 4-hour sessions over a 2-day period. Preregistration required; cost is $12 per person for AARP members, $14 non-AARP members. Registration payable by check ONLY, made payable to AARP. Sign up in the Mastick Office. 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, March 8. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. See also March 15. 

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 base his presentation on the book, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, by Rajinder Singh. 510-526-7512. 

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself. This is the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. (And a contemporary condition as well.) Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 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. 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. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

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. 

















Arts & Events

"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" Can a Film about the ELF Win an Oscar?

By Gar Smith
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 12:57:00 PM

This coming Sunday, the Motion Picture Academy will select its winner for Best Documentary. One of the selections, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman's If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, offers a surprising take on the nature of "terrorism" and unearths the early roots of today's Occupy Movement. The documentary takes viewers inside the world of Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist whose zeal and frustration led him to commit acts that the media came to brand as "eco-terrorism." 

If a Tree Falls catches up with McGowan years after he traded in his black mask, ninja duds and gasoline bombs for a sedentary life with a straight job and a supportive family. But when his past catches up with him, McGowan is forced to reflect on the surreal injustice of it all: "No one got hurt and no one was injured but I'm facing life plus 335 years." 

If a Tree Falls is a vivid and visceral film that chronicles the birth and fiery path of the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF), a shadowy group of radical activists that predated and prefigured the current generation of Occupiers. 

The film's historic footage includes many "where-have-I-seen-that-before" images of people smashing windows and suffering punishing body blows from police truncheons. There is even a scene of a police officer pepper-spraying ranks of peaceful protestors sitting on the ground with their arms linked. (But this was the 1990s and they were "environmental activists," not students, so no paid much heed. If you were an environmental activist, cops were expected to come down on you. It was part of the job description.) 

Watching a slightly chubby, stubble-bearded and soft-spoken Daniel McGowan puttering around the house with his family and friends in New York, you would never peg him as the target of "the largest domestic terrorism investigation in the history of the United States." How was it that someone who graduated college to take a job at Burston-Marsteller, wound up on the governments "terrorist" list? 

The Radicalization of Daniel McGowan
McGowan's sister Lisa tries to explain how her brother became such a tunnel-vision radical. She recalls coming home one day to find that Danny had stripped all the labels off all her food cans to recycle the paper. When she pointed out that she could no longer tell a soup can from a can of beans, he replied: "Gee, I never thought of that." 

For McGowan, it was at the Wetlands, a famous New York City eco-bar, "where it all changed." That's where he saw an environmental film that revealed the brutal reality of logging, mining, and whaling. "Holy crap! What are we doing?" McGowan thought. And, from that point on, he describes himself as living in "a state of perpetual mourning." 

He started protesting, wrote hundreds of protest letters and became further radicalized at a Wisconsin Rendezvous. It was the first time McGowan really spent time outdoors. After bonding by skinny-dipping in a lake, everyone went down to the local mining office to protest and got arrested. 

McGowan migrated to Oregon and the site of a proposed US Forest Service timber sale. When the locals heard the pristine Warner Creek was to be opened to logging they responded to the news by Occupying the forest. They dug trenches in logging roads and blocked trucks and bulldozers. They built a protest encampment smack in the middle of a road — complete with a walled perimeter and a drawbridge. The Occupation lasted for a year, right through the winter snows. Eventually the USFS bulldozed the encampment and arrested the protesters. 

"Soon after," one activist recalls, "things began to escalate." It was becoming increasingly clear that the Forest Service does not exist to "protect forests." It sees forests as crops. A 1,000-year-old old-growth redwood is just a resource to be fed to the logging industry. 

The Rising Tide of Green Anger 

The ELF decided to underscore this revelation by torchlight. The USFS's Oakridge Ranger Station was the first to go up in flames. This act marked the arrival of an enviro version of the "black bloc" — and it signaled a split in the movement. 

Another galvanizing event occurred on June 1, 1997 when the Eugene, Oregon, city council announced plans to cut down a historic "heritage tree" to build a parking lot for Semantec. Eleven activists climbed into the top branches the night before the tree was to be logged. A hearing on the fate of the tree was scheduled the next day but city officials were in no mood to wait. They sent in police equipped with masks, guns and truncheons. The enterprising cops employed cherry pickers that allowed them to assault the activists clinging to the branches 40 feet above the ground. 

During the ensuing scuffle, the camera zooms in on Jim Flynn, one of the tree-sitters and a former editor of Earth First! Journal, as an officer in a cherry-picker cuts off one leg of Flynn's pants in order to aim a blast of pepper-spray at his genitals. His legs flailing in obvious pain, Flynn tries desperately to escape the sting of the chemicals without losing his grip on the tree. 

Despite the protests, the tree was cut down. This arrogant show of force — in support of a corporation over the wishes of the community — gave rise to an anger that was vast and incrementally radicalizing. 

Bob Barton, a logger who also is an environmental activist, offers this observation: "The industry tends to call the environmentalists 'radical' but the reality is that 95% of the standing native forests in the United States have been cut down. It's not 'radical' to try and save the last five percent. What's 'radical' is logging 99 percent." 

McGowan, a disgruntled city kid from the East, found himself immersed in the Ancient Forests of the Pacific Coast where the sight of logging trucks and clear cuts was just too painful to ignore. "This is butchery!" McGowan thought. "Why are we being so gentle in our activism when this is what's happening?" 

The ELF soon took on another form of butchery: the slaughter of wild horses at the Cavel West meat packing plant in Redmond, Oregon. Local protesters had spent 10 years in a fruitless effort to shut the plant but on July 1, 1997, a squad of ELFers torched the plant and destroyed it. The effectiveness of the action was undeniable. In a single night, ELF had done what a decade of petitions, vigils and letter writing had failed to accomplish. 

