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Moms and kids sitting on the Derby sidewalk enjoy the sunshine  at the Farmers' Market.
Becky O'Malley
Moms and kids sitting on the Derby sidewalk enjoy the sunshine at the Farmers' Market.


Flash: Earthquake Shakes East Bay on Saturday Evening, But So Far No Rapture

By Saul Sugarman (BCN) and Berkeley Daily Planet
Saturday May 21, 2011 - 07:35:00 PM

A 3.6-magnitude earthquake shook Contra Costa and Alameda Counties this evening, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The quake struck about 2 miles south of Hercules just after 7 p.m. and had a 6-mile depth, according to the USGS. 

A witness in Alameda felt her apartment building shake just after the quake began. 

"I thought it was the Rapture," she said. 

Harold Camping, founder of the Oakland-based Family Radio network, predicted earlier this year that the Rapture -- the ascension of millions of earth dwellers into heaven marked by a massive earthquake -- would take place today. 

The First Church of the Last Laugh, led by San Francisco Mime Troupe actor and Oakland resident Ed Holmes, conducted a countdown to 6 p.m., the time predicted for the Rapture to take place, complete with clusters of balloons lifting inflated people, at the headquarters of Family Radio on Hegenberger Road. Church members were not there. Nothing special happened at 6, and Holmes was not available for comment when the earthquake struck at 7. 

The quake was 8 miles north of Berkeley and 9 miles south of Vallejo.

Berkeley Man Gets Some Money Back in Phone Fraud

By Bay City News
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:31:00 PM

An 80-year-old Berkeley man who was swindled out of $53,000 got a portion of the money back when it was recovered by officials.  

The elderly man was a victim of a telemarketing scam based out of Quebec, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations department.  

A con artist called the victim and told him he had won the seventh prize in a sweepstakes and that he needed to send money to pay "taxes" on the prize, ICE officials said.  

The victim sent the telemarketer a check for $38,000. A few months later the man was contacted again by the same suspect and the victim sent a check for $15,000. This time, however, the check was intercepted by law enforcement officials.  

"I probably will never see the first check for $38,000 I sent to this guy, but I'm very grateful to have the $15,000 back," the victim said in a statement.  

"There is much to the saying that, if something sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true," he said.  

The check was intercepted by the Project COLT investigative team in Canada, ICE officials said. Project COLT -- or Center of Operations Linked to Telemarketing -- includes numerous agencies from the U.S. and Canada, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the ICE HSI.  

"This man was fortunate investigators were able to get at least some of his money back. Sadly, that's not often the case," said Shane Folden, special agent in charge of San Francisco's ICE HSI in a statement.  

"While ICE HSI and its enforcement partners are doing everything possible to stop this kind of fraud, the first line of defense is for people to be suspicious of anyone who calls and asks them to send money."  

ICE HSI officials urge the public to contact Phonebusters, Canada's anti-fraud call center, before sending money to telemarketers.  

Phonebusters can be reached at (888) 495-8501 or www.phonebusters.com 

Press Release: Summary of Hot Prowl Burglary and Barricaded Suspect in the 1300 Block of Parker Street in Berkeley

From Sgt. Mary C. Kusmiss S-6, BPD Public Information Officer
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:39:00 PM

“This morning, Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at a few minutes before 7:00 a.m., a male resident/community member called to report a burglary in progress of his home in the 1300 block of Parker Street on the south side of the street. A male suspect had entered the basement area.” 

“The male resident got a base ball bat for protection. When City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) patrol officers arrived, they saw the man with the bat in the street and a male suspect wielding a machete and a tree saw running away from the home. BPD officers challenged the suspect but he continued to flee on foot. The suspect continued alongside a home across the street (on the north side) of Parker Street, ran up some stairs to a detached rear unit. The suspect then broke a pane of glass in the door to the unit, dove inside and was barricaded with two potentially deadly weapons.” 

“Officers created a safety perimeter to contain the scene which covered approximately four blocks, contacted the homeowner who lived in the house in front, who confirmed to them that the unit was vacant.” 

“Some members of the Barricaded Subject Hostage Negotiation Team (BSHNT) were on duty, including negotiators, who began trying to begin a dialogue with the suspect. BPD leadership activated a BSHNT call out to manage the incident and work towards a peaceful resolution.” 

“At approximately 10:20 a.m., the suspect, identified as Kamal Abdul Khalid, agreed to come out. He exited the unit holding the machete, dropped it after several officers’ commands and descended the stairs. When officers attempted to place him in handcuffs, he resisted physically, but was ultimately subdued.” 

“City of Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) personnel who had been staged at the scene throughout, transported the suspect to a local ER for assessment and to be deemed “fit for incarceration”. No community members were injured during this incident. The suspect had some injuries, primarily cuts, likely from broken glass at the scene. 

A couple officers were exposed to blood and sustained minor cuts during the incident. None were seriously injured.” 

“The suspect will be booked (minimally) for 459 PC – Residential.” 



Berkeley Police Re-Open Streets After Barricade Incident

By Rachel Purdy (BCN)
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:23:00 PM

Police have reopened streets in a Berkeley neighborhood after earlier closures prompted by a man who barricaded himself in a home early this morning, a police dispatcher said.  

The suspect was barricaded in the area of Parker and Acton streets, police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said.  

The incident began at about 7 a.m. and streets were reopened later this morning.

Zoning Board Discusses, Critiques, Acheson Commons

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 10:09:00 PM
Dustin Smith from Equity Residential listens to Zoning Board comments while architect Kirk
              Peterson, at right, takes notes.
Steven Finacom
Dustin Smith from Equity Residential listens to Zoning Board comments while architect Kirk Peterson, at right, takes notes.

The Acheson Commons housing development proposed for Downtown Berkeley forged ahead into the second of three “preview” meetings before City review bodies, but ran into at least temporarily unsettled weather at Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board at its meeting on May 12, 2011.

While the ZAB was cautiously favorable towards the general development, members raised firm objections to a number of aspects of the project and predicted it would not win their approval without modifications. 

Concerns included the lack of affordable housing integrated into the development, the overall density and character of the apartment units, and the prospect that union labor might not be used in construction. 

Equity Residential—a company with some 500 properties nationwide, which owns and operates several apartment and mixed use buildings in Downtown Berkeley—is proposing the 203 unit project along the entire length of the north side of the 2100 block of University Avenue, between Shattuck and Walnut, and wrapping around the corner to Berkeley Way. 

Equity was also a major contributor to the Measure R campaign that supported, in 2009, the City Council majority’s proposal to intensify Downtown development. 

The proposed Acheson Commons development would convert the landmark Acheson Physicians Building to apartments, add five stories of housing atop the landmark Sill Grocery / Ace Hardware store, construct another five story residential building atop and behind the commercial structures at the northeast corner of University and Shattuck, and remove two brown shingle apartment buildings at Walnut and Berkeley Way, replacing them with a new residential tower. 

The development would wrap around three sides of the decade old Bachenheimer Building that stands west of the Acheson Physicians Building. 

(Adjacent one-story commercial properties on the northwest corner of the block and the University of California Press building on the north side of the block, facing Berkeley Way, are not part of the project site.) 

All of the ground floor commercial spaces that currently line that frontage of University Avenue would be renovated or altered and, according to Equity representatives, all of the existing businesses would have to relocate, at least during construction. 

The preview before the ZAB started off with brief presentations by Dustin Smith, representing Equity, and project architect Kirk Peterson. 

The development, said Smith, would be “implementing a modern vision” and creating “a whole new pedestrian oriented streetscape.” “There is a need for new housing opportunities” in Downtown, and the project would have “many community benefits.” 

“Our construction plan was to do the construction all simultaneously”, he added. 

He projected about $70 million would be invested in construction and development, plus “fees for affordable housing” paid to the City. The proposal would fit within current zoning, he said, but would require variances for lot coverage and building height (the ZAB is the City body which approves variances). 

Smith added that the environmental review process was just beginning and Equity has “elected to prepare a focused EIR relevant to the historic circumstances.” He touched on the business relocation issue, saying that they were looking for a way to relocate Ace Hardware during construction. 

“We are here tonight to listen to community comments” and “look forward to being part of Berkeley’s Downtown vision”, he concluded. 

The design approach, said architect Peterson, is “basically new buildings with existing facades.” The new construction would rise behind the historic facades, with small setbacks above the commercial ground floors. 

“Each building has a different expression, architecturally”, Peterson said. Although the project would have two large, unified, new residential structures at either end of the block, from University Avenue they would look like three separate residential buildings, with different façade detailing and articulation. 

The project was “well received” at last week’s Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, said Peterson. The LPC was “feeling comfortable with where it is headed.” 

After the initial short presentation, ZAB members began commenting. 

“I just want to complement the architect for somehow just getting things right”, said Commissioner Sophie Hahn, praising the general design character of the project. 

The future of existing businesses on the block was of concern to some Commissioners. Hahn said she was worried about whether Berkeley Ace Hardware would survive the development project. 

“I have met with them several times”, Smith said. The project could “potentially allow them to move over to the Acheson Building during construction”, and “potentially move back” to their current space. 

Commissioner Bob Allen said, however, he thought that as Downtown develops further, “low overhead stores like Ace are simply not going to be able to afford to be here.” 

Hahn also said she was concerned about the loss of the now-vacant rent controlled units in the brown shingle apartment buildings. (The new development units would be exempt, as new construction, from rent control). Equity proposes to either demolish or move the brown shingle buildings to some other site and ownership. 

“The cottages, we have a difference of opinion as to whether they’re subject to rent control or not”, said Smith. 

Some Commissioners also said they felt there should be more parking. 50 on-site spaces are proposed at ground level of the new construction residential building at Walnut and Berkeley Way. 

When asked about public open space to balance the project density, Smith referred to “the biggest open space in Berkeley just a block away” (the UC campus). “There’s plenty of open space opportunities there.” 

The Acheson Commons project would include a courtyard, and rooftop decks and terraces for residents. 

The campus observation didn’t seem to sit well with several ZAB members. 

“To say the University campus is the open space is almost insulting”, said Commission Chair George Williams. “You’ve got to do something more with respect to open space.” 

Several Commission members were concerned about the size and likely market for the rental units, as well as their affordability. The project would have 128 one bedroom and 78 two bedroom units. 

“More variety in unit size” urged Commission Chair Williams. 

“It’s really important for the health of the Downtown that we don’t build dormitories in the Downtown”, said Commissioner Sara Shumer. The Downtown should “not just become a bedroom for the University.” 

“We’re talking about small apartments”, Shumer worried. “Urban apartments,” countered Peterson. 

“This is a huge project in terms of Downtown”, Peterson went on. “We want to bring families Downtown.” “The project as you’ve designed it is not going to bring adult families to the Downtown”, Shumer replied. 

Peterson demurred, saying that in the New Californian (the “Trader Joe’s Building”) he had designed, there is a mix of adult residents, not just students. “It’s hard to say who will rent this.” 

Smith said the goal of Acheson Commons is to “provide housing for a wide variety of people in the community.” 

“I’m all for density, but some of these units look like they’re being sacrificed for density” said another Commissioner. “Would this be a better project if it was less dense?” he wondered. 

“I’m thrilled to have this going on in Downtown” Commissioner Bob Allen said, adding, “I don’t have a problem with the density”, but did have an objection to the design. 

“You’re putting a large number of apartments facing into lean mean little spaces” between buildings. There are 10 – 12 foot gaps proposed between some of the residential structures in the current design. 

“Totally unacceptable,” Allen concluded. “Totally inhuman, unacceptable housing and I would never support this plan if they remain.” 

In terms of housing affordability, the development would be all market rate rental units, Smith said. “We’re not proposing any BMR (below market rate) units in the project”, Smith said, but Equity Residential will “contribute to the Housing Trust Fund.” 

Commissioner Deborah Matthews objected. Berkeley “made tremendous strides in the 1980s to have housing be more inclusionary”, she said. Separate affordable housing projects built with in-lieu fees given to the City’s Housing Trust Fund tend to “isolate communities.” 

“In a project this size it is not a difficult task to create affordable housing.” she argued. 

“It really complements diversity, it complements culture,” to mix affordability grounds in the same development, she said. “I have an issue with that.” “I’m not really comfortable” with no affordable units within the development itself. 

“I’ll definitely take your comments into consideration”, Smith said. 

“I like the project as a concept in general” said Commission Chair Williams. But “your text doesn’t really address the required findings for a variance,” he said to Smith. 

He said Equity Residential would probably “have the right to Ellis Act those two buildings” (take the two brown shingle apartment buildings permanently out of use as rent controlled housing), “but I’m not sure I want to vote to give you what you want” in terms of variances. 

Commissioner Allen—who also sits on the Design Review Committee, which will preview the project this week—tried to encourage Peterson into saying that the project should demolish the two landmark buildings at the University Avenue corners of the block and build anew, rather than building behind and above the existing façade. 

“I look at both of those as pretty trite pieces of architecture”, Allen said of the Ace building and the old McFarlane’s building, both designated landmarks. “I think it would be a better block without them.” 

“If you had a choice, would you have tried to retain those facades?” he asked. Peterson wouldn’t take the bait. “Our intent is to restore the lower level” storefronts he said. And “the Ace building is pretty interesting” architecturally. 

“It’s like cooking with what’s in season,” Peterson concluded. “And they’re landmark buildings. I think I probably would save them.” 

Allen did urge the development team to consider bay windows in the new residential structures. Berkeley currently discourages bay windows built projecting over the sidewalk. “This is stupid”, Allen said. “Bay windows are one of the few architectural features we as architects have to work with.” 

Commissioner Michael Cohen objected, however, to the fact that “there’s not a (ground floor) setback in the entire enormous block here.” “I think this looks rather blocky”, he told Peterson. Peterson argued that the project fit with the Downtown character and urban scale. 

And “it’s a shame you didn’t look at any office space opportunity in this huge block here,” Cohen added. (Cohen is involved in the Berkeley Start-up Cluster, a project to encourage incubator space for spin-off businesses from the University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.) 

The buildings, Peterson said, are intended to be “the quality of the Bachenheimer Building”, which he designed in the center of the block a decade ago. “Richer and more interesting than pretty much anything else that has been built around here recently.” 

After carrying on much of its own discussion of the project, the Commission belatedly took testimony from four members of the public. 

John Dalrymple, the Political Director for Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 107, said he had been “digging into the detail of the project” and had “a lot of concerns.” “The idea that the open space is the University tells you what the target population is”, he said. 

He criticized Equity Residential, saying “they have a history of using the lowest paid construction workers” and the “lowest bidder” and would have “no intention” of doing union construction on this project. 

“This is the largest apartment builder in the United States.” Equity “plays hardball”, he said. “We have to educate them about the values of our community.” He also criticized the small number of parking spaces. 

A woman who identified herself as working at the UC Press at 2120 Berkeley Way, which sits immediately north and west of the development site, said “this proposed development would totally make our work space uninhabitable” during construction. UC Press might be forced “to relocate out of Berkeley” if it were built as proposed, she said. 

“The Acheson Commons project is really key to the revitalization of Downtown,” John Caner, the Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said. “We see this as part of the overall revitalization of Downtown”, he concluded. 

The DBA has, in the past, advocated for placing a priority on streetscape improvements on upper University Avenue. This project could be a way to finance the City’s proposed SOSIP improvements there. 

I spoke during the public hearing about the importance of the two brown shingle apartment houses in context with other historic buildings on the block, and said that with a development this large there should be a binding commitment to preserve and restore them if they are moved to another site. 

I expressed concern about the lack of public open space Downtown. I noted that this project might add as many as 500 new residents to Downtown—and similar projects will follow on other Downtown blocks—but the City has no plans in place to increase useable park space to accommodate those new residents. I said widening sidewalks and providing outdoor café areas were not sufficient “open space” improvements for a Downtown with an enlarged population. 

