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Berkeley Firefighter Dies in Tractor Accident

By Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Monday February 24, 2014 - 04:29:00 PM

Berkeley firefighters are mourning today after one of their own, 54-year-old firefighter-paramedic Anthony Nunes, was killed when his tractor overturned in rural Contra Costa County on Sunday, the city's fire chief said. 

Nunes was found dead after emergency crews responded to a report of an overturned farm vehicle shortly after 6:30 p.m. Sunday near Bear Creek Road and Alhambra Valley Road west of Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District officials said. 

Today would have been Nunes' 28th anniversary of working as a Berkeley firefighter, Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong said this morning. 

Dong said the department is in mourning after learning of their colleague's death. 

"It's a shock and an unexpected loss," he said. "This city and the department will miss him and his endearing smile." 

Dong said Nunes was in charge of maintaining the fitness equipment at the city's fire stations and "the thing that lit him up the most was showing the fire station and fire engine to kids who would come by the station." 

Nunes started as a Berkeley firefighter on Feb. 24, 1986, and had previously worked as a firefighter in Piedmont and as a reserve firefighter in Contra Costa County, the chief said. 

He said Nunes' brothers were also firefighters for Contra Costa County and the East Bay Regional Park District. 

Dong said the department's flags are at half-staff in honor of Nunes. A memorial service is planned for him but its date has not yet been determined, the chief said. 

The cause of the tractor accident remains under investigation, according to Contra Costa County fire officials.

New: Rain Next Week? Maybe!

By Bay City News
Sunday February 23, 2014 - 03:15:00 PM

A series of storms is expected to bring much-needed rain to the Bay Area starting on Wednesday, a National Weather Service forecaster said today. 

A ridge of high-pressure over the Pacific Ocean that has been keeping rain to the north of California is expected to break down by mid-week, opening a window for storms to impact the region through the weekend, forecaster Diana Henderson said. 

The first storm is expected reach the Bay Area on Wednesday afternoon and could bring a half-inch to an inch of rain, Henderson said. 

Periods of moderate to heavy rainfall are likely to reduce visibility on roadways and cause areas of localized flooding, according to the weather service. 

A second storm, which is expected to hit the region on Friday and Saturday, could bring another inch of rain, Henderson said.  

Gusty winds are expected to accompany the second system, possibly toppling trees and power lines, she said. 

Although the entire region is forecast to receive rain, drought conditions will persist throughout the state, Henderson said. 

"It won't end the drought by any means, but it certainly helps," she said. 



Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


New: U.C. Employees To Strike on March 3

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 10:50:00 AM

More than 21,000 employees at University of California campuses across the state will go on strike for five days at the beginning of March, union leaders have announced.

Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, said today that the primary strike from March 3 through March 7 will involve 8,300 service workers with concerns about wages and staffing issues.

In addition, around 13,000 patient care workers at UC's five medical centers will strike in sympathy with the service workers, Stenhouse said. 

Members of both units voted 96 percent in favor of authorizing a strike two weeks ago, Stenhouse said. 

UC has been negotiating with both employee groups for more than a year and both groups held a two-day strike last May and a one-day strike last November. 

Stenhouse said the service workers' bargaining team decided to stage a five-day strike this time because of "a desire to send the strongest possible message to the university." 

Stenhouse said the union has agreed to 80 percent of the university's proposals during the lengthy bargaining process but wants the university "to do the right thing on wages and staffing." 

Union leaders say the pay of UC Service workers is so low that 99 percent of them are eligible for some form of public assistance, with some full-time workers forced to live in their cars. 

Dwaine Duckett, UC's vice president of human resources, said in a statement, "We are deeply disappointed that even as contract negotiations continue, AFSCME leadership has chosen to take this path, which hurts our students, patients and the UC community in a number of ways. This is patently unfair to the people we serve." 

Duckett said the employee strikes cost UC about $10 million a day "to ensure that critical services for students and patients continue safely." 

He said, "These strikes waste precious university resources and only serve to interfere with reaching a fair contract and getting our employees the raises they deserve and have been waiting too long for." 

Duckett said the university has offered AFSCME members "very good contract proposals" in which patient care workers would receive a wage increase of 20 percent over four years and service workers 16 percent over the same period. 

He said the university also has offered to freeze employee health care costs, a benefit it hasn't offered to other unions, and the same retirement benefits that other unions have. 

Duckett said, "AFSCME rejected our proposals and continues to demand more." 

Duckett said the university has asked AFSCME's leadership to bargain in good faith but in announcing another strike "the union has again chosen conflict over compromise." 

UC service workers include custodial, groundskeeping, facilities maintenance, dietary and food service employees. 

The patient care technical workers who will go on strike include radiation therapists who treat cancer patients, pharmacy technicians, respiratory therapists and technicians who operate equipment for ultrasound tests, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and mammograms.

New: Berkeley Water Main Break: No Problemo

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BPN)
Tuesday February 25, 2014 - 09:51:00 AM

A water main break in Berkeley on Friday afternoon was completely repaired by early Saturday morning, an East Bay Municipal Utility District spokeswoman said today. 

The break, which was reported in the 1600 block of Parker Street at 4:08 p.m. Friday, initially caused about 35 customers to lose water service but all but 10 of those customers had their service resumed by early Friday evening, water agency spokeswoman Andrea Pook said. 

EBMUD crews continued fixing the six-inch water main throughout the night and service was restored to everyone in the affected area on Parker Street between McGee Avenue and California Street by 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Pook said. 

Berkeley fire officials reported that initially it appeared that the water main break didn't damage any homes or cars but Pook said one person said it might have caused some damage to his property so EBMUD officials gave him information in case he wants to file a claim. 

The cause of the break hasn't been determined, Pook said. She said many water main breaks are cause by age or soil movement but she doesn't know if that was the case in the Berkeley incident.

Water Main Break Floods Berkeley Intersection

By Bay City News
Friday February 21, 2014 - 12:25:00 AM

A water main break in Berkeley flooded an intersection and flowed into some yards this evening but does not appear to have damaged any homes or cars, according to a Berkeley fire official.  

The break on the 1600 block of Parker Street was reported at 4:08 p.m., according to Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb.  

Water from the break between McGee Avenue and California Street was flowing west and flooding the intersection of California and Parker streets, Webb said.  

The water reached as far as Sacramento Street, where it flowed into the underground storm drain, and overflowed some curbs into yards in the area, Webb said. 

"It was threatening homes," Webb said.  

Firefighters requested sand bags from public works crews to protect homes in the area, but were able to shut down one valve before they arrived, slowing the flow of water, Webb said.  

East Bay Municipal Utilities District crews arrived on scene around 4:42 p.m., Webb said.  

EBMUD spokeswoman Andrea Pook said around 35 customers on the 1600 block of Parker lost water service due to the break.  

The location of the break made access difficult, but work crews were able to shut off the water flow shortly after 6 p.m. and repairs are underway, Pook said.  

The cause of the break remains undetermined, Pook said.

Benjamin James Yerger
December 8, 1930 -February 5, 2014

Monday February 24, 2014 - 11:13:00 AM

Ben died peacefully after being ill for several years. He was born in Hope, Arkansas to his parents Chester H. Yerger Sr. and Naomi L. Reddix Yerger. Ben graduated from Henry Clay Yerger High School, named after his grandfather who was the first teacher (in 1886). Ben’s grandmother, Ella J. Yerger, left her home on a Choctaw reservation to teach in the school, and later married Henry Clay. Together they inspired Ben’s lifelong devotion to educating others. Ben’s mother and aunts all taught at the school which was the center of his educational and cultural life. After graduating from high school with high honors in 1948, Ben entered Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, on a music scholarship. He was also an avid football player in college. Ben graduated from Philander Smith in 1951 with majors in biology and chemistry.  

After finishing college, Ben went to work in Malvern, Arkansas, as a science teacher and the football coach. Although he had intended to practice medicine like his uncle John Yerger, and was the first black admitted to the University of Arkansas’ School of Medicine, the sudden and tragic death of his twin brother led Ben to change his plans and travel to California. He moved to Richmond, California, where his older brother Chester lived with his wife Willie Mae and their three children. Ben worked for the Richmond post office from 1953 to 1955. He attended graduate school at San Francisco State in 1955-56 where he studied genetics. In 1956, Ben left school to become the first African American employed at the Chevron Research Laboratory (formerly California Research of Standard Oil) where he worked on the team that developed multi-viscosity oil and other projects until 1963. He met Bobbey Walker at SF State and they were married in 1957 and had two children, Valerie and Benjamin Jr. 

