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Closing the Farmers' Market because of Saturday protest is a mistake

Christopher Adams
Sunday April 09, 2017 - 08:06:00 PM

Donald Trump built—or at least put his name on—a fancy golf course not too far from where I grew up in southern California. I am sure that with a little effort on social media I could gather some protesters, and we could block the golf course entrance. I am also sure that the local police would arrest us all if we didn’t disperse. We’d have the right to civil disobedience; the cops would have the right to clear us out.

Whatever we did, you can be sure is that the golf course would still collect its greens fees, and its restaurant and bar would still have customers. But here in Berkeley if Trump supporters want to hold an un-permitted rally in downtown, the City folds up. I don’t know if other downtown businesses will close, but next Saturdays’s Farmers' Market is cancelled because of an un-permitted Trump rally. 

Two dozen vendors mostly selling perishable food are going to lose a day’s income. They can’t save their goods or suddenly get a space at another market. Hundreds of Berkeley citizens will lose the opportunity to get good quality food. Dozens of young and needy residents who pick up sales jobs at the market will lose a day’s wages. 

I am a fervent believer in free speech; I have been sending money to the ACLU for fifty years. I marched as a grad student for Peoples Park and Vietnam. But I’m also the father of someone who helped put herself through school by a job at the New York City farmers market, and I know that for the vendors each market is vitally important. 

The City should not sacrifice my rights and the rights of hundreds of others because of a rally without a permit. What about west of the freeway where most Trump supporters will be arriving in any case? Cordon off a piece of Cesar Chavez Park (a nice irony in the name) and let the protesters mill about in the wind. Not downtown. Not by our YMCA, our Central Library, our Y teen center. Not at the Farmers Market. 

[Editor's note: There's now a good story about this in the East Bay Express: Berkeley Farmers Market Canceled Due To Safety Fears Over Pro-Trump, Alt-Right Rally]


Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday April 09, 2017 - 07:58:00 PM


Seventy-six year old Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged caution and a reassertion of congressional authority in response to President Trump's Thursday airstrike on Syrian regime targets. "I do not believe ... the president simply has the authority to launch missiles," he said on a Meet the Press interview.

The War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s monumental 2007 television production, is being shown again. The War follows 40+ persons from 1941 to 1945, focusing on the citizens of four American communities. The book companion to the series is The War; An Intimate History, 1941-1945, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Burns. The words and photographs of two of the men who appear throughout -- Quentin C. Aanenson of Minnesota and Eugene Bondourant Sledge of Alabama – are particularly poignant, especially episode five –“FUBAR -- fucked up beyond all repair.”

In 1994 I chanced upon a television interview of Aanenson describing A Fighter Pilot’s Story, a VHS production he had created. I was so impressed with this compassionate man that I asked the editor of The Library Journal, for which I reviewed videos and books, to consider it for LJ Reviews. My review began, “Using personal photos, combat film, period music and correspondence, 73-year old Aanenson created this masterwork to explain his World War II combat experience to his family. The ‘story’ is of a 20-year old Army Air Corps enlistee as he learned to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt, met his future spouse, was commissioned, and flew European missions. This touching first-person narrative conveys the emotional and physical transformation wrought by the brutality of war. A young man nearly lost all hope.”  

Aanenson, now an elder, appeared again, in The War, as both a narrator and fighter pilot. The production team wisely used his military footage and personal films, diary entries and letters to convey the tragic story of one man's war from a very personal viewpoint. For pilot Quentin Aanenson, combat brought moments of intense anguish. He remembered one mission when his plane's machine gun fire sent the bodies of German soldiers flying. "When I got back home to the base in Normandy and landed, I got sick," he says. "I had to think about what I had done… that didn't change my resolve for the next day. I went out and did it again and again and again and again." Aanenson died in 2008 (cancer). 

Eugene Bondourant Sledge was Sledgehammer to his fellow rifle company Marines, and he was E. B. Sledge as author of With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Sledge prefaced his book, “My Pacific war experiences have haunted me, and it has been a burden to retain this story. …I’m fulfilling an obligation I have long felt to my companions in the lst Marine Division, who suffered so much for our country. None came out unscathed.”  

Today not many Americans can comprehend (let alone pronounce) what happened in places called Bouganville, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Morotai, Noumea, Palau, Pavuvu, Peleliu, Okinawa (other than The Teahouse of the August Moon perhaps), Tarawa. Sledge took the reader into “the abyss of Pelelui” and on to “the bloody muddy month of May on Okinawa” that almost drove him insane. Fifty years later he still had nightmares. Supposed to take three or four days, it lasted almost two months, one of the worst slaughters of Marines in the Pacific.  

“As I looked at the stains on the coral, I recalled some of the eloquent phrases of politicians and newsmen about how ‘gallant’ it is for a man to ‘shed his blood for his country’ and ‘to give his life’s blood as a sacrifice,’ and so on. The words seemed so ridiculous. Only the flies benefited… None of us would ever be the same after what we had endured. To some degree that is true, of course, of all human experience. But something in me died at Peleliu. Perhaps it was a childish innocence that accepts as faith the claim that man is basically good. Possibly I lost faith that politicians in high places who do not have to endure war’s savagery will ever stop blundering and sending others to endure it.” Sledge died in 2001 (cancer). 

After World War II, I began to reject that giving their lives phrase. I say taking their lives, and I get a questioning look. 

I was living in the United States during World War II, contemporary with these then-young heroes. Three of my friends had already enlisted. One, a Nisei, was stationed in cold Minnesota teaching Japanese language to soldiers. Another was shipped overseas in the depths of the Queen Elizabeth and stationed on General Eisenhower’s clerical staff, diving into a rain-filled , London fox hole during nightly air-raids. The third, with an incredibly high IQ, was assigned to type and transport. They used their GI Bills: Hisako, now retired, earned an M.S. (library science; ) Justine attended college but dropped out; Dorothy, a retired PhD professor, became a nursing home resident (cancer.) I sent soap and stockings to my high school Red Cross club counterpart in England, evacuated from London, already losing her hearing in the bombings, she squeezed handwriting onto both sides of scraps of paper. We became lifelong friends until her death in 1985 (cancer).  

The RMS Queen Elizabeth was launched in 1938 with luxury accommodations for 2,283 persons. During her World War II career, the “grey ghost” ferried service personnel across the Atlantic without convoy, zigzagging every seven minutes, with no air-conditioning and very little ventilation, usually making it in six days. As a converted troop ship, on most voyages she carried between 13,000 and 15,000 persons, with lifeboat accommodations for 8,000.  

