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Hate Man offered to "push" tourists in People's Park for their money. If they won, he'd "pay" them. He would  pose for pics, as well, for a price. He may be a well-known philosopher (WIKI), but he was no cock-eyed romanticist.
Ted Friedman
Hate Man offered to "push" tourists in People's Park for their money. If they won, he'd "pay" them. He would pose for pics, as well, for a price. He may be a well-known philosopher (WIKI), but he was no cock-eyed romanticist.


Flash: Crash damages Berkeley gas line, residents evacuated

Dave Brooksher (BCN)
Wednesday April 05, 2017 - 02:16:00 PM

Berkeley police are asking people to stay away from the area around San Pablo and Ashby avenues this afternoon because of a gas leak caused by a solo-vehicle crash. 

Police and firefighters responded to a report of a vehicle crashing into a fixed object at 12:57 p.m. 

People nearby noticed the strong smell of gas, and emergency crews have determined that a gas line was damaged in the crash. 

The driver was injured and taken to a hospital. 

Both roadways have been closed for two blocks on either side of the affected area as PG&E crews work to secure the leak, according to police. 

According to Sergeant Andrew Frankel, Berkeley Police Department, residents from the 1200 block of Ashby Avenue have been evacuated. Residents from the 1200 block of Carrison Street are now being evacuated. 

Traffic remains closed 2 blocks in each direction of the intersection of San Pablo and Ashby Avenues. 

The community is asked to remain out of the area until the "all clear" is given. 


Hate Man, the Pathways Project, and the War on Eccentricity

Carol Denney
Monday April 03, 2017 - 03:55:00 PM

There comes a point in a local's life where you go to People's Park and you stop looking for a spectacle, a particular vision of all it has stood for over the decades, and begin instead to look for who is there.

The tourists often look for a museum experience that will quickly summarize the sixties so they can go shopping. University of California officials are looking for evidence that the sixties are still there so they can start another development machine. City representatives usually hope to minimize their connection to the park so they can get re-elected.

But park-connected people look for the people which, as much as the weather on a particular day, will predict the likelihood of some really good music, some rocking stories, a couple of good arguments and jokes. There might be an old friend you met in a holding cell you can borrow a couple bucks from or pay back. And usually there was Hate Man.

Hate Man, born Mark Hawthorne, was among many things a philosopher who encouraged people to confront negative feelings in themselves and others, which he saw as more honest. He was articulate, educated, and gentle. He usually dressed in creative attire unusual even for Berkeley's streets, which, like his philosophy, gave gentle permission to others to stretch their ideas of their own expression. 

The University of California's animosity toward eccentricity was by no means limited to Hate Man, but one of the best illustrations of this paranoia still exists in their "People's Park Rules", which go so far as to specifically criminalize baby strollers unless they carried a baby. That was for Hate Man, and the strange, gentle power of a philosopher who was continually forced into court, the City of Berkeley's and the University of California's preferred territory for battle. 

Since the block between Haste, Dwight, Bowditch, and Telegraph's rowdy, explosive block of ungoverned culture, mostly in shared houses, was bulldozed in 1967, the UC Berkeley administration has torn its hair out trying to quell that culture and the concomitant gentle warriors who carry it with them in their smiles, their pace, and their willingness to greet the National Guard with flowers. Hate Man's embrace of "oppositionality", oddly fit right into this strange revolution, an oddly quiet revolution unless certain people were behind the faders. But then, if you know the people behind the faders you can have an effect on that, too. 

The City of Berkeley's "Pathways Project" continues in a decades-old parade of fallacies: that you need freshly-built buildings to address housing needs, that only carefully "vetted" people deserve a roof, and that our eccentrics are a threat. Those lucky enough to have known Hate Man are sad today to lose him, but will forever see him on our streets and in our Park, and loosen their constricted expectations of others and themselves. And maybe bring a baby stroller. Nothing is funnier than the poor police officer who tries to explain what is wrong with that.

Updated: Hate Man is Dead

Tom Lord, Dan McMullan, Ace Backwards
Sunday April 02, 2017 - 10:38:00 PM
Hate Man offered to "push" tourists in People's Park for their money. If they won, he'd "pay" them. He would  pose for pics, as well, for a price. He may be a well-known philosopher (WIKI), but he was no cock-eyed romanticist.
Ted Friedman
Hate Man offered to "push" tourists in People's Park for their money. If they won, he'd "pay" them. He would pose for pics, as well, for a price. He may be a well-known philosopher (WIKI), but he was no cock-eyed romanticist.

Hate's sister and some friends of his indicate on Facebook that Hate has passed. Hate has touched and greatly helped many, many lives -- including, I think, his own. No reference material can do justice and none do more than scratch the surface, so this will have to do.

—Thomas Lord 



One of my best friends and friend to many, many people Mark Hawthorne AKA Hateman passed away today 6:33pm at Alta Bates Hospital. I will miss our conversations, loud discussions and arguments on just about every subject under the sun and beyond. Hateman loved to be "Outside" and lived life without a small home but made the world his big one. Outside was where he was needed. For over half a century he was the central core to a large, dysfunctional family that many belonged to. He will be missed by all of us that knew and loved (I can hear him gagging at my sentimentality ) him. 



—Dan McMullan (from his facebook page) 


I was just waiting on the line at the Dollar Store this morning. The guy on line in front of me was talking to this other guy: “Hey, did you hear? The Hate Man died on Sunday. Yeah. The famous person from Berkeley. I just heard about it 5 minutes ago on CBS. Hate Man lived in People’s Park for years and years. He used to be a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. . . ” 


I thought I was gonna start crying right there in the fucking store. 

* * * * 

The worst thing is. It’s now 6:30 in the evening. And I’ve drunk the first half of my 40 of OE. And now this is the time of the evening when — for just about every evening for the last 10 years — I’d walk over to Hate Camp at the top of People’s Park. And I’d pull up a blue milk crate to sit on. And I’d buy a cigarette from Hate Man for 50-cents (Virginia Slims 120 menthols, naturally — a man’s man cigarette — “Come to Virginia Slims Country!” — we’re rugged “street people” after all). . . And I’d tell Hate the latest gossip from my day. And he’d tell me the latest gossip from his day. And by the time I finished the rest of my 40, I’d be ready for my next 40. And several more Virginia Slims to go with it, naturally. And yet another evening of the usual madness would start to unfold. 

Except now. I was just getting ready to go check in with Hate. Like I’ve done a thousand times before. Only now. I realize. I no longer have any place to go. 

[For pictures, click here.] 


—Ace Backwards 






Some of Ted Friedman's Hate Man stories from the Planet: 







Searching for Hate—After His Eviction from People's Park. Category ...

Mar 19, 2012 - This is all that's left of "Camp Hate," a bustling community of thinkers, boozers, and schmoozers, all under the direction of Hate Man. Shoes on ...

He's Back; Court Clears Hate Man's People's Park Return. Category ...

Apr 13, 2012 - Hate Man back in People's Park, Wednesday, after three-week stay-away order dropped by court. Hate Man's back, after an Alameda County ...

Searching for Hate Leads to Sick Scene in Downtown Berkeley ...

Mar 23, 2012 - Protecting and serving. Cops ministering to mentally ill man downtown Wednesday. They didn't want me to photograph the man they called "a ... 




New: Concord residents arrested in Berkeley burglary

Kiley Russell (CN)
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 09:58:00 PM

Berkeley police arrested two people suspected of robbing a home on Thursday night, according to police officials.  

At about 8 p.m., police received a call about a possible burglary in progress in the 2800 block of Sacramento Street.  

When officers arrived, they found a man and a woman who matched a witness description walking away from the home where a window had been smashed, police said. 

Police arrested two Concord residents, 51-year-old Reginald Patillo and 38-year-old Kizzie Sandling. 

Patillo was arrested on suspicion of burglary, possession of burglary tools and violating his probation. Sandling was arrested on suspicion of burglary and violating her probation.

New: Trump’s curse (Public Comment)

Jagjit Singh
Tuesday April 04, 2017 - 07:16:00 PM

Contrary to his campaign pledge to hang up his golf clubs and work for the American people, Trump now spends an excessive amount of time golfing and vacationing at his Florida resort. Readers may recall how he mocked Obama for indulging in an occasional weekend golfing with his friends.

Sadly, Trump’s offspring have been cursed with the same lust for money capitalizing on the Trump name. Son-in-law Kushner is wobbling right on the edge of an ethical precipice. Swing state members of Congress are cursed with their support of Trump and may lose their seats in the mid-term elections. 

Eight-term Congressman Devin Nunes is in free fall after his clock-and-dagger escapades at the White House. His chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee is in serious trouble. 

Paul Ryan, once Republicans rising star, is reviled by the Freedom Caucus and the Dems. Ryan suffered the ultimate humiliation by his boss who urged his followers to tune in to “Judge Jeanine,” of Fox News who demanded Ryan relinquish his speakership. Reince Priebus is the Trumpcare’s fall guy and has faded into obscurity. Chris Christie who was recently invited to the White House, has been cursed by Trump’s son-in-law for indicting his father.  

Sean Spicer has an impossible task as a “defense lawyer”, bobbing and weaving to defend Trump’s policies and manic tweets. And last but not least are the Trump voters who have been duped by the world’s biggest con man.  


84 Stuart Ct 

Los Altos, CA 94022 


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New: The Pathways Project won't work for Berkeley homeless (Public Comment)

Thomas Lord
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 02:55:00 PM

On Tuesday, April 4th, the Berkeley City Council will be voting on a controversial proposal that will further criminalize the homeless. The plan, called "The Pathways Project", promises to intensify enforcement of anti-homeless laws. At the heart of the Pathways project is a simple proposition: step up law enforcement against homeless people without providing the vast majority of them any alternatives to breaking the law. 

Pathways only offers three positive proposals: to have mental health professionals participate in enforcement activities; to provide a small navigation-center style facility, the STAIRS facility, into which a few homeless people may be diverted as an alternative to enforcement; and to dedicate significant money (staff time) both to the STAIRS facility, and to an open-ended research project to develop "1,000 person plan" and a vaguely described tiny homes facility for a small number of homeless people. 

Anyone, homeless or housed, should respect established standards of community behavior. But often, people spreading out bedding and other possessions on sidewalks do so because there are no secure places to store their belongings and it’s nearly impossible to find housing. These “behavior” issues are a symptom of our failure to provide housing or adequate services to help people on our streets. So that raises the question, “What is the solution?” More laws to criminalize behavior? Or using this moment as an opportunity to focus on policies and practices that empower homeless people to exist, even in Berkeley, without so many day to day conflicts with the public peace and morals? 

Focusing on enforcement is a proven failure and decorating enforcement with a quixotic, utopian ambition to "end homelessness" is no improvement. Numerous studies, including a recent one by UC Berkeley School of Law professors and students, show that enforcement of quality-of-life laws such as bans on sitting and lying don’t work. People will cycle in and out of the criminal justice system and back onto our streets. 

Most of the words above were written by Jesse Arreguin, in his op-ed "Services not citations needed to address homelessness" -- dated March 17, 2015. I updated the Mayor's op-ed, slightly, to reflect the latest anti-homeless initiative to come before council: Mayor Arreguin's own Pathways project. What a difference two years makes. 

Today, it is impossible to survive in Berkeley as a literally homeless person without breaking the law. It is also dangerous. 