After being inspired by a Malcolm X speech and talking directly with him in 1962, Ben decided to return to SF State and go into education, which he had always loved. He completed his master’s program in molecular biology, educational research, behavioral sciences and genetics in 1963. 

An active participant in the War on Poverty Program in the 1960s, Ben worked with disadvantaged minority youth. Ben worked for the California Employment Services Department and then joined the Parks Job Corps Center in Pleasanton, California, as a teacher, supervisor, counselor, and curriculum developer (1965-66). He enjoyed working with disadvantaged students often from the South, and he made lifelong friends with other teachers. After losing confidence in the Job Corps because of its placement of its graduates in the military, Ben taught science, mathematics and history at Stanley Junior High School in Lafayette, California, and then worked at the Far West Lab on a National Science Foundation project on the “new science curricula” in public high schools.  

In 1968, Ben served as a consultant at Merritt College campus, located on the Old Grove Street site in Oakland, where he helped develop the first organized Black Studies course in the US (except for courses at Black Colleges in the South). With his experience working at Merritt Community College, Ben became the special assistant to Dr. Norvel Smith, who was the first black president of a California community college (Merritt). Ben served as a student ombudsman and became Director of Community Services (1969-73). He was the school liaison with a number of student groups, including the Black Panther Party and the Students for a Democratic Society, and he was responsible for keeping the peace and guns off the campus. In 1969, he was involved in making Merritt College the site of the country’s first organized department of Black Studies. 

In the fall of 1970, Ben was recruited to the Ph.D. program in higher education at the University of California Berkeley, where he worked with his mentor, Professor Dale Tillery. In his doctoral class, he met Charlene Harrington. After both finished the doctoral program in 1975, they married in 1976 and made their home in the Berkeley hills for next 38 years. Ben won the California Association of Community Colleges dissertation award of the year for 1976. 

After the Peralta Community College District decided to move Merritt College to the Oakland Hills with Dr. Norvel Smith as president, student activists demanded that the Grove Street campus remain open with Ben as president. In 1971, Ben was appointed president of the Grove campus by the Peralta board. Ben was quoted in the UCB Alumni report (1990): “I found it an exciting period in which to be involved. It was the era of student expression – a time when students were directly involved in campus decision-making. Schools were examining their institutions and trying to accommodate needs expressed by student unrest.” Ben’s efforts in working with students and developing a plan for North Peralta College earned him praise from community college organizations and the local media, as well as the 1971 Outstanding Educators of American Higher Education Award. 

After the Peralta board changed its mind about keeping the Grove Street campus open, Ben returned to his position as Director of Community Services, Student Ombudsman, and Administrative Assistant to Dr. Smith at the new Merritt campus (1971-1976). In 1976, Ben became the Director of Community Services and program developer at the Peralta College for Non-Traditional Study (later called Vista College and now Berkeley City College). Working with President Dr. Nancy Tapper Hanawi, he supervised the Fruitvale Community Education Center and became Dean of Student and Community College Services (1978-85). Ben moved to a position as Dean of Student Services at the College of Alameda (1985-88) and returned to Merritt in student services and counseling until his retirement from Peralta Colleges in 1997. In 2002, he won the Philander Smith College Golden Alumnus Award with highest honors. He said at the time he wanted his epitaph to read: “An Educational Servant Who Did the Best He Could.” 

After retirement, Ben returned to his lifelong passion of studying classical piano. Ben was actively involved in establishing the Henry Clay Yerger Museum in Hope, Arkansas, to honor his grandfather’s work. He also regularly attended the symphony, opera, and plays and loved to travel with his wife Charlene.  

Those preceding Ben in death are: his parents Chester and Naomi Yerger; brothers Henry and Chester Yerger, Jr and his wife Willie Mae; his sister Ruth Ella Yerger; nephews Ronald Chester Yerger and Ralph Grant; and niece Ruth Yerger Coleman; and his first wife Bobbey Walker. Ben is survived by his wife Charlene Harrington; daughter Dr. Valerie B. Yerger and her former husband Craig Long Sr.; son Benjamin Yerger, Jr.; granddaughters Shannon Long (Phil Jackson) and Ainye Long (Saterah Moore); grandsons Craig Long, Jr. and Justin Long; great-granddaughter Tuesday Long-Jackson; sister-in-law Rita Harrington and husband Fred Schultz; niece Gloria Jean Grant; and cousins Rowena Reddix and Judy Smith. 

A celebration of Ben’s life will be held in the Drawing Room at the Berkeley City Club at 2 pm on Sunday, March 2, 2014, located at 2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley CA 94704. Friends are invited to attend and a reception will follow. Gifts may be made to the Ben Yerger Fellowship in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds to become educators at https://givetocal.berkeley.edu/egiving/index.cfm?Fund=FW8021000 or by mail to: Office of Development & External Relations, Graduate School of Education, 3615 Tolman Hall, #1670, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1670. Or gifts may be sent to the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339 11th St, Richmond, CA 94801, http://www.eastbaycenter.org/ .



Berkeley Squelches Squirrels While Oakland Burns

By Becky O'Malley
Friday February 21, 2014 - 04:45:00 PM

In case you were wondering whether Berkeley has really gone to hell in a handbasket, check out today’s column by one of the Chronicle’s trio of obnoxious conservative columnists, Chip Johnson. 

Headline: At City Hall, Berkeley Has Done It Right. 

Say what? I’d link to it, but Chip’s now behind the Chron’s pay wall (can’t imagine who’d pay to read him) so I’ll have to illustrate with copious quotes.  

First, his lead (or lede, if you prefer): 

“One of the reasons I chose to live in Oakland instead of Berkeley was the long history of political shenanigans and guerrilla theater at Berkeley City Hall.”  

But now, he thinks Oakland’s let him down: 

“Oakland City Hall these days feels a lot like Berkeley used to—with crowds of rowdies, crusaders and chanting, often-nutty, crowds cramming into the council meetings and taking over the agenda. Berkeley, meanwhile, seems more—well ... sensible. 

“This week, an activist in the Oakland council chambers preached against doing business with companies linked to nuclear weapons development, and opponents railed against a police operations center they believe is really a government spying operation. … 

“In Berkeley, meanwhile, officials are planning to capture and gas a problem population of ground squirrels, they've put restrictions on wacky City Council agenda items as a way to keep focused on the business at hand, and the only demonstrations that seem to erupt anymore are by Code Pink, a women's antiwar group.” 

Well, in the first place, Chip doesn’t seem to have watched many Berkeley City Council meetings lately. No offense to Code Pink, but Save the Post Office, CopWatch, student district advocates and many more continue to compete for the Council-Chamber-Packing prize money with splendid demos and stirring speeches.  

But all is not lost—Berkeley seems to be enhancing its reputation for civic sobriety in Johnson’s eyes by gassing squirrels and censoring agenda items. In all fairness, Oakland might not have any squirrels to gas, but how about killing some raccoons or Canada geese, or even feral cats? 

And Johnson loves our Gasser-in-Chief: 

“Bates' actions have won him four consecutive terms in office and have provided Berkeley with the kind of stable leadership Oakland enjoyed under Brown. Bates leads the city. Period.” 

Yes, period indeed. That’s the kind of thing they used to say about Chicago’s Mayor Daley, isn’t it? That was another dynastic reign that had its fans. I lost a valued friend relatively early in the Bates regime when I called his organization a machine, but at least he’s made BART run on time (well, not really even that).  

Oakland, on the other hand, has let down the side in a big way, says Chip: 

“Oakland has elbowed Berkeley out as the contemporary epicenter for social issues in the East Bay, if not the Bay Area.” 

Oh, the horror, the horror, social issues! 

Berkeley, meanwhile, has solidified its place as a suburban backwater, which is what it should be in Chip’s World: 

“In Berkeley, Bates has successfully removed most of the squirrely politics from council meetings, and replaced it with pragmatic, albeit tough, plans to address issues of importance, even when the subject is squirrels.” 

Oh, what a relief it is. Oakland’s wasting its time dealing with unimportant stuff like nuclear weapons development, while the Berkeley City Council tackles the big stuff: squirrels. 