Near the end of the discussion, Commissioner Hahn endeavored to sum up some of the key themes of the Commission reaction to the project. 

“The union labor question is really important.” “That starts being high on my list.” 

Open space “needs to be addressed more effectively”, and “maybe (the project is) more dense that the density everyone is clamoring for.” 

“I think we heard a lot about more varied housing options”.” 

There‘s “clearly some interest in the brown shingles, in saving them”, and “the affordable housing piece is really big.” 

She said “it would be really nice to see a plan for the survivability and viability of the existing businesses on the block”, worrying they would be “crushed out” but the development. “What are we going to do as a community to make sure the businesses survive?” she asked. 

Commissioner Mike Friedrich (sitting in as a temporary appointee) added, “there is a significant private benefit here that has to be talked about.” “This is one of the prime pieces of real estate in the city.” 

“75 years from now the most expensive rent in the city is going to be in this building”, if the developer builds the project. 

“I’m generally very excited by the overall thrust of it”, he said “but we have some significant concerns.” He suggested that the developer talk to the City about making part of Walnut Street into useable open space, and reiterated “the need for affordable housing and varied housing.” 

“Achieve it within the building itself”, he said. 

“Union labor is a major issue in this town”, he added. “It’s a community value that was expressed in our Measure R vote.” 

Next steps: 

Last week the Landmarks Preservation Commission previewed the project. This week the project goes to the City’s Design Review Committee. 

Some of the DRC members overlap on the Landmarks Commission and ZAB, meaning that the comments from those two bodies will flow into the ZAB discussion. 

Commission staffer Steve Buckley told the Commission that City was beginning work on the Environmental Impact Report for the project. 

My original article about the Acheson project, October 2, 2010, is here

I wrote May 11, 2011 about the project preview before the Landmarks Commission here: 


(Disclosure: Steven Finacom has made public comments on aspects of the Acheson project at the public hearings before both the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board.)

Protests against John Yoo at Berkeley Law Commencement

By Steven Finacom
Monday May 16, 2011 - 04:50:00 PM
Cecile Pineda offers an orange ribbon to a guest at the Law School Commencement
              as part of the protest against John Yoo and torture policies.
Steven Finacom
Cecile Pineda offers an orange ribbon to a guest at the Law School Commencement as part of the protest against John Yoo and torture policies.
One group of protestors gathered south of the Greek Theatre.
Steven Finacom
One group of protestors gathered south of the Greek Theatre.

“May I offer you one of these to protest torture in your own country?” said writer Cecile Pineda, as she proffered orange ribbons to each visitor walking up the ramp from Gayley Road towards the Greek Theatre.

The orange clad Pineda was part of a small protest organized by the group World Can’t Wait! outside the May 13, 2011 Commencement ceremonies for Berkeley Law ( formerly Boalt School of Law) at UC Berkeley.  

Some protestors offered ribbons, others carried signs or banners, and one dressed in an orange jumpsuit, chains, and a hood to symbolize prisoners tortured at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the far flung network of United States outposts and interventions in the world over the past decade. 

The focus of this protest was Professor John Yoo, a member of the faculty at the School of Law who is regarded as a prime architect of legal policies created under the Bush Administration to justify torture. 

Some took the ribbons from Pineda with thanks; a few rushed by then turned back to get one. “Sure, we do agree”, said one man. Others looked confused or ignored her. “It’s a sunny day and we don’t think much on sunny days”, she said. 

She said she had picketed with both World Can’t Wait and Code Pink. “Protestors have come more and more unsmiling. I think that’s a barometer of what’s happening in a culture and a society.” 

“People really need to have suffered to understand what torture is.” 

The response to the protest was “really good”, said David Sylvester, another protester who studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. “We’ve had a much better response this year than last year.” 

“The main issue is to get the torture into people’s psyche”, Sylvester said. In addition to focusing on John Yoo, “we also protest (former Secretary of State) Condi Rice, because she’s another torture traitor.” 

“This year many more people are protesting torture.” There’s “much more receptivity to the message”, Sylvester said. 

This was the fourth protest at a Boalt graduation said Stephanie Tang, one of the lead organizers. “Every year a lot of the graduates understand the issue”, and many take orange ribbons, she said.  

The protest focused on both entryways to the Greek Theatre and along the sidewalks approaching it. UC police watched the demonstrators. 

“A lot of people are more aware. People are taking the ribbon this year as a sign they don’t support torture,” Tang said. “What is really needed to stop the torture is a massive refusal and resistance from the people of this country.” 

“Dean Edley has never worn an orange ribbon”, she said “He refused it again this year.” 

In 2009 the Dean of the law school, Christopher Edley, Jr. wrote a perspective on the Yoo controversy which can still be found on the Law School website. 

The School of Law faculty shouldn’t support Yoo, Tang argued. But Rice and Yoo were “allowed back into academia as if they don’t have blood on their hands.” 

“John Yoo is no role model, he’s a war criminal.” 

The group has “confronted him in public at lectures and classes”, Tang said. “It’s horrendous that the faculty and administration treat this as lightly as they do.”

“There are no issues of academic freedom here”, she argued. 

“The University and Boalt are complicit in torture by failing to maintain academic freedom as the pursuit of truth, not as a means to justify political goals”, one of the pieces of literature distributed by the group read. 

“Who in any leadership position at Boalt is asking questions, and demanding a debate on Yoo, his theories and his suitability as a professional, ethical, or moral role model for students? Without this, claims of academic ‘freedom’ are a sham. Repressive regimes always look ‘free’—until you ask real questions.” 

“What a bizarre situation we face: UC is paying an advocate/designer of illegal government action (rendition, aggressive war, torture) teaching constitutional law and ethics to the next generation of lawyers and judges,” the flyer continued. 


Meet Mitch Daniels, Big Spender (News Analysis)

By Carol Polsgrove
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:53:00 PM
Protesters welcomed Mitch Daniels to Bloomington this spring.
Michael Redman
Protesters welcomed Mitch Daniels to Bloomington this spring.

The idea that possible presidential candidate Mitch Daniels represents fiscal restraint sounds like hogwash to opponents of three pricey projects moving forward on his watch as governor of Indiana.

At Edwardsport, Ind., construction cost overruns have skyrocketed at a Duke Energy plant that would convert coal into synthetic gas to generate electricity. Consumer groups and industrial customers have balked at the $2.72 billion bill that Duke wants ratepayers to pick up. 

Then there is the proposed Rockport gasification plant, which would turn Indiana's high-sulfur coal into synthetic natural gas. While at Edwardsport ratepayers are paying to build the plant, for Rockport the state had the bright idea of having utility ratepayers assure 30-year revenues for the company financing it (Leucadia National). Six gas distribution companies have opposed the plant, and even a legislator who sponsored the bill authorizing the arrangement -- State Rep. Win Moses -- believes it "represents too great a risk for ratepayers and the economy of the state to bear." He has urged the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to reject it. A letter to the IURC signed by 21 legislators also opposes the project. The Indianapolis Star reported: "According to the letter, Leucadia's project faced 'multiple barriers in the free market,' so it turned to the government for 'intervention on private business dealings.'" 

In a further example of second thoughts, local officials have changed their minds about letting the state run Interstate 69 through my town, Bloomington -- in part because of the state's manifest inability to show where it would get the money for the project. 

I wish some of the pundits touting Daniels' financial prudence had sat in on that local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting May 13. Encouraged by a forceful letter from lawyers representing I-69 opponents, the MPO took a closer look at ways the multi-billion-dollar highway would lay waste to local and state finances. Would I-69 slurp up funds needed to repair the state's existing bridges and roads? Probably. Might the state scrape together enough dollars to build the highway from Evansville to Bloomington -- then run out, dumping interstate traffic on local roads instead of going all the way to Indianapolis? Likely. Would local governments have to repair the damage the interstate would leave behind-- divided townships, shattered karst with its sinkholes, water flowing where it had not flowed before? Certainly. 

The MPO voted 8-3 to reverse its earlier decision to put I-69 into its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a decision made under threats from the state to withhold discretionary funds (see "Bloomington Bulldozer"). Without I-69 in the federally mandated TIP, the state cannot get federal dollars to build I-69 through our metro area -- a hitch that should at least slow construction down. 

Anti-I-69 groups plan to keep up the pressure to stop I-69 construction altogether, while groups like the Citizens Action Coalition keep hammering away at the Rockport and Edwardsport plants -- both plagued by ethical issues brought to light by opponents and Indiana media. Several Duke Energy executives have lost their jobs as a consequence of backroom dealings over Edwardsport and so has former IURC chief, David Lott Hardy, who has also been implicated in ethical irregularities involving the Rockport plant. 

Those of us watching all this play out in Indiana can't help but wonder at the national image of Mitch as a clean-jeans kind of guy careful with money. To some of us, he looks like a bully who can tighten the belts of teachers and civil servants and fatten the wallets of energy and construction companies -- a man who uses the power of the state to transfer wealth from Indiana citizens to the pockets of companies that I imagine understand how to return the favor. 

You want Mitch to the run the country? Better first take a closer look at what he's done in Indiana. 

Carol Polsgrove often reports on environmental topics. This story first appeared on Huffington Post.

Jewish Americans and the Fate of Israel: Between Two Worlds (News Analysis)

By Ruth Rosen
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 10:19:00 PM

TIME IS running out. Israelis know that. So do American Jews. If Israel refuses to cease building settlements in the West Bank, the newly unified Palestinian government will ask the UN General Assembly to ratify it as a new and sovereign state in September. Only Israel and the United States are expected to vote against the adoption of this resolution. 

What then? Israel will no long be occupying "territories." It will be in violation of international law by occupying a sovereign state. As my late uncle would have said, "This can't be good for the Jews." 

Such a vote is hardly the best way to create a two-state solution. Yet this just may happen, deepening world opinion against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and causing rippling consequences that may endanger the very existence of Israel as a sovereign nation. 

Jewish voices from the left have been trying to prevent this for decades. Tikkun Magazine just celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. J Street, a relatively new Jewish-American organization that seeks a fair and just negotiated peace agreement, attracted over 2,000 participants in early March to its second national conference in Washington D.C. 

Shortly after, in April, I spoke at a conference at New York University about women's liberation and Jewish identity. Many of the panelists revealed how early and contemporary feminists were deeply critical of Israel policies and how much they desired Israel to live up to the very ideals that propelled them into the civil rights, anti-war, and women's movements. 

Yet silently standing in the middle of that auditorium was the perennial 900-pound elephant--in this instance, Israel. Some women saw any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic; others viewed such dissent as a continuation of their long-held values. That the conference didn't explode into warring factions was testimony, I think, to our maturity and age. Been there; no one wanted to do that again. 

Since time truly is running out, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman's new film, Between Two Worlds, couldn't be more timely. They are well-known and highly respected for their investigative documentaries, among them Thirst, an exposé of the privatization of water. They have earned a stellar reputation for making documentaries that speak powerfully to audiences who didn't know they cared about an issue before the film was screened. Between Two Worlds takes us on a journey of the increasingly contentious factions within the American-Jewish community. For each person who passionately wants the Israeli occupation to end, they present someone who remembers the terrorist acts they have suffered at the hands of Palestinians. 

The film opens with the Jewish Film Festival, founded by Deborah Kaufman in 1981, and an annual cinematic treat for people living in the Bay Area. In recent years, the festival has drawn 35,000 people to its many Israeli, American, and foreign films that deal with Jewish themes. In 2009, however, the festival screened the film Rachel, about the young Rachel Corrie who was killed by a bulldozer as she protested the destruction of Palestinian homes. The festival was no longer a community; it was now at war with itself. The audience became contentious. Outside, people picketed the festival without having seen the film. Dissent about Israel was now, according to them, prohibited. 

It was hardly the first time that the festival had screened a film critical of the Israeli occupation. But this time the American-Jewish community was deeply divided. The festival director was subjected to what he called "Internet rage"; Jews spoke bitterly about "us" and "them," both groups Jewish Americans. The chilling effect was palpable, not only at the festival but across the country. 

It's hard to imagine a more enthralling and provocative film about the American-Jewish community at this moment in history. The questions raised at the festival and elsewhere tore apart friends and families and caused internal civil wars within individuals: Who is entitled to speak for Israel? Does being Jewish mean unconditional loyalty to Israel or following the values one was taught as an American Jew? 

Although the film is clearly aimed at the hearts and mind of American Jews, it takes a brief detour to Jerusalem to capture a story that further reveals our nation's complicated relationship to Israel. Both the state of Israel and the city of Jerusalem had given the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles the right to build a new Museum of Tolerance, designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry, right in the very heart of the city. The problem, however, was that they were planning to build this museum in the cemetery and over the graves of Muslims. The debates between those who are horrified by such desecration and those who remind us that Jordan used Israeli gravestones to pave roads is riveting. Israelis and Americans are hardly of one mind; many remember the rage they have felt when Jewish cemeteries have been destroyed. 

Back in the United States, the film takes us to a noisy debate among students who are deciding, at the University of California at Berkeley, whether to divest funds from two corporations that sell military equipment to Israel. The students are passionate and articulate. Their stories as Americans, Israelis, and Palestinian students are frightening, convincing, bracing, tragic, and sorrowful. And they are being repeated across the country on many campuses. In the end, the motion to divest is defeated, and advocates, including many Jews, symbolize their inability to criticize Israeli policies by leaving with their mouths taped shut. 

What is remarkable about this film, aside from the choice of fascinating stories and memorable characters, is that Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman have managed to produce a balanced documentary about the growing civil war among those American Jews who view unconditional loyalty to Israel as the core of their Jewish identity and those who view Jewish values of social justice and equality as that which fuels their activism. 

The even-handed character of Between Two Worlds is perhaps due to their own families, which they briefly discuss in the film. Kaufman's father was a famous Zionist activist and Snitow's mother was a Communist. The result of growing up with these beloved parents, who held such absolute convictions, has taught both filmmakers, blessed with agile minds, that they can and must contemplate ambiguity and ambivalence. 

Between Two Worlds is just starting a tour of many film festivals, including one in Jerusalem. Eventually, I hope, many American Jews will see it and come out, as I did, provoked, educated, and, as usual, torn apart. If no peace negotiation is reached before September, this beautiful, passionate, and riveting personal documentary may well end up as historical documentation of what American Jews did--and did not do--before the General Assembly created a new Palestinian state. 

Ruth Rosen, Professor Emerita of History at U.C. Davis, is a former columnist at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her most recent book is The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Changed America. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Movements at U.C. Berkeley where is she is writing about why women have been drawn to the Tea Party. This article first appeared on May 12, 2011 on the Dissent Magazine website.

Off the Beat in Berkeley's Historic Panoramic Hills as Expletives Hit the Fan

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:31:00 PM
Two million dollar view from Panoramic Hills after the Memorial Stadium cranes change the scene.
Ted Friedman
Two million dollar view from Panoramic Hills after the Memorial Stadium cranes change the scene.

A South side-based reporter on assignment for the Planet was off his beat and out of his element on the once scenic and historic Panoramic Hill, Friday.

Expletives flew as he was investigating complaints of the Panoramic Hill Organization that continuing noisy construction at U.C.'s Memorial Stadium violated terms of a court settlement, the complainaonts say they won. 

The reporter carried a small camera and was tramping about for the best view of the horde of cranes blocking the million dollar view of the bay and campanile. (See accompanying photo). 

After nearly breaking his neck on Tightwad Hill, the reporter ascended the panoramic steps and an adjoining road. 

When the reporter mistakenly headed a few feet up an unmarked driveway thinking it was a continuation of the road, he heard a shrieking "hell-oh, hell-oh!" from a Panoramic hills dweller. "That's private property." 

The reporter had earlier passed the hills dweller near his driveway, as the dweller descended on foot on the road. The reporter had noticed the hill dweller's angry scowls and stink-eye glare which bore into him like a heat-seeking missile. 