As a form of self-help, some homeless people attempt to reduce the danger to themselves by staying in close proximity to one another -- so called "homeless encampments" are an example. This form of survival runs afoul of more laws than most. The Pathways proposal will concentrate enforcement on the safer form of homeless survival -- staying in groups -- and thereby encourage less safe forms. 

Nothing in the Pathways proposal will make it legally possible to survive in Berkeley as a homeless person. Nor does the plan create many alternatives to homelessness -- in spite of spending "considerable" money, some of which has not even been found in the budget. 

Mayor Arreguin should honor his own words and withdraw the Pathways proposal. 

He should instead, turn his immediate attention to making it legally possible to survive that which no policy can yet prevent: literal homelessness.

New: April 1, 2017--No foolin'

Helen Rippier Wheeler
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 03:32:00 PM

To the Berkeley City Council:

I urge you to vote 'yes' on the Fresh Start Resolutions. I am a long-time Council District 4 resident, a retired educator, professional librarian and author. I know what I'm talking about.. "Senior Power" is my occasional newspaper column.

I am unable to attend Tuesday, April 4, 2017's Berkeley Council meeting (8:30 P.M., 2134 MLK).

New: Open letter to members of the Berkeley City Council regarding selection of the police chief (Public Comment)

Andrea Prichett, James McFadden et al.
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 03:01:00 PM

It is our understanding that the City Manager is preparing to appoint Andrew Greenwood to be the new permanent Chief of Police for the city of Berkeley. While we appreciate that he is well liked by the City Manager and many officers, we believe that the appointment of a chief requires a process that includes soliciting input from the people of Berkeley. The proposed hire has been done without the benefit of a hiring committee, feedback of any kind from the public or any input from the Police Review Commission. For a position that commands such power and influence over the quality of life in Berkeley and that is accountable only to the City Manager, it is especially crucial that there be a transparent process into which the people of Berkeley can include their comments. If the City Council wants the people of Berkeley to trust and support a new chief, then it is wise to withhold your approval of this hire until a process for making this hire can be created and communicated throughout the city. 

This is more than simply choosing a chief. It is about choosing a direction for our city’s plan for safety and approach to emergency services. Will the new chief continue down the path of militarization of the force or will we choose a chief who has demonstrated a concern for community relations and local input and control? Surely at this time in our nation’s history, it is important to take a serious look at where we want to go and hire people and direct resources that can support the chosen course. 

We also believe that there should be a plan for evaluating the chief. This process of evaluation should be clearly stated and approved by the City Council. It should account for input from stakeholders including the public and the PRC. Clear objectives and measures should be in place as part of the evaluation. Thanks for considering our concerns

Berkeley City Council to consider $800,000 home loan to City Manager at special meeting on Tuesday

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 31, 2017 - 04:50:00 PM

At 4:10 pm on Friday afternoon, March 31, the Planet received a notice from the Berkeley City Clerk with a proclamation from Mayor Jesse Arreguin that there will be a special meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, April 4, at 4:30 pm, with the following item on the Consent Calendar:

1. Authorizing Home Loan Agreement with Dee Williams-Ridley

From: Mayor Arreguin

Recommendation: Adopt a Resolution authorizing a housing assistance loan to Dee Williams-Ridley of up to $800,000 for the purchase of a residence within a ten mile radius of the City of Berkeley, for a 20 year term with an annual interest rate equal to 3%, and repayment of the loan with interest required within 24 months of separation from the City, and authorizing the Mayor to execute the resulting loan repayment agreement and promissory note.

Financial Implications: See report

Contact: Jesse Arreguin, Mayor, 981-7100
No report was attached to the notice however. 

Two Weeks in April: California's Clean Money Campaign Races to Collect 50,000 Signatures

Gar Smith
Friday March 31, 2017 - 02:49:00 PM

Earlier this week, a group of dogged political activists gathered for a strategy session at the Urban Adamah farm's two-plus-acre site in West Berkeley. Sitting in a circle inside a large, round Mongolian-style yurt, 20 game-changers—some who had driven from as far as Livermore and Palo Alto—were drawn together by a shared interest in supporting AB 14, a California state bill designed to help get "dark money" out of politics by requiring all print and broadcast election ads to clearly identify whose money is being spent to promote legislation.

Are you frightened by dark money? Ticked off during elections dominated by spurious campaign advertising that floods (some might say pollutes) the media stream? Well, AB 14 could be your flashlight and your life-jacket.

The DISCLOSE Act would require the top three funders of political ads—be they for ballot measures or candidates—to be clearly identified on each and every ad. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that spending unlimited amounts of money to influence elections was a protected form of "free speech." Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Acton Fund, points out: "The vast majority of the unlimited money unleashed by Citizens United is spent on deceptive political ads. AB 14 will stop them from hiding who's really behind them." 

The East Bay Action Group assembled in the Berkeley yurt heard from Clean Money coordinator Nancy Neff who underscored the need for reform by noting that, from 2012 to 2016, more than $1 billion in so-called "dark money" poured into various campaigns to fund ads designed to promote or defeat State ballot measures. Most of this malignant money was masked behind sanitized titles like "Californians against Higher Healthcare Costs" or "Stop Special Interest Money Now." Voters have learned to be suspicious when a big-bucks corporate campaign hides its agenda behind an innocuous title like "Californians for Sensible Government" or, as one of the activists proposed, "Californians for Fiscal Responsibility and Cute Puppies." 

AB 14 (authored by Assemblymembers Jimmy Gomez and Senator Ben Allen) would require that any group or individual spending more than $50,000 on election advertising be clearly identified. On TV and video ads, this disclosure would need to be on a solid black background on the bottom one-third of the screen and last for a full five seconds. Each funder would be listed on a separate line, in large, clear type "without trying to make them harder to read by putting everything in capital letters. No more fine print." 

The legislation also would require that radio ads and robocalls identify their two largest funders. This applies whether the ads are paid for by corporations, unions, or millionaires. The bill would also require "earmarking" rules to identify the original donors to a campaign, which might otherwise remain invisible beneath multiple layers of various organizations. 

There Is Hope 

The California Clean Money Campaign has been around for 14-15 years. And has come achingly close to success in several recent sessions. In August of 2016 a bill was sent to the Appropriations Committee (aka "the place where bills go to die") and left to be killed by inaction. But a vigorous letter-writing and phone campaign managed to save the bill and bring it to a vote. Ironically, the bill was opposed by big-spending Big Labor, which attempted to gut it with amendments. Typically, when such bills make it to a vote, the State's Republicans vote against it. 

There is growing hope that AB 14 might be the bill that finally wins the day. In the Supreme Court's decision in favor of the Citizens United case, eight of the nine justices agreed that disclosure of private funding in elections and political campaigns is necessary and appropriate. The Brennan Center for Justice said an earlier version of the DISCLOSE Act "stands on a firm constitutional bed rock and is worthy of support." 

There may even be Republican cosponsor this year—Contra Costa Asssemblymember Catherine Baker's name was mentioned—and Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) is seen as a key player this time around. In 2016, there were nine Republican Assemblymembers who voted for the previous bill. The Assembly is receptive: it is the State Senate that remains the crucial challenge. 

April 26 is the deadline for delivering signatures and the Clean Money campaigners hope to finish their signature gathering by April 15. According to Neff, the campaign garnered 20,000 signatures last year. This year the aim is for 50,000 signatures. Campaigners are optimistic given the fact that, on the single day of the Women's March (the day after Donald Trump's poorly attended inauguration), campaigners picked up 8,000 signatures. Neff reported that the campaign had already collected 12,000 signatures. 

In these final critical remaining weeks, volunteers will be heading to Hollister, Modesto, Merced, and Salinas (Sen. Cannella's home base). They plan to be on hand in the Central Valley during the street marches celebrating of Cesar Chavez Day. Campaigners also will be reaching out to farmers' markets and popping up in flea markets. Closer to home, the campaign will be setting up shop at Oakland's First Friday event on April 7 along the downtown strip of Telegraph Avenue. 

There will be a Lobby Day in Sacramento on Wednesday, April 26, with campaigners taking up positions outside politicians' doors at 8:45AM, ready to be the first to knock when the offices open at nine. 

Part of Lobby Day involves boosting the campaign from behind a public microphone. It's a simple assignment. You just say "I'm so-and-so and I support this bill." (That's it. That's all you're allowed to say.) Then it's back to making rounds to the offices of local representatives. 

What You Can Do 

To join the DISCLOSE campaign, to lobby, or simply to help gather signatures during these next critical weeks, you can reach the California Clean Money Campaign at: www.CAdisclose.org, info@CAclean.org, and (800) 566-3780. To contribute to the California Clean Money Action Fund, go to www.YesFair Elections.org/join


High Tech Layoffs In The Bay Area

Harry Brill
Friday March 31, 2017 - 02:45:00 PM

Because of a dip in the Bay Area economy, both generally speaking and in the high tech industry, job losses in January and February, were substantial. According to state data reported in the East Bay Times, the southern portion of the Bay Area, Santa Clara County, shed 8,100 jobs in these two months. Alameda and Contra Counties, which make up the East Bay, lost 5,600 jobs in January and February. These losses total 13,700 jobs. 

Just in February, high tech companies slashed 2,700 jobs. In addition, many Americans who have high tech jobs are being replaced by foreign workers. The federal H-1B visa program imports 85,000 skilled workers annually. The cumulative result is that 75% of Silicon Valley employees are now foreign born, mainly on H1-B visas. So not surprisingly, the chances of finding full time jobs are dismal for American high tech workers. Clearly, the H1-B visas are far more preferred by employers than proof of citizenship.  

The rationale for legislating H-1B was to assure companies of the availability of skilled workers. The high tech industry insisted that there was a serious shortage of qualified American high-tech employees. But qualified high-tech workers were never in short supply, and it is certainly not the case now. Indeed, in many instances experienced employees are required to train their foreign replacements before they are laid off. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand why these American workers are being replaced. Foreign labor is a lot cheaper. 

One observer commented that the low wage employment train continues to chug along. Meanwhile, American tech workers are living in a hope and pray environment. What then should be done to nurture the economy and protect American workers? Many steps have to be taken to boost the income of working people, which in turn would increase consumer spending and create jobs. The H1-B program, which is justified by employers on fictitious grounds, should be scrapped. This would not affect the total number of jobs lost. But it would certainly reduce the unemployment of domestic high tech workers.



Fool's Errand, Fool's Gold or Fool's Paradise? Or some of each?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 31, 2017 - 01:31:00 PM

Tomorrow comes yet another April Fools’ Day, remembered especially in the O’Malley family as the day in 2003 when we assumed responsibility for the Berkeley Daily Planet. Fourteen years is a long time, and yet it seems to have gone by in a blink. My chances of being around fourteen years hence are slim, so now is as good a time as any to consider what we’ve done with the last fourteen.

For insight, let’s first consider the beautiful essay contributed for our first issue by Peter Solomon. He popped up in our new office on South Shattuck as we were moving in. I’d known him somewhat during his distinguished and varied career as a typesetter, an editor of small papers including the Flatlands newspaper, the original independent Montclarion, and who know what else? His wit and wisdom were famous in certain rarefied circles that I’d moved in during a prior life in journalism so we asked him to accept the title of the Planet’s Eminence Grise. His major responsibility was to show up at staff meetings and set everyone straight as needed, which he did with humor and grace.
Here’s how he started out his piece, entitled Whose Berkeley

“Berkeley with a view of the bay and San Francisco, and one two three bridges, or Berkeley where a dumpster is the most colorful item in sight through the smudged air? 