This morning I pounced on The Chipper’s column as a terrific target for satire, but how can you satirize this kind of thing? Sad to say, even though he’d never make it as a reporter of facts, there’s an uncomfortable amount of truth in what he says.  

All too often, Berkeley's City Council chambers are deserted by the public while councilmembers transparently go through the motions of rubberstamping what Bates and the staff have obviously pre-decided elsewhere. The Bates majority has been fiddling while public pools close and buildings which should be civic treasures decay.  

Meanwhile, Berkeley’s being bought up. 

The infamous Sam Zell, whose Equity Financial corporation acquired much of downtown Berkeley on the Bates watch, was recently in the news once again, according to Bloomberg News: 

“Billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell agreed with capital pioneer Tom Perkins that wealthy Americans are being unfairly criticized and said that the 1 percent work harder.” 

Those of you with long memories may remember that Zell’s outfit paid for Bates-sponsored Measure R. This “advisory” measure, which was sold to gullible voters by a gold-plated campaign, is now being used by the Bates administration as the excuse for the rape of downtown Berkeley. If you’ve forgotten what happened then (it was way back in 2010) use the button above to search the Planet on “Sam Zell” for all the particulars.  

That’s the kind of money which talks around here these days. Oakland, on the other hand, is in the midst of an artistic renaissance. As techies muscle them out of San Francisco, creative people are moving to Oakland, sometimes touted as our Brooklyn, in droves.  

Bates and his developer cronies meanwhile are lusting after the tech trade, and if they succeed the suburbanization of Berkeley will be complete and Berkeley artists will have to move to Oakland too. It’s only a matter of time before Chip Johnson moves here, I’m afraid. I saw him once in the Caffe Trieste, probably scouting for a nice new Equity-owned luxury condo. Oh, dear—there goes the neighborhood. 


The Editor's Back Fence

Now Read This

Wednesday February 26, 2014 - 09:24:00 AM

Here's a competent report of a discouraging city council action which I watch online last night:

Council majority pushes redistricting decisions to March

The most significant part of the meeting was the Mayor's expressed desire to discuss the November election in closed legal session. Obvious topic: Which set of council boundaries should be used for the councimember races? Should it be possible for the Council to go into closed session because the City threatens to sue itself to get a legal determination?

Happy Birthday Helen!!!

Friday February 21, 2014 - 09:21:00 AM

Can it be true? Our Senior Power columnist for many years, Helen Rippier Wheeler, turned 88 this week. She's still turning out interesting columns on a regular schedule, almost always perfectly in order, no copy-editing required. If this is what eighty-eight looks like, we all have something to look forward to!


Odd Bodkins: Rhino Races (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 11:58:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Letter to the Editor about Squirrels

By Carol Denney
Wednesday February 26, 2014 - 10:09:00 AM

I don't appreciate you making fun of the squirrel issue. Most of these squirrels are part of terrorist cells working to destroy the bay and our American way of life. The next time I go to the park I am taking a taser with me.


Carol Denney

Press Release: Zoning Adustments Board (ZAB) Public Hearing Tonight On Demolition Of Industrially Protected & Productive West Berkeley Industrial Building

Thursday February 27, 2014 - 08:31:00 AM

Tonight (Thursday, February 27) the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) will hold a Public Hearing on the application by the Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley (French School) to demolish a 13,000 ft industrial building to accomodate a new playing field. As the building is considered protected industrial space, Berkeley Municipal Code Section 23E.84.090.E requires mitigation for such loss. The French School previously owned the property in 1998 and at that time ZAB ruled it could remove the building without the required mitigation because “To date (1998), the council has not adopted a payment schedule for mitigating the loss of warehouse space, therefore this finding is not applicable.” Planning staff have now recommended allowing the demolition without the required demolition, based on the 1998 ruling. 

Since 1998 the City of Berkeley has required mitigation for the loss of protected industrial space in at least two instances, thereby demonstrating that “a payment schedule for mitigating the loss” of such space has been adopted. Since the previous ZAB determination was predicated on there being no payment schedule “To date…” (in 1998), and there being a payment schedule in the present, the City should fulfill its obligation under the Zoning Ordinance to require mitigation for this loss. 

Economic and Social Reasons For Requiring Mitigation In This Case: 

There are important bottom line reasons to require mitigation for the loss of all, and in particular, this industrial space. Over the last 50 years, this space has housed a speaker manufacturer and repair shop, a graphic arts studio, an auto repair shop, and most recently, a manufacturer of prototypes of specialty stainless steel filters for high pressure liquid chromotography machines. They were also a scientific instrument repair facility. These businesses provided the three essential economic components to the community that were envisioned by the West Berkeley Plan: Important Goods and Services, Revenue to the City, and Good Jobs. 

Most of these businesses are prime examples of the kind of local economy cities are rightly trying to encourage, as they keep the money circulating locally while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by allowing people to access needed services and products nearby. Though not specifically local serving, the prototype manufacturer provided physical components essential to many scientific disciplines. All these businesses provided good jobs, many of them not requiring advanced degrees to make a decent living. Along with these jobs comes the significant multiplier effect of employees spending money in the local area. 

Beyond local goods/services, good jobs and their multiplier effect, these businesses provided significant revenue to the City of Berkeley through business license, property tax, and various fees. Once this 13,000 sq ft building is gone, there will also likely be a reassessment of the property, lowering the property taxes significantly, another loss for the city. These monetary losses to the City are cumulative into the future, with thousands of potential dollars being removed from City coffers every year due to the loss of this building. 

No more jobs, local goods and services, and no more of the continuous revenue stream to the City this building provided will result from its demolition These buildings are habitat for these economic and social “goods” and that is why the West Berkeley Plan and Zoning Ordinance seeks to preserve them through the industrial protections provisions which includes the mitigation requirements that Planning staff have recommended against implementing. 

The loss of such industrial and artisan habitat is unfortunate, but the very least the City of Berkeley should do in this instance is enforce its own regulations dis-incentivizing such loss while recouping a minimal portion of the monetary loss it will incur due to the proposed demolition. In line with its regulations, the Zoning Adjustments Board can allow the Ecole Bilingue its playing field while forwarding the City’s interests through requiring the modest but meaningful mitigation required by law.

New: For a Living Wage in Berkeley

By Harry Brill
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 10:49:00 AM

During the great depression of the 1930s, Franklyn D. Roosevelt stated "No business which depends for existence on paying less then living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country." The ugly fact is that a growing number of working people are paid a poverty wage. In fact, due in part to the enormous increase in low wage jobs, working people for the first time now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps. 

We continually hear from the business community that raising these low wages would increase unemployment As if business cares about the quality of life for working people! What they are saying, in effect, is that a low standard of living when all things are considered is best for workers. In truth, business is not making an objective assessment. These are threats of retaliation.  

Many States and local communities are not being taken in by business propaganda. A national movement has developed that is attempting to make the minimum wage a living wage. Berkeley is among those communities. Berkley's own labor commission -- its members are appointed by the City Council -- has submitted an excellent proposal to the City Council, which will probably consider it by April.  

The main objective of the proposal is to achieve a living wage. The minimum wage would begin at close to $11 an hour ($10.74), and would be increased by 55 cents each year. Also, employees would receive a medical benefit of $2.22 an hour. And extremely important, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually according to changes in the cost of living. Landlords who own rent controlled apartments in Berkeley receive an annual cost of living adjustment. So why shouldn't working people! Down the road the minimum wage could reach as high as $20 an hour. The Berkeley proposal certainly beats the recently adopted California minimum wage law, which peaks at $10 an hour in 2016 and lacks a cost of living adjustment. 

Not only minimum wage workers would benefit. Also, many workers who are just above the minimum will see increases as well. But won't consumers have to pay more for their purchases? Even if the entire cost of the wage increase is passed on to consumers, the impact would be minimal. The cost of grocery shopping would increase on the average to less than $20 a year.  

If communities and states around the country as well as Berkeley enact living wage laws, the many billions of dollars of additional spending would improve the economy and create jobs. Of course, winning the battle for a living wage is certainly not the only issue that matters to working people and their families. But it is certainly an important issue that is winnable if the Berkeley Community mobilizes.

Are We Thinking or Lamenting?