Quickly exiting the home dweller's driveway, the reporter caught up to him on the road and identified himself as a reporter for the Planet and inquired if they were having a crime problem in the neighborhood. Perhaps that would explain the man's pique. 

Nothing could explain his pique, though, and he topped his earlier stink-eye with an about-to-barf expression that was truly horrifying. 

He accused the reporter of trespassing and having poor journalism ethics. The reporter said he could complain to his journalism school dean. The reporter even named the school. The hill-dweller threatened to report the reporter to his editor. Obviously he's not reading our paper. 

After the hills dweller unleashed an attack on the press, the reporter pointed out that he was a volunteer. "It shows," the dweller snapped. 

"A professional would have punched you," the reporter observed. I am the reporter, O.K.? 

In case you are a new Planet reader, our paper--like many others--is financially challenged, but is making a valiant effort to persevere on-line with a volunteer staff devoted to our embattled editor. 

In the heated exchange that followed, expletives flew; but not from the homeowner but the unprofessional reporter. Why must you use expletives? he asked. 

Why must you mistakenly accuse me of trespass? I replied. 

And so it went, until he lunged at me. I warned him that I was armed with pepper spray, and that he should stand back. 

I'm taping this on my phone, he boasted. 

I hope you post it on YouTube, I challenged. 

I saw him later in my neighborhood, behind a window at a Teley restaurant, flashed my own stink-eye, and having been outed as an amateur, slowly and carefully lipped--would you believe it--one last choice expletive. 

Only last week I had a done a "man-on-the-streets interview with anyone on Teley who was willing to comment on Bin Laden. I was spoiled by the friendliness of the embattled south-siders. 

People's Park is reputed to be unsafe, but after nearly a year of reporting from there, I've never experienced anything like the hills-dweller from Hell. 

In Berkeley, everyone seems embattled these days. 

Panoramic Hill has been called "Berkeley's Most Romantic Neighborhood" by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, according to flack. The hill contains many one-of-a-kind houses which were designed to complement their hilly, irregular lots, according to more flack. 

Now for some hard news. 

The Panoramic Hill Organization has been fighting the university over noise from Memorial Stadium since the sixties, according to its president Michael Kelly. 

According to Kelly, "on-going noise from the stadium acts like a horn projecting noise inside the stadium up into the Panoramic neighborhood." 

"There is no other stadium in the country like this, where a a neighborhood perches 

above a stadium. During stadium events, noise in the hills is eight times louder than at ground level." 

Construction at the stadium to bolster it against earthquakes and for other upgrades began last year and completion is expected by the fall of 2012, according to the university. 

Anyone looking for the stadium now will find only the outer walls; the rest of the stadium has been gutted, leaving a barren ground zero. 

Construction to "improve" a nearby university Rugby practice field has added other horrors for neighbors. According to Kelly. "New lights are three times brighter than past lighting, shinning into our bedrooms at night." 

"You no longer need to turn on your bedroom lights to find your car keys in the dark," 

Kelly laments. We face a continuing "degradation of quality of life because of the stadium," Kelly adds. 

This following last year's successful lawsuit against the university in which Kelly's organization was awarded 75,000 for legal expenses. The judgment also ordered the university to limit future events. 

As my experience with the hill-dweller from Hell shows, the "romantic" campers on Panoramic Hill are feeling neither romantic nor happy. 

Maybe that's why one unhappy Panoramic camper was dining at Moaz on Teley--on the bucolic south side. 

Ted Friedman, who usually reports from south side, was graduated from the University of Illinois School of Journalism in 1961 where he didn't take a course in journalism ethics 

California Homeowners Left to Fight Foreclosure on Their Own

Ngoc Nguyen,New America Media
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:16:00 PM

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Three years into the mortgage meltdown, California homeowners still have little relief from the foreclosure crisis. Last week, state legislative committees failed to clear three separate bills designed to help struggling homeowners and hold banks more accountable during foreclosure proceedings. 

This news comes as the number of foreclosures continues to rise, and national efforts to stem the crisis have only provided relief to a fraction of homeowners needing help. Coupled with the lack of policies to address the foreclosures epidemic, California homeowners are being left to fend for themselves. 

Increasingly, homeowners are taking matters into their own hands -- stepping up pressure on banks, going after mortgage scammers and educating themselves about how to avoid becoming victims of foreclosure or fraud. 

Three-Year Mortgage Fight 

Peggy Mears has fought for three years to keep her three-bedroom house in Fontana, Calif. 

After the economy tanked, Mears and her husband's income took a hit. Mears, a licensed childcare worker, had fewer clients and her husband, who works in the entertainment industry, saw his contract work dry up. Mears, hoping to lower her monthly mortgage payments, contacted her lender OneWest Bank (formerly IndyMac Bank) to modify the terms of her home loan. 

Three years and three loan modifications later, Mears says she is still at risk of losing her home. 

During the loan modification process, Mears says the bank requested the same documents from her "over and over again." One trial modification lowered her monthly payment by $50, while another increased it by $300. All the while, Mears' family lived under daily threat of losing their home, because her bank continued with foreclosure proceedings even as they worked with Mears to modify her home loan -- a practice banks call "dual track." "I was stressed out -- I couldn't sleep at night and my nerves were on end," Mears told a group of ethnic-media journalists at a news briefing in Los Angeles last Thursday. The press briefing highlighted the skyrocketing number of mortgage scams in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. The event was organized by New America Media and sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending in Oakland, Calif. 

Fed-Up Homeowners Join Forces 

Mears eventually got fed-up and joined the Home Defenders League, a group that organizes homeowners under the cloud of foreclosures. The League, part of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), has 2,500 members statewide and is growing, said Peter Kuhns, director of the alliance in Los Angeles. 

Last December, Mears and two dozen other homeowners were arrested after holding a sit-in at a JP Morgan Chase Bank branch in downtown Los Angeles. They demanded that the bank halt foreclosures and work more effectively with homeowners to modify their loans. 

"We were making a statement: If you refuse to let us live in our homes, we will live in your home," Mears said. From 2006 through 2009, California saw a whopping 832,000 foreclosures, said Jemahl Amen, outreach director for the Center for Responsible Lending, at last week's briefing. 

Despite the tidal wave of foreclosures, few policies at the state or federal level are giving homeowners relief. The federal program created to boost loan modifications -- the main policy put forth to staunch the foreclosure crisis -- has largely failed, as banks have modifying a mere fraction of the loans of troubled homeowners. 

In the last quarter of 2010, more than 5 million homes nationally were at risk of foreclosure (in default for 60 days or longer), and to date the number of permanent modifications through the federal HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) hover around 

"Banks should be required to work with homeowners to make their loans affordable," said Kuhns, noting that just one-sixth of eligible HAMP borrowers are receiving permanent loan assistance under the program. "We know that banks aren't doing what they could be doing to make loans affordable. They could do that and still do business." In many cases, Kuhns said, struggling homeowners are hardworking, middle-class families, who are victims of the economic crisis, and deserve a chance to stay in their homes, if they can make reasonable payments. 

"No one is asking for a handout," Kuhns stressed. 

Protesters Arrested 

Earlier this month, hundreds of fed-up homeowners, renters, clergy and union organizers rallied in front of Wells Fargo's corporate headquarters in San Francisco to demand the bank halt foreclosures. A half-dozen people confronted the Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf during a shareholders' meeting, and several protesters were arrested. 

Organizers of the Wells Fargo protest plan to hold similar actions this month at shareholder meetings of Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase. 

Mears said homeowners facing foreclosure feel ashamed and don't want to speak out about the prospect of losing their homes, which she called "your greatest wealth." 

"It is embarrassing to say, 'I'm losing my home,'" she said. "It hurts, especially after you've lived there for 20 years and you've worked hard all your life and done everything that you are supposed to do." 

Mears added that becoming more active and vocal about her situation has had a positive outcome. 

At a protest, Mears said, she had the chance to speak directly with the president of her lender, One West Bank. After the meeting, Mears says, he asked his staff to review Mears' case. Currently, she has a trial modification. 

While she's grateful to still keep her home, for now, she said her monthly payments -- higher than amounts under previous trial modifications -- are still too high. 

With foreclosure victims largely invisible to the media and elected officials, Mears noted, she's calling on struggling homeowners to take action. "It's time to stand up," she stated. 

The Home Defenders League has also organized actions against companies and individuals, who perpetrate mortgage fraud. Mears said members have gone to offenders' offices, called them out in public and demanded they pay homeowners' money back. In one case, she said, a scam artist pulled out a wad of money from his pocket and paid a homeowner $3,500. 

Kuhns of ACCE acknowledged that more homeowners are turning to do-it-yourself approaches to provide limited relief, but he emphasized that those facing foreclosures need wider policies to deal with the scale and scope of the current foreclosure crisis. 

The real goal of the Home Defenders league, he says, is to ultimately, "change policies about how banks are allowed to operate." 

Three Bills Failed 

Although some California lawmakers hoped to relieve the crisis, three bills were stopped in committees last week. Senate Bill 729 would have required banks to inform homeowners an before initiating foreclosure proceedings. Assembly Bills 935 and 1321 were also halted in committee and will not be heard this year, but the could be heard in the next session, according to legislative staff. AB 1321 would cut critical paperwork delays by requiring counties to record foreclosures within 30 days. 

Assembly Bill 935 would have required banks to pay a $20,000 fee on every foreclosure to recoup economic losses by local and state governments. 

AB 935's sponsor, Assembly member Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, said he would consider an amendment that would waive that fee for banks offering homeowners a principal write-down for the equivalent market value of the home. 

Blumenfield said banks would then have an incentive to lower payments for the current homeowner, rather than turning around and selling the property to someone else. 

"People are suffering out there. It's important that we all bear a part of that burden, and banks and lenders should share some of the responsibility," said Blumenfield. He emphasized that the economic impact of foreclosures born by communities needs to be a part of the equation. 

Stopping Foreclosure Scams 

Today's record number of foreclosure filings, which are public record, allow con artists to find and exploit vulnerable homeowners, said Walter Mueller, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. 

Mueller offered the following red flags and tips for homeowners to protect themselves from scam artists promising help they'll never deliver: 

--Do not pay any money up front, which is prohibited by California law, but wait until after the loan modification has been completed. 

-- Keep meticulous records. 

-- Check with state agencies on the licensure and standing of real estate agents or attorneys offering help. 

-- Be wary when people make promises or advise you not to consult with others, such as bank representatives, attorneys and housing counselors. 

The New America Media site is at http://newamericamedia.org/2011/05/alabama-flood-aftermath-the-forgotten-families.php

Steven De Staebler, 1933-2011

Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:32:00 PM

Stephen De Staebler, noted Bay Area sculptor, passed away at home in Berkeley, California, in the early morning of May 13, 2011, with family by his side. De Staebler, 78, is survived by his wife of 14 years, Danae Lynn Mattes; their daughter Arianne Seraphine; and by his sons Jordan Lucas and David Conrad De Staebler. He was predeceased in 1996 by his wife of 39 years, Dona Merced Curley De Staebler. He was the son of the late Herbert Conrad and Juliette Hoiles De Staebler; and was predeceased by his brother Herbert (Hobey) De Staebler and sister Jan Angel. The cause of death was complications from cancer. 

Stephen De Staebler is known for his fractured, fragmented figurative sculptures in fired clay colored with powdered oxides, and for cast bronze sculptures colored with patinas and pigments. "The human figure is the most loaded of all forms because we live in one," he said in a recent interview. "The figure obsesses not just artists, but human beings. It's our prison. It's what gives us life and also gives us death." 

Stephen Lucas De Staebler was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1933. Encouraged by his parents from an early age to pursue his artistic interests, Stephen De Staebler studied art as a child, taking classes in painting and clay modeling. In his teens, he traveled throughout Mexico and Europe. He entered Princeton University in 1950, where he continued his art studies while earning a degree in religious studies (A.B. 1954). He spent the summer of 1951 studying at Black Mountain College with Ben Shahn and others. After graduation from Princeton, he joined the U.S. Army and spent his military service stationed in Germany (1954-56). 

In 1958, De Staebler entered the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a General Secondary Teaching Credential (1959), and entered the Masters program in art (M.A., 1961). At Berkeley, De Staebler was influenced by the revolutionary clay work of Peter Voulkos. Clay provided the perfect vehicle for De Staebler’s ideas about the suffering of humanity and the transcendence of the human spirit. "We are all wounded survivors,” he said, “alive but devastated selves, fragmented, isolated—the condition of modern man. Art tries to restructure reality so that we can live with the suffering." 

De Staebler taught at San Francisco State University (1961-62), and San Francisco Art Institute (1961-67). In 1967 he joined the art faculty at San Francisco State University, where he taught sculpture until his retirement in 1995. 

"For more than fifty years, Stephen De Staebler devoted his sculptural practice to engaging the universal aspects of the human condition, including struggle, suffering, and the search for meaning," said Timothy Anglin Burgard, The Ednah Root Curator-in-Charge of American Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "In the process, he has helped to resurrect the human figure as a vessel for humanity and spirituality in an increasingly existential age. Using clay as a metaphor both for the earth and for human flesh, his disintegrating or incomplete figures not only convey their materiality and mortality, but also reveal their transcendent inner spirit." 

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has organized a retrospective exhibition, Matter + Spirit: Stephen De Staebler, to open in January 2012 at the De Young (January 14–April 22, 2012). A major monograph will accompany the exhibition with an essay by Timothy Anglin Burgard, biographical essay by Rick Newby, a personal reflection by Dore Ashton, and an illustrated chronology of the artist’s life (UC Press, 240 pages, January 2012). 

Stephen De Staebler’s work has been featured in museum and gallery exhibitions for five decades. Other important exhibitions include a survey exhibition at The Oakland Museum (1974); a traveling survey exhibition organized by Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Vancouver, BC, and the Art Museum Association of America, San Francisco (1983); a survey exhibition organized by Saddleback College Art Gallery, Mission Viejo, California, which traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1988); and Master Artist Tribute VI, a thirty-year survey at Hearst Gallery, Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, California (2003). 

Museums with works by Stephen De Staebler include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; Philbrook Museum, Tulsa OK; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; UC Berkeley Art Museum; The Oakland Museum; San Jose Museum of Art; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; and numerous others throughout the U.S. 

His sculptures were widely commissioned, beginning with his first commission in 1963 for a monumental clay work in Salt Lake City. Subsequent commissions included Newman Center, Berkeley, 1968; U.C. Berkeley Art Museum, 1970; Bay Area Rapid Transit, Concord Station, 1972, and San Francisco Embarcadero Station, 1977; San Francisco Art Commission, Moscone Parking Garage, 1985-86; Iowa State University, Ames, 1986; Old St. Louis Post Office, MO, 1985-87; New Harmony Inn and Convention Center, New Harmony, IN, 1986-98; Geary-Market Investment Company, San Francisco, 1989; Portman Building, Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, 1990; San Jose Convention Center, 1993; Graduate Theological Union, U.C. Berkeley, 1993; City Center Garage/Amphitheatre, Oakland, 1993; Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, 1998; and more. 

Stephen De Staebler was honored with awards that included Zellerbach Memorial Prize in Sculpture, 1965; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1979 and 1981; Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 1983; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Art, 1989; Nobukata-Shikanai Special Prize, 4th Rodin Grand Prize Exhibition, Utsukushi-ga-hari Open Air Museum, Japan, 1992; American Craft Council Fellow, 1994; and others. 

Stephen De Staebler’s work is represented by Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco, and Zolla Lieberman Gallery, Chicago. 

A memorial service will be held in late July at the Newman Hall, Holy Spirit Parish, Berkeley (details TBA). The family requests that donations in Stephen De Staebler’s memory may be made to Doctors without Borders or Amnesty International. 