“Whose Berkeley? The aging Nisei couple on the porch of their bungalow with its immaculate yard, very like the house their parents were forced to sell cheap in 1942, do they live in the same town as the high-tech success jogging past them to his $750,000 brown shingle a block away?

“What is Berkeley to the commuter who drives past the Claremont Hotel and blocks of manicured green toward an office in the business school? To the men, talking to each other in Spanish or Mixtec, lined up outside the lumberyards a couple of miles west hoping to get a day’s work? To the African-American police officer who grew up here but had to go 40 miles up the freeway to find a house he could afford for his own family?”

Much is the same, though some things have changed, notably the price of houses. You can read all of it here.

In the editorial slot Mike and I posed this question: Why a Newspaper Now?

Here’s the lede: 

“A newspaper? Why a newspaper? Why now? We’ve been asked these questions often by friends and family in the last three months. From time to time, we’ve even asked ourselves why we’re doing this. It’s a lot of work. It’s time consuming. It’s expensive. We were comfortably retired from the business world, enjoying our grandchildren.”
You can read the rest of our lengthy answer here if you care to, but be warned, it’s still an open question. I still don’t know why we did it, or why I’m still doing whatever it is that I’m doing now. 

But I do know that there’s still work to be done, for someone. It’s still the job of whatever passes for The Press in this online age to let the public know what’s going on. It’s possible with a good bit of effort to kind of figure out what’s happening by dipping into the San Francisco Chronicle, the East Bay Times, the Daily Californian, the East Bay Express, Berkeleyside.com. and even subscriber forums like nextdoor.com, but it’s a lot of work with uncertain results. 

Berkeleydailyplanet.com has no reporting staff any more, so our readers depend on other readers to let them know what’s happening by contributing occasional news articles plus a lot of informed opinion under the Public Comment heading. 

I share what I hear about with readers, but of course I miss a lot, since I do no systematic reporting. We also subscribe to the Bay City News Service on the readers’ behalf, which is reliable though it doesn’t offer much Berkeley coverage beyond police and fire reports. But basically, these days I’m running what amounts to a blog plus friends. Which is fine with me. 

Berkeleyans seem to have—finally—a much better city council that we did in 2003. If this new bunch (a majority of whom the Planet enthusiastically supported in the last election, plus a couple that we previously endorsed) can’t build a better Berkeley, we might as well give up. 

But there’s a lot these guys need to get moving on. The city planning staff is still the refuge of all too many incompetent partisans of the development industry embedded by the previous city manager in collusion with the previous mayor and the former planning director, though these people are gradually moving on. 

Who replaces them is important. And the same goes for new hires in other departments. 

Case in point: soon a new police chief will be chosen to fill the current vacancy, by the city manager per the city charter, but with the cooperation of the council and mayor. It would be more than sensible if the powers-that-be solicited extensive public input before offering the top job to anyone. 

It should be noted that some members of the Berkeley Police made bad decisions at the time of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, but on the other hand some made good decisions re the March4Trump fiasco. What have we learned from these experiences? Citizens have a lot to say—a groundswell of public opinion is already building, as reflected in some letters I’ve received, and it should be acknowledged in the selection process. 

And someone needs to figure out why Police Review Commission isn’t working the way it was supposed to. I’m told that the Mayor and at least one new councilmember still haven’t made their appointments to the PRC—and that’s urgent! 

That’s a couple of examples of the kind of detail that new councilmembers need to attend to, and soon. There are many more that I could list, and I imagine most readers would be able to make their own to-do lists for their representatives. 

What I think will not work as a form of communication about important civic matters is the dreadful Peak Democracy product now online on the city website, disguised by the new moniker of “Open Town Hall”. Oh no, sorry, the new new name is “Berkeley Considers”, but it’s the same incredibly poorly designed software obviously created to engineer consent that’s been around since 2011, when then-Councilperson Gordon Wozniak tried to foist it on an unsuspecting city. 

And now it’s back, as evidenced by an email that I got today from Wozniak’s District 8 successor. You can see what they were up to the last time here. Nothing much has changed. 

It still has two properties which I particularly dislike. First, subscriber/participants don’t have to publish their real names. I have zero respect for unsigned opinions, which let writers make up “alternative facts” to their hearts’ content with no one to challenge them. 

Then there are the program’s “civility guidelines” which can be seen here

Here’s my favorite part: 

How do I know if my statement is a 'disagreement' or a 'personal attack'? 

Here are some examples of statements which are, and are not, personal attacks. 


Personal Attack  


Not A Personal Attack  


He lied.  


He said he did X, but in fact he did Y.  


She misrepresented the truth.  


I don't believe what she said.  


He is greedy.  


He is making money from this project.  


It is merely a power play on her part.  


She will announce her candidacy soon.  


In the President Trump era, why can’t we just call a lie a lie when we see one? When Paul Krugman started at the New York Times, he was not allowed to use the word “lie” in his column, but now the Times uses it even in editorial headlines all the time, thanks to The Donald and his cronies. 


Yes, Virginia, liars aplenty roam amongst us, even in sanctified Berkeley, and we need to call them out when we see them. 

And greed exists, greedy people are everywhere—I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you that, but it’s true. Possibly, just possibly, the creators of the “non-partisan” (but not nonprofit) Peak Democracy Corporation could even be among the greedy. 

The City of Berkeley has wasted way too much money on this stupid program, money which could have been better spent elsewhere. The new City Council did not approve the contract which the city staff signed with this meshuganah outfit, but they can and should cancel it if it’s not too late. 

We’ve come a long way from wondering why newspapers, haven’t we? The takeaway might be that in the absence of a newspaper which does a thorough job of covering Berkeley, it’s up to everyone to get the word out by whatever means necessary. 

So what else is new? Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone! 





The Editor's Back Fence

New: Don't miss this: changes afoot

Monday April 03, 2017 - 06:13:00 PM

From the East Bay Times: Assemblymember Tony Thurmond to run for state superintendent

And Berkeley City Attorney Zack Cowan will be leaving his position as of July, according to Yvette Gan, Secretary to the Berkeley City Manager, per a letter answering a citizen's inquiry. If you'd like to apply, details can be found by clicking here.

New: Bad Boy Boobies threaten to come back to Berkeley on April 15

Saturday April 01, 2017 - 01:58:00 PM

The New Republic online chronicles the adventures of a far-right jerk who seems to have hit someone with a stick at the "March4Trump" which took place in Berkeley on (surprise) March 4. It includes a link to a video where the self-styled warrior puts together some armor-ish gear from spare parts bought at Home Depot and similar places. I know, Boys Just Like to Have Fun, but this adolescent claims to be 41 years old. He and his cronies are planning a reprise on April 15 in Martin Luther King Civic Center Park. The Berkeley Police Department did an excellent job of mostly ignoring them the last time, only arresting this over-age kid after he actually slugged a Black Blocker with a pole.

Public Comment

The Nunes saga: a dead skunk

Jagjit Singh
Friday March 31, 2017 - 03:50:00 PM

The Nunes–Russia-Trump saga has all the intrigue of a spy thriller far exceeding anything Tom Clancy or John Le Carré could offer. The latest episode in this gripping story is Nunes, who imagines himself as a tough Jason Bourne, but behaves more like Inspector Clouseau (the inept protagonist of the “Pink Panther” comedies), leaping over the White House wall to meet “Deep Throat”. Nunes switched cars and ditched aides to “cover his tracks”. He then met his former boss to tip him off about possible incriminating information linking him to the bare chested boss at the Kremlin. But the story has taken another twist, “Deep Throat” has finally been unmasked— they were two White House aides who seem to have conjured up a fake story to cover Trump’s preposterous claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower! 

Democrats’ demands for Nunes to recuse himself are not enough. They must insist that Nunes be investigated for violating his oversight duties communicating with the White House who is under investigation. Two patriotic Americans who are putting country over party are Senators Graham and McCain who are demanding Nunes remove himself as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Charges of a cover-up are growing. Why is Nunes so fearful of former Attorney General Sally Yates and former CIA head John Brennan testifying? Calls for an independent council, who would be insulated from partisan political pressure, are growing. 

The stench of corruption emanating from the White House is like a dead skunk trapped in the basement. 

Oaths, Law and Consequences

Bruce Joffe
Friday March 31, 2017 - 03:43:00 PM

What consequences does a person face if he/she lies during sworn testimony to the Senate? Do the consequences for perjury apply to government officials, including the chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions? During his confirmation hearing, under oath, he said he had no contact with Russian officials during Trump's campaign, to which he was an advisor. That was untrue. Subsequently, Sessions tried to minimize his perjury by saying he hadn't met with Russians as Trump's representative. Does subsequent redefining of untrue statements absolve the perjurer from culpability? If not, what is the Senate doing to seek just consequences? If Sessions can lie to the Senate under oath without consequence, then anyone's oath to tell the truth becomes a meaningless gesture.

Similarly, ex-National-Security-Advisor Michael Flynn broke the law when he failed to disclose his lobbyist arrangement for the Government of Turkey while also serving in an official U.S. government position. After this violation was uncovered, he belatedly submitted a disclosure form. Does post-factual disclosure absolve Flynn of criminal culpability? If so, then no one would be required to follow the law unless they were caught. If not, what is being done to bring Flynn to justice and consequence?

Berkeley's People's Park is in the news again

Lydia Gans
Thursday March 30, 2017 - 12:21:00 PM

On April 23, friends and neighbors of People's Park will be celebrating its 48th birthday. People's Park, a 2.8 acre green space east of Telegraph between Haste and Dwight, was created after massive protests to preserve that land as a park for the people of the community. And the community has continued to maintain the park in spite of periodic confrontations with the University of California. The latest threat to the park, the announcement, that the University is considering building student housing on the land, will not go unchallenged.

In the March 11 front page article in the Chronicle the reporter quotes Carol Christ, UC interim vice chancellor and provost on a committee to produce needed student housing. Talking about People's Park: “We own the land, but we're essentially running a daytime homeless shelter in the park.”

There's no question that housing is needed but so is open space, accessible places where people can sit peacefully and enjoy the fresh air or socialize with others in the neighborhood. That's why we have dozens of parks all over Berkeley centered in different neighborhoods, reflecting the various interests or needs of the people in the community. 

People's Park serves a very diverse community. On a good day there are groups of people in conversation, or gathered for a Food Not Bombs vegetarian meal or Catholic Worker Sunday breakfast. There may be a basketball game going on, or someone tossing a ball to a dog on the lawn or practicing gymnastics. There is generally chess or other board games happening while some people are just sitting quietly reading, listening to music or checking their electronic devices. There are young people and others who are frail and elderly. There is a core of people who have been active in the park since its inception. But whether they are housed or homeless they are not in the park looking for a daytime shelter. 

The park has a history worth recalling. In 1968 the University used eminent domain to evict the residents and demolish all the houses on the block. Apparently they talked of plans to build needed student housing but nothing happened. For a year the empty lot was an eyesore, muddy and strewn with garbage. In April 1969 activists put out a call for people to help create a park. Hundreds came and cleared the ground, planted flowers and trees and built a children's playground. They created a park, a People's Park, that still lives today. 