By Romila Khanna
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 11:01:00 AM

It is very strange. We are still fighting for our right to bear arms. When a killer goes on a shooting spree, we say the shooter was not of sound mind. Why do lawmakers forget the meaning of background checks? I value the Second Amendment for normal people who would not use guns to ruthlessly kill others. But I don't know how many more gun related deaths will happen in our country before we take the matter of background checks seriously.  

Sometimes I feel there is a war zone in the US and innocent people are being held hostage by reckless gun wielders. Gun related deaths are happening practically every day on our streets, in our schools, and in our shopping malls. And yet nobody takes the requirement of strict background checks seriously. Our justice system must make it hard for criminals and insane people to possess guns in the name of the Second Amendment. Even if mass murderers are jailed, those whom they have killed in schools or cinema halls or malls do not spring back to life.


By Sheila Goldmacher
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:58:00 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with Harry Brill's urging to have bicyclists light up their bikes at night. What would save more lives as well, is having law enforcement ENFORCE laws that many bicyclists never obey. It is hair raising these days to try and cross in pedestrian walkways or to drive your car and have a bicyclist right in your face when you have the right of way. I am happy to see more bicyclists on the roads but am dismayed at their lack of observing the rules of the road. Perhaps a license and testing needs to be given before one is allowed out in traffic as it too is becoming a lethal weapon these days.



By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:18:00 PM

The Nugget—Berkeley, California’s North and South Senior Centers’ newsletter—refers to February as National Senior Independence Month. I’m all for senior independence. My eighty-eighth birthday was this week.  

Born “on the cusp” of February 19 is said to be propitious. An astrological cusp (from the Latin for spear or point) is the imaginary line that separates a pair of consecutive signs in the zodiac or houses in the horoscope. Some people consider that the cusp includes a small portion of the two signs, or houses. Aquarius/Pisces folks are said to be “selfless and spiritual, often strongly intuitive and receptive to the collective unconscious.” Ho. 

Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought, contended my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886.) At 72, Joy Behar disagrees: Actually, aging comes upon you gradually, as does menopause and scurvy, sez she. I look back enviously at age 65, when I was perky and relying on few meds. Somewhere around 75, things began to go downhill. Atrophy is the word—dry eyes, dry skin, dry vagina, dry mouth. Doubtless, you could add others. 

It’s not my imagination that corn on the cob and watermelon, even in season, don’t taste sweet like they used to. And lily of the valley, hyacinth and carnations are no longer incredibly fragrant. Here’s the shocker: My primary care physician, with whom I have been associated since she began to practice medicine, is retiring!  

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, life expectancy now stands at 78.7 years. Am I ahead ten years in the game of life? Annie Delany wrote, “Turning one hundred was the worst birthday of my life. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Turning 101 was not so bad. Once you're past that century mark, it's just not as shocking.” (Annie Elizabeth Delany, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, 1993) 

Look at me when you speak—I need to see your mouth. Don’t yell! And where is the nearest, free class on lip-reading for hearing-impaired senior citizens (workshop, meeting, group, course, gathering…whatever the au courant term!)? There’s a market for books about hearing impairment. The large print edition of Katherine Bouton’s Shouting Won’t Help; Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You is available from the public library.  

Meanwhile, Medicare continues to resist funding hearing aids. Part B covers diagnostic hearing and balance examinations that are ordered by a doctor (does this mean physician?) to access function, but it will not cover routine hearing exams.  

Sponsored by the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Telephone Access Program offers free specialized phones that make it easier to hear, easier to dial, and easier to call. CTAP services centers are located throughout the state. In Berkeley at the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St., Suite 260, Monday-Friday 9 AM-6 PM. Bilingual staff travel presenting the good news. 1-800-806-1191. Email info@CaliforniaPhones.org. To schedule a free CTAP presentation or event, call 1-800-995-6831 (Voice/TTY) or outreach@ddtp.org.  


Out Late is a 64-minute production that looks at 5 people who made the decision to come out as a lesbian, gay, or transgender after age 55. Written and directed by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, it was released as a motion picture in 2008, and as a DVD in 2011.  

Gloria is a new film from Chile. Not to be confused with Gena Rowlands’ 1980 portrayal of an ex-gun moll and showgirl suddenly forced to protect a child whose parents have been rubbed out by the mob, this Gloria is a late-middle aged, divorced “free-spirited older woman” whose life is full of ambiguity. Paulina Garcia won the top acting prize at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, where the movie was a surprise hit. It opened in January in New York and Los Angeles, and wider in February. I haven’t seen it yet and am looking forward to the possibility of a DVD in public libraries’ collections. 

New: ECLECTIC RANT: Eliminating Pre-Dispute Arbitration Clauses in Consumer Contracts

By Ralph E. Stone
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 10:55:00 AM

According to The Free Dictionary, "arbitration is the submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard." Over the years, arbitration has become a take-it-or-leave contract provision in many consumer contracts. And available evidence suggests that the arbitration playing field has tilted against consumers.  

The pending Arbitration Fairness Act (AFA), if passed, will eliminate pre-dispute arbitration clauses. And Congress has given the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB) power to eliminate such clauses. 

Forced arbitration clauses are found regularly in consumer contracts for credit cards, cell phones, car loans, and health insurance policies. Those subject to such clauses are forced to resolve their disputes through arbitration rather than through federal or state courts. And arbitration proceedings are conducted in private thus eliminating transparency found in court proceedings. 

Arbitration providers select the arbitrators, make the rules, set fees, and administer consumer arbitrations. There is no requirement that arbitrators be lawyers or retired judges, or have legal training, to follow legal precedents, consider evidence, or even issue written legal opinions. But these providers’ existence depends on receipt of fees after they are chosen to arbitrate a dispute. 

The American Arbitration Association (AAA), JAMS, Inc., and the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) are the predominant administrators of consumer financial arbitrations. Because of the complexity of arbitration clauses, few consumers file for arbitration, especially when the amount in dispute is small. 

While arbitration may be a faster, cheaper way to resolve a dispute, they are generally unfair to consumers because it eliminates the right to appeal and access to discovery, and arbitration clauses often prohibit class actions. 

The AFA, an amendment to the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), was introduced in U.S. Senate last year. It provides, in pertinent part, that "no predispute arbitration [forced] agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment dispute, consumer dispute, antitrust dispute, or civil rights dispute."  

The AFA was prompted by recent Supreme Court decisions interpreting the FAA., which have regularly enforced pre-dispute arbitration clauses in consumer, employment, and other contexts where the contract was not subject to negotiation between the contracting parties. For example, in 2011, the Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion held that the FAA preempted state law that prohibited the enforcement of a consumer arbitration clause with a “no-class action” provision. 

And in 2013, the Supreme Court went further in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant holding that a contractual waiver of class arbitration is enforceable under the FAA even if the cost of proving an individual claim in arbitration exceeds the potential recovery. 

On another front, Section 1028(a) of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) to “conduct a study of, and to provide a report to Congress concerning, the use of agreements providing for arbitration of any future dispute between covered persons and consumers in connection with the offering or providing of consumer financial products or services.” Section 1028 goes on to provide that the CFPB “by regulation, may prohibit or impose conditions or limitations on the use of [such] an agreement” if the CFPB “finds that such a prohibition or imposition of conditions or limitations is in the public interest and for the protection of consumers.” The CFPB can restrict or ban the usage of arbitration clauses in consumer financial services contracts based on the results of the study. 

On December 12, 2013, the CFPB published "Arbitration Study Preliminary Results" (Study). The Study found in the credit card market, larger bank issuers are more likely to include arbitration clauses than smaller bank issuers and credit unions. As a result, while most issuers do not include such clauses in their consumer credit card contracts, just over 50 percent of credit card loans outstanding are subject to such clauses. 

In the checking account market, which is less concentrated than the credit card market, around 8 percent of banks, covering 44 percent of insured deposits, include arbitration clauses in their checking account contracts. 

In the reloadable limited prepaid card sample, arbitration clauses are included across the board. Some 81 percent of the cards studied, and all of the cards for which market share data were available, have arbitration clauses in their cardholder contracts. 

Nearly all the arbitration clauses studied include provisions stating that arbitration may not proceed on a class action basis. 

Are pre-dispute arbitration clauses biased against consumers? Data is sketchy. For example, California requires private arbitration companies to collect and publish data. A U.C. Hastings analysis found that some companies do not comply and among the published reports important information is missing. But, a Christian Science Monitor analysis of data from the NAF found that creditors and debt-buyers won more than 96 percent of the cases they brought against consumers. The top 10 most frequently used arbitrators, who decided the vast majority of all cases, decided in favor of consumers only 1.6 percent of the time, while arbitrators who decided three or fewer cases decided for the consumer 38 percent of the time. 