The same flamboyant tactic was soon being applied to timber companies, Bureau of Land Management buildings, and a nearly finished $12 million ski resort at Vail, Colorado. 

Inspired by this new and demonstrably effective form of action, other independent, autonomous and anonymous ELF cells soon began to proliferate across the US setting ablaze corporate assets linked to resource exploitation and biotechnology research. 

A spirit of revolution was in the air. An Age of Green Anarchy had dawned. People occupied the forests, threw their bodies in front of roaring logging trucks, climbed onto trucks layered with the lifeless trunks of 500-year-old trees. And banner of Earth First! Rose above the fray: "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth." 

Police responded to protests with increasing aggression and violence, at one point peeling back the eyelids of nonviolent protestors sitting with their arms locked and using Q-tips to swab pepper-spray directly to their eyes. One screaming girl can be heard howling: "What are you going? I'm just trying to protect the trees! 

The growing public anger helped fuel protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Once again, the police over-reacted and triggered riots that shut down the meeting. The WTO demos also saw the arrival of the "black bloc" — roving bands of black-clad anarchists who specialized in causing property damage. 

Looking back at these scenes of civil war in the streets of Seattle looks a lot like the more recent battles in the streets of Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria. Members of the NGOs who organized the nonviolent protests against the WTO can be heard railing against the black bloc. "This is not what the demonstration is about. These shopkeepers worked hard for their property!" But the ambivalence of extreme activism is revealed in an exchange with one woman who angrily condemns the anarchist's violence but, when a reporter asks what she thinks of the Boston Tea Party, responds: "I thought it was great!" 

Suzanne Savoie, another member of McGowan's ELF cell, succinctly summarizes her firebrand role: "The goal was to send a message that Consumer America is destroying the world." 

As McGowan reflects as one point: "I'm not suggesting the path of destruction is the right path," but "when you're screaming at the top of your lungs and no one hears you, what are you supposed to do?" 

ELF Illuminates the Conflict 

One target of the cell's wrath was a company called Superior Lumber. The film lets us listen to members of the "terrorist" team as they recall how they prepared for the attack, logistically and psychologically. 

This is one of the most extraordinary moments of the film — a rare opportunity to hear people that the government prosecuted as "terrorists" calmly reflecting on what they did and how they justified it. And they go into great detail about how they learned to, essentially, begin living like undercover secret agents. Even today, the government remains impressed by the expertise these ELF activists developed in organizing assaults and avoiding detection. As one police officer confides, with an appreciative laugh: "The were really good at what they did!" 

When the film catches up with McGowan, he is free on bail and living with family in Manhattan. With New York's memories of the 9/11 attacks, McGowan draws an important distinction about the term "terrorism." "We aren't accused of flying planes, trying to hurt people, " he says. "It's property destruction. Call it what it is." 

But sometimes even property destruction proved unacceptable. In May 2001, ELF staged a twin attack on a tree farm and a university research station. It proved a disaster. The university fire raged out of control and destroyed a valuable horticultural library; it turned out that the tree farm, targeted for doing research in genetic modification, was actually using traditional breeding techniques. 

McGowan began to question his justifications for property destruction. Another split developed when other members of the ELF cell proposed kicking the violence up a notch by targeting the owners of timber companies — a suggestion that McGowan found "repulsive." 

The ELF cell began to collapse and McGowan decided property destruction was a dead end. Renouncing his life as an extreme monkeywrencher, McGowan returned to New York, got a job with an environmental foundation and, later, with an organization devoted to stemming domestic violence. 

After more than three years of fruitless investigations, the FBI finally got a break that lead to the arrest and conviction of McGowan and 13 compatriots. 

'One Man's Terrorist Is Another Man's Freedom Fighter' 

Ignored in most of the media hoo-hah over the indictment of the "homegrown eco-terrorists" was the question as to whether their acts legally qualified as terrorism. As one of McGowan's lawyers points out: ""Concern for life" was fundamental to the ELF's missions. There were at least 1,200 actions linked to the ELF and the Animal Liberation Front over the years without "a single injury or death. Those statistics don't happen by accident." 

There is more than one definition of "eco-terrorism." Many environmentalists argue that some of the world's greatest eco-terrorists are multinational corporations. Massive property damage — and loss of life — happens on a daily basis because of the predations of resource-exploiting corporations. Yet, despite the deaths of people killed in landslides triggered by clear-cutting, the deaths and damage from industrial explosions, and the loss of wildlife and livelihoods from oil spills, the FBI is not tapping the phones of CEOs or throwing law-breaking industry leaders into prison. 

While If a Tree Falls was being filmed, McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison and branded a "terrorist." In a poignant denouement, the camera follows him as he returns to Oregon's ancient forests for a final visit among the towering trees and free-flowing rivers. 

McGowan started serving his seven-year sentence on July 2, 2007, locked inside a special "terrorist management unit" in Marion, Illinois. He will be eligible for release on June 5, 2013. 

Toward the end of the film, Kirk Engdall, the Assistant US Attorney who pursued and indicted McGowan, offers a surprising assessment. "As I get older, the more circumspect I become," he tells the filmmakers. "I know now that the world is not black and white. When I first read about these arsons and got involved… they're not very likeable people at all. Once you get to know them, as a human being, you start looking at their motivations" and discover that, "instead of being just a cold mug shot or a piece of paper, they become human beings." 