On one trip in 1944, 500 WAACs (later, the Women’s Army Corps) and 18,000 men were crammed onboard. An enlistee recalled “To conserve fresh water, we washed with salt water, and I bunked with the four other women officers in a former bathroom, on the bottom underneath four hammocks. … arrived about a week later in Scotland to the news that the European invasion had begun.”  



Only the best for Berkeley, but how do we get there?

Becky O'Malley
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:37:00 PM

A number of people that I respect showed up at the last Berkeley City Council meeting to complain about the way the new Berkeley Chief of Police was chosen. In principle, I tend to agree with them. In these troubled times, when Black Lives Matter is a fundamental urban issue, all members of the community should have input on who is chosen for this key job.

Berkeley, like many California cities, is supposed to have what’s usually called a council-manager form of government, with the added fillip of a quasi-ceremonial mayor who functions as an at-large council member and chairs the council meeting. This form became popular, especially in California, in the first part of the 20th century, as an antidote to government by directly elected officials, which was often (and often justly) disparaged as “machine politics”.

What this means, or is supposed to mean, is that the city council makes the laws and the city manager, well, manages the city. That includes hiring everyone under her, up to and including the police chief.

Berkeley’s version of the council-manager format is slightly diluted, in that some commissions, notably the Zoning Adjustment Board and the Landmark Preservation Commission, have what’s called a quasi-judicial function, permitting them to make certain land use decisions which are then appealable to to the city council.

What exactly the role of the Police Review Commission has been or should be is in flux at the moment, but PRC members have claimed with some justification that they should have at least an advisory role in the selection of the new chief. This time, it didn’t happen.

However, I’ve seen enough selection of government staff at all levels to be very wary of the practice of using consulting firms to conduct what’s called a “national search” for city and school district positions. Since I’ve lived here Berkeley has had some notably bad city managers, city attorneys, school superintendents and, yes, police chiefs, all of whom were the products of a search process.  

Promoting from within looks like a better idea. Often, the devil that you know is better than the devil you don’t. 

My all-time fave in the national search category was a woman hired to be the deputy school superintendent in Ann Arbor. An enterprising reporter on the local daily looked up her resume because he thought she seemed a little fishy, and saw that she’d claimed to be both the “Beaver College Renaissance Woman of the Year” and a poet with major publication in the Atlantic Monthly.  

Nope. All phony. This was pre-Google, so maybe it couldn’t happen now, but maybe it could. 

More prosaically, of all the officials I’ve seen in Berkeley, the City Manager I like best was Weldon Rucker. He had worked for the city in various capacities for 28 years and had lived in Berkeley for 40 years before he got the job. A good locally-sourced chief of police was Dash Butler, who spent 30 years with Berkeley’s police department including 11 years as chief.  

And Berkeley’s worst? De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, as they used to say in my Latin class, but let’s note that we’ve gotten some real turkeys lately from national searches. 

So, from a practical point of view, I must admit that the choice of Andrew Greenwood looks pretty good to me. I’m not even sure that those who asked for a broader process wouldn’t have chosen him anyhow, as a known quantity with quite a few local fans. 

An even more important job will soon be opening up. As added to last week’s issue, this news: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. 

His predecessor, Manuela Albuquerque, and Cowan, her hand-picked successor, between them go way back beyond the Planet archives, to about 1992 or so. In the process, between them, they made an awful lot of bad calls. For several bad examples, click on this 2007 editorial about Albuquerque, whom I watched in federal court defending a misbegotten Berkeley ordinance which attempted to ban panhandling. Yes, she lost, as anyone who paid attention in their high school U.S. government class ought to have known she would. 

But many citizens had a chance to meet her after she’d applied and before she was chosen. I was one of them, though I can’t remember exactly why I was invited to the nice pre-hire reception where she was introduced to the faithful, possibly hosted by then-Mayor Loni Hancock. Recovered memories are hazy. 

It is certainly true that between the two of them they danced much more than they should have to the tune of the supposedly “ceremonial” mayorality, which became almost a family heirloom in the Hancock-Bates era. What Berkeley needs now is a new broom, a city attorney who’s worked somewhere else, someone who doesn’t have any obligation to the old ways of doing things. It would be a real mistake to promote within the current ever-shifting and far from outstanding city attorney’s staff in this case. 

If you or anyone you recommend would like to apply, details can be found by clicking here. Since the federal government seems to be going walkabout, we need absolutely top talent to protect what we sometimes fatuously call “Berkeley values” with vigor and skill. All hands on deck: let’s look for someone good before it’s too late. 







Public Comment

SQUEAKY WHEEL: DIY Affordable Housing

Toni Mester
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:22:00 PM

The Planning Commission is holding a public hearing on the zoning of the R-1A, a slice of West Berkeley and an even smaller section of the Westbrae, at their meeting on Wednesday April 19 starting at 7 pm, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Street at MLK.

Long neglected, the R-1A has become the scene of a tug-of-war between neighbors and developers, and many appeals led the City Council to twice refer the zoning to the Planning Commission, in 2010 and 2015. The Zoning Adjustments Board even got into the act, pleading for some guidance in March 2016, noting that the zoning allows two dwelling units but “does not include standards related to the relationship [sic] between the two units, and asking that the City to “clarify whether there is an intended relationship between the two units in keeping with the purpose of the district.” 

As a homeowner in the R-1A, I was amongst those who requested this clarification, and our group is holding an informational, preparatory meeting for R-1A residents on Saturday April 15 at the West Berkeley Library Community Room, 1125 University Avenue from 3 to 5 pm. 

The planning staff, many of whom are relatively young and new to Berkeley, deserve credit for trying to unravel the history of the R-1A and create some order out of chaos in providing direction to the Planning Commission. 

Building on a 2009 ZAB staff report by Debbie Sanderson, Senior Planner Beth Greene with assistance from intern Sydney Stephenson prepared five staff reports on the subject: April 20, July 20, September 21, 2016 and January 18, and February 15, 2017. 


Malign Neglect  

The September 2016 staff report included some background on the R-1A that inspired me to research a more detailed history, still a work in progress. Zoning is intensely political, and the R-1A is no exception. My inquiry uncovered two unexpected themes: the influence of the rise and fall of the African-American population and the effects of the hills/flatlands division on Berkeley zoning. 