U.C. officials met briefly with park supporters, promising to communicate with them before acting,, but it was an empty promise. Thursday May 15, 1969 was known as Bloody Thursday. Early in the morning hundreds of armed police took over the park and erected a fence around it. Thousand of people rallied and marched to the campus, policed fired tear gas. Rioting continued through the day with sheriffs coming in firing shotguns at the demonstrators. A young man named James Rector was killed, another person permanently blinded, many seriously injured by the police. The National Guard, ordered by then Governor Ronald Reagan, occupied Berkeley for days breaking up gatherings and arresting protesters. A military helicopter hovered over a crowd and sprayed toxic gas, sickening and temporarily blinding them. The horror went on for more than 2 weeks and finally ended with a protest march by about 30,000 people. 

For three years the fence remained around the park. Then one day the people tore it down and the park came to life. A community of gardeners formed, planting trees and flowers and creating a vegetable garden along the western end, welcoming everyone to help themselves to the produce. The garden is productive to this day (this writer is enjoying the beautiful organic collard greens growing there right now) in spite of continued harassment by the park's management. The gardeners built a shed to store their tools, it was taken away. Continued requests for a composting bin in the park are still being ignored in spite of the quantities of food waste left from the daily meals that are consumed there all of which now goes to the landfill. There have been periods when the water was turned off. 

Park community activists have been thwarted in other attempts to improve the park. To deal with unsightly piles of clothing left near the entrance they built a freebox. The University removed the freebox. The activists built a new freebox. It went on for years—each new freebox was more solid than the last, and each was promptly removed. The last one, made of concrete and constructed with an elaborate and comic ceremony, was gone by morning. At that point they gave up. 

It was the University's decision in 1991 to put volleyball courts in the park that drew considerable attention from the community and is still referred to scornfully. With no advance notice workers appeared one day under police protection, put up a fence and set up volleyball courts on the lawn in the center of the park. Almost nobody played volleyball. Six months later the courts came down. As people gathered someone appeared with a chainsaw and cut down the post that held the net. The wood was cut up and used in making a picnic table and benches. 

Over the years there have been continuing issues regarding maintenance, particularly the bathrooms, as well as the stage and other structures in the park. It would be hard to find another neighborhood park that is so poorly maintained. 

The University promises to provide housing and services for people in need but there is little reason to believe they will keep their promises—and good reason to reflect on what happened 50 years ago and hope that it doesn't happen again

New: Our privacy has been stolen

Bruce Joffe
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 01:57:00 PM

To make a phone call, your phone company knows the phone number you are calling. Legally considered a "utility," phone companies are required to protect the privacy of your call information. Similarly, in order to connect to a webpage, your internet provider knows every website address you view, and every keystroke you enter on that website. Until now, that private information was similarly protected.  

No longer. On March 28, the Republican-majority Congress passed a "joint resolution of congressional disapproval" that repeals the FCC's broadband privacy rules. The measure is at the White House for Trump's signature.  

While promoted as a way for advertisers to better target you with products you might want to purchase, this loss of internet privacy creates serious dangers. Companies that analyze "Big Data" can create political profiles of voters to micro-target manipulative propaganda messages. Russia used this dis-information technique during the presidential campaign.  

With Congressional repeal of FCC rules, internet providers can release much more private information including your health history, financial information, your Social Security number, your browsing history, app usage, and the content of your messages, emails and other communications. Everyone is now vulnerable to intimidation or blackmail by those who will compile a "Database of Ruin" containing facts about each of us that we wouldn't want anyone else to know. 

FCC rules MUST remain in place to protect our privacy. Contact your Congress Representative today. Protest, and support lawsuits to challenge this action before your data is released.

New: Rex Tillerson

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 03:07:00 PM

It was profoundly disturbing to witness Rex Tillerson’s effusive greeting and photo op with Turkey’s leader, President Erdogan. Perhaps, Tillerson is unaware that Turkey is rapidly sliding towards a dictatorship. He failed to raise US concerns over mass arrests of protestors, a purge of political opponents and a fierce crackdown on the news media. President Trump has shown an unhealthy fascination for dictators – Egypt’s General Sisi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the gun-toting Duterte of the Philippines. Turkey is set to hold a referendum next month which may extend Erdogan’s presidency to 2029. 

Currently, Turkey is waging a brutal war with the Kurdish minority which comprises twenty five percent of the population. Following the unsuccessful coup, Turkey has dismissed and imprisoned 130,000 people from their jobs. Over 6,300 academics have been fired and fifteen universities have been closed. A staggering number of journalists, fifty percent of the world’s total, are languishing in jail in Turkey. 

If Trump is serious about his promise to crush and defeat ISIS he needs to push for greater autonomy to the Kurdish minority. Tragically, the Kurds are fighting on three fronts, Assad’s Syrian fighters, ISIS and Turkey. 

Tillerson needs to resist Trump’s efforts to gut the State Department. Soft power is far more effective than relying on the barrel of a gun. Tillerson may be an expert on extracting oil from the ground but he is clearly a lightweight in statecraft.

NO TRUMPCARE: What This Means to Those with Disabilities (Public Comment)

Jack Bragen
Friday March 31, 2017 - 04:07:00 PM

That little bit of hope that many disabled people have, particularly those of us with a psychiatric diagnosis, is that at times we can supplement our income with a part-time job, or may even be able to return to work on a larger scale. This is not a huge ambition, nor is it usually unrealistic. However, it allows many persons with disabilities to have hope of someday having a better life.  

Obamacare is essential to that hope. Obamacare is a great equalizer, since it means that those of us with tiny incomes will still be able to obtain medical care. And, apparently, mental health treatment was one of the key issues that knocked down Trumcare.  

Furthermore, Trumpcare was a threat to all persons with mental illness, working or not, who rely partly or wholly on Medicaid for their mental health treatment. Trumpcare would have reversed Medicaid's mandate to pay for mental health treatment.  

This means that most persons with psychiatric disabilities would be essentially be denied our right to exist. If we do not have mental health care, we are stuck with "decompensating" (sorry to use that term!) and this is a threat to our lives.  

Apparently, the Trump people think it is fine not to treat mental illness and instead to lock us up in jails and prisons with no medication.  

So, it is with a big sigh of relief that I note that Congress has done its job and members are looking to their constituents--and have shown that the U.S. Constitution does work.  

However, this administration is so villainous that we'd better not enjoy that relief too long--Trump is looking for other ways to ruin the lives of all disadvantaged people, including people with psychiatric disabilities. We have three years and nine months to go before Trump (we hope) will be voted out of office, and it will be a long three years nine months.  


Understand the motive behind the agenda

Romila Khanna
Friday March 31, 2017 - 03:46:00 PM

Republicans have failed in their efforts to get the required number of votes to replace Obamacare. They have tried to repeal and replace this health care law for the past 7 years. Their vengeful attitude towards President Obama made them waste our tax dollars to try to repeal the healthcare law.

Their next agenda is to “improve” the Tax system to benefit a wealthy group of people and President Trump’s Cabinet. They don’t think, but just support the views of the President regarding every issue America is facing today. Lower the tax for the wealthy, and let others carry the burden of paying more to support their mission. They are hoarding more, and not paying their share of revenues to the government for improving the lives of low income and poor citizens of this country.  

I hope the newly selected Education Secretary will provide all kinds of opportunities for people of color and all others who don’t get the free access to the best schools due to zonal restrictions or their status in the society. I thought the wealthy President and his Cabinet members would donate some of their riches to the most needy and vulnerable children and youth. We need to save humanity.  

I don’t believe in creating war zones here or elsewhere because it creates animosity and fear.  

What is being discussed and told to us, is that changes are happening to improve all lives. There have been cuts in those areas that affect the most needy population.  

The housing market is improving, but our rents are going up, pollution in the air is ignored. Farmers are suffering. Natural disasters, crumbling roads, bridges, parks, and museums are ignored. 

I think that creating fear in the minds of people and sending false news has disturbed young students and others. 

I am keen to know from where the money will come to fund the military spending? I am asking the Treasury department to let the public know about the future of the American dollar. 

I think we should have friendliness with global communities and our own citizens to make America safe. 

When in any family money is short the head of the household takes care of children and family first. 

I hope our President will look for everyone’s needs before his own and that of his friends to make America great!

National law needed to protect rights

Chuck Mann, Greensboro, NC
Thursday March 30, 2017 - 02:03:00 PM

The politicians that run my state (North Carolina) did the right thing by repealing the notorious ''bathroom bill''. Unfortunately they did the wrong thing by adding provisions that bans all cities in my state from creating anti-discrimination legislation until the year 2020. We need a national law that states that all adult citizens must have the same legal, political, and civil rights.

April Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Wednesday April 05, 2017 - 01:07:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


Jagjit Singh
Friday March 31, 2017 - 04:44:00 PM

The recent debacle of Trumpcare, has provided impetus to Bernie Sanders’s new proposal of Single Payer for all. Several progressive groups are backing a single-payer system, including the Working Families Party, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, CREDO, Social Security Works and National Nurses United. 

Both Trumpcare (which is a meaner version of the ACA) and the ACA have serious shortcomings. 

There is an urgent need to remove insurance companies from the healthcare business. These companies should not be making a profit from people’s sickness. 

The overhead and profits they impose on doctors and hospitals are costing upwards of $500 billion annually. These savings could be used to fund a single-payer program.  

The insurance companies have an average overhead of 20 percent compared to 2 to 3 percent for Medicare. In addition, Medicare-for-all would be able to negotiate drug prices at substantially lower costs. This would yield an additional annual savings of $100 billion. It is an absolute abomination that under the current system, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices. 

Our current broken system is rated 37th in the world for delivery of health care – at substantially higher costs. This should trouble every American. Medicare-for-all time has come.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Inside Devin Nunes

Bob Burnett
Friday March 31, 2017 - 02:28:00 PM

One of the bizarre consequences of the Congressional investigation into the connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia is the media attention given to a banal Republican congressman, Devin Nunes. As the chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Nunes has singlehandedly blocked the House investigation into the Trump-Russia affair. He's doing this because of political ambition.

43-year-old Nunes grew up on a dairy farm in Tulare, California, and earned a Master's degree in Agriculture. In 2001, Nunes entered politics when President Bush appointed him California State Director for the USDA's Rural Development section. In 2003, Nunes became Congressman for what is now California Congressional District 22, which includes Tulare. By 2010, Nunes was recognized as a rising Republican star; Time Magazine named him one of their "40 civic leaders under 40," characterizing Nunes as an ambitious "farm boy." Nunes admitted, "I like Agriculture," adding that if left politics, "I would be making wine and cheese." (Nunes' family owns a huge Tulare farm and Nunes lives nearby.)

Given his rural background, it's remarkable how quickly Devin Nunes has risen up the Republican food chain. Many attribute this to his book, "Restoring the Republic," published in 2010 by WND Books. In the 165 page polemic, Nunes staked out a far-right perspective, notably on environmental policy, describing Environmental lobbyists as "followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals" and characterizing global-warming claims as "hysteria" spread by a "Doomsday cult." 

In 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, Nunes became a member of the prestigious House Committees on Intelligence and Ways and Means. In January of 2015, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked Nunes to become chair of the Intelligence Committee. (Nunes and Ryan are close friends.) 

Many attribute Nunes rapid ascent to his connection to Joseph Farah, founder of the right-wing website WND (World Net Daily). The Southern Poverty Law Center characterized WND as "devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds." WND was a primary promoter of the "birther" cause: "Concerns whether President Obama is a 'natural-born' U.S. citizen, originally stirred up by WND columnist Jerome Corsi.... [who] was also the architect of the 'Swift boating' of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign." (The WND bookstore features titles such as, "Stop the Islamization of America.") 