In conclusion, arbitration can be an effective, less costly method of resolving consumer disputes, that is if the playing field is level and, if the consumer has a choice to accept or reject arbitration after, not before, the dispute arises. Hopefully, either the AFA or the CFPB or both will eliminate pre-dispute arbitration clauses and consumers, if they choose arbitration, will get a fair disposition of their dispute. 

THE PUBLIC EYE: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2014)

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 21, 2014 - 08:44:00 AM

In 1970, the late jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron wrote http://www.gilscottheron.com/lyrevol.html >The revolution will not be televised, which became an anthem for the black power movement. His thoughts remain relevant. I’ve broadened the context and updated the prose. 

I remembered Scott-Heron’s poem while pondering why the average American seems so apathetic as our future is stolen by the rich and powerful. Perhaps something like, “The revolution will not be televised,” can become the anthem for a movement where Americans of all colors and creeds will stand up for their rights. 


You will not be able to stay home, brothers and sisters. 

You will not be able to tune in, turn on, and cop out. 

You will not be able to lose yourself on Twitter and Facebook, 

Skip out for a hit during commercials, 

Because the revolution will not be televised. 


The revolution will not be brought to you by Coca Cola, Dow, General Electric, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa as a four-part special without commercial interruptions. 

You will not see pictures of Charles and David Koch blowing the bugle as their conservative political lackeys loot America. 

They started the revolution and made sure it will not be televised. 


The revolution will not be on Masterpiece Theater and will not star Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolie or Beyonce and Jay Z. 

You will not see pictures of energy companies digging up tar sands and leveling mountain ranges while they pollute America’s air and water. 

You will not hear greedy corporate executives plan disinformation campaigns so their salaries can grow larger. 

The revolution will not be televised. 


There will be no pictures of cops beating protestors at Occupy Wall Street or blockades of the Keystone Pipeline. 

No images of unemployed, able-bodied men, whose jobs were outsourced. 

There will be no pictures of angry women protesting the closure of health clinics. 

No images of poor folks being denied food, shelter, and medical care. 

The revolution will not be televised. 


The revolution will not be featured on NCIS or American Idol or Mad Men or The Game of the Week or Breaking Bad. 

The revolution will not be on Saturday Night Live or the Sunday morning talk shows. 

The revolution will not be on CNN or Al Jazeera or the Christian Broadcasting Network or the Home Shopping Network or the Do It Yourself Network. 

The Revolution will never be discussed on the Fox News Network. 

The revolution will not be televised. 


There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news. 

There will be no pictures of hopeless men and women huddled on grungy streets. 

No images of starving kids begging for food. 

There will be no pictures of the 99 percent who believe in Democracy. 

The revolution will not be televised. 


The revolution will turn on a message from our sponsor: 

Just do it. 

We try harder. 

Don’t leave home without it. 

Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. 

Reach out and touch someone. 

This land is your land… 

The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat. 


The revolution is not a game you can play with a thousand virtual friends. 

The revolution is not a smart phone App that will give you the answer. 

The revolution is not a laborsaving device, 

The revolution is a lifesaving device. 


The revolution will not be televised. 

That’s just as well because they’re watching your TV, Xbox, phone, and computer. 

They’re reading your emails, texts, and instant messages. 


The revolution will not be televised. 

The revolution will be live. 

The revolution will happen in your heart.

AGAINST FORGETTING: The War Against Contraception: “Women need to be liberated from their libidos."

By Ruth Rosen
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:45:00 PM

The new Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires all health plans to pay for contraception. Some religious organizations and corporations are so angry that they have taken their case to the US Supreme Court. 

Just when you thought an overly sexualized America couldn't get any sillier about sex, Republicans have launched a campaign against the “contraception mandate” in the President’s new health plan programme that would include birth control. 

Mike Huckabee, the former Republican Governor of Arkansas, and a potential Presidential candidate, stunned many Americans when he stated at a Republican winter convention, "If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.” Some Republicans quietly began distancing themselves from Huckabee. Such inflammatory language, they correctly reasoned, is not the way to get women’s vote in any election year. 

As they prepare for the midterm elections, the Republicans have two major goals. The first is to repeal the contraception mandate (or any other requirement) in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that requires employers with more than 50 employees to pay for contraception for its workers. The second goal is to limit women’s access to abortion by promoting initiatives all over the country that attack women’s health care. That didn’t work so well in 2012, so they’ve decided to concentrate on the “unfairness” of asking anyone to pay taxes to pay for women’s contraception. Going to the Supreme Court, then, is the Republican effort to kill two birds with the one proverbial stone. 

The fight over contraception began when Congress debated whether contraception should be covered by Obamacare. Republicans raged against a mandate that would require “religious” and non-profit employers who opposed contraception and abortion to pay for the contraception of their female employees. The compromise they reached allowed a few non-profit religious organizations to refuse to pay, as long as the women received contraceptive health care from another source. 

That compromise has now returned to haunt Democrats. You could argue - and I do - that if employers opposes contraception and abortion, they should make these choices for themselves, but not for all their female employees. But it’s never been about contraception; it’s never been about abortion; it’s always been about controlling women’s sexuality, or as Mick Huckabee implied, women’s dangerous libido.  

Now the President has compromised once again. In order to shield those with strong religious beliefs, he has told members of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus that the new compromise requires that the insurer -- rather than the employer – will provide contraceptive coverage free of charge for women. 

But Obama may not have the last word. It was inevitable that the mandate for contraception would end up in the Supreme Court. For the far right-wing, dismantling any part of Obamacare and restricting women’s sexuality would be a triumphant political victory. And, it could actually happen. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a Catholic-run nursing home based in Denver with affiliated facilities nationwide, and other Catholic charities have objected to the “contraceptive mandate” on religious grounds. So does the Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation that sells model airplanes, crafts and materials for various hobbies. Both had refused to send the administration the required written notice that the order is a religious organization with “religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.” 

On February 14th, to the surprise of many people, the Court granted the Little Sisters a temporary reprieve during which they don’t have to do the paperwork that complies with the contraception mandate. In March, the Court will hear arguments, which could extend to hundreds of other religious organizations.  

“Although [we are] disappointed in this temporary order”, said Sharon Levin, director of federal reproductive health policy at the National Women’s Law Center. “the court emphasized that the order ‘should not be construed as an expression of the court’s views on the merits,’” “We are confident once the merits in this case are fully considered by the 10th Circuit, that it will once again uphold the birth control regulations as it did in December.”  

In March, the Court will hear arguments from the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Hobby Lobby, and by then, several hundred other organizations and corporations who believe that the religious views of the company’s owners trumps the mandate to provide contraception to its employees. The Court will make its final ruling in June. 

If this strikes you as bizarre , consider how conservatives speak about women. Last year, Rush Limbaugh, a popular right-wing radio host, branded a law student a “slut” because she endorsed the medical necessity of birth control. Journalist Jason Sattler, the Executive Editor of The Memo, called this “the shot heard 'round the world that opened the so-called "War on Women." 

He also got it right when he responded , “the worst fear many have about Republicans is that they believe a woman's body is an object to be politicized, undeserving of privacy once it has been fertilized by a man, or - if she has the wrong employer - even before.”  

Despite these attacks on contraception, the public is in favor of the birth control mandate , even when the employer rejects it on religious grounds. Even so, that doesn’t predict whether the Court will decide that an employer’s religious beliefs are more important than an employee’s health care. 

Women’s health advocates and feminists are both stunned and angry. Elinor Smeal, of the Feminist Majority, pointedly noted that “Religious freedom does not mean using your power as an employer to impose your views on others. If the Supreme Court accepts Hobby Lobby’s arguments, it will set a dangerous precedent – allowing your boss to determine what medicines and medical procedures you will have access to. What’s next? Will the Court allow some bosses not to cover blood transfusions, immunizations, or HIV/AIDS treatment because their contrary to their beliefs.  

Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted , “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” 

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut. The truth is that this is not about religious freedom, it’s about sexism, and a fear of women’s sexuality…. When the FDA held up over-the-counter status of emergency contraception for years, it wasn’t because of the medication’s efficacy or potential health risks but because of a fear it would make girls promiscuous. The same thing happened when the HPV vaccine was being reviewed”. 