If you don’t live in the R-1A but are interested in either or both of these themes, please read my paper. Briefly stated, I found a sad history of neglect in assigning useful development standards in West Berkeley. The R-1A was originally applied to Panoramic Hill as a single-family zone that allowed an accessory unit of 700 square feet, but when the zone was transferred to West Berkeley in 1967, dimensions for the second unit were deleted. That vacuum was never properly filled, creating problems to this day, not only distress and delays, but also a drain on staff time devoted to related appeals and the current effort to get it right this time. 

An essential question is whether the R-1A should serve as an intermediate zone between the R-1 and the R-2 or remain as a bastard brother of the R-2. For years, appellants have complained that the R-1A has fewer restrictions than the R-2, allowing permit applicants to build two houses of the same size, up to three stories, resulting in some oversized developments like 2211 Ninth Street. 

Developers have gotten wind of these allowances, buying up properties -some with derelict structures as well as serviceable historic homes – demolishing the buildings and putting in two three-bedroom houses and selling them as condos. The division works if the parcels are large, but the lots of West Berkeley are narrow, and off-street parking requirements mean that cars replace yards, gardens, and beneficial trees. Shadows and loss of privacy have driven many neighbors to appeal. 

The R-1A covers less than 10% of Berkeley’s land area, and the number of total parcels in both areas, around 2,000, is a tiny fraction of the total residential lots, over 27,000. For years, nobody was interested in the zoning of this undesirable backwater; even the group that developed the West Berkeley Plan of 1993 decided not to devote their time and energy to the “residential core” and turned their attention to subdividing the M zone instead. It was “anything goes” until housing demand drove up land prices and developers started to squeeze suburban sized houses onto skinny lots that were originally intended for workers’ cottages, many of which remain today. 

The number of units produced by adding detached houses, not only in the R-1A but the R-2 and the R-2A, is small. According to the current housing element capacity analysis of the residential zones, only 24 units can be added in this way. I would submit that our task is not to prohibit or reduce family sized units in residential zones but to increase them, and the problem is how. 


Form Follows Fiasco 

The Berkeley zoning code is woefully out of date, mostly because the political factions don’t speak the same language when it comes to land-use policies. If I mention form based zoning to a member of the City Council, they ask, “What’s that?” 

Instead of thinking about what types of buildings would best suit our needs, we are too busy labeling people as pro or anti-development and calling neighbors NIMBYs if they speak up for their own interests. This is not a creative mind-set. 

Because of its history, the R-1A is a mixed bag. I haven’t yet analyzed the Northbrae section, but a count of the data (from the City’s open data portal) in the 50 blocks west of San Pablo Avenue shows that 659 parcels are single family residences, 129 are duplexes, and 362 are a combination of multiples and condos. 

This is the result of a history of extreme zoning instability, an inequitable burden on the residents of West Berkeley that needs to be corrected. Our zoning decisions should guide the future, not repeat the mistakes of the past. 

According to architect Daniel Parolek’s missing middle housing conceptual framework, a duplex main building would be the next step up in density from the detached single-family house. It’s a more affordable alternative to two detached houses and allows the creation of two family sized units with maximum open space available for healthy outdoor living and the growth of carbon-absorbing gardens and trees. A duplex is a compact and cost-effective building, as two units share a foundation, roof, and at least one wall, where most of the utilities, services, and plumbing converge. The duplex is cheaper to build, heat, and maintain and offers the owner the advantage of living in one unit while renting or selling the other. The zoning of the R-1A should advantage the duplex form, either the side-by-side or the stacked and abolish the second detached house, except for an ADU. 

An ADU can be added to an existing house, but is limited to 750 square feet, which is probably the most affordable way to create dwelling units. When I added a basement apartment to my house in the 1980’s, the parcel designation was changed to a duplex but by today’s standards, it would be an internal ADU because it’s only 550 square feet. A general contractor built that unit for less than $25,000, although I did most of the finish work. 

The scale of a duplex, especially the height should be uniform but not the same as the hills, as currently allowed, because those dimensions 28-35' are based on averaging a sloped grade. See the height definition in the zoning code, p. 383-384. When the City Council transferred the hills heights to the flatlands in 1991 without providing the commonly used 45° daylight plane, they allowed the creation of many grotesque and detrimental buildings and additions completely out of scale with the surrounding neighborhoods. The fact that they did so without adequate public discussion just adds insult to injury. See my paper “A Brief and Personal History of the R-1A Zoning” for a closer examination of this decision. 

Two story duplexes could average 24' (between the eaves and the ridge) in the side-by-side form and 24' to 28' for the stacked form, allowing some flexibility for the roof that will be retained if a house is raised. We should advantage the sloped roof to provide for a solar installation. The other setbacks could replicate the R-1 with a possible increase in usable open-space and the outer side setback of key lots adjoining back yards of cross streets. These are reasonable standards, commonly found in the codes of other California cities of comparable size, that blend in with existing flatland neighborhoods 

Those who mock neighbors for wanting to save trees and gardens from the shadows of taller buildings show ignorance of ecology, botany, and the beneficial relationship between humans and plants. Our green building alternatives should retain as much foliage as possible, as plants not only turn carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis but also provide food and sustenance.  

With all the benefits of the compact duplex, it’s a wonder that the total number in Berkeley is only 1,000-1,500 (count depends on the use code) out of a total of over 27,000 residential parcels. If we’re serious about increasing affordable housing opportunities we should encourage the duplex, not only building new ones, but also dividing houses, raising them, and adding-on. 


A Modest Proposal 

At least half of the residential parcels in Berkeley are single-family homes, and most of them are located in the R-1 zones. Although single-family homes can be found almost everywhere including the commercial corridors and the M-zones, the reason for the paucity of duplexes is simply that they aren’t permitted in the R-1. 

It took twenty-years of local agitation and a state law to allow accessory dwelling units in the R-1. That’s a step forward, but the ADU is limited to 750 square feet in Berkeley, whereas state law allows up to 1,200. 

The current City Council is gung-ho to encourage the building of ADU’s. Councilmember Ben Bartlett called them “DIY affordable housing” and the current thinking is to create an easy-route towards the ADU, one-stop shopping. An ADU is great for a family member, a student, or even a single parent and child but it’s not big enough for a larger family. 