Before the Republican convention, Nunes became an "informal" Trump adviser on national-security issues. After the presidential election, Nunes became a member of the Trump transition executive committee , where he worked closely with NSA-designee Michael Flynn. (Recently, The Washington Post quoted Nunes recalling that during the transition he was fielding calls from foreign leaders and ambassadors who were trying to reach Flynn.) 

In May of 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Fresno, next to Nunes' congressional district; in August Trump appeared at another fundraiser in Tulare, Nunes' home town, and raised $1.3 million. At the Fresno event, Trump claimed, "There is no [California] drought," continuing, "We’re going to solve your water problem... It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea to save a certain kind of three-inch fish.” Trump's comments were verbatim quotes from Nunes. In fact, Trump seems to be echoing Nunes' thoughts on environmental policy, in general. 

Since the presidential election, Nunes has been an important member of Trump's team. On February 13, 2017, Congressman Nunes defended Trump's National Security Adviser Mike Flynn : “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there... There is no question that Flynn has been a change agent … which is why I believe Trump likes him." A few hours later, Flynn resigned. Nunes responded by calling another press conference to promise that he would lead an investigation into had who leaked Flynn's phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. 

There are three reasons why Nunes defends Trump: 

1. It's what he was trained to do: Like his friend Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes has spend his adult life in politics. Instead of working in the family farming business, with his brothers Gerald and Anthony Junior, Devin became a professional Republican. Early on, Nunes was groomed by Joseph Farah and other right-wing zealots. 

2. He followed the money: Nunes has been an unusually effective Republican fundraiser. Open Secrets reports that in 2015-16, Nunes raise $2.4M and spent only $1.3M; at the end of 2016, his campaign committee had $3,177,900 on hand. (Nunes' fundraiser for Trump raised $1.3 million from 250 farmers.) 

As a member of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes makes $174,000 per year. Nunes' tax returns have not been made public but he claims to have a net worth of $51,000 including a $50,000 share in a winery and an undisclosed amount at WND books. (Nunes did not declare his Tulare residence or his interest in the family farming business.) 

3. He wants to run for Senate in 2018. In California, it's an open secret that Devin Nunes plans to run for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in the midterm election. 

Improbably, Devin Nunes, a small-town farm boy has become a national political player. But in doing so, he has tied his career to that of Donald Trump. Therefore, whatever scandal hits Trump will certainly impact Nunes. Like most Congressional Republicans, Nunes doesn't care about what's in the national interest, he's only interested in furthering his career. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Failed GOP health care legislation

Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 31, 2017 - 03:39:00 PM

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) or ObamaCare, was signed into law on March 23, 2010. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 20 million people are newly insured as a result of the ACA. 

Since passage of the ACA, it is estimated that the Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to repeal all or part of the ACA at least 60 times.  

This month, the House announced the American Health Care Act (AHCA) or TrumpCare, authored by Paul Ryan, as a proposed repeal and replacement of the ACA. Despite intense lobbying by Trump, others in his administration, and by Ryan himself, the legislation was pulled because there was not enough votes for passage. As Trump and Ryan now know, health care is more complicated than they thought.  

According to the Congressional Budget Office, if the AHCA had passed, 14 million more people would have become uninsured next year and by the year 2026, a total of 24 million more Americans would be uninsured than they would be under the ACA. 

The ACHA is diametrically at odds with Trump's pledge on the campaign trail when he promised to cover everyone, avoid Medicaid cuts, and boost funding for opioid abuse. Then he vigorously lobbied the reluctant House Republicans to pass a bill that has none of these things. Instead, if the ACHA had passed, millions would have lost insurance and Medicaid spending would have been sacrificed and replaced by tax cuts for the rich. In short Trump's promises on health care were worth about as much as a bucket of warm spit. 

What's next? Trump and Ryan acknowledge that the ACA continues to be the law of the land. However, Trump was quoted as saying, "ObamaCare, unfortunately, will explode." It is true that the ACA needs tweaking as insurance premiums are skyrocketing in some states and insurance companies are backing out of the ACA health exchanges. 

(Health exchanges, by the way, are organizations set up to facilitate the purchase of health insurance in each state. Marketplaces provide a set of government-regulated and standardized health care plans from which individuals may purchase health insurance policies eligible for federal subsidies.) 

Trump and the Republicans in Congress can either work with the Democrats to fix the admitted problems with the ACA or seek to undermine it. I hope for the former, but expect the latter.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Not a Character Defect

Jack Bragen
Friday March 31, 2017 - 02:44:00 PM

When someone has cancer, people collectively furnish sympathy and support, and we often will at least give lip service to them being "brave," and we may say they are "battling cancer," which brings up images of an honorable knight battling a dragon.  

People with cancer aren't blamed for their cancer. Instead, often they are put on a pedestal. When someone has suffered a stroke, a heart attack or cancer, people are expected to be supportive, sympathetic, and caring. And there is nothing wrong with this--when people are sick, they need support and help to get through it.  

However, when someone has a mental illness, such as bipolar, depression or psychosis, they are criminalized, demonized, blamed for their illness, and considered, by most, to be a dishonorable person. You do not see a lot of "get well" cards in a psychiatric hospital. You do not see very many people bringing flowers and cards.  

(On the other hand, my family has been very supportive of me when I have fallen ill with psychotic episodes, and I am very much indebted for this. So, there are exceptions.) 

It is not socially acceptable to hate a person due to the color of his or her skin, due to sexual orientation, or due to their religious faith being different. Yet, if someone has a mental illness, there is a social green light giving the go ahead to hate and shun that person.  

Populations with mental illness, the same as those in any categorization of people, will have some individuals with poor character and will have some with better character. Yet, most people tend to oversimplify. When people see one person with mental illness "behaving badly" it promulgates the myth that mental illness is equivalent to turpitude.  

Mental illness is different because it is a medical condition that frequently alters behavior and speech. When in remission from mental illness, behavior and speech will be better but still may not be pristine.  

While we may not have bad intentions, our illness may sometimes betray us and may cause antisocial behavior and speech. This is not usually by intent. And not all mentally ill people are like this, only some. 

People with mental illness, at some point, must take responsibility for their behavior. However, this is very much a gray area. These conditions affect the ability of the brain to distinguish what should and shouldn't be said or done.  

What if we were to drop the moral condemnation altogether, and simply try to help the mentally ill person get well and learn better behavior patterns?  

You may wonder, but you probably don't, how it feels to be on the receiving end of people's disdain, hate, and exclusion. Whether you want to know this or not, I will tell you it is damn painful. There is not very much that a mentally ill person, individually, can do about this.  

It is very important that we learn to value ourselves regardless of what others may say and think about us. We don't have to agree with those who are against us. Doing that would be akin to siding with your enemy who is waging war on you.  

Yet, we must not act on an impulse to "get even." Personally, I have no such impulse, and instead I simply long to see the day when people will have an understanding of who I really am, and will accept me, socially, as the worthy human being, who they currently, mistakenly, believe I am not.  

I believe that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream can only come to be when we reach a point where people with mind-altering diseases are included, and not just people of a different skin color. All hate is bad, including the hate and intolerance toward those who have a brain condition that affects behavior, one that makes us a very misunderstood category of people.  


Arts & Events

SFFilm Comes to BAMPFA

Gar Smith
Friday March 31, 2017 - 04:14:00 PM

San Francisco International Film Festival Marks Its 60th Year

The SF Film Fest (SFFilm), the world's first and longest-running city-sponsored celebration of cinema, is a prodigious event by any measure. By my count, SFFilm will be offering 229 films in 38 languages in 11 venues in two cities over 15 days.

At 68 pages, the SFFilm program is 15 pages longer than Donald Trump's "America First" presidential budget (admittedly, the shortest budget on record; less than one-third the size of George W. Bush's first budget proposal).

The festivities begin with an Opening Night Party on April 5 and wind up on April 19 with the screening of The Green Fog: A San Francisco Fantasia with the Kronos Quarter and a closing party at the Mezzanine. Along the way, SFFilm will be staging a tribute to actor Ethan Hawke (who co-stars with Sally Hawkins in Maudie, a film that debuts at the SFFilm on April 8 before its theatrical release on June 23) and the presentation of the Mel Novikoff Award to UC Berkeley's own Tom Luddy, a pioneering film buff who went on to found the Telluride Film Festival. 

When it comes to the SFFilm's offerings, there is much to choose from (too much, in fact). You can save this reviewer a lot of grief by simply checking out the Fest's online menu by clicking here

The films will be screened at the ten different theaters scattered across San Francisco (from the Walt Disney Family Museum at Fort Mason to the Castro, Roxie Theater, and Victoria theaters in the Mission). But let's just focus on more than 20 SFFilm films that will be screening in the East Bay—at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). 

The Planet was able to review only one of the films, Serenade for Haiti, director Owsley Brown's surprisingly beautiful—and literally lyrical—documentary about the star-crossed island's surprising romance with traditional European classical music. Serenade, a visually beautiful film, filters out the poverty and misery that afflicts much of the island and focuses, instead, on the bravery of young people and their teachers at the Sainte Trinite Music School in Port-au-Prince. 

Filmed over seven years, Serenade confronts—but does not dwell on—the horrific earthquake that destroyed the island in 2010 (leaving 300,000 people dead in the rubble and many more crippled by amputations). One of ten films in the running for SFFilm's prestigious Golden Gate Award, Serenade illuminates the healing power of art and the stirring resilience of the Haitian people. Here is a trailer: 


And here is the full SFFilm schedule, courtesy of BAMPFA: 

BAMPFA Returns as Exclusive East Bay Venue for SFFILM—April 6 through 16 

(Berkeley, CA) March 22, 2017—The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) will serve as one of the primary screening venues for the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM), renewing its role as the Festival's exclusive East Bay presenter. Many of the most anticipated films in this year's program will screen in BAMPFA's state-of-the-art Barbro Osher Theater, a 232-seat cinema that has been noted for its exceptional presentation quality since its inauguration in January, 2016. 

The longest-running film festival in the Americas, the San Francisco International Film Festival is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation. The 60th edition features nearly 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards with close to $40,000 in cash prizes, and upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests. 

Beginning with an opening screening of Jem Cohen's World Without End on April 6, BAMPFA will host 27 screenings, including major new works by Albert Serra, Brillante Ma Mendoza, Cristi Puiu, the Dardennes Brothers, and many others. 


Tickets can be purchased online or in-person and are $15 for general audiences; $13 for BAMPFA members, SFFILM members, and UC Berkeley students; and $14 for non-UC Berkeley students, seniors, and disabled persons. Tickets to SFFILM screenings include same-day admission to the museum's galleries, including the flagship spring exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia

The Full List of BAMPFA's SFFilm Screenings  

Thursday, April 6, 6:30 PM  

World Without End (No Reported Incidents) 

Jem Cohen (US, 2016)
English, DCP, 57 minutes  

The poetic, political imagery that has made Jem Cohen an iconoclastic American treasure is on full display in his recent work. World Without End (No Reported Incidents), a portrait of Southend-on-Sea, a working-class British resort town near London, gently leads us into a forgotten Britain where the unspoken specter of Brexit looms over all. Cohen visits the town and finds something typical for him: a poetry of sorts that lets small details—a look, a sound, an impromptu conversation—amplify and transform into something touching and beautiful. 