As one legal analyst wrote, “With very large majorities of Americans in favor of contraception, and the Women’s Rights Movement—which arose in part to obtain women’s right to use contraception, so that women would not have their lives dictated by biology—in the rearview mirror, it seemed to me to be just the sort of misogynist position that was beyond the pale in the 21st century.” 

Women activists have long argued that the struggle to ban contraception and limit access to abortion has always about been about controlling women’s sexuality and transforming libidinous women into less frightening creatures. For now, the Little Sisters of the Poor are now protected from their raging libidos. 

Published on openDemocracy (http://opendemocracy.net

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Learning to Discard Spurious Thoughts

By Jack Bragen
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:55:00 PM

In the mind of any human being, mentally ill or not, the thoughts that carry a strong emotional charge will gain a higher priority. Thus, thoughts that trigger or come from jealousy, fear, anger, and desire, will all have more power over us, and will be harder to disregard compared to thoughts that are more objective. 

(Just as a side comment, television commercials are designed with this in mind, and take leverage of people's fears and desires to sell their products. Politicians play on hope, on hate, on fear, or on greed. A passive mind is directed by outside forces--such a person is prone to being herded.) 

I have had an issue of late in which I get thoughts that are irrational, yet which have an emotionally strong yet false message--and these thoughts try to get into the control seat of my mind. This is in spite of the fact that I am taking a whopping dose of antipsychotics and have been for years. The fact of being medicated doesn’t completely guarantee that you will get rid of all delusions. 

Some of these thoughts, if I were to let them take over, would interfere with getting necessary tasks accomplished. This happens through the fear that something dangerous or something bad is lurking behind every action. Other thoughts, which luckily I don’t get very much on medication, are those that give a bogus instruction which will cause me to create badly mistaken actions or regrettable speech. Either way, the bogus thought needs to be identified and canceled before it causes damage to life circumstances. 

It requires effort and a lot of insight to discard an irrational thought, especially if it is convincing and powerfully felt. There seems to be no perfect rule for knowing when a thought is accurate and when it is a distortion. 

What to do about this? To begin with, one could work to recognize when a thought seems irrational and bring this up in therapy. 

Evaluating a thought is not always easy to do by oneself. I often will ask a friend who knows me very well if they think a particular thought seems to be a delusion. You can also bring up a thought to a mental health professional, and they may be able to help you with their evaluation of your thought. This is called, "reality checking." 

You probably should not bring up unusual thoughts to the wrong person, such as a stranger, a coworker, or someone who might not understand your intentions. People who are uneducated about mental illness do not know how to handle the role of being a reality checker. 

Observing your environment without getting other people's opinions can lead to misinterpretations of your five senses. The five senses can be misinterpreted. It is usually through communication with others that we learn how to interpret our five senses. This is one reason why it is bad to be isolated. 

It helps to stay "grounded." This is a down to earth state of mind in which things are neither twisted nor exaggerated. 

There is more than one version of the idea of being "grounded." To me, being grounded means that you are connected to your body, you are connected to other people, you are not too far into the abstract, and you are not excessively agitated or elated. 

It is important for someone prone to psychosis that they regard it seriously and that they treat it aggressively through medical and psychological remedies. Part of this entails robustly questioning the accuracy of thoughts. The thoughts that have the most emotional charge could be the same ones that, if acted upon, could create the most problems. 

My books for sale on Amazon can be accessed by clicking here. I can be reached with your comments at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com however I can not dispense advice to individuals.

Arts & Events

New: THEATER REVIEW: Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' & Two Short Plays

By Ken Bullock
Sunday February 23, 2014 - 10:18:00 AM

Marin Onstage, which put on a remarkable version of Ibsen's modern classic, 'Doll House,' reviewed here in November—and all the more remarkable as a small, independent company taking on such a work and giving it a fresh, compelling staging—continues their season of plays about women with three very different short plays, including the great—and not so short—'Miss Julie,' one of the salvos Strindberg directed in part at Ibsen, a decade after 'Doll House,' one of the first truly modern plays, displaying in rare, exciting dramatic form with a small cast both the war of the sexes and the class struggle. 

The other two plays, staged in the little theater at the old St. Vincent's School off 101, across from Marinwood, north of San Rafael and just south of Novato (it's worth going early to see this almost pristine spot, with the Silveira Ranch and other fields stretching from the freeway through eucalyptus, past the Mission-style church and arcades, down to the Bay), seem much simpler, but there's a great breadth of theatrical range, of social experience, to be found in this selection. 

'Trifles,' 1916, directed by Paul Abbott, is by Susan Glaspell, a mainstay of the Provincetown Players, that seminal group out of which emerged many important American theater folk, including Eugene O'Neill. Two women, accompanying their husbands who're investigating a possible murder at a lonely homestead farm, come to their own conclusions—and, in a very real way, their own verdict—in this small gem of indirection under the shadow of sexist prejudice. The ensemble gets across what on the surface is a homespun tale that casts light on rural America of the early past century. Marilyn Hughes is particularly effective. 

Bertolt Brecht's 'The Jewish Wife,' part of the playwright's 1938 cycle, ''Fear & Misery in the Third Reich' (aka 'Private Life of the Master Race'), begins with a monologue by the title character, trying to find a way to explain to her husband why she's leaving Nazi Germany, and the rather different situation that results when the husband comes into the room as she's packing. Stephanie Ann Foster—who played Nora in 'Doll House' with such theatrical verve—directs Susan Stein as the wife. 

Stein has excellent stage presence, complemented by Jim McFadden's deliberately low-key husband. But Brecht's point is made less in the emoting of the wife—openly as she rehearses her explanation, with a lid on as she improvises her exit—but in the disparity between the two, in the distance between a couple who have grown apart over social issues of dire import, met with inattention—and in the fate of a gifted fur coat ... will it be brought along unseasonably on a supposedly short trip? If the conditions of the emotions aren't accented theatrically, there's the danger of melodrama, Brecht's bete noir in theater. This production barely skirts it, despite its attributes. 

'Miss Julie,' 1888, is very much a play of its time—and one of great theatrical revelation, true excitement, for anyone lucky enough to catch a production that connects directly with the issues at stake for the characters—and with the audience. This is that kind of production. Directed by Ron Nash, whose adaptation and direction of 'Doll House' was brilliantly alive, and featuring Stephanie Ann Foster in the title role, the action is unrelenting from beginning to end—even when "äction" is in the Aristotelian sense of maybe a few words that get the ball rolling, start a train of thought in the audience. 

Foster plays the mercurial Julie as a fascinating, complex creature, flirtacious and hard, alluring and forbidding, changing in a second with a slight gesture or expression, often matching the fears or desires of her partner in crime, the servant Jean, well-played by Michael Walraven, emphasizing the vanity of a servant who is proud of both his own knowledge of the upper classes (and his own difference, as he imagines it, from other servants) as well as for his contempt for the masters (as well as his own class). 

The play takes place on the saint's day that opens summer, a transparently pagan holiday, with ghe servants drinking and dancing, the master gone—and Miss julie joining in, looking for trouble. Jean, with his "fiancee," the stolid, church-going house cook (well-acted by Jocelyn Roddie), tries to stay out of the action, but is sucked in deeper than either he or his temptress could've imagined, provoking a storm of reversals, arguments and attempts at tenderness, confessions and accusations. In the brilliant interlude, when Jean and Miss Julie retreat from the stage so as not to be seen together, they're overheard within by two carousing peasants, played with energy and humor by Arden Kilzer and Bill McClave. 

The end comes in more than tragic terms, the kind of hyper-tragedy, amid black humor, that Strindberg helped introduce to modern theater. Marin Onstage's relentless production shows what Antonin Artaud—the first to direct Strindberg's more abstract plays in a non-realistic style in the late 1920s, when he spoke of what he thought of as true theater by comparing two Greek tragedians: "In Aeschylus, Man is very evil ["mal"—also, sick], but he is still a little god. Then Euripides comes ... the floodgates are down ... we wnader on swampy ground—and we don't know anymore where we are." 

With 'Miss Julie' comes that rare excitement in theater—watching change happen right in front of your eyes ... and never being sure exactly where it's going. 