Standing Up for the Right to Sit Down in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 11:10:00 PM
Moms and kids sitting on the Derby sidewalk enjoy the sunshine  at the Farmers' Market.
Becky O'Malley
Moms and kids sitting on the Derby sidewalk enjoy the sunshine at the Farmers' Market.
Youthful Santa Cruz street-sitters perch on public art on Saturday night.
Becky O'Malley
Youthful Santa Cruz street-sitters perch on public art on Saturday night.
On Santa Cruz's Pacific Garden Mall, young people sit along the sidewalk.
Becky O'Malley
On Santa Cruz's Pacific Garden Mall, young people sit along the sidewalk.

It’s hard to believe, but it seems that the clueless owners of the commercial buildings in downtown Berkeley and on Telegraph are pressing on with their campaign to ban sitting down. It appears that their proposal is still on the fast track for passage in mid-summer, in that convenient sweet spot when most students and many other residents are out of town and the Berkeley City Council can do its dirtiest deeds relatively unnoticed.

Since there are already many well-organized opponents, passing an ordinance like this would be a guaranteed recipe for disruption: certainly demonstrations, possibly calls for boycotting businesses in the target areas. But there’s very little indication that the struggling small business owners who meet the public at street level every day even support the sitting ban.

Boycotting retail merchants and family-owned restaurants seems like a bad idea, because these establishments are more likely to be victims of the high and ever-increasing rents demanded by predatory property owner landlords than instigators of the anti-sitting move. Many small-time operators, such as Fred’s Market and Shakespeare Books on Telegraph, are patient and generous with the down-and-out population on their doorsteps. A better tactic would be a “shop-in”, a reverse boycott in which public-spirited businesses like these are supported by patrons who appreciate their stance.

A major problem for many retailers in such areas is the prevalence of business improvement districts (BIDs) which are controlled and funded by the big property owners, with voting power proportionate to the amount of property owned instead of one-business-one-vote. Telegraph Avenue already has such a BID, the Telegraph Property BID, which, represented by director Roland Peterson, is a main proponent of the anti-sitting move. 

Often, membership in BIDS is compulsory and expensive. Downtown’s existing BID, with John Caner at the helm, is proposing much higher rates, according to this letter from a small property owner received by the Planet: 


“I haven't seen any mention in the Planet of the proposed business improvement district (PBID) now being voted upon by downtown merchants and owners. I live in downtown Berkeley and have some rental apartments in my building. "Currently we owners are forced to pay tax to the Downtown Berkeley Association in addition to the regular, and high, Berkeley business tax. The tax is based on gross receipts, and in my case amounts to around $300 per year. The DBA is supposed to enhance business interests in the downtown area, and sometimes it does. The people in charge of the DBA seem to be the chief promoters on the new entity, spending their time and my money on the idea of a larger organization and a much bigger budget. If the scheme is approved my bill will quintuple, to about $1,500 per year. Others will be similarly impacted. "What will we receive for this greatly increased tax? The largest portion of the receipts ($750,000 of a total expected of $1,207,500) will supposedly be spent to make the downtown streets safe and clean! Isn't that a city responsibility? Don't we have a right to expect clean and safe streets when we pay our regular property taxes plus our regular business tax? Apparently not.”  

He has a point.  

And the most annoying thing about sitting bans is that they just don’t work as promoted, as experience in San Francisco and Santa Cruz clearly shows. The people on the streets who need social services will not just disappear if they are forced to stand while they beg, though their hard lives will be even harder. The rootless young who congregate in public spaces will continue to do so as long as they lack any better alternative. 

On Santa Cruz’s Pacific Garden Mall (which is an open street, not a mall in the usual sense) last Saturday night I saw a normal assortment of what used to be called loiterers. Santa Cruz, which has a nominal sitting-on-the-sidewalk law, has seen fit to enhance the area with a lavish amount of street furniture, including sculpture both traditional and modern, little fences in the middle of the sidewalk and many benches, at least two per block. All of these amenities were in active use by the street population, the same kinds of people who sit on the sidewalk in Berkeley. They were doing the same kinds of things: playing music, chatting, scowling, begging for money and food and just plain hanging out. 

I suppose it could be argued that if Berkeley were to add a lot of nice new benches in commercial areas as a tradeoff for forbidding people sit on the sidewalk it might be an improvement. Certainly we need many more benches all over town. 

In 2006 the Planet received this letter from the late Pat Cody, a founder of Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph, which on her watch had a good relationship with street people: 


“Many of us elders walk daily for our health and for errands, as we no longer drive. I want to advocate more resting stops, like the ones found at bus stops, but scattered through neighborhoods where buses do not go. Lack of such benches keeps many elders virtually housebound.”
Putting in more benches would be good for everyone, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to appear in Berkeley. In San Francisco, however, guerilla bench-installers have been plopping unauthorized seating spaces all over town since that city’s anti-sit law was passed. We could try that here. 

The more agile young are already to be found sitting down around Berkeley—see the accompanying photo of moms and babes, a charming regular sight on the Derby Street sidewalk at the Tuesday Farmer’s Market. On the other hand, police already feel entitled to harass some possibly less charming young people on Telegraph and elsewhere, whether they’ve sitting or standing, as a recent video provided by Copwatch clearly demonstrates. 

Carol Denney notes in this week’s Commentary section that unequal enforcement of existing laws is pattern and practice with Berkeley police, and there’s no reason to expect that adding an anti-sit ordinance would have a different outcome. But police have more important matters on which to spend their time, as the letter in this issue from out-of-town visitors who were burglary victims shows. Perhaps more police time should be devoted to investigating break-ins and less to moving people around on Telegraph. 

This weekend the rapidly expanding coalition of those who oppose the proposed ordinance will again demonstrate their opposition. Members now include civil libertarians, homeless service providers, youth advocates, artists, religious leaders, student activists and more. 

On Friday night from 7 to 10 the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center will present a free night of poetry and song sponsored by the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition and The Revolutionary Poets Brigade. Participants include Lincoln Bergman, Gary Hicks, Dee Allen, Andrea Pritchett, Dottie Payne, Miguel Robles, Ava Bird, Arnie Passman, Carol Denney, and other special guests. 

Then on Sunday downtown Berkeley will enjoy the first-ever Chair-a-pillar, a light-hearted event which will be held at the Downtown Berkeley BART station from 12 to 2, in conjunction with weekend actions in San Francisco's "Sidewalks are for People Campaign". The poster to the right on this page has details. 

This week’s activities, benign and colorful, are just the beginning. If the property owners don’t see the error of their ways, things might get more tense. Good sense suggests that city councilmembers should Just Say No right now to this bad idea, whose time has not yet come and never will. It would save us all a lot of trouble. 



Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 12:57:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

By Ben H.Bagdikian, Joan Levinson, Terry Cochrell, Estelle Jelinek, Ron Lowe
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 10:35:00 PM

Stop Zell Threats to Downtown Ace Hardware; Monterey Market; BP Lab Site and Global Warming; Warm Pool Construction Displaces Disabled Users; Civil Rights; Tea Party Threatens Health Care 

Stop Zell Threats to Downtown Ace Hardware 

A Mr. Zell (of notorious ChiTrib-LATimes buyout with loss of major national quality news) plans to buy Ace Hardware at Ashby and Shattuck.. 

Mr. Zell plans to tear it down and build yet another apt-condo complex. 

The city has a surplus of condos, some unsold (ask Mr. Gordon), but no full service hardware unless you drive to Orchard near University Avenue,15 miles from most housing. 

The Ace Hardware Mr. Zell plans to close is never empty and keeps its well-trained staff as advisors and leaders to the right aisle and shelf. Its electric dept is unrivalled in equipment and advice. Same for almost every part of the store. 

The closest store that comes even close is Orchard Hardware, about 15 miles from the Ashby-Claremont neighborhoods and lacks the staff of technical advisors similar to Ace. 

I hope enough people in the Berkeley-Oakland area insist that the Berkeley City Council deny Mr. Zell a use permit. 

Ben H.Bagdikian. 

* * * 

Monterey Market 

After Gar Smith's article last week I went for my weekly gathering of the goodies in our beloved neighborhood pillar. I knew that the management of the store had changed hands from the long-time amiable Fujimoto couple and that a relative of theirs was now in charge. What I did not know until I talked to another Hopkins Ave store owner was that the nephew of the former owners was a youngish, inexperienced and rather callous nephew of theirs who has changed the atmospherics of our green grocery. 

When the cut flowers started to appear a couple of months ago, I welcomed the stand outside the 'shed' as a wonderful way to start the shopping expedition. I noted that the displayed veggies have been changing to make a bit more logical placement. And new items appeared all the time -- cakes, more wine shelves, more variety of cheese and other goodies. And then Sunday store hours. 

Well, it turns out that the people whose houses are right next to the parking lot are not all that happy about seven days a week of noise, some of the food prices have gone up considerably (mostly probably because that is happening everywhere). But the worst thing is that several of the Hopkins stores are suffering significantly -- Country Cheese, Magnani's meat, the liquor store. 

Monterey Market is copying Safeway. We do not want a Safeway in our delightful neighborhood. It is an oasis of civility, quality products, friendly stores, easy conversation -- in a word "homey." We do not want this block to become a series of empty windows. MONEY IS NOT EVERYTHING. 

If others feel the same way as I do please voice your concerns to the management and return quickly to a more harmonious shopping experience! 

Joan Levinson 

* * * 

BP Lab Site and Global Warming 

It is clear that the siting of a new Lab was a well thought out project and if we hadn't just experienced the BP oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico and the Fukushima nuclear blow-up in Japan, it would be reasonable. 

BUT we did just see that there is great danger of spillage, explosions, con-tamination of surrounding waters, drowned thousands, and the ever possible event of things just going wrong. 

In the face of these recent catastrophes that have unknowable results, should the University not reconsider the siting of the new Lab -- just in case the ocean and the bay do rise the predicted possible 18 inches or more on the edge of our waters? 

Joan Levinson 

* * * 

Warm Pool Construction Displaces Disabled Users 

Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, his warm-pool users’ committee including me, and the police department worked on disabled parking near BHS warm-pool including signs along fencing at former softball field, some of which disappeared when portables were emplaced, without notice to pool users that I am aware of. 

Signs clearly reserve parking for us Saturdays after 8:00 AM, and after 4:30 PM weekdays. 

In recent days, contractors are staying until 5:30 weekdays and working Saturdays, and parking in many designated disabled parking spots without placards, all without notifying us. Only 4 remained today and Saturday. 

City of Berkeley has a permit center at Milvia and Center Streets where contractors can easily arrange street parking at meters for their exclusive use. This would give us back our necessary parking. Please ask contractors to do so. 

It seems very cold-hearted of the directors, and of Facilities department to take our parking, without notice or giving us alternatives. 

Terry Cochrell 

* * * 

Tea Party Threatens Health Care 

Millions of Americans have bought into the GOP and Tea Party "repeal health care reform" slogan. What are they thinking? In California people are already benefiting from the Health Care Reform Act in a number of ways. If you have a child who has a pre-existing condition, it used to be health insurers could deny that child health insurance. 

As of January 1 of this ear, that is no longer the case. 

Medical rescission is an insurance industry practice of accepting your application for insurance, accepting your money month after month, year after year, and then when you get sick, they will not only deny your claim for medical treatment but rescind your health insurance in itsentirety. Absolutely outrageous! This practice is now illegal under the Health Care Reform Act. Do the people wailing "repeal health care reform", want to go back to this? 

And if you live in one of those unlucky states that now have Republican administrations, who have declared that they are not moving forward with healthcare reform, remember, you voted them into office. 

Ron Lowe 

* * * 

Civil Rights 

The 1961 Freedom Rides were invaluable in contributing to the civil rights struggle. But if you watched the documentary on PBS on May 16, you might have got the impression that discrimination in bus stations ended as a result of these activities. 

In fact, in 1967, when I lived in Jackson, Miss., the Greyhound bus station still had separate waiting room facilities as well as separate restrooms and water fountains, all clearly marked “White Only” and “Colored Only.” When I sometimes took a municipal bus to work, if I sat in the back crowded with black women on their way to menial jobs, the bus driver would not drive until I moved to the empty front of the bus. 

Also, Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, but in 1967 the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Jackson was still busy suing every county individually–there are 82 counties in Mississippi–to get them to comply. The South moves very slowly. I wonder how things are today. 

Estelle Jelinek

Disappointed In Berkeley

By Kathleen Wilson
Monday May 16, 2011 - 04:48:00 PM

We’ve just returned to the east coast from 10 days in Berkeley and are still recovering from the greeting we received. We have relatives in the area and decided the best way to visit was to rent our own place. We did through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owners), finding a very attractive and affordable duplex two blocks from our family on Derby Street.  

Our first afternoon we walked up to Shattuck for an ice cream, returning in an hour to find our place (and the owner’s) had been burglarized. The Berkeley Police responded within a few hours to take down the list of our losses and the investigate the details of the robbery. What we learned from them was truly a disappointment.  

They know who the likely group of young men are but doubt (from past experience) anything will be accomplished by bringing them in. None are 18 and the city DA will not prosecute them. Their suggestion: look on Craigslist and call them if we see any of our property.  

Well, the electronic equipment and the camera can be replaced. However, the bracelet I just started wearing belonged to my mother who passed away in January. Rather than have it sit in a lock box, I chose to wear it in remembrance of her. It’s value: priceless. Replaceable? Never.  

And Berkeley, I’m disappointed in your apathy. A week to the day we were robbed, we observed the Berkeley Police Department at another house two blocks from our rental. More victims with no hope for recovery of their valuables or a system that cares. Please be aware of what's happening in your town and do something about this situation. Talk to your neighbors, put up signs, keep your eyes open. Get involved.

Discrimination and the Smokefree Universe Far, Far Away

By C. Denney
Monday May 16, 2011 - 05:05:00 PM

Smokers congregate outside the Acme Bar on San Pablo Avenue, blowing clouds of smoke into the air of the smokefree business district. No cops, no tickets, no scolding by management. It’s the same story down the street at the Albatross, where employees who smoke join the crowd, puffing away in the evening air, even using an ashtray by the door supposedly forbidden for establishments to place in smokefree areas. It’s the same at the Jupiter, in Downtown Berkeley, the same at the Trieste Café. It’s the same all over town. 

Police officers asked about the situation will point out smokefree business district policy passed with the understanding that it would be largely self-enforced; people who smoke would come to appreciate the common sense of protecting the majority, who don’t smoke, from the deadly effects of secondhand smoke, moving away from public areas to indulge in a habit most of them hope to break. 

Perhaps this is taking place in some universe far, far away. 

If one lives in a mixed-use commercial area, as policymakers want more of us to do, the current non-enforcement policy means that bus riders get exposed on a daily basis while waiting for their bus, dog walkers get exposed regularly just circling a block or two, people trying to mail a letter or run an errand get exposed over and over throughout any ordinary day. 

The kids who live in my apartment building get exposed in our common areas by smokers next door whose secondhand smoke carries through ventilation systems, light fixtures, cracks in the building, and out of windows and doors, and then again as they go to and from school through the supposedly smokefree commercial district in which they live. 

I would be more patient with the non-enforcement model if I didn’t hear regularly from service providers that transient youth and homeless people are getting tickets for violating smoking regulations. Anyone who wishes to evaluate a possibly discriminatory pattern of enforcement will be told that there is no way to track these tickets, which cover a broad array of so-called “quality of life” offenses. 

Our community currently has no way of knowing whether or not the smoking regulations are being used primarily against certain groups, since while Berkeley once had a viable system of police review, it is now so thoroughly gutted that people no longer crow about its being a national model. Most people don’t bother with it when they experience misconduct. 