The next step-up towards compact development is the duplex, and some family-sized homes can be created for less than a detached dwelling unit. If we’re serious about affordable family housing, we should abolish the R-1 to allow for duplexes. In the meantime, we can improve the current R-1A to advantage the duplex and retain green open space. It is possible to create more density without detriment. I live on a street with 45 dwelling units. It’s quiet at night; we look out for each other and tend our trees and gardens. Parking is tight, but it’s not the end of the world. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 












Tejinder Uberoi
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:31:00 PM

Never failing to lose an opportunity to score political points over his erudite predecessor, Trump faulted Obama for not following through on his red line ultimatum in Syria’s civil war.

Trump rightfully condemned the recent “chemical attack as reprehensible” contradicting his earlier advise in 2013 “not to attack Assad” citing it was not America’s problem.” This was followed by a barrage of tweets repeating the same advice, NOT to attack Syria” as “there is no upside and tremendous downside” and telling him to “stay out of Syria.” In a further statement which should have raised multiple red flags, Trump endorsed Russia’s support for the demonic Assad. 

In May 2016, in a further clarification of his “hands off” policy, Trump tweeted “bigger problems than Assad.” He even ignored the advice of VP Pence who favored air strikes. In 2015 Trump told CNN “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we, care?” In the general election, Trump admonished Hillary Clinton and Obama for pushing for “immediate regime change in Syria.” Then in another major flip-flop, Trump criticized Obama for failing to remove Assad. His invisible secretary of state, Tillerson, also flip flopped initially advising a “hand’s off” policy then changed to a more hawkish position. 

A “shock and awe” strike on Syria would in the short term, dispel Trump as a weak and indecisive president and distance himself from the bare chested czar of Russia. 


Letter to the editor

Carol Denney
Sunday April 09, 2017 - 09:13:00 PM

I read your opinion piece about national searches, and was shocked to read your praise of Dash Butler. 

I have the video tape somewhere of the November 1991 City Council meeting which Chief of Police Dash Butler and City Manager Michael Brown didn't realize existed when they synced up their testimony against me, accusing me of assaulting Butler in the groin at a public meeting in front of hundreds of people and the entire City Council. They were very convincing in front of the jury at my criminal trial, two of the most senior city staff, both very clearly identifying me as having committed a felony. 

Then the jury watched Channel 7 news footage proving them both to be liars. Their exit from both of their jobs came within the next several months after my acquittal. Please consider how useful their testimony in any criminal case would have been after this florid show.

Tiny Homes Are A Homeowner's and Developers' Scam

Carol Denney
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:29:00 PM

Street Spirit's last issue promoted tiny homes. Once proud to be a voice for the poor, Street Spirit has under Youth Spirit Artwork's direction become an advertisement for the most expensive, least environmentally sound approach to housing on earth. 

If you read New York architect Paul Lewis's article you ended up ankle-deep in thankful tiny home dwellers oozing praise for their tiny homes, described as potential "salvation" in the title itself. 

Barbara Poppe, coordinator on federal homeless policy under President Obama's administration, is quoted but dismissed early in the piece for decrying cities' caving in to "huts that don't have access to water, electricity and sanitation" which, in Poppe's opinion, stigmatize homeless people. 

The article presents tiny homes as the obvious choice in an oddly binary world: either people shiver under freeway overpasses or bushes, or nestle into a small, cold, dark, but serviceable tiny home given the lack of alternatives. The article's tiny concessions that someone "could get hypothermia in one of these" are countered by official depictions of the structures as "temporary" despite years of occupancy in cities which continue to race toward filling every inch of available city land with high-end penthouses and condos far out of reach for the poor. 

Temporary. This word is crucial in the land of regional and city planning, allowing developers, homeowners and builders to sidestep regulations to create what in any other country would be considered shantytowns for that special subset of the population that, darn it, just can't seem to pull together the scratch for the apartment with actual running water. 

"A bit of a loophole" is how Sharon Lee, director of Seattle's Low Income Housing Institute, describes the "temporary" designation, using the phrase "dead end" to describe the possibility that absent alternatives, the huts may end up used permanently. And they do. 

Who benefits? Architects, developers, consultants, and the city planners who aspire to join their firms or create their own firms out of their lucrative insider knowledge like Rhoades Planning Group's Mark Rhoades. Rhoades' own group's website brags about his "22 years of experience as a land use planner and development consultant in both the public and private sectors", and is not embarrassed to add that he "served as City Planning Manager for the City of Berkeley during a period of unprecedented development activity and increasing politicization of land use." 

It doesn't take much of a stroll through Berkeley to see who benefited from the "unprecedented development" Rhoades presided over with the well-situated help of former Mayors Loni Hancock and Tom Bates, the married power couple who traded places from state to local political offices over a thirty-year period while low-income housing was ravaged to build high-end condos. Even landmarked buildings were essentially gutted with a careful facade preserved like a Potemkin Village, a new low in honoring the architectural past. 

Justification for bleeding off the housing crisis-affected population into heat-free shantytowns, preferably stacked, goes hand in hand with pressing policymakers on planning and zoning commissions and city councils for more "flexibility" and "streamlining" of regulations which pour more money into the obvious pockets. 

Is there no alternative to tiny hovels with no water, no bathrooms or kitchens, no heat? Of course there is: rent control; requirements that 90% of new housing be affordable to a minimum wage worker and be family-friendly; vacancy controls so that units can't sit empty for long periods of time without city intervention in the form of vacancy fees or situating homeless people in vacancies. These are only a few of the obvious alternatives. Any empty residential or commercial space could be and should be used in this obvious housing emergency to situate people in need -- the only thing missing is the key, not a metaphorical key, the actual key to an actual space with heat, electricity, cooking and bathroom facilities, etc. No miniaturization, no shanty-town necessary. 

Does this seem radical to you? I would suggest that what's really radical is the status quo: leaving people to die on a public street in the richest nation on earth in one of the nation's top ten cities for income disparity. 

The hushed-up secret about tiny homes is that the miniaturization of housing needs not only serves no purpose, given that they are more expensive than rehabbing an existing building, they are also less efficient, and thus less green, than using a bearing wall to house more than one person and build more than one story of housing. The stackable shipping containers often promoted under the tiny homes umbrella are a concession to this fact, that any land use dedicated to one person alone in the middle of a housing crisis is just, well, dumb. 