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 3 through March 2. Little Theater, 1 St. Vincent Road, St. Vincent exit, off Highway 101, north of San Rafael. $10-$18. (415) 290-1433; marinonstage.org

New: Two Plays: 'Gidion's Knot' at the Aurora & Cutting ball's 'Ubu Roi'--Problems in Theatricality

By Ken Bullock
Sunday February 23, 2014 - 10:15:00 AM

After seeing a couple of local productions, I was surprised, in going over notes, to realize that my feelings of dissatisfaction with both came from a complaint of something the two very different plays and productions had in common—or didn't have—a certain downplaying of theatricality, more from the staging in the case of Cutting Ball's 'Ubu Roi,' an old (maybe the original) chestnut of the Avant-Garde (there's an oxymoron!); in the case of the brand-new 'Gidion's Knot' at the Aurora, more from something in the conception of the play itself. 

So what follows is maybe less reviewing these shows, more a reflection on them, on something missing from them ... 

* * * 

"The most intense 90 min of theater you'll see in 2014. Guaranteed." —reads the link to the Aurora website, "theater" in boldface. The show's running time is given as 75 minutes. Alternately, the squib on the link refers to the play as "The parent/teacher that everyone's talking about. Only at Aurora.". 

The immediate impression, say, ten minutes into the show is something a little bit less than "atmospheric" or "brooding," something more like "tentative." Set in a brightly-colored classroom, empty of students (Nina Ball's set), a lone adult grinds away seriously at her desk—Stacy Ross as Heather, a teacher. After a bit, a woman arrives, trying to find where her appointment is, and after going in and out, realizes it's with Heather, though Heather really didn't expect her to come ... 

The "interloper" is Jamie Jones as Corryn, the parent. Corryn's arrived for a conference scheduled about a story her son circulated among students that got him suspended—and Heather's at pains to convince her she shouldn't be there, but instead tend to her grief over what happened between the suspension and the present moment ... 

Much of the play consists of the awkward back-and-forth between the two—overlapping dialogue, misunderstandings and missed signals, dangling questions and assertions—and the sense of waiting: for the characters onstage, waiting for the principal to come; for the audience, waiting for the information, the missing pieces of the story that explain the suggestive tentativeness, the endless awkwardness. Jon Tracy's stage direction emphasizes the start-stop manner of the meeting, punctuated with outbursts and slow burns. 

Jamie Jones has the better of it. Corryn is more than a little wayward and assertive, can change moods on a dime, attacking Heather verbally one minute while asking her the next to call her "Corryn." (Besides her institutional role, which explains some of her holding in, Heather is nursing "issues" of her own, but that's not revealed till later.) Her (often unexpected) reactions to Heather's explanations of what happened at school—and the reactions Corryn gets out of Heather—are the motor of the play, giving rise to whatever overall conclusions the audience cares to draw from this encounter. 

* * * 

In the press materials for the Cutting Ball production of 'Ubu Roi,' amid many assertions about the avant-garde in European theater since 'Ubu' 's advent onstage in 1896, was an interesting reminder that what, in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, was known as "the Problem Play," was considered shocking, itself part of the avant-garde, at least for a time. The origins of the Problem Play—thematically often about prostitution, marriage across class and caste, sexually transmitted disease—go back to the "Well-Wrought" three-to-five act plays of the Parisian playwrights who defined a great deal of the form of modern theater, film, television ... the spectacle of our "Society of the Spectacle," as Guy Debord dubbed it 45 years ago. 

Practically all the "structural" advice to would-be screenwriters found in the plethora of publications, from John Howard Lawson's (with his Central Conflict Theory) to those of Syd Field ("Plot Points"), came from these highly successful—and rather banal—commercial plays, from "ärcs" and the dominance of plot over the story it "structured"—or became confused with. Complications and misunderstandings became as important as, or more so, than the story itself. 

The Problem Plays of their time—with the exception of a few that, dramaturgically, went far beyond the genre, like those of Ibsen or Shaw—seem hopelessly dated now. (A delicious satire of the Problem Play from 1913, "Behind the Beyond," by Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humorist who was the favorite of Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Robert Benchley and the New Yorker writers of the 20s, is online—with original illustrations—at: gutenburg.org/ebooks/23449 ) Alain Resnais made a film of Henri Bernstein's boulevard piece of 1929, which has some of the same features, 'Melo,' in 1986, which brilliantly brought out in a contemporary way the form's "lost" theatrical methods of revealing its twists and turns, the misunderstandings its characters have with one another—its special, inclusive relation with its audience as the catalyst of its theatricality—in contrast to the far-fetched yet banal melodrama of its story, which begged the question poet and critic Theophile Gautier asked about the plays of the first great "Well-Wrought" playwright, Eugene Scribe, in the mid-19th century: "[How can] an author without poetry, lyricism, style, philosophy, truth or naturalism ... be the most successful playwright of his epoch ... ?" 

'Gidion's Knot' plays a little with the contemporary knock-off of the Problem Play, getting a little of something vaguely resembling black humor at one point, some second-hand pathos at another ... But it doesn't fulfill what at times seems to be its real gambit, displaying the way these awkward (and often institutional) melodramas are themselves plotted out, both in real life and onstage. For both entertainment value and to "show" the audience, bring them into the action rather than just give them information to either emote over or pass judgment on, Johns (and the director) should've emphasized more the ongoing theatrical devices, the delays, the misunderstandings, the reversals, play up what's revealed to the audience versus concealed to the characters (and vice versa—the reading of the scandalous story, after a long delay, brings out its banality to no particular end—better it remained unread, left up to the audience's imagination). 

* * * 

Eugene O'Neill once said, "The actors of my generation understand my plays, but can't act them. The actors of my father's generation never could've understood my plays—but they could've acted them like hell!" 

After seeing Cutting Ball's 'Ubu Roi,' I woke up from a dream where Peter Lorre was playing Ubu—perfect, with the big eyes, the knowing look of being cast into opprobrium ... 

'Ubu' is usually considered to be the first truly modern avant-garde play staged, the predecessor of the post-War "Theatre of the Absurd" as well as of the various avant-garde styles which came in between, its puerile protagonist—wildly foulmouthed, assassinating the King of Poland by kicking him to death, then brandishing a toilet brush as scepter and throwing all and sundry into the Disembraining Machine so he can glom onto their money—the prototypical anti-hero of modernity ... 

Cutting Ball's contemporary version, directed by Yury Urnov, graduate of that venerable Moscow academy of theatricality, GITIS, remakes Ubu and his equally monstrous wife (who serves as a kind of Greek chorus, lamenting his brutal gaucheries in equally profane tones) into a wealthy American couple, determined to get their way, Jarry's intricate burlesques of drama through the ages (it's not just a send-up of 'Macbeth' or what one lamentable essay, included with press materials, would have it, the work of a rebellious, scatological child who never grew up) is replaced by a succession of theater games, mostly centered around food (the set's a high-tech kitchen, the apotheosis—battle between the Whole Polish army and the tsar's Imperial forces—a free-for-all food fight)—and comes to resemble not much more, theatricality speaking, than a kind of preschool version of Saturday Night Live for adults. (As a seasoned professional director remarked to me after the show, ït was amusing in parts, but not the play I remember reading!") 

The reduction of Ubu to insipidity is the reverse of Jarry's intention, his protest against middle class mores by elevating the contradictions of what's taboo with the pious nonsense that's said about it to the level of sublime—and tragically sublime—nonsense, his own form of black humor. "Cliches are the armature of the Absolute." 

What Jarry meant Ubu to be like is clear enough, not only from the play itself, despite sketchy descriptions of its only two performances, but his subsequent assuming of the Ubu persona—with its precedence in political caricature, popular puppet theater and Celtic folk culture (Jarry and his influential predecessor, forerunner of modern theater, Villiers de L'Ísle-Adam, both Breton, both featured a similar buffoonish creature, Jarry's from puppet theater, Villers' a mannequin)—more than adequately described by his stunned and admiring contemporaries. (Andre Gide features Jarry in both novels and his published journals, acting out his Ubu role). 

"The last sublime debauchee of the Renaissance," Apollinaire dubbed Jarry. There's no trace of Ubu leading civilization on to an absurd apocalypse in the Cutting Ball production. Worse, there's barely a hint of the Grotesque—what V. S. Meyerhold called "the triumph of Form over Content," visible in Punch and Judy shows as well as in 'Tales of Hoffmann,' a bulwark against bathos, as Italian poet Adriano Spatola had it, or what Meyerhold's student Eisenstein's disciples called Eccentrism, or Roland Barthes The Obtuse, beyond the symbolic as well as the denotative ... Just more or less random games, attached to images from the media ... 