But our Berkeley City Council should think twice before giving birth to yet another law with strong potential for being used in a discriminatory way, such as the anti-sitting law now brewing behind the scenes, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Vulnerable people on the streets caught in the net of discriminatory “quality of life” ordinance violations end up with an exponential burden of court dates, fines, and jail time. 

We need to track the use of the laws commonly applied to transient youth and homeless people, and find out whether we already have a pattern and practice of discrimination at work in our community. These are problems difficult to see from the standpoint of people who don’t live in the commercial districts and don’t have any way of knowing how many tickets are being given to whom.  

I urge the Berkeley City Council and the mayor to put some effort into a tracking system, such as the one which the Police Department initially promised would accompany the institution of the use of pepper spray on Berkeley citizens, and did in fact at one time prove that pepper spray was being used primarily against people of color in the area near Sacramento and Alcatraz.  

Our community suffers in serious ways when laws are utilized in a discriminatory fashion. Most Berkeley citizens, policymakers, and police would agree. Let’s take a systematic look at what’s going on today on our streets, and make sure we’re not further tilting an already tilted game. 


KPFA's Republican Activist

By Daniel Borgstrom
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 07:11:00 AM

KPFA appears to have a Republican activist, and a high-profile one at that. She is Harmeet K. Dhillon, chair of the GOP in San Francisco and an innovative political strategist. She also heads a law firm which has been representing a faction in the station's ongoing turf war, and her role in this seems to be something more than a client-attorney relationship. 

We first heard of Harmeet Dhillon last fall when her name turned up on legal documents associated with KPFA. She was representing Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Mitch Jeserich, members of the CL/SaveKPFA faction, in a legal matter against KPFA/Pacifica. We were puzzled as to why the CL'ers chose a Republican to represent them in court. And, as Dhillon & Smith is clearly a high priced law firm, we also wondered where they got the money to pay her. As I recall, that was in the first week of December. 

Then we learned that Dhillon was doing this legal work pro bono. It was her partner, Harold P. Smith, who actually appeared in court to speak for the CL'ers. Dhillon herself sat in the audience, keeping a close eye on how this was going. Despite being a very busy person, chair of the San Francisco GOP as well as head of a law firm, she was taking time to observe the proceedings of a relatively minor case. Harmeet Dhillon seemed to be taking a lot of interest in the well-being of the CL'ers. 

For these reasons, Dhillon became the subject of curiosity. From time to time we'd see articles and write-ups about her. "A different kind of GOP leader," the media called her. She'd been in the ACLU, acknowledged the right of gay marriage and supported a woman's right to choose. In her view the GOP shouldn't get hung up on such matters. "I think we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot," she says. She does indeed sound pretty liberal, at least on some issues. 

Nevertheless, she was co-chair of Lawyers for Bush/Cheney in 2004, and for John McCain in 2008. "I am proud that the Republican Party made the historic choice of Sarah Palin," Dhillon wrote. She advocates "free trade," outsourcing, and cutting taxes and regulations. "I am a strong proponent of market based solutions," she said, and calls for cutbacks in spending. "There is room to cut teacher's pensions." The teachers' union is "the main culprit" in her view. "If I were king for a day," she told an interviewer, "I would eliminate the teachers' union." 

Why would a Republican be working pro bono for the CL'ers, who in name at least are progressives? The CL faction is dominated by former Communist Party members--a crew of ex-radicals who've found a comfortable home in the Democratic Party and long ago ossified into pillars of the "left-wing" establishment. But to a Republican they must look flaming red--still too hot to touch, or so I would've thought. 

Opposing the establishment faction at KPFA is our grass roots coalition. It looks to us like the CL'ers have been steering the entire Pacifica Radio network onto the road to bankruptcy for strategic reasons of their own. Presumably they expect to grab KPFA from the ensuing wreckage of the network. 

For their part, the Republicans would probably like to see the end of the Pacifica network. Could that be why Dhillon has decided to bolster up the legal fortunes of the CL'ers? Maybe it's one of her innovative Republican strategies--to assist the CL'ers in taking over KPFA through a bankruptcy that at the same time eliminates the other Pacifica stations. Let me acknowledge here that I'm only speculating. Just speculating. 

A few days ago we saw the Sunday Chronicle of April 24, and there on the front page was a lengthy write-up about Dhillon. Her life, born in India, grew up in North Carolina, her liberal views on some topics, and her campaigning for George W. Bush. Much of it was stuff we already knew. But one thing was news to us: about two months ago Dhillon married a former board member of KPFA, Sarv Randhawa. 

Sarv was a board member for six years. An activist who'd known him from years back remembers that Sarv never discussed politics; he seemed to be apolitical. But if so, why was he a long term board member of this left-wing radio station, an activity that consumed much of his free time? 

There was a revealing moment in 2005 & 06, when an endorsement of the Berkeley Honda workers strike was to be put on the local station board's consent calendar, and Sarv objected to it. He needed time to read it over carefully, he said. So the matter was deferred till the next month when Sarv again objected that he hadn't had time to study the motion. The strike went on for ten months, and each month Sarv expressed the same objection. Finally, when it was clear that the Berkeley Honda workers had won, two days before the strike was settled, Sarv joined others in expressing support. Later, when he was criticized for not supporting the strike, he insisted that he had supported it. And technically, yes, he had--but only after the lengthy battle was over and support was no longer needed. 

Progressive organizations and even the city council had expressed support for the striking auto mechanics at Berkeley Honda. Sarv's foot-dragging was in effect a veto on the KPFA board's endorsement. His fellow CL'ers seemed to have no serious problem with his stance, but the rest of us did sort of wonder who Sarv Randhawa really was. And we've been wondering ever since. After learning of his marriage to Harmeet Dhillon, we did some online research, but didn't find a whole lot. Just that he contributed $250 to the GOP last year. 

Presumably Sarv's fellow CL'ers had some inkling of his real political inclinations, but they accepted him as an ally, and this may go towards explaining their acceptance of the GOP chairwoman into their camp. 

Nevertheless, since the CL'ers have several attorneys in their ranks, I keep wondering why they need a Republican. There must be a reason. Let me speculate a bit further. As I've pointed out, most CL'ers are Democrats, staunch unremitting opponents of the Republicans. But Democrats and Republicans do more than occasionally find common ground and common causes--and when they do, it's usually to screw us over. 

The CL'ers' apparent goal is to force the Pacifica network into bankruptcy and take over KPFA. However, acquiring KPFA could be difficult because a bankruptcy court would most likely sell the license to pay off creditors. In such a scenario, the CL'ers would have no control over the outcome--or would they? They are well connected and have some Democrat politicians on their side. It might also help to have an influential Republican going to bat for them. Bipartisanship could perhaps make the difference and swing the deal. 

It's heartwarming to see these apparent opposites bonding so nicely and working harmoniously together--if only their purpose weren't the destruction of the Pacifica Radio network. 

Daniel Borgstrom is a KPFA listener who writes about activism at KPFA/Pacifica. His website is at http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/ 


The Public Eye: Barack Obama: The Return of the Cool

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:42:00 PM

The May 1st attack on Osama bin Laden produced an iconic image: President Barack Obama in the White House situation room, surrounded by his national security advisers, monitoring the progress of the Navy Seals’ mission in far off Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama stands out because of the steely intensity in his eyes. He’s totally focused. Preternaturally cool. 

In American culture, being cool is regarded as a virtue, but it can be a mixed blessing. The late jazz great, Miles Davis, was considered the epitome of cool – one of his most influential albums is titled, “The Birth of the Cool” – yet he was mercurial and difficult; alternately brilliant, moody, influential, and misanthropic. 

From the time Barack Obama burst upon the national scene with his brilliant keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, he has been characterized as cool: intelligent, calm, and focused. His unflappable demeanor distinguished his Presidential campaign, particularly in the second TV debate with John McCain, where the younger Obama came across as a seasoned White House executive while McCain meandered like a befuddled geriatric. 

But there’s a fine line between high cool, ingenious independence, and low cool, disdainful aloofness. In 2008, Obama appeared to be the master of high cool. His campaign was fresh, as was the candidate, who struck the right balance between pragmatism and hope. Then, after his inauguration, Obama skidded into low cool. As the financial clouds darkened, he often appeared to be hiding in the White House, walled off by his advisers, and unable to move legislation through Congress. As a consequence of Bush-era ineptitude, the United States was mired in The Great Recession and Obama seemed detached from the suffering of the jobless, incapable of feeling their pain. Over time his approval ratings fell. When Americans wanted their new President to roll up his sleeves and take action, Obama appeared detached. 

Nonetheless, Obama periodically showed flashes of high cool. Early in 2010, he intervened to save his Health Care Initiative. In January of 2011, he gave an electrifying speech in Tucson after the shooting of Representative Giffords. 

Then came the successful May 1st attack on bin Laden and the return of Obama’s high cool. When Barack announced bin Laden’s death, Americans understood the President had skillfully managed the elaborate mission to the Abbottabad complex. For the moment, Obama was the man. 

Once it was launched, the outcome of the attack was far from certain. In 1980, another Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, authorized a similar special-forces effort to rescue 66 American hostages held in Iran. That raid failed and, as a consequence, Carter’s Presidency went down in flames. As a student of history, President Obama understood the Navy Seals’ mission to Abbottabad was his Jimmy Carter moment. Barack was already in trouble because of the economy and he knew if the raid failed – if the Seals failed to get bin Laden or suffered heavy casualties – then his popularity would plummet; cool would become fool

That’s why the image of the President in the situation room is so significant: at the most important moment in his political career, Barack Obama reclaimed his high cool. And, not surprisingly, his popularity has surged. 

However, the most important rule of cool is that you use it or lose it. In the periods when Miles Davis was non-cool he, in effect, became a hermit. Then Miles would reinvent himself and his music, reappear and amp up the cool. A corollary is that it’s essential to go on offense. Miles never stopped growing, absorbing new influences ranging from Charlie Parker to Stevie Wonder. You don’t retain cool by resting on your laurels. 

Obama doesn’t have time to bask in the success of his attack on bin Laden. Barack must turn all of his attention to the US economy, which has two fundamental problems. First, we’re not generating enough jobs and, therefore, the recovery is anemic. And second, Republicans don’t have a clue about economics and, therefore, advocate policies that are nonsensical and destructive. Building upon his triumph in Abbottabad, the President has to lead a new mission to secure the American economy: create jobs and prevent Republicans from ripping to shreds the social safety net 

There’s a discomforting parallel between the Islamic Jihadists who want, among other things, to destroy America’s economy and Republicans, who seem determined to catapult the US into a depression by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless President Obama agrees to their egregious spending cuts. Indeed, on May 10th White House Spokesman Jay Carney compared the reckless Republican strategy to hostage taking: “Carney said both Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for deficit reduction. But it would be tantamount to holding the U.S. economy ‘hostage’ by tying the debate over the debt limit to budget cuts.” 

Barack Obama needs to bring the same steely intensity he displayed during the Abbottabad mission to his negotiations with Republicans and refuse to accede to their draconian demands. This dangerous conflict requires high cool. 

But it won’t be sufficient to simply raise the debt limit; that only postpones resolution of our economic problems. Obama has to use his cool to rally America behind a new economic recovery mission that rescues the missing jobs. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bobburnett@comcast.net

Dispatches From The Edge: War Crimes & the Bombing of Libya

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:15:00 PM

According to the New York Times (5/16/11), Gen. Sir David Richards, “Britain’s top military commander,” is proposing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target Libyan “infrastructure,” including electrical power grids and fuel dumps, in government held areas. 

Frustrated by the two-month old stalemate, Gen. Richards told the Times that “The vice is closing on [Muammar el-] Qaddafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military activity.” The British are playing a major role in the bombing campaign, and Gen. Richards was in Naples, the command center for the war in Libya, when he talked with the Times

The Times went on to write, “The General suggested that NATO should be freed from restraints that precluded attacking infrastructure targets.” 

Let us be clear what “infrastructure” means: “The fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants and schools”(Random House Dictionary, Second Edition). 

Now let’s see what the 1977 Protocol Addition to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 say on the business of attacking “infrastructure.” 

“In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” 

Part IV, Section I, Article. 48 

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuff, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works…” 

Article 54 

“It is prohibited for the Parties to the conflict to attack, by any means whatsoever, non-defended localities…” 

Article 59 

In short, you can’t bomb power plants, electrical grids, water pumping plants, or transport systems that service the civilian population, even if the military also benefits from them. As Article 50 states: “The presence within the civilian population of individuals that do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.” 

The pressure to step up the bombing and widen the delineation of targets reflects the fact that the war has turned into a stalemate. “We need to do more,” Gen. Richards told the Times, “If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power.” 

That last statement appears to be a violation of United Nations Resolution 1973, which called for “protection of civilians,” a “no-fly zone,” “sanctions,” a “freeze of assets” and an “arms embargo.” Nowhere does 1973 mention regime change and getting rid of Qaddafi. 

So are we being dragged into a war whose goals violate UN Resolution 1973, and whose means violate the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts? It is hard not to answer that question in anything but the affirmative. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog-wordpress.com 



Dispatches From the Edge: Why is the New York Times Censoring Afghan News?

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 08:20:00 PM

On May 12, the New York Times did a very curious thing. 

In an article entitled “Indian and Afghan Leaders Forge Deeper Ties in Meeting” by Alissa J. Rubin and Sanger Rahimi, the newspaper failed to mention that during his visit to Afghanistan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had endorsed peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai. 

The Times’ piece—buried on the back pages—led with an agreement by the two governments to “move ahead on a strategic partnership” and then prattled on about aid. The words “Taliban” and “talks” never appeared. 

In contrast, a May 13 Reuters article led with “India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, backing Kabul’s peace plan to reconcile with the Taliban-led insurgents.” According to Reuters, the Prime Minister said, “Afghanistan is embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise.” 

A BBC broadcast also led with the “Taliban talk” news, and the print version put it in the third sentence. To date the New York Times has yet to report the fact that India abandoned its previous opposition to opening talks with the Taliban. 

How could the Times miss a story like that? There are only two explanations. One, that the two reporters are the kind that would have asked Mary Todd Lincoln if she liked the play. Two, that the reporters put the breakthrough remarks into the story, and an editor in New York took them out. 

As a whole, Times coverage of the Afghan War has not been very good, certainly not nearly as good as the reporting by the McClatchy newspapers, let alone the international press. But their reporters have rarely demonstrated incompetence, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that Rubin and Rahimi are not good reporters. They could have missed what is probably the most important development in the past year—if so, time for reassignment to the Metro Desk—but it is much more likely that higher ups in New York left it on the cutting room floor. 

Bad news sense? Maybe, but than again, maybe not. 

On May 14, the Times wrote an editorial entitled “Pakistan After Bin Laden” where the following paragraph appears: 

“The Obama administration also needs to take a harder look at military aid to Pakistan, to determine what is vital for counterterrorism and what might be tied to specific benchmarks, like apprehending the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, and members of the Haqqani network.” 

In short, the Times is arguing that Pakistan should take out the very people whom the Karzai government will need to talk with in any negotiations with the Taliban. There is an old rule in the business of negotiations: don’t arrest or kill the people you want to talk with. That is, unless you don’t really want to have talks. The Israelis have developed this into a science: as soon as it looks like there are going to be talks between Israel and the Palestinians, they build some new settlements, knowing that the provocation will torpedo any negotiations. 

The Times is a strong supporter of U.S. Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which consists of attacking the Taliban in order to weaken them prior to a political settlement. The idea is that if they are first beaten up, the insurgents will be more pliable during negotiations. 

However, since the Taliban show no signs of throwing in the towel—indeed, U.S. civilian intelligence agencies pretty much agree that the war is going badly and the situation is not likely to improve—the Times’ position is a formula for continuing the war. 

The 2010 “surge” of troops into Afghanistan has been largely a bust. The south, where most troops went, is quieter, but hardly pacified, and insurgent attacks have increased in other areas of the country, particularly in the east and the north. This past year has been the deadliest for both Coalition troops and Afghan civilians. 