The people Cohen interviews—including a young student, aging members of a pub rock band, the owner of a classic hat company, and the owner of an Indian restaurant—and his unique approach to filmmaking, where he lingers on scenes of public passageways, storefronts, and moments of "everyday" doings, elevate the town into something unforgettable. 

Preceded by 
Birth of a Nation (Jem Cohen, US, 2017, 10 minutes, Color, Digital) 

Bury Me Not  

Jem Cohen, US, 2016, 10 minutes, Color, Digital 

Thursday, April 6, 8:30 PM  

The Death of Louis XIV 

Albert Serra (France, Portugal, Spain, 2016)
French with English subtitles, DCP, 115 minutes  





King Louis XIV is dying, but his doctors are unclear as to the cause. He is on bed rest and ordered not to see his beloved dogs; visitors must come to him to be greeted as standing proves to be too difficult, and eating is an applauded act, as any nourishment for His Majesty is a triumph. In Albert Serra's masterful The Death of Louis XIV, we are a guest in the bedchamber of King Louis (Jean-Pierre Leaud), where, among his loyal servants, all energy and concern is devoted to the king's wellbeing and hoped-for recovery. 

Serra draws from literary references for historical accuracy; the room is candlelit and the scenes hover between the somber reality of death and the humor that lies in the details. With groans, exhales, and simple flicks of the wrist, Leaud subtly commands the room from his bed, adorned in lavish cloaks and even more lavish wigs. The film observes royalty with painstaking attention, making arduous traditions seem antiquated but necessary. His Majesty is slowly dying and we are a part of the final act, but unlike all those inferior to him, this is a king's death, where the water must be served only from the finest crystal glasses. 

Friday, April 7, 6:30 PM  

I Called Him Morgan 

Kasper Collin (Sweden, US, 2016)
English, DCP, 91 minutes  





Discovered by Dizzy Gillespie and an MVP of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers ensemble, Lee Morgan was a key player in New York's 1960s "hard-bop" scene—a trumpeter with a beautifully supple, expressive sound, a dapper prodigy who had played with John Coltrane by his late teens and gained the admiration of his peers by his early twenties. It was inevitable he'd eventually cross paths with Helen More, a self-proclaimed "sharp" woman whose apartment on 53rd Street was a hospitable hot spot for hungry jazz musicians. 

She would help Morgan kick a drug habit, clean up, and stage a comeback. She would be by his side when he formed a quintet and recorded some of his most enduring records for Blue Note. She would become his common-law wife. And on February 19, 1972, in between late-night sets at an East Village club, Helen would pull out a gun and shoot the thirty-three-year-old band leader, killing the man she loved. 

Gathering together archival footage, stills, testimonials from legends like Wayne Shorter and Billy Harper, and a 1996 interview with Helen conducted a month before her death, Swedish documentarian Kasper Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler) traces the duo's individual histories and tries to unravel the mystery behind her impulsive act that fateful night. 

The movie also draws an incredible you-are-there portrait of the era's after-hours jazz scene, from the hectic recording-studio sessions to the smoky Manhattan stages where these musical pioneers chased a sound. And most of all, it recounts a wild amour fou story, in which two mercurial people can't live without each other and can't help turning their romance into something like a Greek tragedy. 

Friday, April 7, 8:45 PM  

The Unknown Girl 

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Belgium, France, 2016)
French with English subtitles, DCP, 106 minutes  




Though the Dardenne brothers are best known for their portraits of working-class lives, the protagonist of their latest film is an empathetic and hard-working doctor. And yet the filmmakers' allegiance to the lives of the downtrodden and underrepresented remains clear as the story unfolds. 




Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) is working with her intern late one night when someone buzzes for entrance to her practice. Since it's after hours, Jenny doesn't answer the call; she finds out the next day that the woman who rang died later that night, and that police have been unable to identify her. Feeling culpable and remorseful, the young physician tries to uncover the identity of the deceased, which takes her into a world of refugees that brushes up against her own in unforeseen ways. 

Compassion isn't always an easy emotion to convey, but Haenel gives the character an immensely inviting demeanor, whether she's making house calls to a man who might have known the woman who died or encouraging her intern to stay in school. With Dardennes regulars Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet in supporting roles, The Unknown Girl is another stellar entry in the Belgian filmmakers' illustrious careers. 

Saturday, April 8, 1:30 PM  

The Paris Opera 

Jean-Stephane Bron (France, Switzerland, 2016)
English and French with English subtitles, DCP, 110 minutes  





The Palais Garnier has graced the ninth arrondissement since 1875, dazzling onlookers with its ornate beaux-arts facade and gilded statuary honoring the fine arts. To Parisians it is known simply as "L'opera," the historic home of the world-renowned Paris Opera and the birthplace of classical ballet. In this captivating documentary, Swiss director Jean-Stephane Bron takes audiences inside one of the world's great performing arts venues for one season, revealing the complex artistic collaborations at its heart. 

Covering two performance spaces—the Palais Garnier and its newer sibling, the Opera Bastille—this film illuminates the backstage bustle of the Opera National de Paris and the scores of artists, financiers, administrators, and patrons who make the whole endeavor possible. Through the company's tireless director Stephane Lissner, the glories and peculiar challenges of working in such a legendary setting are detailed: Can the production designer safely get a 1200-pound live bull onstage during a performance of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron? How far can ticket prices be lowered to combat the perceived elitism of the opera? Is Bryn Terfel available for a last-minute substitution in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

A sense of barely contained chaos descends as labor unions strike, a precocious young bass-baritone debuts, and tensions arise between the corps de ballet and their improbably named choreographer, Benjamin Millepied. All the while, an army of polyglot chorists, stage managers, wig stylists, linen pressers, and makeup artists help shape the much-lauded performances that leave ballerinas and maestros alike sweating and exhausted, collapsing in the wings. 

Saturday, April 8, 4:00 PM  

Serenade for Haiti 

Owsley Brown (US, 2016)
Haitian Creole and French with English Subtitles, DCP, 72 minutes  

"Music is our refuge," says a student at the Sainte Trinite Music School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. "With music . . . we feel we are in another world, far from troubles." This documentary recognizes those troubles but celebrates the refuge, testifying to the role that art can play in creating community and sustaining hope under the most difficult of circumstances. Shot in Port-au-Prince over a seven-year period both before and after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and reduced much of the city to rubble, Serenade for Haiti finds a locus of continuity at Sainte Trinite, which has been training young people in classical European and Haitian musical traditions since the 1950s. Replete with vivid images and joyous sounds, the film focuses on interviews with students—most of them poor, some orphaned by political violence—and their teachers, many former students themselves. 

All speak eloquently about how the discipline of music has helped them discover their own voices and value in the world, but nothing speaks more forcefully than the music itself. After the quake, with the school's stately white buildings in ruins, lessons and practice continue outdoors, maintaining a rhythm of resilience. In one teacher's words, "The country is destroyed. All the buildings are destroyed. Music must go on. Life goes on." 

Saturday, April 8, 6:00 PM  

Ma' Rosa 

Brillante Ma Mendoza (Philippines, 2016)
Filipino and Tagalog with English subtitles, DCP, 110 minutes  





In the Philippines, no one trusts the police. Ma' Rosa, the latest film by internationally acclaimed Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, tells the story of an ordinary family who try to make ends meet by selling small amounts of "ice" (crystal meth). Set up by a customer, the parents are arrested and taken to the police station. Thus begins a harrowing race against the clock, as their children try to find the money to bribe corrupt police into releasing the couple. 

The drama unfolds in what feels like real time, in a gritty social realist style aided by the incredibly intimate cinematography of Odyssey Flores. Lead actress Jaclyn Jose gives the performance of a lifetime as the detained mother and was awarded the Best Actress award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the Philippines since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on a promise to kill thousands of drug offenders. Though Ma' Rosa was completed shortly before Duterte was elected, it shows in chilling detail the consequences of how corruption in a country's institutions can destroy the lives of everyday people. 

Saturday, April 8, 8:30 PM  

Who Cares. Who Sees: Experimental Shorts 

Cosponsored by San Francisco Cinematheque
Curated by Vanessa O'Neill and Kathy Geritz  

How we see others and understand them is explored through six poetic films: three portraits—of a geologist, of the Andes, and of "anyone" or "nobody"; an homage to Robert Frank's photographs in The Americans; a collage featuring photos of a Masonic order; and a consideration of communication between dogs, humans, and computers. New films by Janie Geiser, Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, Adam Levine and Sara Smith, Brigid McCaffrey, Jesse McLean, and Madi Piller. 

Sunday, April 9, 1:30 PM  

Leaning into the Wind—Andy Goldsworthy 

Thomas Reidelsheimer (UK, 2017)
English, DCP, 92 minutes  

In the past ten years, San Francisco has been a stopover for acclaimed British artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose nature-driven artworks are ensconced in the Presidio and at the de Young Museum. What makes Goldsworthy tick? 

In the 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides, Thomas Riedelsheimer followed Goldsworthy around to great effect, and Leaning into the Wind is their collaborative sequel. Like their earlier production, the new film is a sensation for the eyes and ears that takes viewers into the terrains and outdoor spaces where Goldsworthy feels most at home. It's a way to examine the work anew—how nature informs it, guides it, and gives back, as Goldsworthy gives to it. But Leaning into the Wind is also a journey into the artist's maturing life and accompanying self-reflective thinking. 

Now sixty, Goldsworthy is a bigger "name," and institutions around the world commission him to work his magic. Riedelsheimer is there, for example, when Goldsworthy orchestrates one of his Presidio pieces, Tree Fall, which debuted in 2013. But the director is also on hand when Goldsworthy talks about his divorce from his wife, and hints at other difficulties. Goldsworthy questions his earlier assumptions about art, and gives more insight into his hands-on process. The work always carries Goldsworthy forward. So, too, does his eternal joy and wonder. 

Sunday, April 9, 3:45 PM  


Ralitza Petrova (Bulgaria, Denmark, 2016)
Bulgarian with English subtitles, DCP, 99 minutes  





In the shadow of a mountain nicknamed "Godless," justice is rare and making the right choice comes at a cost. Outwardly impassive Gana works as a home care nurse in post-Communist Bulgaria. Her relationship with her mechanic boyfriend consists mainly of a shared morphine addiction and a side gig selling identity cards to black-market operators. And with Gana's job, both drugs and IDs are within easy reach. 

The only thing that stirs this stoic woman's soul is the music of the choir led by one of her patients. When Gana's actions threaten her one glimmer of hope, will she break the cycle of corruption or spiral deeper? Artful 35mm cinematography (employing unusual 4:3 framing) and an award-winning performance by lead actress Irena Ivanova bring texture and grit to this bold observation of a woman trapped in a fatalistic culture. 

Sunday, April 9, 6:00 PM  

A Date for Mad Mary 

Darren Thornton (Ireland, 2016)
English, DCP, 82 minutes  





Fresh off serving a six-month jail sentence for brawling, an unorthodox maid of honor (Seana Kerslake) embarks on a time-crunched search for an acceptable bloke to be her "plus one" at the tightly choreographed ceremony of her stressed-out and slightly distant best friend (Charleigh Bailey). While this might sound like fodder for standard rom-com fare (except for that jail part), director Darren Thornton's energetic debut, based on a stage play he also directed and adapted for the screen with brother Colin, avoids conventions and stays focused on its mercurial, well-drawn characters who are living in an Irish port town. 