Contemporary problem plays or parodies of the sources of information about the problems ... Watching audiences at productions like these is, in some ways, like watching someone watch the news on TV, as information gets absorbed and a bunch of discrete reactions play across their face, not exactly a collective audience experience, frowning or tittering or alternating between the two. What's missing is theatricality, in the sense of a self-aware theater, displaying its means of representation, its styles, its tricks, including the audience in its actions as its other half. 

Midway through 'Gidion's Knot' it occurred to me that 60 years before, in his anti-plays which mercilessly burlesqued manners, education, language itself, Ionesco (and the other "Absurdists," perhaps the first to openly bring the techniques of the avant-gardes—surrealism's dissociations and bare, post-apocalyptic scenic design, for example—into modern commercial theaters, by eschewing doctrinaire avant-gardism) both saved time and increased stylization, the power of theatricality to panoramically show the contradictions of a whole society, not just a domestic household ... 

But with too many productions, as with these two seemingly different ones, stylization, theatricality's been suppressed or lost. Confronted with the same means, the same images, played straight or meant as parody, as the media presents us, what's onstage is something less challenging than just meant, perhaps unwillingly, for consumption. 

'Gidion's Knot' Tuesday through Sunday through , various times (including matinees) at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (near Shattuck). 843-4822, $32-$50, $20 rush tickets a half hpur before curtain; auroratheatre.org 

'Ubu Roi' Thursdays-Sundays, various times (including matinees) through March 9, Exit Theater on Taylor, 277 Taylor (three blocks off Market, near Powell BART), Downtown San Francisco. $15-$30. cuttingball.com

Theater Review: Marcus Gardley's The House That Will Not Stand at Berkeley Rep

By Ken Bullock
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:26:00 PM

What's most striking about 'The House That Will Not Stand,' the premiere of the Marcus Gardley play commissioned by Berkeley Rep and produced in collaboration with Yale Repertory, now playing at the Rep's Thrust Stage in an extended run through March 23, is the progression Gardley seems to be making from the seemingly Southern Gothic romance-style plays he was writing a half dozen years back (“évery tongue must confess,” reviewed in the Planet July 31, 2008, comes to mind) bringing out more of the lyric element, always present, but tied more and more to the action of the characters in ensemble.  

Gardley's plays are often referred to as being like radio plays—"plays for voices," which described Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood might be a bit more accurate—but the extensive use of monologue and dialogue to flesh out the unusual situations Gardley looks for in African-American history is best matched with an equal density in activity onstage. When the actors in 'House,' directed by Patricia McGregor, are engaged in that intricate theatricality of word, movement and gesture, the play's at its best, and an excellent performance like Harriet D. Foy's as Makeda becomes possible, both standing out from and helping to link together the vignettes and scenes that add up to the whole of the play. 

But sometimes there's a sense of neglect, of inattention, as the action goes off in a different direction, which in 'House all but beaches venerable Ray Reinhardt, in the aptly-dubbed role of Lazare, the only male onstage, pater familias who tries to rule his house even after death. There should be more for Reinhardt to do or say, or at least a greater sense of his presence, but the action is more taken up with the generations of women in and around Lazare's household and their struggles with society, themselves and each other to find their own way as women of color. 

Set in 1836 New Orleans, three decades after its acquisition by the United States, Gardley's play is an exploration of the custom of plaçage, common-law marriages between (usually legally married) white householders (and slave owners) and women of color, who served as housekeepers, often mothering children, to the master of the house—and especially in French days, acquiring the property as rightful heir, sometimes over claims of a childless legal spouse.  

House reads from the audience perspective a little bit like the most trenchant play of a favorite of Gardley's, something like Garcia Lorca's 'House of Bernarda Alba,' with an ongoing gambit from Lorca's comedies thrown in. The humor, even in a role like Beartrice (a magisterial—and funny--Lizan Mitchell) adds dimension to the seriousness of the story and its historical situation, but doesn't always translate, at least in this production, to the different aspects of the plot—Beartrice's daughters struggling to find their places, one religious, another declared "too dark"—which leads to a kind of "speechifying" after intermission, running through the rest of the play.  

The shock—which has its humor, too—of Reinhardt's grand re-entrance (re-emergence?), almost a coup de theatre, becomes muted, finally lost, in the increasingly separate interworkings of the subplot, become almost thematic. What could have bound together this complicated story, making it truly complex, is allowed to evaporate theatrically, giving short shrift to the audience's (and the cast's) imagination. 

Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison near Shattuck, Tuesday through Sunday (various times, including matinees). $29-$61. (Half price tickets for those under 30; $10 off for students and seniors an hour before curtain.) 647-2949; berkeleyrep.org 

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Lafayette String Quartet at the Berkeley City Club Play Music by Schubert, Dvorak & Berkeley Composer David Jaffe

Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:43:00 PM

The Lafayette String Quartet--the only all-female musical ensemble still comprised of its founding members--will play Schubert's String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, "Rosamunde;" Dvorak's viola quintet, op. 97, the "Ämerican;" and the US premiere of Berkeley composer David Jaffe's "Fox Hollow" for Berkeley Chamber Performances at the Berkeley City Club, Tuesday, February 25 at 8 p. m. A complimentary wine and cheese reception with the musicians will follow the concert. 

David Jaffe commented on "Fox Hollow": "Named after the Fox Hollow Folk Festival, which I participated in as a teenager, held on the Beers family homestead in upstate New York from 1966 till 1980 ... purely acoustic, no electricity ... The piece has four movements--different moods and different times of day, beginning with early morning and ending with an all-night campground jam session ... Each movement is structured around open strings of a different folk instrument: banjo (Appalachian modal tuning), guitar, mandolin and fiddle--'Sawmill Tuning' (banjos at breakfast), 'Mid-day Blues' (guitar in the heat of the day after a night without sleep), 'Natural Amphitheater' (unamplified concerts on a terraced hillside) and 'Campground Cacophony Under the Stars' (multiple overlapping jam sessions expand and recede until the dawn, when it all starts again.)" 

The Lafayette String Quartet, now in residence at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, was founded in 1986 by members of the Renaissance City Chamber players in Detroit: Ann Elliott-Goldschmidt and Sharon Stanis, violins; Joanna Hood, viola; and Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, cello. Joining the Quartet for the Dvorak quintet will be Pamela Freund-Striplen on viola, artistic director of the Gold Coast Chamber Players from Orinda. 

Tuesday, February 25 at 8, Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue between Dana and Ellsworth. $25; high school students free; post-high school students, $12.50. 525-5211; berkeleychamberperform.org

Around & About Theater: The Lion and the Fox at Central Works

By Ken Bullock
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:25:00 PM

This weekend, Central Works opens a prequel to one of their most popular shows, 'The Lion and the Fox,' concerning Niccolo Machiavelli's fascination with tyrant Cesare Borgia, the strongman he thinks might unite Italy, and Macchiavelli's loyalty to the independence of the Florentine Republic. Written by Gary Graves, directed by Jan Zvaifler. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 through March at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue between Ellsworth and Dana, $28 advance (Brown Paper Tickets: 800-838-3006), sliding scale of $28-$15 at the door; previews and Thursdays, pay what you can. 558-1381; centralworks.org

A Celebration of International Women's Day, March 8

Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:54:00 PM

Berkeley Copwatch invites you to “In Love and Struggle” a celebration of International Women’s Day. It's all happening on March 8th at 7:30pm at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley. This night will feature dance and spoken word performances by our own MC Kaila Love , Students for Hip Hop and surprise dramatic performances. There will also be a special guest appearance by hip hop diva Vixen Noir, and at beginning at 9pm The Average Dyke Band will have you on your feet and dancing to old school funk, R &B, modern and more. 

All are welcome. The event is $15 at the door $10 with student ID. That’s Saturday March 8th at La Pena Cultural Center 3105 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. 

This event is dedicated to the memory of Kayla Moore and all who have suffered or died at the hands of police and is a benefit for Berkeley Copwatch. 

For more information go to www.berkeleycopwatch.org and check us out on Facebook: Justice 4 Kayla Moore