The film's Oscar odds may be slim, given the competition — an injured war vet adjusting to civilian life, three boys unjustly imprisoned for murder, a hangdog high school football team that becomes a winner, and a tribute to a dancer, her career, and her untimely death — but, for revealing an important true-crime story through the eyes of the participants, the film remains a winner. 

If a Tree Falls beams an important message that should never be lost in the raging debate over the use of "violence from below." The lesson is this: Once you take the time to know and understand their personal experiences, in many cases these "terrorists" turn out to be fairly ordinary people whose altruism may have gone awry but whose fundamental motives merit understanding and, perhaps, sympathy.

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Berkeley Rep’s Laugh Riot Doctor in Spite of His Hellzapoppin’ Self

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:25:00 PM
Steven Epp and Julie Briskman (left) in A Doctor in Spite of Himself
Steven Epp and Julie Briskman (left) in A Doctor in Spite of Himself

I hate it when critics resort to telling the story, so let me just tease you with the opening premise:

so…there is this lowlife woodcutter who lives—well, in the woods—with his wife. The woodcutter spends his day whacking his wood in between taking a whack on Old Single Malt. Now, he and his wife are French Trailer Trash who go at each other like Punch and Judy. Actually, the characters spring to life from a most ingenious potty joke of a P & J show. Hell hath no fury, etc., so when a couple of strong-arm goons for the local rich guy comes by looking for the Renowned Healer who reputedly lives in the woods, Wifey sets up Woody by telling them he’s a doctor--and, beaten into it by the goons, he turns out be one in spite of himself. Of course, being French, it’s about amour, and how he brings the lovers together over the objections of the father, etc., etc.

It’s a 90-minute laugh riot, throwing in every modern reference they could muster, with lots of F-bombs, and a true hellzapoppin’ hoot-and-a-holler. “Vaudeville” (a French word) was originally a comedy that had new funny lyrics put to popular songs, and the singing here is phenomenal. Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer on accordion and tuba (a couple of laugh-provoking instruments in their own right) provide accompaniment. 

You can see the plot coming, it’s a good time and they fill it up, but an hour and half of unremitting farce, no matter how dressed up and witty, wears a little thin for my sensibilities. However, this is undoubtedly the best Moliere I’ve ever seen, and you won’t be sorry you went. 

­­­­­­­­­­Matt Saunders has designed an awe-inspiring proscenium arch that looks like it was imported from an old theatre in Paris, with a big cartouche and water stains. There are holiday lights draped over the audience. The pre-show music is all pop and about doctors: “Doctor My Eyes,” “Put the Lime in the Coconut,” etc., and the ushers are dancing in the aisles with the bolder audience members. Thus the stage, though bare, is set for comedy. From a bare stage, with a painted backdrop full of the clouds like that Magritte painting (the goons appropriately wear bowler hats), the great hall of a mansion appears with hearth, chandelier, three transparent French doors (the magic number of doors for any farce), which all make one smile at the joy of their artistry. 

Steven Epps may indeed be Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (stage name “Moliere”) reincarnate. Epps and collaborator Christopher Bayes worked on this script for a long time and it changed with the cast; what seemed funny one week got tossed the next. Knowing this while witnessing the final (for now) product, which is polished to a high comic sheen with what seem the highest of choices, really makes one appreciate the process.  

Moliere the playwright wrote these plays for Moliere the actor and he always played Sganarelle, who is the lecherous, cowardly, ludicrous hero; so, while playing the cuckold or the screw-up sidekick, it gave him license to send up others, too, and Moliere took no prisoners.  


It is de rigueur if you’ve got a M.D. after your name, since it is essentially a send-up of the medical profession, which wasn’t exactly a scientifically based undertaking in the 17th C.  

"It is the best trade out," Sganarelle tells us. "Payment comes whether we kill or cure. No responsibility rests upon us; we may hack about as we please the stuff given us to work upon. If a patient dies, it is his own fault, never ours. Lastly, dead men, of all people the most discreet, tell no tales of the doctor who has sent them to their long account." 


Adapted by Steven Epp and Christopher Bayes 

Directed by Christopher Bayes 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre (a co-production with Yale Rep)  

Through March 25 

Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley 

www.berkeleyrep.org (510) 647–2949 

Featuring Julie Briskman, Liam Craig, Steven Epp, Renata Friedman, Allen Gilmore, 

Chivas Michael, Greg C. Powers, Jacob Ming-Trent, Justine Williams, and Robertson 


Designed by Aaron Halva (music), Matt Saunders (scenic), Kristin Fiebig (costumes), 

Yi Zhao (lighting), and Ken Goodwin (sound) 

Eye from the Aisle: CCCT “Barefoot” in El Cerrito—dated fare

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:08:00 PM
Ginny Wehrmeister and Joel Roster
Ben Krantz
Ginny Wehrmeister and Joel Roster

CONTRA COSTA COMMUNITY THEATRE (CCCT) is a neat little theater with a very wide stage tucked back in the residential section of El Cerrito several blocks off San Pablo. I’ve not reviewed there before, but a theatre colleague suggested the current play, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. There is a small outbreak of Neil Simon going around the community theatres, and I am trying to build up an immunity by sampling them all. 

Barefoot at CCCT is directed by Dennis Markham and stars a couple of good actors Joel Roster and Ginny Wehrmeister. 

Ms. Wehrmeister is the kind of pretty that makes one smile, turn one’s head at an angle and sigh. She is naturally and believably animated and bubbly in the demeanor of many pre-feminist women. The truth of her movements convey a bursting enthusiasm for life as newlywed Corie with a new apartment in Manhattan—though is it a five-floor, elevator-less walk-up. She is the very embodiment of the joy of a new life, with wedding presents still arriving, awaiting the new furniture, with a flood of hormones thrown in from her 6-day honeymoon and her presumable introduction to the joys of the marriage bed. She is attired in a low-cut top, and her ample décolletage, while I don’t remember it as a 60’s fashion, certainly does support her conveyed hopes for continued “physical, spiritual, sexual” joy on the first night in their new apartment, and puts the audience in the right frame of mind. 