One of the pleasures of A Date for Mad Mary is its unpredictability, as the foul-mouthed, volatile Mary returns home and eventually befriends the enchanting Jess (Tara Lee), a singer and part-time videographer, who assists her in an attempt to find that elusive wedding date. In between this alternately humorous and poignant quest, Mary labors at trying to craft the perfect maid-of-honor speech, a redemptive exercise that expresses as much about herself as her relationship with the bride-to-be. You'll likely never forget the fiery, trouble-prone Mary nor the passionate yet vulnerable performance at the heart of the film from Kerslake. 

Sunday, April 9, 8:15 PM  

The Transfiguration 

Michael O'Shea (US, 2016)
English, DCP, 97 minutes  





Combining gritty urban realism with vampire-movie name-checks galore, The Transfiguration (selected for Cannes's Un Certain Regard) tells the story of a teenage loner with a problem—he has a thirst for blood—and the slightly older girl who befriends him. With a collection of vampire memorabilia and journals where he tracks plans for his next victims, he is both obsessive and methodical. 

A chance encounter with a white girl named Sophie, who has moved into his building, leads to an awkward friendship of sorts. Milo unveils some of his secrets to her, including his favorite vampire films (he's partial to Romero's Martin and Let the Right One In), as she reveals her own personal problems; together they try to help each other with their respective demons. 

Milo's cinematic references reveal some of O'Shea's predilections as well, as the film is more concerned with atmosphere and character development than graphic violence. To that end, The Transfiguration features beautifully modulated performances by Eric Ruffin as the pensive and deliberate Milo and Chloe Levine as the sensitive and damaged Sophie. As Milo lays a plan to remove the elements that threaten them both, The Transfiguration offers a pathway towards hope that leads its characters past and through all of the bloodletting. 

Tuesday, April 11, 6:30 PM  


Cristi Puiu (Romania, 2016)
Romanian with English subtitles, DCP, 173 minutes  





A movie about big themes set in a small space, master Romanian director Cristi Puiu's latest film takes place primarily in a three-bedroom flat where various and numerous relations wait (and wait) for the local priest to deliver last rites to the family patriarch. As the film begins, a married couple in a car argue about what kind of dress their daughter needs for a play she's in. Near Sieranevada's end, this same husband and wife will again have a heated conversation in the same car, but the stakes will be much higher. 

As he did with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Aurora, Puiu builds tension through an accretion of details that seem minor at first, but gain in importance and resonance as the drama proceeds. As family members amble in and out of the apartment, conversations and arguments about politics, 9/11 conspiracy theories, adultery, and the proper respect to be paid to the dead man ensue. 

Puiu uses these discussions to explore, among other matters, the psychic cost when people know they're being lied to but pretend otherwise. Lest this seem overly dark or dire, the film is leavened with the director's trademark black humor, from the cheery pop songs that play in the background to the household's Bunuelian predicament of not being able to eat until the endlessly delayed arrival of the man of God. Death may wait for no man, but in Sieranevada everyone must wait to dine. 

Wednesday, April 12, 6:30 PM  

Muhi—Generally Temporary 

Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander, Tamir Elterman (Israel, Germany, 2017)
Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, DCP, 87 minutes  

Muhammad (a.k.a. Muhi) is a cherubic Palestinian toddler with an infectious laugh and a life-threatening immune disorder. With inadequate medical care available to him at home in Gaza, Muhi was transported to an Israeli hospital as a baby for emergency treatment that included amputation of all his limbs. 

He has lived in that hospital ever since, running gleefully through its corridors in his prosthetics; it is the only home he's ever known. But while the hospital is able to keep Muhi alive and well, it also keeps him and his devoted grandfather, Abu Naim, in a bizarre state of limbo. In Gaza, says his mother, "the boy will die." In Israel, Abu Naim is denied a visa or work permit. Stuck on either side of a fiercely guarded checkpoint, their family is indefinitely torn apart. 

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages around them, the no man's land of the hospital walls that Muhi and his grandfather inhabit is a strange source of both medical salvation and uncomfortable contradictions, where Muhi bounces between Hebrew and Arabic, the Torah and the Koran. With both empathy and precision, Jerusalem-based journalists Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman place one family's unique story within the crucible of the relentless Mideast strife that impacts everyone in its orbit. 

Wednesday, April 12, 8:45 PM  

Family Life 

Alicia Scherson, Cristian Jimenez (Chile, 2017)
Spanish with English subtitles, DCP, 81 minutes  





While housesitting for an estranged cousin who's just left for Paris with his wife and young daughter, Martin takes the phrase "make yourself at home" to the extreme. He sleeps in their bed, wears their clothes, and rearranges the furniture. After the family cat, Mississippi, disappears, he sparks a fiery romance with Pachi, a single mother. He welcomes Pachi and her young son into the home as if it's his own, crafting a deceitful narrative out of the space and of his life, turning domestic living into a foolhardy theatrical indulgence. 

Adapting a short story by Alejandro Zambra with the author, luminary Chilean filmmakers Alicia Scherson (Il futuro) and Cristian Jimenez (Bonsai) examine the slippery truth of identity with wry wit and freewheeling spontaneity, underlining the different roles we play not just in our relationships, but with ourselves when we're alone. Family Life is a funhouse mirror of self-examination, one that turns intimate spaces inside out and reveals how even the most private corners of our lives—including something as innocent as a jar of Nutella—are not entirely safe from invasion. 

Thursday, April 13, 6:30 PM  

The Wedding Ring 

Rahmatou Keita (Niger, Burkina Faso, France, 2016)
Songhoy, Zarma, Hausa, and Fulaani with English subtitles; DCP; 96 minutes  





The Wedding Ring is a rare achievement, a wondrously complex dramatic feature directed by an African woman that explores female desires and empowerment in a traditional Muslim society. It also comes from one of the world's most impoverished countries, one that barely has a film industry. 

After attending college in Europe, Tiyaa (Magaajyia Silberfeld, the daughter of director Rahmatou Keita) returns to Niger, but lingering romantic daydreams about the handsome young man she left behind disrupt her reintegration into village life. According to custom, women are not supposed to have such thoughts, let alone be sexual outside of marriage. 

As Tiyaa grapples with her conflicted feelings, her best friend takes her to a sage who advises her to take part in a ceremony at the new moon that will help clarify things. While she waits out the changing lunar phases, Tiyaa interacts with a variety of women who also challenge traditional norms, and Keita employs a fresh approach to portray their complicated lives. 

From the landscapes immersed in sandy-colored architecture to the blue-hued fashions characteristic of the region, The Wedding Ring paints a visually stimulating picture. In her first narrative feature, director Rahmatou Keita proves herself to be a strikingly accomplished storyteller—just like her griot ancestors. 

Thursday, April 13, 8:45 PM  

Hermia & Helena 

Matias Pineiro (US, Argentina, 2016)
English and Spanish with English subtitles, DCP, 86 minutes  





Foreknowledge of A Midsummer Night's Dream is by no means required to enjoy Argentine writer-director Matias Pineiro's quasi-adaptation. Agustina Munoz stars as a young theater director who departs Buenos Aires for a fellowship residency in New York, ostensibly to translate Shakespeare's play into Spanish. Complications gently ensue, with game turns from a companionable cast full of indie-film notables including Keith Poulson, Mati Diop, Dustin Guy Defa, and Dan Sallitt. Pineiro and cinematographer Fernando Lockett have a gracious and easygoing way of following people around, favoring human gestures even amidst periodic flourishes of formal experimentation. 

It all has a decidedly Bard-like aspect of deeply engaged creative playfulness, though the filmmaker's voice is fully his own. It's also a neat trick that this low-key tale of lostness in translation becomes a resonant affirmation of cultural commonality. Pineiro handles heady stuff with a wonderfully light touch, and the film casts a lasting spell with its genuine intimacy, ephemeral beauty, and unpretentious vitality. 

Friday, April 14, 4:00 PM  

Life After Life 

(Zhi fan ye mao) 
Zhang Hangyi (China, 2016)
Mandarin with English subtitles, DCP, 80 minutes  





Produced by Jia Zhangke, this evocative and poetic debut depicts a rapidly disappearing way of life with a gorgeous visual sensibility and subtly wry humor. Mingchun and his bored young son Leilei live in a remote Chinese farming village scheduled to be razed. One day, the two are out collecting firewood, and without explanation Leilei is matter-of-factly possessed by the ghost of Mingchun's wife. 

The ghost has one thing on her mind—the replanting of a beloved tree before it is swept away by bulldozers in the name of modernization. As she says, "This tree knows who we are." In addition to this plea, she draws attention to other ghosts in their midst, some of them in surprising guises. 

So Life After Life is a ghost story, but one that is more interested in metaphysics and subtle humor than clanging chains and rattling windows. Coupling a desaturated palette of browns and grays with surprising images that feature goats stuck in trees or a giant boulder that moves sideways, Zhang's film has a lyrical sensibility that sits comfortably alongside its criticism of a society that is laying waste to a particular kind of life. 

Friday, April 14, 6:30 PM  

Mister Universo 

Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel (Austria, Italy, 2016)
Italian with English subtitles, DCP, 90 minutes  





Each night, underneath a threadbare big top, Tairo puts an aging pride of big cats through their paces. Audiences may be dwindling, but the young lion tamer is happy, living a life that he's dreamed of since he was a little boy. When some trailer park neighbors steal a cherished lucky charm, Tairo, uneasy without it, sets off down the back roads of Italy to find the strongman who bequeathed it to him many years ago. 

For this captivating docudrama, filmmaking duo Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel mine not only their own cinematic past—viewers first met young Tairo in their film La Pivellina—but that of Italy as well. The spirit of early Fellini can be felt in Mister Universo, alongside that of prime De Sica, as the workaday world of the circus, gently refracted though the lens of the filmmakers, reveals a sense of wonder that may fade, but will never be extinguished. 

Friday, April 14, 8:45 PM  

The Future Perfect 

(El futuro perfecto) 
Nele Wohlatz (Argentina, 2016)
Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles, DCP, 65 minutes  

Eighteen-year-old Xiaobin travels from China to Buenos Aires to join her conservative family who immigrated years earlier. Her parents, who refuse even to learn Spanish, want her to fit in with the Chinese immigrant community and marry a nice Chinese boy, but the low-key teenager with a quiet smile has a few surprises up her sleeve. She rebels by secretly taking a Spanish class, hiding her savings, and spending time outside class with one of her fellow students on the sly. 

As the students in the class improvise simple dialogues to practice what they've learned, Xiaobin turns new lessons learned into a new experience in life. Improvising scenarios for what she wishes would happen, or not happen, for Xiaobin the future perfect becomes not only a grammatical tense, but a way to imagine the life she wants to live. Director Nele Wohlatz recruited most of the cast, including her lead, from actual language-school students, and brilliantly uses their innocence and naivete to create an atmosphere of spontaneity, realism, and genuine camaraderie. "The language school," she says, "could be understood as a rehearsal stage for a new identity after immigration." 

Saturday, April 15, 4:00 PM  

The Force 

Peter Nicks (US, 2017)
English, DCP, 93 minutes  

The Oakland Police Department, an agency burdened by a long-standing legacy of problems, comes into sharp relief in this powerful, immersive documentary. For this second chapter of his documentary trilogy focused on the East Bay city, award-winning filmmaker Peter Nicks gained incredible access to the OPD over a two-year period from 2014 to 2016. 