People on the street can tell you. They spend time in long lines walking to, walking from, and waiting for the shared toilet, the gas station sink for water, the laundromat's few washing machines. They end up at a disadvantage for job opportunities if their clothing is soiled or wrinkled, or if their health is poor. Tiny homes make this a permanent condition. 

The obvious illustration of tiny homes' environmentally unfriendly footprint is as clear as the equally obvious middle ground between the gymnasium filled with cots used as a shelter complete with snoring, farting people needlessly, helplessly annoying each other, and the tiny home, where you can't even use the paltry space you have to yourself because you're freezing. The middle ground is obvious: an apartment building or combination apartment building and single-room occupancy hotel, precisely what was savagely and opportunistically destroyed in Berkeley and elsewhere for high-end units over the last thirty years. Worker housing once plentiful in Berkeley and cheaper to build than tiny homes, was not replaced because there was a lot of money to be made demolishing it for condos, money which was eagerly accepted by politicians at election campaign time who in turn loosen, or "streamline" regulations for developers. 

Again, who benefits? Homeowners hoping to turn the backyard shed or garage into a lucrative extra unit benefit. Developers and architects who are tired of skating against the edge of building restrictions benefit. Neither of these are needy groups of people. Whether they are greedy groups of people is obvious in any city's priorities, which either promote safe, spacious, legal housing for yes, even the poor (who outnumber the rich all around the world) over the boutique whims of the wealthy. 

Berkeley is on a path toward leaving the rush to gentrification undisturbed, a gentrification which has its roots in the racist covenants which were legal in Berkeley only a few decades ago. Our at-risk population for homelessness nationwide is disproportionately people of color. 

The "Pathways Project" which recently passed the City Council, a purely theoretical supervised campground at this point, has a set of obvious fallacies: 

1. that "new" land without any buildings on it yet is necessary to address homelessness, and Berkeley just doesn't have any; 

2. that only carefully vetted people from within our homeless population are deserving of a roof; 

3. that our eccentrics, our poor, and our mentally unstable are a threat which needs isolation; 

4. that Berkeley, which just spent $6 million to acquire the old Premier Cru building on University Avenue just can't afford to house its poor. 

Still don't think tiny homes are a developers' scam? Ask yourself why Paul Lewis, a wealthy New York architect, would have any interest in them. Read this dizzying description of a plan for the "Upside House" from his LML firm's website: 

The open-plan ground floor fulfills the modernist predilection for open space while the upper-floor plan is informed by a laundry list of private, commodity rooms—bedrooms, walk-in closets, master bathrooms, bonus rooms, etc.—required by the client. While the relation of the Upside House to the street front remains constant, the number of bedrooms and other commodity rooms can be increased as desired by the client, which results in an equivalent spatial increase in the first-floor open plan living below. As the house grows more spacious and more expensive, the slope of the stair becomes more gentle and gracious, ranging from the maximum allowable slope to a gradual angle ideal for protracted ceremonial descents. 

Project team: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, David J. Lewis; Phillip Speranza 

The M. C. Escher-like architectural drawings of the Upside House scheme helps one imagine how well any of this will work for the sizeable portion of any population with disabilities who either can't navigate stairs at all or who have understandable difficulty with stairs, no matter how ceremonial the descent. 

Does Berkeley have room to house its poor? Of course it can. Any fool can look up the amount of combined empty residential and commercial units on the City of Berkeley's own Economic Development page, any local rental website, and toss in the available spaces on short-term rental sites like AirB&B and see that there is plenty of room to house our own poor. The only thing that's missing is the obvious willingness, even by our new mayor and city council, to disturb our mythology, our prejudices, and our lucrative status quo. 

# # # 


Trump, you cannot fool all the people all the time

Ralph E. Stone
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:25:00 PM

Trump lies for the pure pleasure of it; he just can't help himself. Often his lies are difficult to fight, destructive in their effects, and almost impossible to correct if they resonate strongly enough with his true believers, which Trump’s mostly do.  

His political incorrectness is what appeals to many of his supporters. 

Saying that Trump has a "casual relationship with the truth," The Huffington Post listed the 100 most egregious falsehoods. Of course, this is just a small sampling of his lies as they come so fast and so often, that fact checkers have a difficult time keeping up.  

When he wants to spread an idea, he just says it over and over again. The repetition just gets in some people's heads. Even if the media refutes the lie, it may serve only to solidify the lie in some people's minds. For example, if the San Francisco Chronicle said, "It is not true or is unproven that President Obama spied on Trump," the Chronicle may accomplish the opposite result as later on the recipient of the lie may forget the first part of the sentence -- "it is not true or is unproven" -- recalling only "Obama spied on Trump."  

Remember, as early as 2011, Trump was a leader of the “birther movement,” questioning whether Obama was born in the U.S. Yet, it wasn’t until September 2016 that he finally acknowledged that, yes, Obama was born in the U.S. (He was born in Hawaii in 1961.) He didn’t apologize for his lie. However, as late as mid-December 2016, a Economist/YouGov poll showed that 42% of self-identified Republicans still believed that Obama was born in Kenya, 

Maybe Trump’s lies are catching up to him. A Quinnipiac University National poll found that 60% believed Trump is not honest. And according to a recent Gallup poll his support has dropped to about 38%. Yet for these 38% ardent supporters, they just don’t seem to care whether he lies. 

In sum, one comment from a Trump supporter is revealing, ”You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us, refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out. It's Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down." Hopefully, the Democratic National Committee is listening and vigorously preparing for the mid-term and beyond elections.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Turkey’s Dangerous Referendum

Conn Hallinan
Saturday April 01, 2017 - 06:34:00 PM

At first glance, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s drive to create an executive presidency with almost unlimited power through a nationwide referendum looks like a slam-dunk.

The man has not lost an election since 1994, and he has loaded the dice and stacked the deck for the April 15 vote. Using last summer’s failed coup as a shield, he has declared a state of emergency, fired 130,000 government employees, jailed 45,000 people—including opposition members of parliament—and closed down 176 media outlets. The opposition Republican People’s Party says it has been harassed by death threats from referendum supporters and arrests by the police. 

He has deliberately picked fights with Germany, Austria and the Netherlands to help whip up a storm of nationalism, and he charges that his opponents are “acting in concert with terrorists.” Selahattin Demirtas, a Member of Parliament and co-chair of the Kurdish-dominated People’s Democratic Party, the third largest political formation in Turkey, is under arrest and faces 143 years in prison. Over 70 Kurdish mayors are behind bars. 