Joel Roster plays the new groom Paul, a hopeful young lawyer, whose mind is on work like men in the 1960’s. Mr. Roster has natural abilities with a penchant for irony, dark masculine good looks, and the two touch one another with the ease of people who have just spent six days in bed together.  

It starts with great good energy and a couple of winning cameos. They do seem to capture the Zeitgeist of NYC in the early ‘60’s (which I remember well). 

The first conflicting obstacle in the play is the five flights of stairs. Corie is the only one who seems to be able to bound up the stairs without getting winded. But then nearly every man smoked in the ‘60’s. Thus, entrances are made in varying degrees of panting exhaustion. 

Danny Cozart plays the telephone installation guy. He is just New York enough, with enough wryness and good humor, dispensing a little advice to the bride and groom. Our Bell Telephone (remember them?) man’s name is Harry Pepper: funny names and words with k’s and p’s are a touchstone of “Doc” Simon plays, an inheritance from Borscht belt humor.  

The funniest moment in the play is a cameo without words by the much-admired Henry Perkins as the gift-delivery guy. He throws himself—and the packages--into the comic asthmatic exhaustion from the climb, to one of the few big laughs of the evening.  

A few laughs however are not enough for an evening of comedy. Director Dennis Markham chose the play because, “It's a really fun show…that is difficult to put on…they really are people not just characters -- or caricatures.“ But there is nothing new brought to it, no abiding truth or revelation, no memorable character portrayals. It is half-century old humor, played with the gusto and cheerfulness of musical theater without anything really at stake. While truth in acting Shakespeare has evolved, playing Simon hasn’t, at least not here. 

Under Markham’s direction, it becomes a “style” of witty repartee with repetition of beats and intentions down to the inflection of each line. Mr. Roster’s good-natured skepticism ends most lines with a down-turn in pitch to punctuate the irony; Ms. Wehrmeister repeats a rising inflection ending with a charming squeal. The actors keep it coming fast and furious without a moment taken for decision or recognition. It’s played like farce; however without an illicit lover lurking behind door number three which is the suspense and conflict in farce. Here there doesn’t seem to be anything really at risk. Though the couple’s first quarrel devolves into childish threats of divorce--which does set up one of the best drunk acts ever by Roster—we never really fear that things might actually go South. The tempos and rhythms remain frenetic, thus true conflict or real pain is not given a chance to register to refresh our mood so that we can laugh again.  

Director Markham is adept at moving actors around the center and left parts of this ungainly wide stage. Stage right is limited to warming oneself quickly by the fireplace against the bone-chilling February. There is no expected armchair in front of the fireplace which seemed odd, and certainly does not invite any staging in that deserted portion. The set decoration has garishly painted orange walls with jarringly grotesque flat Kelly-green tables and secondhand-store furniture, more appropriate to a college student’s digs than middle-class newlyweds. The set design by Henry Perkins provides different levels which vary the stage picture and some built-in laughs in the reveal through the skylight. In the lighting by Joe D’Emilio everyone is brightly lit, which is good for a comedy, but it does not change much according to mood.  

Shay Oglesby-Smith plays mother of the bride, Ethel. She is true in her acting, and can deliver one of the few viable laugh lines deadpan enough to get a real laugh in a house of snickers, like “Make him feel important. If you do that, you'll have a happy and wonderful marriage - like two out of every ten couples.” She plays the character as self-effacing and supportive, which does not seem to add much conflict, though the character seems to be written that way.  

Marcus Klinger who played Mother Edna in “Hairspray” in which he was outstanding, brings a boisterous bonhomie to the role of the bon vivant Mr. Velasco, which belies his characterization as a ladies’ man. There is no seductive charm about him, and his age makeup is ill-applied and resembles the slap-dash nature of his character work.  

Some thoughts on the chronic nature of community theatre Neil Simon-itis  

BAREFOOT opened on Broadway one month before America lost her innocence in Dallas.  

It was one week after the British press coined the term “Beatlemania” and a half year before they invaded the US. We were on the cusp of change with the March on Washington, and Bob Dylan’s hit “Blowin’ in the Wind,” two million women had discovered The Pill, but Doc was writing comedy for the middle class even back then. 

Simon wrote plays that spoke to his time before the Worldwide Cultural and Sexual Revolution to come in the next decade, when America was at its ascendancy, when everybody seemed to have a job, and when there was new hope for justice and equality. Perhaps it is a longing for those good old days that still draws the older set to see it one more time. 

To give you an inkling of the difference in humor then and now, you can sample the dated laugh lines from BAREFOOT plays by clicking on http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061385/quotes 

A fellow critic recently referred to Neil Simon as essentially a television writer, and, it can seem like watching a rerun of “The Odd Couple.” (Indeed, “Barefoot in the Park” was the other Simon TV series aired in 1970.) You may remember this play via the 1967 film with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.  

The ticket-buying public has weighed in: 

  • Forty nine years ago, a young Mike Nichols won the Tony for directing a very young Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in the premier of this play which ran for six years.
  • Six years ago, there was a revival run for a short three months on Broadway with Amanda Peet in the lead.
  • Three years ago, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” despite positive critical reviews, closed six days after opening, and “Broadway Bound” was cancelled before it opened.
CCCT’s next offering is an edgy new play “Rabbit Hole” by David Lindsay-Abaire; perhaps this was an effort in balance. 