Nicks vividly captures a particularly turbulent time, first as protests erupt on Oakland's streets, fueled by national police abuse reports, and then as a shocking 2016 scandal involving officers and an underage sex worker engulfs the department. In addition to these headline-making developments, The Force covers the day-to-day realities of becoming and being a cop, dropping in on police academy recruits as they train and discuss how they would react in the face of a suspect behaving erratically and coming at them, possibly with a weapon, and accompanying officers on volatile, potentially dangerous calls. 

The Force also spotlights activists as they seek and demand action and change at both community meetings and protests. As with The Waiting Room, his potent look at the overburdened Highland Hospital emergency department, Nicks takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to his topic. Intended as a catalyst for conversation and change, Nicks's empathetic and observational style avoids easy generalizations and upends expectations, resulting in a rich, thought-provoking real-time conversation about social justice and the mutual responsibilities of police officers and those they serve and protect. 

Saturday, April 15, 6:30 PM  

The Winter 

(El invierno) 
Emiliano Torres (Argentina, France, 2016)
Spanish with English subtitles, DCP, 93 minutes  

As befits its stark and seasonally specific title, director Emiliano Torres's feature debut is a handsomely flinty Western set on a windswept Patagonian sheep ranch. An elderly longtime foreman (Alejandro Sieveking) grapples with an existential threat posed by the younger ranch hand (Cristian Salguero) who comes to work for the season. Each man soon enough finds himself in an adapt-or-die situation. 

Torres's laconic storytelling style, abetted by cinematographer Ramiro Civita's great eye for craggy landscapes and faces, allows for mythic overtones without belaboring them. (Early scenes of sheep shearing neatly portend a certain razoring off of all woolly melodrama.) The result is somehow insouciantly primal, and it's no insult to the film's fine and fully human performances to declare that, after all, winter itself is the true main character here. This is not the Patagonia of tourism. Torres manages a geographically exact window on globalization, but also a universal parable about how challenges to livelihood can and do become challenges to life itself. 

Saturday, April 15, 8:30 PM  

The Ornithologist 

(O ornitologo) 
Joao Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal, France, Brazil, 2016)
Portuguese, English, Mandarin, Mirandese, and Latin with English subtitles; DCP; 118 minutes  





On a solo expedition to study black storks, a mishap separates strapping young ornithologist Fernando (Paul Hamy) from his camp, his kayak, and the outside world. His increasingly bizarre ordeals as he attempts to get back to civilization encompass encounters both sacred and profane: first, two Christian Chinese pilgrims try making him an all-too-literal martyr to their faith, then a goatherd named Jesus offers erotically welcoming counterbalance. This remote northeastern corner of Portugal seems ominously full of secretive pagan rites. 

An international cineaste favorite since his 2000 breakthrough O fantasma, Joao Pedro Rodrigues has created arguably his most accessible work to date, without abandoning any of his trademark idiosyncrasies. This metaphysical (but also very physical) adventure, shot entirely outdoors, is by turns sexy, surreal, mystic, and mystifying. It twists Catholic iconography into a playfully modern pretzel shape that does not neglect the filmmaker's customary frank homoeroticism. Nor does it neglect humor—though the tribulations Fernando endures may be dead serious to him, with the film's airy absurdism, they seldom seem so to the viewer. 

Sunday, April 16, 1:30 PM  


Zacharias Kunuk (Canada, 2016)
Inuktitut with English subtitles, DCP, 94 minutes  





Canadian-Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk's Maliglutit (Searchers) continues in the breathtaking vein of his unforgettable Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Spoken entirely in Inuktitut, the new film zeroes in on a smaller-scale story of good versus evil, more immediate and desperate, and rooted in the Westerns that Kunuk grew up watching. 

A loose remake of John Ford's masterpiece The Searchers, Maliglutit is more a study of cruelty than of racial hatred; the kidnappers in this story are of the same tribe, but are vulgar and selfish—they don't share food—and have been exiled. It's 1913, and Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) goes out hunting caribou and returns to find his wife and daughter gone, stolen like possessions. (The kidnapping sequence is shown in a panicky frenzy of swarming furs, twisting and squirming in and out of frame.) Kuanana and his teenage son head back out into the snowy tundra by dogsled, seeking their family members and cold revenge. 

Like Ford, Kunuk pays vivid attention to the landscape, using lengthy takes to emphasize growing exhaustion as the Arctic ice pummels the search party. The unsettling sound design features a kind of female guttural chanting, as well as animal noises, raising a sense of harrowing dread. At first sharp and brutal, the film ultimately achieves a visceral, lyrical state. 

Sunday, April 16, 3:45 PM  


Navid Danesh (Iran, 2016)
Persian with English subtitles, DCP, 103 minutes  

Navid Danesh's tightly conducted feature debut conveys the impact the past has on the present lives of its quartet of characters. Hamed is a musician who has recently released an album that includes a piece he wrote at university while involved with a woman named Sepideh. Their relationship ended badly, but he takes this opportunity to see his old girlfriend. The ensuing encounter sets off a chain of fraught conversations among the two former lovers and their current spouses. Though the title reflects Hamed's college composition, it also points at the film's technique of building emotional tension through a series of intense scenes between different pairings of the protagonists as they circle around their feelings and frustrations with one another. 

Everyone in the cast performs with impeccable timing, and fans of Iranian cinema will recognize the formidable Ali Mosaffa as Sepideh's architect husband, Massoud. Building on the spare dramatic tradition of Iranian masters like Asghar Farhadi, Danesh has created a resonant and moving symphony for four voices. 

Sunday, April 16, 6:00 PM  


Chico Pereira (Spain, Germany, Scotland, 2017)
Spanish with English subtitles, DCP, 86 minutes  

Manolo leads a simple life on the rural outskirts of a town in southern Spain; more often than not, he sleeps in the open air, and spends his days roaming the countryside. His constant companions are his phlegmatic but lovable donkey, Gorrion ("Sparrow"); his excitable dog, Zafrana; and, at his daughter's insistence, his cell phone. Now in his seventies, Manolo wants to embark on one last adventure: he plans to go to America and walk the 2,200-mile Trail of Tears, the path of the Cherokees' nineteenth-century forced march west. And he aims to take Gorrion with him. 

The title pun fairly begs us to see Manolo's quest as quixotic; certainly his family, not to mention travel agencies and embassies, think he's tilting at a prize only he sees as winnable. But Donkeyote's irony—and beauty—is that the viewer comes to see Manolo and his world on his terms, and often through Gorrion's eyes. The understanding between man and animal has rarely been so intimately conveyed as it is through Julian Schwanitz's stunning cinematography. 

Sunday, April 16, 8:15 PM  

El mar la mar 

Joshua Bonnetta, J. P. Sniadecki (US, 2017)
English and Spanish with English subtitles, DCP, 94 minutes  

A timely and altogether mesmerizing portrait of place filmed in 16mm, Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki's lyrical documentary is best described as being from, rather than about, the Sonoran desert. The US–Mexico border looms as an unspoken presence, the better to train our attention on the landscape's primordial drama: hillsides burning through the night, bats flooding a cave, and a borderless sky—and deadly lack of shade—in all directions. 

The enveloping soundtrack is itself an epic poem of wind, gunshots, helicopters, and radio signals. Nestled into this sensory detail are firsthand accounts of the borderland and its crossings. Crucially, the speakers are not named, credentialed, or even pictured; periodically the image goes black, and we find ourselves listening to their stories as if around the campfire. 

Haunted by things left unseen and people left behind, El mar la mar gives every impression of walking hallowed ground even as it recognizes its own complex kinship to the activists, border agents, and self-appointed patrollers following the tracks of migrants. Refreshingly, though, Bonnetta and Sniadecki's patient filmmaking suggests that we reserve judgments until we know something of the terrain. 

Nicola Benedetti Plays Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with San Francisco Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 31, 2017 - 03:44:00 PM

Born in Scotland of Italian heritage, Nicola Benedetti is hailed as one of the top violinists in the world. She won the 2012 prize for Best Female Artist given by the classical BRIT Awards. On Sunday afternoon, March 26, Nicola Benedetti joined with the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas in Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. A work noted for its soaring lyricism, this G minor Violin Concerto by Bruch was given a superb performance by Nicola Benedetti, who combined sumptuous tone and a keen sensitivity to the nuances of this music. Her delicate phrasing of the beautiful Adagio was matched by the fiery elegance of her interpretation of the Finale. Nor should we neglect her outstanding rendition of Bruch’s lyrical first movement. Playing a 1717 Gariel Stradivarius violin, Nicola Benedetti gave a ravishing account of Max Bruch’s gift for writing beautiful music for the violin. As an encore, Ms. Benedetti offered what she announced as a gift from her native Scotland, the original version of Robert Burns’ well-loved song, “Auld Lang Syne,” which she played with great feeling. 

Preceding the Bruch concerto was a 15-minute work by John Cage, The Seasons. Inspired by Cage’s interest in Indian philosophy, The Seasons depicts each of the four seasons as they are characterized in traditional Indian thought. Winter is quiescent, Spring brings creativity, Summer offers preservation, and Fall brings destruction. The Seasons was written in 1947 for Merce Cunnigham’s dance company. The music is, in turns, shimmering, gurgling, twittering, occasionally raucous, but mostly gentle. Alas, however, MTT indulged his puerile penchant for gussying up certain pieces of music with special effects video material. Video Director Clyde Scott offered largely abstract bits of video nonsense projected on five screens, and Lighting Designer Luke Kritzeck used a different dominant color for each of the four seasons. Kritzeck also stationed light posts throughout the orchestra with 8 or 9 small bulbs arrayed vertically that sparkled a different shade of light for each season. All this quirky visual material was just an unwanted distraction from the music itself. Will MTT ever learn to let the music speak for itself? His efforts to be ‘new’ and Hollywood hip are getting old fast. This is beginning to be a major flaw in his tenure here. Are we approaching the time to begin thinking of a post-MTT San Francisco Symphony? 

After intermission, MTT returned to conduct Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. Commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky, this work was written by Bartók in New York in 1943 at a time when, suffering from a severe illness, he had nearly given up composing music. Bartók wrote his Concerto for Orchestra in the style inaugurated by Paul Hindemith in 1923, that is, as a concerto where different sets of instruments get to share the spotlight at different moments with the orchestra as a whole. The first movement is suffused with melancholy. Cellos and basses open the work with a first theme, and a second is given to the flute. This latter is then taken up by the trumpet. The second movement, entitled Gioco delle coppie (“Game of Couples”) features five different pairs of wind instruments in the following order: bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes, and muted trumpets. The third movement, entitled Elegy, offers an example of Bartók’s penchant for writing “night music.” Here the mood is one of a mysterious sadness, with low strings, high winds, and a harp. Next comes an Interrupted Intermezzo featuring the oboe. The Finale is a Hungarian rondo, full of verve and energy expressing a victory over the pessimism of the first and third movements. In 1945, two years after its premiere, Bartók revised this piece, lengthening the finale. In my view this was a mistake. In its definitive form, the Finale seems interminably long and drawn out far beyond this material’s modest merits. Nonetheless, MTT led the orchestra in a convincing account of Bartók’s occasionally brilliant but somewhat spotty Concerto for Orchestra. 

Correction: In my review of Friday, March 24, I misidentified the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra as the St. Petersburg Symphony. My apologies for the misnomer.