Is what the Times wants? Indeed, wants it so badly that it won’t report that there has been a major diplomatic breakthrough? If you don’t print the news that you don’t like, it didn’t happen?  

Boy, that’s a relief. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 


Wild Neighbors: Speaking of Tongues: Hummingbirds, Flamingoes, and Others

By Joe Eaton
Monday May 16, 2011 - 04:49:00 PM
Male Anna's hummingbird displays his tongue.
Mila Zenkova (via Wikimedia Commons.)
Male Anna's hummingbird displays his tongue.

Birds have an astounding variety of bills, or beaks if you prefer. Consider the frogbills, the spoonbills, the crossbills, the boatbill heron, the New Zealand wrybill (a small shorebird whose bill is curved sideways.) Bird tongues, on the other hand, are nowhere near that variable. Most bird tongues are fairly boring. But there are notable exceptions. 

Some birds have minor modifications to tongue anatomy that allow them to feed more efficiently. In penguins and mergansers, the upper surface of the tongue is covered with backward-pointing conical papillae that hold slippery fish. Other fisheating divers, the auks, grebes, and loons, have smooth tongues. The tongues of shoveler ducks have serrations and papillae collectively functioning as filters—avian baleen, in a way. 

The tongue of flamingoes, with its serrated edges and papillae, is used to sift small food items from soft mud. It’s also unusually large, filling the whole lower mandible, and meaty. Flamingo tongues were a popular item at ancient Roman banquets. Pliny the Elder quotes the Roman gourmand Apicius on the delectable qualities of flamingo tongues, although the only flamingo recipe in my edition of Apicius is for the whole bird; also recommended for parrot. The poet/satirist Martial, as translated by Stephen Jay Gould, speaks for the flamingo: “My red wing gives me my name, but epicures regard my tongue as tasty. But what if my tongue could sing?” 

The most baroque of all bird tongues have evolved in the woodpecker family. Supported by extraordinarily long hyoid bones, the tongue wraps around the bird’s tongue and anchors at the base of the bill. Typical woodpeckers have barbs on the tip of the tongue to impale their wood-boring insect prey. The whole apparatus is coated with sticky saliva. 

Then there are the nectar feeders, whose tongues seem to fall into two categories: brush-tipped and split. Lories and lorikeets, white-eyes, Australasian honeyeaters, and Neotropical honeycreepers (which I think are now tanagers) all have tongues with brushlike tips. That’s also true of sapsuckers, an aberrant woodpecker genus specialized for feeding on tree sap. 

Some of the drepanines or Hawai’ian honeycreepers, including the i’iwi and apapane, have an elaborated version of the brush-tongue, As described by drepanine authority H. Douglas Pratt: “…such tongues look as if a secondary structure has been grafted onto the distal end of a finch tongue. This tubular part of the tongue is formed by narrow laciniae, thread-like projections along the lateral edges of the tongue that arch upward and inward to interlace dorsally forming a tube. Longer laciniae at the tip form a forward-pointing brush.” The extinct o’os of Hawai’i, formerly classified with the honeyeaters but now placed in their own family near the waxwings, are described as having scroll-edged and fringed tongues.  

The most specialized nectar-feeders, the hummingbirds and their Old World ecological counterparts, the sunbirds, have long forked tongues with fringes of lamellae. (Lamellae, I gather, are a lot like laciniae.)They were assumed to work by capillary action, but no one bothered to puzzle out the details until recently. Now, thanks to Alejandro Rico-Guevara and Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut, we know that it’s more complicated than that. 

Rico-Guevara and Rubega used high-speed video cameras to record 30 hummingbirds of 10 different species as they drank from 

transparent feeders. What they observed was that when the tongue touches the liquid food source, the two tips are closed and the fringing lamellae are flattened against it. Then the tips separate and the lamellae spread out from each fork. When the hummingbird pulls its tongue out, the tips come back together and the lamellae roll in, trapping the liquid. From that point capillary action takes over, moving the nectar into the throat. 

This appears to require no expenditure of energy on the hummer’s part, since the same thing happens mechanically with the tongues of dead birds. “We demonstrate that the hummingbird tongue does not function like a pair of tiny, static tubes drawing up floral nectar via capillary action,” write Rubega and Rico-Guevara. “Instead, we show that the tongue tip is a dynamic liquid-trapping device that changes configuration and shape dramatically as it moves in and out of fluids.” A neat trick indeed, and another reminder of the multiple evolutionary pathways that may lead to the same functional end. 

There is a persistent folk belief that the Romans ate hummingbirds’ tongues. Unfortunately for that evocative image of decadence, hummingbirds are found only in the New World. The Romans ate all kinds of things, including roasted stuffed dormice, but hummingbirds’ tongues were definitely not on the menu. 


Eclectic Rant: Charleston: A Hodgepodge of Impressions, Trivia, and History

By Ralph E. Stone & Judi Iranyi
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:42:00 PM
The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC
The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC

Earlier this month, we spent an enjoyable, informative week-long visit to Charleston, South Carolina. We had no idea that Charleston was observing the Civil War Sesquicentennial (150) until after our arrival. As a result, we were able to brush up on our Civil War history. That is, mostly from a southern point of view. What follows is a hodgepodge of trip impressions, trivia, and Civil War history. 

We spent most of our time in the historical or downtown section of Charleston. Charleston lies between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers, which meet at the Charleston harbor. The Battery is a park area with grand homes facing the harbor. Meeting Street splits the historical section and is called Charleston's Museum Mile, which includes the Charleston Museum (the oldest museum in the U.S.), other museums, galleries, and historical houses. It is a beautiful city drawing tourists mainly from other parts of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland and occasionally from San Francisco.  

Except for a secession gala held in December 2010, reportedly the 150 observance went smoothly. The Centennial observance In 1961, on the other hand, went quite differently. The official National Civil War Centennial Commission divided in Charleston over the segregation of local facilities. A group seceded and formed their own S.C Confederate Centennial Commission, which bashed the Kennedy administration and the civil rights movement. The centennial was all about secession, nothing about slavery. 

The Sesquicentennial did go out of its way to point out that Charleston's economic and political power were attained on the backs of thousands and thousands of slaves. As of 1860 the percentage of Southern families that owned slaves has been estimated to be 43 percent in the lower South, including South Carolina. Half the owners had one to four slaves. A total of 8000 planters owned 50 or more slaves in 1850. According to the 1860 U.S. census, 393,975 individuals, representing 8 percent of all U.S. families, owned 3,950,528 slaves.  

As you remember, before Abraham Lincoln took office, the South Carolinas State Convention assembled in Columbia, SC, in December 1860 to decide whether the state should remain in the Union. The delegates unanimously agreed that South Carolina should secede. Due to the presence of smallpox in Columbia, the Convention adjourned to Charleston. There, on December 20, the Convention formally declared "that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of 'The United States of America' is hereby dissolved." An Ordinance of Secession was then signed by all delegates. 

South Carolina's "Declaration of the Causes of Secession" frames the issue as a state's rights or property rights issue.. That is, under a compact theory of the Union, the U.S. was a voluntary association of sovereign states which had created a compact under the Constitution and formed a federal government to secure their common benefit. And should a state's interests be threatened, a state might withdraw and resume independence. South Carolina believed that this good-faith compact had been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding states. In addition, Abraham Lincoln, hostile to slavery, had been elected president. Therefore, the federal government had become an enemy of state's rights, domestic sovereignty, and self-government. South Carolina seceded from the Union and "resumed her position among the nations of the world." 

The Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. This Act declared that slaves who escaped to free states must be forcibly returned to their masters. This Act was regularly disregarded by the abolitionists. When U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis left Congress to become the president of the Confederate States of America, he specifically denounced nullification of the Act in his farewell address. I recommend "Soul Catcher" by Michael C. Wright, about a slave or soul catcher hired to bring back an escaped slave. 

Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery was somewhat ambivalent. In 1862, he wrote: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." Southerners love this quote. 

We took a 30-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter located at the entrance to Charleston harbor. When South Carolina seceded, it demanded that all Union fortifications be turned over to the state, but the Union refused to surrender Fort Sumter. U.S. Major Robert Anderson commanded the fort. He was undermanned and undersupplied. Lincoln sent a ship with reinforcements and supplies, but before it reached the fort, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, who commanded the Confederate forces, fired on Fort Sumter from nearby Fort Johnson. This was the first shots fired in the Civil War. As a side note, Major Anderson was one of General Beauregard's instructors at West Point. Ultimately, Major Saunders surrendered and the Union troops were allowed to evacuate. No one was killed during the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Some have speculated that Lincoln induced the Confederate's to fire the first shots on Fort Sumter so as to be able to declare a rebellion by the Confederate states. The Civil War had begun. 

We visited the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens about ten miles from Charleston. It once was a rice growing plantation, but since the end of slavery, the plantation and its beautiful gardens fell into disrepair. Now the plantation and gardens have been restored and is a favorite spot for tourists. Pre-Civil War, South Carolina was the leading rice growing area in the U.S. South Carolina planters discovered that rice imported from Asia grew well in South Carolina's low country, but the planters had little luck growing crops. They soon recognized the advantage of importing slaves from the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa, They generally showed far greater interest in the geographical origins of African slaves than did planters in other North American colonies. The South Carolina rice planters were willing to pay higher prices for slaves from the "Rice Coast," the "Windward Coast," the "Gambia," and "Sierra-Leon"; and slave traders in Africa soon learned that South Carolina was an especially profitable market for slaves from those areas. The South Carolina and Georgia colonists ultimately adopted a system of rice cultivation that drew heavily on the labor patterns and technical knowledge of their African slaves.  

Clearing and draining swampland and building and maintaining the system of sluices, banks, and ditches, and planting and sowing crops was a dawn-to-dusk, backbreaking work. Once slavery ended, without cheap slave labor, the plantations slowly reverted back to its natural state.  

Many of the large plantation owners used the plantation only during planting and harvesting season. Most had mansions in Charleston where they spent the "social" season. We visited the Heyward-Washington House built in 1772; the Joseph Manigault House built in 1803; the Aiken-Rhett House built in 1820; and the Nathaniel Russell House built in 1808. Each household had from 10 to 15 slaves to run the household. The slaves usually lived in shabby quarters behind the mansion or over the stables. The kitchens were in separate buildings because of fear of fire. There was no running water or indoor toilets. Nanthaniel Heyward, by the way, owned 1,843 slaves on three plantations. While William Aiken, governor of South Carolina (1844-1846), owned 904 slaves on his plantation. 

Charleston was a major port. Pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonney, and Charles Vane preyed on ships entering or leaving Charleston. Stede Bonney was finally caught and hung in Charleston. 

George Gershwin read DuBose Heyward's novel "Porgy" in 1924 and thought it could be adapted as an opera. He composed "Porgy and Bess" in 1934 in collaboration with Heyward at Folly Beach just outside of Charleston. 

Charleston is the home of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees. Imagine a South Carolina team affiliated with an organization called the "Yankees." Actor Bill Murray is listed as the team's "Director of Fun." 

Our visit to The Old Slave Mart Museum reminded us of the "why" of the Civil War. It wasn't really about state's rights or property rights. (Slaves, of course, were the property in question.) No matter how you spin it, the Civil War was about the abomination called slavery. In 1808, the U.S. banned the international slave trade, but despite government efforts about 250,000 slaves were smuggled into the U.S. from 1808 until the Civil War. And the U.S. ban did not cover slaves born in the U.S.  

Charleston was a center for the buying and selling of slaves with about 40 slave marts or auction places. By treating a race or an ethnic group as less than human, enslaving them became easier. That's basically what happened in slaveholding states. For example, the South Carolina Slave Code of 1740 prohibited teaching a slave to read or write, a slave could not testify in court, and a slave could be executed for plotting to run away. Slaveowners came to view Blacks as lazy, mentally inferior, and naturally promiscuous. Selling away a family member was viewed as only a temporary hardship for the slaves involved. Even religious leaders preached that slaves were born to be slaves, must work hard for their masters, and never disobey , lie or steal. 

Slaves were brought to the slaves marts and housed in dungeon-like rooms. Shackles and chains were removed to let wounds heal. They were then examined by physicians to make sure they were healthy; rations were increased to fatten them up; they were made to dance or exercise to tone up their muscles; their skin was greased to give them a healthy glow; grey hair was plucked or dyed; and women's hair was oiled. Then the slaves were put up for auction. Prices ranged from $600 to $1,900. A slave with special skills, such as carpentry, iron work, etc., fetched a higher price.  

Why do we teach history? Maya Angelou put it nicely: "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

On Mental Illness: How I Prevent a Relapse

By Jack Bragen
Monday May 16, 2011 - 04:53:00 PM

Many people with Schizophrenia or Bipolar illnesses have a relapse of acute symptoms every two or three years. Sometimes, this is triggered by going off medication against medical advice. In other cases, the relapse occurs in spite of the psychiatric consumer taking medication, and doing everything he or she is supposed to do. Stopping medication without a doctor’s approval is sometimes caused by an initial resurgence of symptoms (while still on medication) that clouds the judgment and interferes with the insight that the medication is still needed. The person had already begun the process of getting ill; and then stopping medication accelerated this deterioration. 

In the paragraphs below, I have given a description of how I manage my specific delusional condition. Other people’s experience could dictate doing other things; their diagnosis may not be the same as mine. This description should not be considered a replacement for the advice of a trained physician. My use of these ideas could be a factor in my better than average recovery; I haven’t had a full relapse of psychosis for fifteen years. 

To begin with, I keep my condition “monitored.” This can include what I call “self monitoring.” It also includes asking for other people’s feedback. If a flare-up of symptoms occurs, the progression of the illness can be caught and halted in time before it gets worse and becomes a total relapse. 

I realize that, at first, the concept of “monitoring,” if you are already paranoid, can seem like some oppressive governmental or other authority is controlling one’s thoughts. However, it is important to realize that the people with whom you are dealing do not come out of a George Orwell novel, and our government doesn’t perceive me, or you as a threat. We are dealing with doctors and psychologists, who, while not perfect people, receive a paycheck, at least theoretically, for helping us get well. 

Let’s take a look at the idea of accepting someone else’s feedback. In my past, my illness made me prone to disbelieve a person when that person said I had a delusion. Yet, with enough experience, I have learned to know when I ought to believe another person’s opinion instead of believing my own paranoid thoughts. This does not mean that I mistrust myself and allow other people to control my thoughts: It is applied specifically to the strange thoughts that I have decided are in question. Under different circumstances, I continue to believe myself above believing someone else; such as in the areas where I have some expertise. 

It can be difficult, embarrassing, and otherwise painful to open up to another person and talk about the strange thoughts that I have experienced. Yet, the more I overcome this awkwardness and talk about my thoughts, the more relief I feel, and the healthier I become. 

When you give light and air to your secrets, it prevents them from festering and becoming more of a sickness. Above I have described a type of “reality checking” which relies on the judgment of other people, hopefully people who are not also afflicted with delusions. Another type of this reality checking involves observing facts to see if they match up with one’s beliefs. I use “reality checking” alongside “self-monitoring” to make sure I am not getting ill again. Self-monitoring is done when I am essentially on stable ground, and have not slipped into a partially psychotic mode. It involves engaging large areas of consciousness to evaluate a thought. Not everyone will be able to “self monitor.” On occasion, due to a short-term flare-up of symptoms, I might discover that delusions have sneaked up on me, and I have begun to believe in a “delusional system.” If symptoms have progressed too much, it might be time for me to bring the situation to my doctor. At that point, it might be necessary for me to get a short-term increase in my anti psychotic medication. 