But if I were king, new truths to the playing of Simon’s art would be found, else he would be shelved for a decade. 

Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon 

Directed by Dennis Markham 

Through March 4th 

Contra Costa Civic Theatre (CCCT) 

951 Pomona Avenue (at Moeser), El Cerrito 

www.ccct.org / 510-524-9132 

With: Danny Cozart, Marcus Klinger, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Henry Perkins, Joel Roster, and Ginny Wehrmeister. 

Set designed and built by Henry Perkins, lighting design by Joe D’Emilio, sound by Jeremy Katz, costumes Lisa Danz, props by Derrick Silva. Producer Maureen Ray, stage manager Henry Perkins.

FILM REVIEW: Red Tails: May the Air Force Be With You

By Gar Smith
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:34:00 AM
A Red Tail Air Battle
A Red Tail Air Battle
The cast of Red Tails
The cast of Red Tails

There is a quick-and-easy way of describing Red Tails, George Lucas' new film about the Tuskegee Airmen: "Star Wars with propellers." Red Tails is a film to see and a film to support but it is not the film event it could have been. 

Lucas and director Anthony Hemingway deserve props for spectacle but, if you're expecting a historical drama about the African American struggle to win a cockpit seat in WWII, this isn't that film. Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder, an admitted Star Wars fan, claims he convinced Lucas to abandon a history-rooted version and, instead, turn Red Tails into a battle-action film that would make Obi wan with envy. The result is a movie that looks more like it was drawn from a graphic novel than from the pages of US civil rights history. 

The first clue is the on-screen caveat that precedes the film: "Inspired by True Events." This tells us what we're about to see is even further from the truth than a film "Based on a True Story." So, instead of taking us to the fields of Alabama or to the halls of Congress, Red Tails begins (like an episode of the Star Wars Trilogy) with a blazing full-bore battle. Only this time, we're not zipping around in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, we're in the skies over Italy, smack in the middle of WWII. It's not a space battle; it's an airspace battle. IOW: Same thing. 

Lucas deserves a ringing ovation for insisting on executive-producing this film in the face of resistance from major studios who, as Lucas explains, had no interest in financing a film with "an all-Black cast." And it's a pleasure to see the film (which Lucas had to finance out of his own pocket) drawing enthusiastic audiences — and millions of dollars — into theaters across the country. 

Lucas has (perhaps jokingly) invited other directors to step forward and produce a "prequel" and "sequel" to create a Red Tails Trilogy. Not a bad idea. In the meantime, we only have the portion of the story that Lucas has given us. 

As Red Tails begins, it is 1944 and the Tuskegee Airmen are already in harness, diving through the clouds and picking off enemy trucks and trains. The problem is, they've been relegated to the rear seat of the war effort and they've been stuck with the kind of hand-me-down planes that come with second-class military citizenship. 

Red Tails exists primarily as a vehicle for high-octane film spectacle. The CGI air battles are incredible. At times there appear to be hundreds of planes in the air at the same time—US bombers, escort fighters and German attackers. (Were these air-battles really so epic or is Lucas inflating history to the proportions of fantasy?) When a plane catches fire, explodes, or slams into a pasture or summersaults down a landing strip, the details of mechanical destruction are rendered with obsessive attention. 

And then there's the story. 

The characters seem earnest enough and their plight is easy to sympathize with but these characters just aren't believable. Watching Red Tails begins to feel like watching a mash-up of MASH and Inglorious Basterds. This is partly due to the artifice of staging a war story in an anachronistic era of prop-driven aircraft but the characters are also anachronisms. Lucas (perhaps under McGruder's tutelage) has created a cast of characters that looks and sounds like it was cloned from the DNA of a 1950's war film. 

Instead of a group of interesting strangers that we slowly get to know, Lucas gives us one familiar archetype after another. There's "Lightning" (David Oyelowo), the dashing ladies' man whose derring-do is matched only by his seething resentments. There's "Easy" (Nate Parker), Lightning's tent-mate and immediate superior, who drowns his self-doubt with an ever-ready bottle of whiskey. There's "Junior" (Tristan Wilds), the newcomer who needs to prove his bravery, regardless the cost. There's the "Old Man" (Terrance Howard), dealing with the powers-that-be back in Washington. We also have "Smokey," "Joker," "Winky," and "Sticks." Finally, there's "The Major," a grimacing, pipe-chomping Cuba Gooding, Jr., who takes the art of scenery chewing to new, literal heights. 

The screenplay hobbles the actors with scenes that make it impossible to "suspend belief." For starters: I can accept a scene where a single pilot armed only with a pair of blazing wing-guns managing to disintegrate a speeding locomotive but Lightning's "meet-cute" with a leggy Italian sweetie just doesn't fly. Here's what director Hemingway gives us: Roaring back from a mission, Lightning soars over the nearest Italian town (a scenic coastal village that appears untouched by war). Looking down, he spots Sofia (Daniela Ruah) on her rooftop hanging laundry. She looks up and smiles. He looks down and grins. She looks up and blows him a kiss. He looks down and blows her a kiss. And half the audience is thinking: This couldn't happen even if he was driving by in a run-down Volvo, let alone at the controls of an airplane blasting by a 400 mph. 

One of the other Great Improbabilities occurs when the Red Tails are given brand-new P-51 Mustangs and assigned to escort a fleet of bombers on a critical run to attack Berlin. The Red Tails, however, are told they will only be allowed to shadow the bombers for the first leg of the trip, after which the Top Gun White Guys from the 54th Squadron will take over to make sure the job is done right. So what happens? As the airborne armada crosses over the German border, a bomber pilots asks rhetorically: "Where's the 54th?" You guessed it. The other squadron is nowhere to be seen and the Red Tails have to take charge. Again, half the audience is now thinking: "Somebody in the Air Force is going to get court-martialed for that blunder!" 