So why is the man so nervous? 

He has reason to be. The juggernaut that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) put together to dismantle Turkey’s current political system and replace it with a highly centralized executive that will have the power to dismiss parliament, control the judiciary and rule by decree has developed a bit of a wobble. 

First, the nationalists—in particular the rightwing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)—are deeply split. The leadership of the MHP supports a “yes” vote on the referendum, but as much as 65 percent of the rank and file are preparing to vote “no.”  

Second, there is increasing concern over the economy, formerly the AKP’s strong suit. Erdogan won the 2002 election on a pledge to raise living standards—especially for small businesses and among Turks who live in the country’s interior—and he largely delivered on those promises. Under the AKP’s stewardship, the Turkish economy grew, but with a built-in flaw. 

The 2000s were a period of rapid growth for emerging economies like China, Russia and Turkey. China did it by building a high-power manufacturing base and exporting its goods to the global market. Russia raised its economy through commodities sales, particularly oil and gas. Turkey’s huge spurt, however, was built around domestic consumption, in particular real estate and construction. Indeed, Turkey’s historical strength in manufacturing has languished. 

Much of the construction boom was financed through foreign loans, and as long as investors were comfortable with the internal situation in Turkey—and money was cheap—real estate was Erdogan’s Anatolian tiger. But when the U.S. tightened up its monetary policies in 2013, those loans either dried up or got more expensive. 

Turkey was not the only victim of U.S. tight money policies. Washington’s monetary shift also badly damaged the economies of Brazil, South Africa, India, and Indonesia. But the effect on Ankara has been to increase the debt burden and fuel a growing trade imbalance. Growth fell from 6.1 percent in 2015 to 1.5 percent in 2016. 

The fall of the Turkish lira means imports cost more at a time when Turkey’s private sector has accrued a foreign exchange deficit of $210 billion. Consumer inflation will almost certainly reach 11 or 12 percent this year and the jobless rate is over 12 percent. Among young Turks, age 15-24, that figure is over 25 percent. Almost four million people are out of work and many Turks now spend 50 percent of their income on food, housing and rent. 

To add to these woes, the credit agencies Moody’s, Standard and Poor, and Fitch recently designated Turkey’s status as “non-investment” and its economic outlook from “stable” to “negative.” Part of the downgrade was based on politics, not the economy. Fitch pointed out that if Erdogan’s referendum passed, it “would entrench a system in which checks and balances have been eroded.” 

Businesses are generally not bothered by authoritarian regimes, but they are uncomfortable with instability and a cavalier approach to the rule of law. Erdogan’s erratic foreign policies and the government’s seizures of private businesses whose owners choose to oppose him do not create an atmosphere conducive to investor confidence.  

There is growing nervousness about Erdogan’s internal and external policies. Turkey once had a policy of “no trouble with neighbors,” but Ankara is suddenly fighting with everyone. Erdogan strongly supported efforts to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. He backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He put troops in Northern Iraq aimed at keeping the Kurds down. He started a war with his own Kurds and bullies and intimidates any domestic opposition. 

A case in point is the lucrative tourist industry that normally contributes about 5 percent of Turkey’s GNP. Turkey is the sixth most visited country in the world, but the industry was down 36 percent in 2016, a loss of $10 billion. Formerly, large numbers of tourists visited from Russia and Iran. But Erdogan alienated the Russians when he shot down one of their bombers in 2015 and angered Iran when he went to Saudi Arabia and denounced the Iranians for trying to spread their Shiite ideology and “Persian nationalism” throughout the Middle East. As a result, tourism from both countries largely dried up, hitting Istanbul and coastal cities like Antalya particularly hard. 

Iranians and Russians are not the only nationalities looking elsewhere for fun and relaxation. Erdogan’s sturm und drang rhetoric directed at the European countries that refused to let him campaign for his referendum among their Turkish populations—“Nazis” and “fascists” were his favored epithets to describe Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria—has tourists from the West looking to vacation in Greece, Spain and Italy instead. 

To label Erdogan’s foreign policy “schizophrenic” is an understatement. 

On one hand, he has backed off from the demand that Syrian President Assad must go and is working with the Russians and Iranians—and Egyptians—to find a negotiated settlement to the horrendous civil war. 

On the other, he is wooing Saudi Arabia, the major backer of al-Qaeda associated groups in Syria who have made it clear that they are not interested in negotiations or a political settlement. He is also clashing with Russia and the U.S. over those countries support for Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. 

In one rather bizarre example of schizoid foreign policy, Turkey sponsored a Mar. 14 meeting of 50 Syrian tribal leaders to form an “Army of the Jezeera and Euphrates Tribes” to fight Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria. Beating up on the Kurds is standard Erdogan politics, but how he squares attacking Russia and Iran while professing to support a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war is not clear. 

His political calculations keep backfiring. For instance, when Iran signed the nuclear agreement and sanctions were lifted, Turkish businesses were eager to ramp up trade with Teheran. Erdogan’s searing attack on Iran largely scotched that, however, and the Turkish president has very little to show for it. Erdogan calculated that embracing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies would more than offset alienating Iran, but that has not happened. 

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have a combined overseas investment portfolio of $262 billion, but only $8.7 billion of that went to Turkey. Europe makes up the great bulk of foreign investments in Turkey, distantly followed by the U.S. and Russia. 

In part this is because the Gulf monarchies have their own financial difficulties, given low oil prices and the grinding war they are fighting in Yemen. But one suspects that Saudi Arabia is wary of Erdogan’s AKP, which is closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis consider the Brotherhood their main enemy after Iran, and they strongly supported the 2013 military coup against the Egyptian Brotherhood government. The recent thaw in relations between Turkey and Egypt has resulted in a chilling of ties between Riyadh and Cairo. 

The Islamic State has recently targeted Turkey, in large part as blowback from the Syrian civil war. Ankara formerly turned a blind eye to the Islamic State’s supply lines into Syria because Erdogan wanted to overthrow the Assad government, and replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood friendly regime. Now that policy has backfired on Turkey, much as U.S. support for the Mujahedeen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan led to the formation of al-Qaeda and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. 

The Kurds have also engaged in a bombing campaign, but that is a response to Erdogan’s attacks on Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey. 