I have attempted to create a “failsafe” internal environment. This means that I have a whole repertoire of skills that I can take off the shelf to prevent a relapse. Using memory, feedback from other people, and the cultivated ability to face and talk about a sometimes unpleasant or embarrassing truth, are all things that go into the system that I use. When times are harder, I try to do things to take better care of myself. In general, I don’t invite more stress into my life than I can handle. I also don’t push myself to work excessively hard. This is because I have seen myself and other people do damage to themselves or become burned out from pushing too hard. If something is causing me a lot of stress, including writing, I back off from it for a while. I also try to get some enjoyment from my life. 

I do not postpone happiness for some projected future when I finally believe I am successful enough. I try to enjoy the things I have now, regardless of where I might or might not be on the “success scale.“ I credit the meditative practices that I have done over the years with allowing me to be gentler and more patient with myself. 

My most recent psychotic episode in which it was necessary for me to be hospitalized took place about fifteen years ago. This is a pretty good length of time to stay out of the hospital for someone who has a severe mental illness. (I have to give some of the credit for this to my wife, who helps keep an eye on me.) To put it in perspective, the County Hospital that I go to for medical care was no more than a structure of steel girders that the welders were working on, that stood next to the psychiatric ward I was in, a ward that today is long torn down and gone. 

I encourage any person with a psychiatric disability to try to expand their awareness through meditation as an addition to medication. Some doctors may believe that schizophrenic people shouldn’t try to meditate because it might open a door to more symptoms. To this I say, “hogwash.” The benefits of real meditation will, in almost all cases, outweigh any drawbacks. Meditation increases a person’s quality of life. 

In the paragraphs above, I have given my view of what works for me to be well. Other people may or may not find this useful. Whatever your beliefs, you’re welcome to take any part of this material that works for you, and to discard the rest. 

Your stories and comments are welcome. I can be reached care of The Planet, or at bragenkjack@yahoo.com.

Senior Power: Profiling Older Americans

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:17:00 PM

The great profile… AProfile of Older Americans: 2010 is now available online. This annual summary of the latest statistics on the older population covers 15 topical areas including population, income and poverty, living arrangements, education, and health. 

Older population is defined as persons 65 years or older (65+). They numbered 39.6 million in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. More than one in every 8 Americans was a senior citizen, representing 12.9 percent of the population.  

Life expectancy in the United States has reached an all-time high, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health statistics that show Americans living longerare all over the Internet. Meanwhile, 32 percent of San Francisco senior citizens are living below poverty level in their own homes. 

The older population itself is increasingly older. In 2008, the 65-74 age group was 9.5 times larger than in 1900. In contrast, the 75-84 group was 17 times larger, and the 85+ group (5.6 million persons) was 46 times larger. 

In 2009, women’s life expectancy was 80.6 years; men’s was 75.7 years. There were 22.7 million older women and 16.8 million older men, a ratio of 135 women/100 men. The female-to-male sex ratio increases with age, to a high of 216 for persons age 85 and over. For some reason, these data remind me of the old man who recently referred to this Senior Power column as a “gossip column.” 

A child born in 2007 could expect to live 77.9 years, about 30 years longer than one born in 1900. Much of this increase occurred because of reduced death rates for children and young adults. However, the period of 1990-2007 has also seen reduced death rates for the population aged 65-84, especially for men. 

There were 64,024 persons aged 100 or more in 2009, a 72% increase from the 1990 figure of 37,306. 

The western U.S. region — which includes states with sizable Hispanic populations such as California — had the nation’s lowest median age last year at roughly 35.1, compared with 39 in the Northeast and 37.5 in the Midwest. Leonard Steinhorn, an American University professor and author of “The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy,” sees the potential for sharpened generational politics in aging parts of the country such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where people 45+ are the voting majority. Citing the high representation of older voters in 2010 who disproportionately voted Republican amid health overhaul debate, he added, “If seniors vote more in elections and throw some people out, politicians may respond more to the concerns of seniors and take for granted youths.” [Washington Post, May 12, 2011 “Census: Growing age gap among US regions, sharpening divides over Medicare and immigration”] 


Latinos are the country’s fastest-growing and second-largest population group, representing 16% of the population, or about 1 in every 6 people, according to new Census data. By 2050, about 1 in 3 people will be Latino. Even more impressive, the 65+ Latino population will increase by 224% (compared to a 65% Caucasian increase), creating significant challenges for programs and policies designed to support seniors. 

There has been little research about the societal implications of an aging Latino population for the United States. In March, Hispanics in Philanthropy, a network of foundations committed to increasing philanthropic resources for social change in Latino communities, releasedLatino Age Wave, a new study that analyzes trends related to this population, the needs of community-based organizations serving Latino older adults, and strategies to address gaps in policies and services. 

Older workers represented 19% of the United States 2009 workforce. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s new edition of Pensions at a Glance provides worldwide pension data and is available online and for sale. Many countries have increased pension ages in the face of population aging and longer lives. Improvements to the incentives to work rather than retire are also a common part of recent pension-reform packages. But ensuring that there are sufficient jobs for older workers remains a challenge. This compilation also reveals that the United States continues to rank very low among OECD countries in its net replacement rate (NRR) from public pensions: 50.0% for the average earner, compared with 68.8% for OECD countries. Only 6 of thirty-four OECD countries had lower NRRs: Mexico, Ireland, Japan, Great Britain, New Zealand and Korea. 

With divorce rates higher than in previous generations, many baby boomers are likely to retire as singles. Census figures show that more than a third of all Americans over the age of forty-five are single -- approximately 39.5 million people. Retirement life costs a single person about 75 percent of what a couple would pay for the same lifestyle, according to the American Academy of Actuaries. On a per-person basis, that means singles need forty percent more than do spouses. 

Most senior citizens are women; most low-income senior citizens are women. Older women rely more on income from Social Security than do older men. Social Security reduces poverty rates for 65+ minority women -- from 44 to 14 percent for older African-American women, from 43 to 14 percent for older Hispanic women, and from 32 to 11 percent for older Asian women. 

Eighty-four percent of California residents 65+ receive Social Security benefits; about 383,600 widowed spouses receive Social Security survivor’s benefits. The average Social Security benefit for women age 65+ is about $12,000 per year, compared to about $15,500 for men 65+. Median income for women 65+ living alone is $18,600 per year, and Social Security represents 64 percent of that amount. Median income for comparable men is $29,200, with Social Security representing 45 percent of that amount. 



Sixty-two year old Hiroaki Koide is a courageous Japanese antinuclear activist who has been a nuclear reactor specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University since 1974. Early on, he became aware of the dangers inherent in nuclear power. When he entered the Nuclear Engineering Department of Tohoku University in 1968, like most Japanese people at the time, Koide believed that nuclear power was a dream resource for the future. He soon learned, however, that nuclear power could be extremely unsafe, and that construction of nuclear power plants was based on exploitation of the weaker strata of Japanese society. Since this realization, he has continuously appealed for abolition of nuclear power generation. For forty years, he has sacrificed possibilities for promotions and research funding in behalf of this cause, frequently participating in debates opposing mainstream government- and industry-sponsored scholars who regard him with condescension. Koide is a member of the nuclear researcher group referred to as The Kumatori 6. (Kumatori is the town in which the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute is located.) Videos in Japanese are at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzgLLRNonCk . Look for and click on English translation. Koide begins to speak about 7 and a half minutes into the first video. 


Thanks to the Senior Services Coalition of Alameda County, I have confirmed that there is a vacancy on the AlamedaCountyCommission on Aging. This seat is appointed by the Mayors Conference and is a "north county" seat. Interested persons should contact their own mayor. 


Medicare covers an initial Welcome to Medicare physical examination. The free annual exam thereafter is called a “wellness exam,” which is not a routine checkup. Make this clear when making your appointment. 

SCR32 (Correa)’s measure would declare May 2011 and each May thereafter as Senior Volunteer Month to honor the contributions of California’s senior volunteers. California Senior Legislator Joanna Kim-Selby reports (May 11) that SCR32 is in the process of becoming a permanent Resolution as it goes back to the Senate Rules Committee. When it is cleared, she will let us know. 

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) sponsored several sessions at the 2011 Aging in America conference in San Francisco in March. The topics were: Center for Healthy Aging; Economic Security Initiative; National Institute of Senior Centers; Public Policy & Advocacy; and Strengthening Community Organizations. It is possible to download their presentations and handouts. http://waystohelp.ncoa.org/site/R?i=FFuUp6YpXHFonF7SOFaxfA.. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR, and call ahead to confirm date, time, place. 


Now until Sunday, May 29 Photo show at Farley’s, 1195 65 St., Emeryville (San Pablo and 65 St.). The art will be on display until Sunday, May 29, during cafe business hours: Monday - Friday: 7:30 A.M. – 4:30 P.M.; Saturday: 8 A.M. - 4:30 P.M. MY GEMS/MY TREASURES is a showcase of work by local artists working in the medium of digital photography. All of these artists are connected by the North Oakland Senior Center and a free digital photography and image manipulation course recently offered at the Center. Information: (510) 597-5085. 

Wednesday, May 18, 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging, South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street. Be sure to check Community Calendar and or (510) 981-5178 to confirm. 

Wednesday, May 189 A.M., 10-11:30 A.M. Walk With Us!Alameda and Mastick Senior Center have organized a special walk to show our support and commitment to healthy aging in honor of “Older Americans Month” 1.5 or 2 mile walk through various Alameda neighborhoods, including a visit to Bay/Eagle Community Garden and Washington Park. Alameda Hospital representatives will be onsite to provide Blood Pressure Testing and Diabetes Screening, pre-registration required. Visit the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. 

Saturday, May 21, 11 AM Central Berkeley Public Library. Free. Landlord/Tenant Counseling. Information: (510)981-6100. 

Wednesday, May 25 2 P.M. Alameda Free Library (1550 Oak Street—corner of Lincoln). 90-minute presentation entitled “Laughing for the Health of It.” Free. No reservations required. Refreshments. 

Thursday, May 26 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, a division of the Alameda Recreation and Park Department, at 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Music Appreciation Class. Join volunteer William Sturm for "The Nocturne: From Chopin to Faure". Mr. Sturm will discuss and play various pieces by Field, Chopin, and Faure. Preregister in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. 

Thursday, May 26, 1:00 - 3:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Celebrate Spring With Dancing and Fun! Hawaiian Fling dance in the Mastick Social Hall. $2 per person (volunteers are free). Mastick’s own Wahine U’I Dance Group, David Henry, D.J., Norma Nocera, line dance instructor. (510) 747-7510 

Thursday, May 26,6 P.M. West Berkeley Pubic Library. Free. Lawyers in the Library. Free. Information: (510)981-6100. 

Tuesday, May 31 11:30 A.M. Fall Prevention. Free.Jewish Community Center of the East Bay. Consult www.jcceastbay.org. Join the JCC East Bay for a discussion and tips on reducing your chance of falling. More than one-third of adults age 65 and older will fall at least once a year! Falls are a leading cause of injury and even death in older adults, but they can be avoided. Facilitated by Andrew Teran of Vital Link. 

Wednesday, June 1 Noon. Playreaders, Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. Free. Also June 8, 15, 22 and 28. (510)981-6160. 

Wednesday, June 1 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course specifically designed for motorists who are 50+. To qualify, you 

must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration is a must. There is a $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required) and $14 per person fee for 

non-AARP members. The registration is payable by check ONLY made payable to AARP. (510) 747-7510 

Thursday, June 2 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Public Library. Free, Drop-In Classes - Relaxed Atmosphere - Self-Paced. Learn how to use the mouse, use the keyboard, set up e-mail and search the Internet. Also June 9, 16, 23, 30. 510-981-6148. 

Friday, June 3, 12:30 p.m. Downtown Oakland Senior Center, 2000 Grand Avenue. Movie-Lecture Series continues with Sanity and Secrets in Suddenly, Last Summer. Center Director Jennifer D. King will present this controversial 1959 classic and lead a discussion of the themes explored in this movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn. Free but you must RSVP by calling (510) 238-3284 or signing up at the Reception Desk. Refreshments. 

Saturday, June 4. Giant community flea market to raise funds for senior programs. 

NorthOakland Senior Center, 5714 MLK, Oakland. For information: (510) 597-5085. 

Monday, June 6 6-6:50 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Public Library. Free drop-in computer class for beginners. (510) 981-6148. Also June 13, 20, 27. 

Thursday, June 6 5 P.M.,6 – 7:45 P.M. Lawyers in the Library, West. West Branch Library. Free legal advice. Sign-ups begin at 5 P.M. . “Names put in random order at 6 P.M.” Also June 23. 

Thursday, June 9 5 P.M.,6 – 7:45 P.M. Lawyers in the Library, South. South Branch Library, 1901 Russell St. Free legal advice and help with questions on such problems as employment, consumer, landlord/tenant, and domestic law. Referrals to Alameda County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, or to an appropriate free or low-cost legal service provider, if further help is necessary. Wheelchair accessible. In-person sign-ups only; sign-ups begin at 5 P.M. . Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 

Thursday, June 9 7 -8:45 P.M. Café Literario. West Branch Library, 1125 University Avenue. Part 2 of facilitated discussion in Spanish of Julio Cortazar’s Rayuela. Cortazar (1914-1984) was an Argentine poet, short story writer, and translator whose pseudonym was Julio Denis. Rayuela, es la gran novela de Julio Cortázar. El libro donde el escritor argentino supo condensar sus propias obsesiones estéticas, literarias y vitales en un mosaico casi inagotable donde toda una época se vio maravillosamente reflejada. 

Tuesday, June 14 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. VA Benefits and YOU! Michael Ennis, Alameda County Veterans Service Officer, will provide an overview of VA Benefits. To reserve a seat, sign up in the office or call 747-7506. 

Wednesday, June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. 

Saturday, June 18 11 A.M. – Noon. Landlord/Tenant Counseling, Central Berkeley Public Library.
Housing Counselors from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board offer free, one-on-one counseling sessions. (Third Saturday each month) They assist both tenants and landlords by answering questions and making referrals on housing related topics-- including security deposits, rent control, evictions, unpaid rent and other difficult issues. Contact Jacquelyn Morgan for more information at 510-981-7368 Ext 4917. 

Tuesday, June 28 3-4 P.M. Tea and Cookies at the Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. (Monthly on the 4th Tuesday ) (510) 981-6100. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com. Please, no email attachments or phone calls. 

Arts & Events

Press Release: Open Opera Presents Free Concert in Live Oak Park on Sunday at 3

Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:40:00 PM

Open Opera is very proud to present a free afternoon concert featuring opera’s best-loved arias and ensembles. The sensuous and joyful sounds of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Bizet will be performed by outstanding Bay Area singers. Open Opera extends opera’s reach to park audiences with award-winning performers and extraordinary newly discovered singers. 

Concert in the Park is a FREE community event and perfect for everyone. Bring the family, children, loved ones, and a blanket to experience this operatic event. Don’t miss the opportunity to bask in the sun, under the oaks while enjoying a glorious musical feast. 

WHAT: Free performance of crowd-pleasing opera favorites 

WHEN: Saturday, MAY 21, 3-4:30 pm 

WHERE: Live Oak Park in Northeast Berkeley, 1301 Shattuck Avenue, at Berryman Street between Shattuck and Oxford 

(MAP: http://tinyhttp.com/liveoakpark) 


Live Oak Park is accessible to all persons with disabilities. To request disability accommodations and/or sign language interpretation please call within one week advance of this event. 

Parking in the event area is limited so public transportation is encouraged. 


CONTACT: Open Opera, 510-547-2471, info@openopera.net

Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:48:00 PM

"Summer time and the living is easy" -- those familiar lines are, of course, from George Gershwin's 1935 opera, "Porgy and Bess". This is, indeed, the perfect time for taking in the many cultural and educational activities available in our bay area. But where to begin? Listed below, in no particular order of importance, are just a few of the very worthwhile events occurring in the next few weeks.