The attack on Berlin is particularly disturbing. It's been a long time since Germans have been cast as The Western World's Most Subhuman Villains. Many people who go to see this film will have spent time in Europe on vacation and many will recognize the River Spree as it winds through the city—now framed in the bombsite of an Allied bomber. Because of the passage of time and shifting political alliances, there is no joy in watching US bombs starting to rain down on the rooftops of central Berlin. 

This leads to another fundamental problem with Red Tails. For anyone who has grown tired of war or has become too aware of the use of "governing falsehoods" designed to steer nations into bloody combat, Red Tails raises an uncomfortable question: Why are we celebrating the fact that Black Americans have been given the opportunity to kill foreigners in a White Man's War? (This in no way diminishes the courage and competence of the extraordinary individuals who broke the Pentagon's blue-sky color barrier. But it does place their sacrifice—and those of the majority of conscripted and volunteer soldiers—in a more somber and morally fractured frame.) 

So hats off to Lucas and crew for a rousing, CGI-assisted potboiler that offers lots of easy action and cartoon exuberance. Red Tails was worth the price of a ticket but I'm setting my money aside for the prequel. If we're lucky, Spike Lee will do it. 

The Real Story of the Tuskegee Airmen

By Gar Smith
Friday February 17, 2012 - 12:29:00 PM
The Real Tuskegee Airmen
The Real Tuskegee Airmen
Eleanor and C. Alfred Anderson
Eleanor and C. Alfred Anderson

George Lucas' Red Tails is a serviceable introduction to the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen but a richer and more honest story can be found in Adam White's Red Tail Reborn, which was originally broadcast on PBS and is now available in a two-disk set that includes extended bonus interviews with a number of surviving "Red Tails." (www.redtailreborn.com), including Col. Charles McGee, a man who has flown more combat missions than any other American (409 missions; 6,100 hours in the air) and who — as the film shows, is still proudly flying. 

The film begins with a visit to the crumbling barracks and abandoned airfield in Tennessee where the airmen trained. The weathered base serves as a visual metaphor, underscoring the fact that, until recently, the story of the Tuskegee pilots had remained as forgotten as their long-abandoned base. There was a time (not too long ago) when people would insist that no African Americans ever flew airplanes during WWII. Most history book made no mention of their role. As one of the veterans wryly notes during an interview, "It wasn't until the 1970s that we even heard the name 'Tuskegee Airman.'" 

The odds against these pilots were immense. A secret 1924 War College Report concluded: "Blacks [are] unfit for leadership roles and incapable of aviation." One senior Army commander had no hesitation in saying outright what the War College Report was claiming in private. "The Negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot," he proclaimed. 

That kind of thinking didn't deter C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson. He had wanted to fly since he was a child but, when no one would let him near a plane, because of the color of his skin, Anderson, now a young man, borrowed, $2,500 from family and friends and bought his own plane. He taught himself to fly, earned a coveted Air Transport certificate and went on to become the chief instructor at the Tuskegee training base. 

The 'Tuskegee Experiment' Gets Off the Ground 

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law calling for the "training" of black pilots in 1941, critics hoped the program would prove a disaster. But the equation was dramatically altered when Eleanor Roosevelt took it upon herself to visit Tuskegee. Despite the protests of her secret security protectors, she climbed into the back seat of an open-cockpit plane and insisted that the plane take off for a short flight with a broadly smiling African American pilot at the controls. 

"That one picture in the plane did it," an elderly Airman remembers fondly. "She wasn't afraid of flying with these so-called 'inferior beings.'" And, with that, the "Tuskegee Experiment" took off. 

For many of these would-be pilots (who had grown up and graduated from colleges in the country's large, northern cities), this was their first visit to the Deep South where racism was still in full force. They found themselves segregated on their own base where the US Army provided them with separate barracks and a separate mess hall. 

The officer in charge of the training base was General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. An exceptional leader, Davis had survived four years as the first non-white candidate at West Point. For four years, no one would speak to him; he was given his own room, with no roommate; he was forced to eat his meals alone. But Ben Davis refused to accept defeat. Instead of striking back, he hit the books — and graduated at the head of his class. 

Under Davis' strict command, the training was rigorous, with as many as 65% of the aspiring fliers being sent home. Eventually four squadrons consisting of nearly 1,000 men had been trained to fly but, as the war raged, they were kept on the ground—forced to continue "training." It wasn't until 1943 that the fliers were finally ordered into battle. Flying dated P-40s, they initially were dispatched to Africa and confined to attacking "ground targets only" (trains, trucks and convoys). 

When the Tuskegee pilots were finally allowed to accompany a fleet of bombers headed toward Munich, the results confounded the critics. With only 39 planes, the Airmen went up against 100 German fighters, shot down five, and didn't lose a single US bomber. 

A good part of this remarkable record was attributable to a command decision that required the Red Tails stay with the bombers and not to go off chasing German planes in an attempt to "score kills" (which had been the preferred practice of the white "aces"). Ironically, another explanation for the Red Tails' success was their enforced period of extended training. White pilots were expected to be "90-day Wonders," trained to fly and sent into combat missions in three-months' time. By contrast, when the Tuskegee fliers finally hit the clouds, they were an incredibly cohesive and accomplished flying force. 