It is not clear how widespread the “no” vote sentiment is, although it supposedly includes up to 100 AKP parliament members worried about concentrating too much power in the President’s hands. Pollsters say a significant number of voters are unwilling to say how they will vote. In the current atmosphere of intimidation, it could mean those “refuse to say’ will turn to “no.” Certainly Erdogan’s prediction of a 60 percent approval has gone a glimmering. 

What happens if people do vote “no”? And would Erdogan accept any outcome that wasn’t “yes”? 

One disturbing development is the formation of a paramilitary group called “Stay as Brothers, Turkey.” Organized by Orhan Uzuner, whose daughter is married to Erdogan’s son, Bital, the group claims up to 500 members. The opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet calls the group “Erdogan’s militia,” and some members of the National Movement Party say the “Brothers” are sponsoring weapons training and encouraging members to arm themselves. With the military firmly under control following last year’s attempted coup, even a small group like the “Brothers” could play a major role if Erdogan decides he is finished with the democratic process. 

Certainly the President is in a bind. He needs foreign investments and tourism to get the economy back on track, but he is alienating one ally after another. 

He could tighten Turkey’s monetary policies to staunch the outflow of capital, but that would slow the economy and increase unemployment. He could lower interest rates to stimulate the economy, but that would further weaken the lira. 

His strategy at this point is to double down on getting a “yes” vote. If he fails, things could get dangerous. 


Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: What we are up against

Jack Bragen
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:15:00 PM

Forget for a moment about the debate of forcing treatment on persons with mental illness who are uncooperative—whether we are talking Laura's Law, or the laws that existed beforehand that allowed for involuntary treatment of people—who are a threat to others or to themselves, or who are gravely disabled. Forget for a moment about how to get mentally ill homeless off the street. Forget, for just a moment, about the fact that jails have become the primary mental health facility. We can come back to this later.  

There is a lot of difficulty obtaining any mental health treatment for those that want and need it. There have been budget cuts, and the mental health treatment systems, at least in my county, and likely elsewhere, are overloaded. The number of persons who have acquired mental illness is up, and facilities are operating far beyond their capacities. And this is just the beginning of our woes.  

I don't have to research the exact figures and facts to know that there is a shortage of psychiatrists and other treatment practitioners. I don't have to do extensive research to know that if a mentally ill individual wants outpatient treatment, and if they are mostly independent and high functioning, treatment is very difficult to obtain. I have seen this firsthand.  

Those who have Medicare and Medicaid coverage may have to wait a number of months to get admitted to outpatient treatment. I am fortunate that I am seeing a psychiatric practitioner who is very good at the facility where I go for most of my mental health needs. I also recently found a psychotherapist in private practice who is willing to see me, after a wait of a number of months.  

Not all mental health consumers are that fortunate. Those who do not have Medicare from working or through their parents must rely on Medicaid, and this essentially means they must get treatment from their county facilities. This might mean seeing a psychiatrist for about fifteen minutes every month or perhaps every two months. 

This is but one of two of the big quandaries we face. 

The housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area affects disabled people who live on public benefits and who can't shell out 1600 dollars a month for an apartment, or who can't even pay 800 dollars to rent a room in someone's house. And, if you are a HUD renter, you may find very limited choices in your housing options. Some persons with psychiatric illness may be forced to live in institutional housing, simply due to economic pressures. This is inappropriate for those who could take care of themselves but who can not afford the high costs of living in the Bay Area.  

These are frightening times for the disabled, since we have a government in power that lacks compassion for the least fortunate in society. We have an administration that wants to make conditions better for the rich, and which couldn't care less concerning the fate of the poor and disabled.  

I say we need better programs--ones in which there is some sort of guarantee that persons with psych disabilities can be housed and obtain treatment. However, this may never happen in the foreseeable future.  

Other than that, even those of us who might be nominally able to hold a job may have an improbability of ever being hired at a decent job. Few employers are willing to hire a mentally ill person for professional employment.  

In short, persons with psychiatric disabilities are being muscled out of existence. If we are unable or unwilling to live in a restricted situation of no privacy, no personal space, and inappropriate supervision, then we are often out of luck.  

Many persons with psychiatric disabilities are stuck in lives of being bussed to daycare and back, when at home getting a dinner of hot dogs and baked beans, getting a shot or pill of medication, and watching television. This is punctuated by an occasional smoke on the front patio when permitted, and "milieu therapy," which means commiserating with others in the same situation.  

For someone who has his or her faculties, this is no way to live. No hope is offered of something better. If the consumer wants something better, he or she will have to make that happen, and in doing this, they are up against numerous obstacles.  


Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'TO THE BONE' Staged by Ubuntu Theater Project at Brooklyn Preserve with Playwright in Cast