"Summer and Symphony", Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor, "Cool Nights", with stars Johnny Mathis and Chris Botto, June and July, S.F. War Memorial Opera House. (415) 864-6000.

"The Ring of the Nibelung," Donald Runnicles, Conductor. A stellar cast in Francesca Zambello's critically acclaimed production. May 29 - July 3, again at the War Memorial Opera House.

Berkeley World Music Festival, Telegraph and Haste, (People's Park) June 4, Noon to 9 p.m. (510) 684-8910.

Midsummer Mozart Festival, George Cleve, conductor, "Coronation Concerto" July 14-24, First Congregational Church, Berkeley. (1) 800-838-3006.

East Bay Open Studios, a self-guided tour of local artists' studios, June 4-5 and 11-12. (www.ProartsGallery.org).

North Berkeley Live Oak Park Fair, June 11 & 12, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Festive food and entertainment. 1101 Shattuck Avenue. (510) 227-7110.

Anna Deavere Smith, "Let Me Down Easy", written and performed by the author, Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Starts May 28. (510) 647-2949.

Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival, June 4, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Vine and Shattuck, (510) 540-6444.

Gertrude Stein -- two exhibits (Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories", exploring the Jewish-American writer's career). Runs through September 6 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street, S.F. Art devotees will thrill over the fabulous show of Matisse's "Woman with a Hat", Picasso's "Lady with a Fan", joined by some 60 other Matisse, Picasso and Parisian Avant-Guarde artists. Exhibit times and prices vary.
(415) 655-7800 and (415) 357-4000,

Armistead Maupin 's new musical, "Tales of the City", begins My 18 at the American Conservatory Theatre , Geary St., San Francisco. (415) 749-2228.

8th Annual Temescal Street Fair, Telegraph Avenue between 45th and 51st St., Noon - 6 p.m. (510) 8600-7327.

Have you ever wanted to explore and trace your family ancestors? If so, you might consider doing a genealogy research. The Mormon Temple Family History Center, at 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, is open to the public and offers genealogy classes and free access to extensive microfilm archives. (510) 531-3905.

Jack London Square Farmer's Market, Webster and Water Streets, Sundays 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. year round. Yoga and live music. (510) 645-9292.

Don't say there's little going on in the bay area in during the summer!

New Zealand’s Unstoppable, UnTOPPable Twins

Review by Gar Smith
Wednesday May 18, 2011 - 01:01:00 PM

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girlsopens May 20 at the Lumiere in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Lynda and Jools Topps will be appearing in person at the Lumiere on May 20 (7PM and 9:45PM) and May 22 (4:45PM) and at Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas on Saturday, May 21 (7:45PM and 10PM). 

“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might just yodel.”  

— The New Zealand Herald  


A prizewinning 2009 New Zealand documentary — the Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls — is about to hit the big screen in the US. Prepare to be bowled over. A long-time institution in New Zealand, these yodeling lesbian twin-sister activist comedians — Lynda and Jools — are a delightfully daffy, huggable hoot. 

As fresh-off-the-farm teens, the Topps were the cutest little buskers Auckland had ever seen. Now, as zesty, rambunctious senior citizens, they are beloved cultural institution. In one interview early in the film, friend and fellow musician Billy Bragg calls the twins “cheeky chappies” and characterizes their performances as a kind of “anarchist variety act.” 

The Topps manage to blend the broad humor of Britain’s Bennie Hill with the powerhouse harmonics of the Everly Brothers and the cut-up musical pizzazz of the Grand Ol’ Opry. You might call Lynda and Jools a couple of Bennie Hillbillies. 

The most successful documentary ever released in New Zealand, Topp Twins had its North American Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where, the producers are pleased to announce, “it won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary, beating Michael Moore!” 

The Topps Twins have been really big in New Zealand for a really long time. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, they were in the forefront of campaigns to challenge nuclear weapons, racial Apartheid, and gender discrimination. They stood up for a Nuclear-Free New Zealand, for Maori Land Rights and for the country’s Homosexual Law Reform, They joined the brave anti-Apatheid crowd that halted a match with South Africa’s Springbok rugby ream by occupying the field — risking arrest and the anger of a stadium filled with jeering rugby fans. Among the first to raise controversial political issues, they were more successful than professional activists because they were popular entertainers who couched their critiques in melody and open-hearted good humor. 

Over the past 30 years, the Topps have racked up nine hit albums (from country-and-western to political protest to love ballads) and they have appeared at music and comedy festivals around the world. Back home in New Zealand, the Topps have starred in more than a dozen TV music and comedy specials and two widely popular half-hour comedy shows (“The Topps Twins Series” ran for four years.) 

As sketch artists, they are reminiscent of Monty Python. Like the Pythons, the Topps have created a legacy of memorable, recurring characters. Some of their most popular creations include their reverse-drag romp as the coiffed and mustached Two Kens (one a Wairarapa sheep farmer, the other a cat-breeding ‘townie”). In their get-ups as the Gingham Girls, the twins are free to go hog-wild as country music cut-ups. The overbearing character of Camp Mother has her imperfect foil in the nerdy Camp Leader. (Camp Mother and Camp Leader can be seen on YouTube — armed with spoons and pot lids — accompanying the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the William Tell Overture). 

The Topps aren’t “lesbian comedians,” per se, but sometimes they can’t resist a particularly tempting joke. In one sketch captured in this documentary, Camp Mother raises the issues of dieting and cosmetics only to recoil in shock when Camp Leader cracks a smile and opines: “It’s hard to eat Jennie Craig when you’ve got Estee Lauder on your face.” 

That’s about as naughty as the Topps get. And because the audience always feels safe in their hands, the Topps have been able to raise delicate social and political issues without raising hackles. (This may explain how Lynda, campaigning in her Camp Mother outfit, came close to winning the mayor’s race for Auckland in 1998.) 

For the purpose of the documentary, filmmaker Leanne Pooley convinced the Topps to stage a special concert — one in which they recount how two Kiwi farm girls ran away to the city to become buskers and wound up winning the New Zealand Order of Merit and an Honorary Masters of Arts degree. In the audience that night, were many who were especially close to the twins, including their parents, life-partners, fellow musicians, activists and comics. Some joined the twins onstage; others shared memories in intimate interviews at candle-lit tables. 

The Topps started out singing on sidewalks for spare change before their talent and infectious energy brought them wider acclaim and archival footage captures the twins busking up coins as street performers. Other clips and photos from the Sixties show the Topps leading anti-war marches and joining sit-ins. 

During the Sixties, Ken Kesey took the Merry Pranksters cross-country in a bus called “Further” and Wavy Gravy led a caravan of Hog Farmers from California to Woodstock. In the same spirit, on the other side of the planet, the two Topps set out on their own 91-day trans-Kiwi trek. The tour was known as the Gypsy Caravan. Archival footage shows the twins rolling down rural roads looking to set up gigs in distant towns and small farming villages. True to form, thye traveled in an actual gypsy caravan that rolled down the road with a perfect Topps touch — it was pulled by a small farm tractor. 

The only thing that has ever slowed them down was Jools’ bout with breast cancer, a part of their story that Pooley was able to capture on film. Pooley’s camera documents the slow collapse of Jools’ body as the cancer treatment burn away her hair and strip her of her energy. But neither the disease nor the radiation treatments could completely vanquish Jool’s humor or her will to live. And Lynda was right by her side through every difficulty moment. Happily, Jools has made a full recovery. 

For all their accomplishments, the twins remain firmly tied to their family and deeply rooted to New Zealand’s farming traditions. They only spend a few weeks of the year touring. Most of the time you can find them on their farms, sharing laughs with their longtime partners, tending to their livestock and galloping about on their horses. But, for a few days this week, you can find them raising a ruckus during a rare visit to Northern California. Try to drop by and catch the Topps on this rare spin through the Bay Area. 

‪Video: The Topp Twins at Frameline, the International LGBT Film Festivalin San Francisco, in 2010 


A Topp Twins Protest Song:  

“We’re Nuclear-Free and They’re Spying on Me.” 

Eye from the Aisle:The15th Best of Playground—the best bet in town, at SF’s Thick House.

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 10:31:00 PM
Michael Phillis and Holli Hornlien in Arisa White's FRIGIDARE
mellopix performance
Michael Phillis and Holli Hornlien in Arisa White's FRIGIDARE

The art of the very short play is like writing a poem: the daunting challenge of compressing ideas that emotionally move the listener.

Now think about writing such a play on a specific topic in less than 5 days time.

The 15th Best of Playground, now playing at Thick Housein SF’s Potrero district, delivers seven amazing plays in a scant two hours including intermission, all written according to the above rules, and acted by a talented and versatile cast of six. 

Katie May’s “Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero” in the lead-off spot is a brainy, witty, and rapid-fire Fractured Fairy Tale version of Rapunzel as math whiz. Our Persian Princess works out number theory while holding the ever-clambering prince at bay by a hair-raising feat. It is spiced with just enough mathematics that the average college grad can get the gist—and then feel smart when they understand— and with so many fast and funny lines and ironies that one fears to laugh too loud lest the next line goes unheard. 

Putting together the batting order of a baseball team, assembling the order of songs on a singer’s album, and deciding the order of seven short plays is a challenge on which hangs success, and artistic director Jim Kleinmann knocks it out of the park with his choices that sing to our senses--in one instance, actually sings, since it ends with a short musical! He is also the director of “ZERO,” and his sight-gags, staging, and tempi are outstanding. 

Standing the issue of gay children on its head, “Frigidare “by Arisa White, gives us a furious, touching and funny take on a mom who wants her kid to be gay since it’s “in,” and because she wants his life to be challenging. So he hides in the refrigerator, a choice which is rife with metaphor. (In a short exchange after the performance, Ms. White revealed that she remembered the tale of a family friend from Guyana who stowed away in a refrigerator carton to come to America and perhaps her imagination was sparked from that.) Jon Tracy’s direction takes what could be just ironic into a loving bond between mother and son regardless of the funny, twisted premise.  

The struggle of two homeless men, bonded by their alcoholism, provides a unique point of view from the homeless we pass under bridges or sleeping in doorways in“See. On. Unseen. The. Lost.” by Evelyn Jean Pine. The American belief that “this idea will make me a millionaire,” the automatic writing of Kerouac and the Beats, and bottled-up secrets drive the story. Their struggle is compelling and insightful, right down to their wrestling match. 

Adapting to changing times seems the theme of “Ecce Homo” by Jonathan Luskin of two Vaudevillians on the downward slope performing for the last night. The Jewish comic and the Iowa farm-girl hoofer pair is a sweet, “Abie’s Irish Rose,” George-and-Gracie coupling in a story of true love and devotion—and rolling with the punches. 

Alzheimer’s and the tenacity of the human spirit fill us with foreboding and hope in “Escapades” by Mandy Hodge Rizvi. The actors expressively and gracefully dance portions of it which gives it the appropriate dreamlike tone for the fugue states of our elder protagonist, and plays grippingly in counterpoint to the painful office confrontations between nursing home staff and relatives. Memory flashbacks make our hero/victim’s plight more poignant, and touch a dark spot in the fear center of audience members over 60. 

A teenaged, mixed couple break into a Catholic Church, drink the wine, and have their own religious experience and communion in “This is My Body” by Daniel Heath. Heath focuses on the pain of being a teen in this unstable world, their spiritual need, and shines a light on the overlap of the drama of the Mass and our sexual longing. Subtle and true to the rhythms and expressions of teenagers, Heath and director Susi Damilano set-up a vignette that you’ll carry with you afterwards. 

A recently-divorced mom is called in to her daughter’s principal’s office and expects the worse. A chance encounter lands her kid’s stash in her lap, which she smells longingly, while gearing up for the anti-drug lecture she is obliged to deliver. These double-binds and turn-abouts continue in song in the musical “Calling the Kettle” by Brady Lea. Collaborator Christopher Winslow’s songs are melodic in duet and trio to reveal the inner fears and longings of all three; it ends the evening on a hopeful note. 

The cast of six brings truth to the words and the pain behind them, plays the comedy expertly, and is surprising in their ability as dancers and singers. Each actor playing many and diverse parts adds to the effect of making this smorgasbord into a tasty feast. I see a lot of plays, and this is the best cast that has been assembled in my theatre-going experience for some time.  

From a very non-Disney Middle Eastern princess to a Latino lost teen to a broken-home honor roll student with weed in her purse, Rinabeth Apostol’s performance, like all the other actors, differs in character and is first-rate. The young men—very white-boy Michael Phillis has the ability to get deep quickly and honestly and with a rollicking sense of deadpan, and very ethnic Jomar Tagatac is a theatrical “find” with considerable range. Hollie Hornlien is alternately steamy, sweet, touching and off-the-chart campy in her roles. Mature actor David Cramer tears your heart out regularly, and Brian Herndon is my kind of actor—short with a soul full of hurt and the sharp wit to cut through it. 

PLAYGROUND is a local treasure that fosters playwrighting, and this is an evening of theatre that is a sure bet. You’ll be debating about which one you liked best, and it’s a hard choice since they are all contenders. (The script of all seven plays is available, and really worth picking up at the play or from the website so you can relive the memory later or enjoy the plays if you can’t make it to a performance.) 

The 15th Best of Playground 

Playing through May 29. 

At Thick House, 1695 18th Street (off Arkansas Street), San Francisco 


Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero by Katie May, directed by Jim Kleinmann 

Frigidare by Arisa White, directed by Jon Tracy 

Escapades by Mandy Hodge Rizvi, directed by M. Graham Smith 

Ecce Homo by Jonathan Luskin, directed by Molly Noble 

See. On. Unseen. The. Lost. by Evelyn Jean Pine, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges 

This is My Body by Daniel Heath, directed by Susi Damilano 

Calling the Kettle by Brady Lea, music by Christopher Winslow, directed by Jessica Heidt 

Ensemble: Rinabeth Apostol*, David Cramer*, Brian Herndon*, Holli Hornlien*, Michael Phillis, Jomar Tagatac* / Stage Manager: June Palladino* (* Member, Actors' Equity Association)

Around and About . . . Poetry

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 10:05:00 PM

Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, poet, impressario of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company in 60s Berkeley, embraced Islam--and Sufism--in 1970, after two books of poetry, published by City Lights.  

He traveled in Africa and Spain and renounced writing for some years, eventually "renouncing his renunciation," taking up the pen again--and writing plays again and establishing a puppet theater as well. He's been called "the Poet Laureate of American Islam." He'll read with others on Friday night, 7-9, at the Ta'leef Collective, 43170 Osgood Road, Fremont (445-1911; taleefcollective.org)--and talk about his new book of poetry, Invention of the Wheel, and other work with Jason Van Boom and Baraka Blue (participants at the Ta'leef Collective event), 6-9 p. m. this Saturday, with Q-&-A and booksigning to follow. Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, 1433 Madison Street, between 14th & 15th, downtown Oakland (near the Main Library).$5-$10. 832-7600; iccnc.org (On Sunday afternoon, Moore will read with music at Bird & Beckett in Glen Park, San Francisco. 415-586-3733; bird-beckett.com )

Evangelist at Sather Gate

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday May 17, 2011 - 09:47:00 PM
Sather Gate Evangelist
Steven Finacom
Sather Gate Evangelist

Asserting God-struck truth and speech 

He stands before our bronze-bound Gate 

Ordained himself by Faith to preach 

At college, though he can’t relate. 

No reasoned doubt Empirical 

Disturbs his present, Revealed, cause 

Apocalypse or Miracle, 

The world towards Fate divinely draws. 

On May two-one we all will end 

Or Rapture to a greater gate 

That God himself doth staunch defend 

Whilst flinging Evils to their fate. 

The student lot is sad, alas— 

The world ends after Finals pass. 


(#1 in a periodic series of reflections in verse and pictures on the Berkeley community. Steven Finacom)