Out-Flying the Bounds of Racism 

The "Red Tails" quickly won the admiration and praise of the generally all-white ranks of US bomber pilots. As one of 85-year-old veteran of those WWII bombing missions recalls in the film: "They were the best. As a pilot, I wouldn't want to be covered by anyone else." The bomber pilots started to call their escorts "the Red Tailed Angels of the Sky." And, as White's narrator notes, their accomplishments provided "a miracle our country didn't even know it needed." 

Between June 1943 and April 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,500 missions, downing more than 260 enemy aircraft and sinking one destroyer. The ability and valor they demonstrated during those challenging months won the Airmen's 332nd Fighter Group a Distinguished Unit Citation for "outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism" and lead directly to President Harry Truman's desegregation of all military branches in 1948. 

Later in his career, Gen. Davis would remark: "With the enemy, I only had to die once. In the Army Air Corps and in life, I had to live with the day-to-day suffering of degradation and racism." 

One of the more remarkable observations that came out of the WWII experience was a story told by a Tuskegee pilot who had been confined in a German prison. After the war, he told his family and friends: "The first time I didn't face segregation in the military was in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp after being shot down in Austria." Surprisingly, German soldiers seemed well aware of the problem of racism in the US. More than one US airman heard a German captor ask the question: "How can you fight for a country that treats you unfairly?" 

Airman Charles "A-Train" Dryden had a response. "Because it was still my country. And I believed the country had the capacity to change." 

"The Tuskegee Airmen have a unique legacy worth preserving," writes Harold Brown, PhD. "We fought two wars — one against the Nazis overseas, the other against segregation." Prof. Brown should know. He was the Tuskegee Airman who was shot down and spent time as a POW in German captivity. 

The mistreatment of the heroes of Tuskegee did not end with the conclusion of WWII. "In spite of [our] impressive combat record," Brown recalls, "we were excluded from WWII victory parades." And he suffered a further indignity as one of a group of black soldiers who were ordered to "give up our seats on a train [to make room for] Nazi POWs." 

The Plane that Restored a Buried History 

The larger portion of White's Red Tail Reborn is devoted to the long struggle to restore an abandoned P-51C Mustang — the signature warplane of the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Sold for $1 to a Montana school, where it sat untouched for 20 years, the plane was purchased by an entrepreneur who sawed off both wings to fit it onto a cargo trailer. During more years of storage, the plane's near-pristine internal parts and engine were seriously damaged by salt-water corrosion when the plane was covered by hurricane-driven ocean water. 

The damaged plane crisscrossed the country several times in failed attempts to begin needed repairs. Eventually the remains were donated to the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit that has restored more than 150 military planes — including bombers and fighters — to flying condition. 

Don Hinz, a former military pilot turned businessman, discovered the hidden story of the Tuskegee Airmen and decided to devote his time and money to restoring the battered P-51 so it could be used as a teaching tool, bringing the story of America's forgotten flying aces to people across the country — one air show at a time. "Our objective," Hinz declared, "is to carry the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom." 

Working with two former crop-duster pilots who had joined forces to create one of the world's leading military aviation restoration workshops, Hinz and a team of volunteers, managed to get the plane back in the air. In 2001, bearing the new name "Tuskegee Airmen," it flew again for the first time in 56 years. 

This flying antique became "one of the most-photographed planes in the nation" and, as it traveled the air show circuit, it brought the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to hundreds of thousands of plane-lovers. There was an unexpected bonus. As the plane landed at airfields across the nation, former Airmen began showing up to marvel at the plane, to speak with the men who had saved it, and to reminisce about their lives. As the CAF members (almost all white) grew to know these veterans, they forged a bond and became determined to help spread the story of their incredible service. (And here is a great side order of irony: the CAF for most of its history was known as the "Confederate Air Force.") 

The restoration of this single plane provided a major boost to restoring the lost history of the men who had flown it in aerial combat over Africa, Italy and Germany. In appreciation, Don Hinz was inducted as an "honorary Tuskegee Airman." 

Tragically, Hinz died at the controls of the P-51 when an engine failure (caused by a single small metal nut) sent him falling from the sky during maneuvers at Wisconsin's Red Wing Airshow. Somehow, Hinz managed to dive under some neighborhood powerlines and plant the plane safely between two homes. No one on the ground was injured but Don Hinz died the next day and the plane was ravaged. 

At Hinz' funeral it was agreed that, "as a tribute to Don," the plane would fly again — with his oldest son Kelly at the controls. 

Rebuilding a Dream from Bits of Metal 

Anyone who believes that America is no longer a country where individuals can manufacture anything of value, needs to watch the second half of Red Tail Reborn

The mangled metal left in the wake of Hinz' crash was hauled to a warehouse and eventually into the care of Tristate Aviation, a North Dakota firm that specializes in restoring Mustangs. Rebuilding the plane would take five long years. Parts that once were mass-produced for wartime assembly lines, now had to be recreated from scratch using bafflingly complex blueprints scavenged from government microfiche archives. 

And because the work was costly and time-consuming, the labor depended on a team of a half-dozen dedicated volunteers. Some of them would drive great distances to spend a weekend working on the damaged plane. 

Before the work was finished, time claimed another casualty when the head of TriState crashed while flying his own Mustang. And during the course of the restoration, Don Heinz's son Kelly was killed when his Marine jet crashed during a flight in Iraq. 

Finally, on July 22, 2009, this amazing group of machinists, engineers, metalworkers and devoted tinkerers looked on and cheered as the plane was once again rolled out on the tarmac. It's Rolls-Royce engine roared to life, tossing off a blue cloak of engine smoke, and the reborn P-51 once again headed down an airstrip and leaped into the sky. 