Ken Bullock
Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:21:00 PM

"Go back, go back, go back ... " Like a cult devotee with her mantra, Sarita Ocón as Juana, wrapped in a plastic bag like a prayer shawl, paces the enclosure on the upper floor of the Brooklyn Preserve--once the Brooklyn Presbyterian Church, dating from 1887; Brooklyn the old name of this borough of Oakland, just below Lake Merritt--that serves as stage for Ubuntu Theater Project's West Coast premiere of Lisa Ramirez's timely play, 'TO THE BONE.' Juana's grieving for her daughter, who was following her mother up from Central America through Mexico to work undocumented in the States, but disappeared along the way, her cell phone going dead.
Giulio Perrone's set, lit by Stephanie Johnson, makes the domed upper room with windows above a kind of shrine with a picture of a saint or the Virgen into a coop or pen or holding cell for the Latino women who live and work together--but it also makes a theatrical illusion that oscillates this space back and forth, in and out to the movement and emotion of the play--the women seem at times to be looking or reaching out to us, as they are when the audience comes in with Juana pacing and moaning, or retreating away from the wire that screens off this kind of purdah for them.
This's cogent to the theme of the play, a domestic drama becoming a kind of morality or melodrama, and to the slight stylization director (and Ubuntu artistic director) Michael Moran works into the mix, to emphasize the collective and depersonalizing nature of the women's work in the Fresh Cut Chickens factory, suiting up rhythmically in green aprons, hairnets, yellow rubber gloves, doing a mechanical dance as they step forward, brandishing their knives as the hardhatted foreman (Lalo--Francisco Arcila) harshly urges them on--faster, faster ... It's an abstraction of form and movement to emphasize the social condition these ladies have fallen into, working to send money home to their families, not a conceptual aestheticism ... The great Soviet director Meyerhold's dictum takes on its true, appropriate edge: "The Grotesque is the triumph of Form over Content." The exploited women workers have become grotesques.
None more so than Olga, played with sarcastic intensity by playwright Lisa Ramirez, a traumatophile who, once brutalized both domestically and on the job, has become a hothead--too much so, risking the work and immigration status of the others around her with her provocations and angry responses, both at work and home.
She's contrasted by the mournful Lupe, by the excellent Wilma Bonet's (familiar from the Mime troupe) Reina and by her own daughter Lupe, well-played with a mix of youthful, energetic friendliness and something of her mother's sardonic cast by Juliana Aiden. Luoe wants to be a lawyer, working on class action suits when she's not skateboarding or practicing hip-hop. But Olga's cynicism is contrasted even more by Reina's niece, newly-arrived young Carmen--wonderfully played by Carla Gallardo--who didn't want to leave home, but bowed to family obligation and honor. Carmen's fresh grace and dignity are immediately noticed by the (too!) boyishly honest driver Jorge (splendidly portrayed by Juan Amador)--and by the Boss, the Anglo facory owner's son, Daryl, a hard-drinking brute acted out with appropriate Staccato physical style by William Hartfield, to the aloof Lalo's increasing consternation.
The volatile mix of all these actors, these elements is touched off by an apparently oft-repeated transgressive incident, amplified by Olga's own trespasses, just sprung from jail for acting out about what she warned against in the first place, and ratched up to tragic proportions--the tragedy of every day in this world of oppression.
But in the end, life goes on, however bittersweet. This impressive production--impressive in the truest sense--doesn't allow the usual kitsch or wistful sentimentalism of too many socially aware melodramas ... its impact is very much what its ironic title promises.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7 through April 23 at Brooklyn Preserve, 1433-12th Avenue (between 14th Street/International Boulevard & 15th Street, near Foothill), Oakland. $15-$25 online, pay-what-you-can at the door, season ticket: $125; Season passes: For Artists: $50; For Students: $25. ubuntuthaterproject.com

Theater Review: Unusual Production of Neil Simon's 'The Sunshine Boys'

Friday April 07, 2017 - 06:17:00 PM

" ... pickle is funny; tomato is not funny!"

So the obsessive litany of the old vaudevillean straight man, principal character in Neil Simon's 'The Sunshine Boys,' whose author's start in showbiz as a gagman and TV and radio scriptwriter may've begun with just such systems of accounting.

'Sunshine Boys' hit Broadway in 1972, riding on Simon's great comic successes of the 60s, was made into a movie with Simon staple Walter Matthau and George Burns (jumpstarting Burns'career) in '75--and just a decade before the more reflective second wave of Simon's own career kicked in, in earnest, with 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' in the mid-80s.

'Sunshine Boys' is already different in kind from the doorslammer farces Simon rode to fame on, and somehow oblique to the nostalgia for old showbiz and its personae that could be expected.

A smart, inquisitive production of this curiosity of Simominana--and of the American stage, in every sense--is onstage now at the old Belrose Theatre, a cabaret-style place with chairs and tables and drinks, in San rafael, across from the old public library on Fifth Avenue, appropriately enough, produced by Gary Gonser for marin Onstage, in residence there, and marvellously directed by Ron Nash, an old pro himself, who also plays the part of a TV production man midway through the story. 

As the former straight man of the fabled vaudeville comedy team of Lewis & Clark, Wille Clark (played marvellously by Grey Wolf) is still plugging away in showbiz--or would like us to think so. As his harried TV exec nephew (a spot-on portrayal by Richard Kerrigan) tries to explain to a deaf ear, Willie's become too ingrown, too insistent on his own predilections and preconditions, preconditions often taking on a more medical, even psychiatric meaning. His true theater is his old hotel room, once a suite when successful, where he stews in his own juices under the lid of a stream of wise cracks, nursing his hatred for his old colleague, comic Al Lewis--who he still genuinely admires as the geatest, the funniest ... but can't get over what he recalls as a mountain of little indignities (spitting in his face onstage while talking, poking a finger in his chest, bruising him, all part of their endlessly repeated signature routines), the way Al suddenly up and retired without warning ... or maybe just the familiarity, the je ne sais quoi, that breeds contempt: 

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell, 

The reason why, I cannot tell, 

But this I know & know full well-- 

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell. 

Thus the old, sardonic nursery rhyme, dating back to the 17th century, as good an explanation or analysis as any. 

Wille has become a grotesque, and this's played to the hllt by Grey Wolf as the centerpiece of this production. Behind that grotesquery of an old comedy pro--in the business Nash quotes a character in his notes sayiing it's the most aggravating in the world--is the banal world of older people rotting in urban furnished rooms with their memories, prey to out-of-control mannerisms in their isolation. 

Al Lewis has been mostly spared this fate, living in the far fields of Jersey with relatives, even children in the house. But he's prey to his old partner's delusions when the two are tapped to reprise their act for a TV special on the history of the biz. Hanging on one word to open their sketch, which Clark insists on changing, they descend into squabbling and a not-so-funny, objectively viewed (but who's being objective?) kind of slapstick ... 

In the preliminaries for the sketch is a perfect gem--Grey Wolf as the manic Willie as a manic doctor in his office, tantalized by a boffo, buxom nurse, played with rhythmic aplomb by Christina Jaqua (who turns o a dime to play a genuine nurse caring for--and facing down--the acerbic Wille later on), a perfect and perfectly delirious reenactment of an old-style vaudeville burlesque. 

Michael Walraven plays Al Lewis with sensitivity, laboring valiantly as the "funniest man in the business" in the bloodshot eyes of his old partner, but not represented by the playwright as so funny onstage. In this cockeyed nsotalgia show, the starightman's funnier than the comic. Was this part of Simon's dramaturgy? Has the old funnyman just gone tame? 

It's an unusually good night of straight--or starightman's--comic theater, worth the drive over one bridge or another, the pleasure of sitting back in the Belrose and watching a charged-up cast go at a kind of anatomy of comedy--and the human spirit. 

Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 & 8, Belrose Theatre, 1415-5th Avenue (between D & E Streets), San Rafael. $24 general, $21 seniors & students, $12 children. marinonstage.org or (415) 448-6152