Looking to the Future 

"The Tuskegee Airmen served a nation not willing to serve them," General Colin Powell once said. "I stood on their shoulders. They made America better for all of us." 

"The perseverance of the Tuskegee Airmen in adverse conditions is a story that all young people could benefit from hearing," says Airman Harold Brown. Sadly, Brown adds: "Time is running out for the Tuskegee Airmen and the WWII generation. But there is no reason that our record of accomplishment and ability to overcome adversity should die with us. The CAF's Red Tail Squadron's educational mission will help ensure our legacy." 

The CAF's Red Tail Squadron leader is Brad Lang, the son of a Tuskegee veteran and one of the two men who now flies the rebuilt P-51 at air shows. In addition to showcasing the plane, the Red Tail Squadron is now building a "RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit"— a 53-foot rolling "theatre van" that will appear at air shows wherever the "Tuskegee Airmen" is scheduled to appear. The van will be filled with films, photos and historic memorabilia intended to enhance public understanding of the Red Tailed Angels. In addition to honoring the 996 men who won their wings at Tuskegee, the Red Tail Squadron also pays tribute to "more than 10,000 black mechanics, armament and communication specialists and administrators" who also deserve to be recognized as Tuskegee Airmen "because of the important role they played" in their support of the pilots. 

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the Red Tail's educational campaign will qualify for an array of souvenirs ranging from flight caps and educational playing cards to DVDs (including the Red Tail Reborn box-set). One of CAF's unique gifts is a commemorative dog-tag inscribed with the six Red Tail Principles: "Aim High. Believe in Yourself. Use Your Brain. Never Quit. Be Ready to Go. Expect to Win." 

For more information or to learn how you can contribute to the Red Tail's RISE ABOVE project, contact: The Commemorative Air Force, PO Box 8039, Topeka, Kansas 66608. (888) 928-0188. www.redtail.org


By Ken Bullock
Friday February 17, 2012 - 12:46:00 PM

Marvin X has been one of the great spokesmen of Black culture in the Bay Area—and the United States—for decades. Every time Amiri Baraka, one of the country's best-known poets and playwrights, comes here for a reading or talk, Marvin's always on the bill. His plays have been presented by different troupes around, lately—and notably—by Ayodele Nzinga's Lower Bottom Playaz in Oakland and at the San Francisco Arts Fair. 

This month, Exhibit Marvin X has been running at 1222 Dwight Way (at Browning), with two more events scheduled: 

On the 18th, 7-10 pm, Dr. Oba T'shaka, Professor Emeritus of Black studies at SF State University, and Norman Brown will discuss the life and work of the late Honorable John Douimbe, founder of the Black Men's Conference, a mentor to both speakers and to Marvin X, with contributions by Charlie walker, "the Mayor of Hunter's Point," and Will Usury. 

On the 25th, Marvin X will read from his work, and Mechelle LaChaux will perform his play, 'Woman on the Cell Phone.'< 

(There are other possible performances of Marvin's work by Aries Jordan and others during these evenings.) 

$10-$20 donation requested—but no-one will be turned away. Space is limited. call 575-2225 for reservations and information. Check blackbirdpressnews.blogspot.com for program reports and information.

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Central Works' 'Mesmeric Revelation' at the Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 17, 2012 - 02:09:00 PM

              Joe Jordan as Franz Anton Mesmer and Theo Black as Antoine Lavoisier at Julia Morgan's "Little Castle" Berkeley City Club
Joe Jordan as Franz Anton Mesmer and Theo Black as Antoine Lavoisier at Julia Morgan's "Little Castle" Berkeley City Club

Central Works is bringing back Aaron Henne, who wrote and directed that most interesting production, 'A Man's Home ... an ode to Kafka's Castle' for the company a little while ago. This time Henne and the Central Works team will open (after two days of previews) his 'Mesmeric Revelation' on Saturday, inspired by tales of Poe--but about an encounter between Lavoisier, "father of chemistry," and Dr. Mesmer, the first famous hypnotist, promoter of "Animal Magnetism." It could prove to be one of the more unusual shows of the year. 

Central Works at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue (between Ellsworth & Dana). $25 online, sliding scale ($14-$25) at door. Previews, February 16 & 17 (& February 23, March 1), pay what you can. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 until March 18. Talk-backs: February 19 (playwright), March 11 (actors). (800) 838-3006 (tickets); centralworks.org

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: 'In Search of My Father ... Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins'

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 17, 2012 - 02:03:00 PM

W. Allen Taylor performed the multi-character solo show he wrote, 'In Search of My Father ... Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins' in Berkeley, 2006, to critical acclaim and a Critics Circle award for best solo show. (My review was published in the Planet, now archived above: January 10, 2006). Now it's coming back—see below ... 

The show's Taylor's own story about trying to find out about his father, the first black radio DJ in Cleveland, who he met only once as an adult, not knowing the relationship. He was only told of Hawkins being his father after Hawkins' death. Taylor's own experience, the rich world of postwar black radio (which not only white radio, TV and music profited from, but which such white comedians as Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce assiduously imitated)—and some fantasy, in the person of The Kid, a streetwise, sassy alter ego for Taylor. 

Taylor talks, acts out different personae, jives, dances—emotes. 

He can be heard being interviewed on PBS' Lost & Found Sound on his website, walkintalking..com/audio 

Now, Taylor's dusted it off, changed it a little, and is giving it another go, directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, starting with a pay what you can preview Friday at 8, and a Saturday at 8, Sunday at 3 run through March 4, at the East Bay Cultural Center for Arts, 339-11th Street at Macdonald in downtown Richmond. $10-$15. Secure parking across the street. 221-6353; eastbaycenter.org