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2201 Blake Street, the older of the two historic Bartlett Houses, stands on a large property at the corner of Blake and Fulton.
Steven Finacom
2201 Blake Street, the older of the two historic Bartlett Houses, stands on a large property at the corner of Blake and Fulton.


Water Mains Break in Berkeley and Richmond Soon after Quake

By Steven Finacom
Sunday July 17, 2011 - 09:33:00 AM
EBMUD Water Line Bursts in Point Richmond, Swallows Wig Wag.
Tom Butt
EBMUD Water Line Bursts in Point Richmond, Swallows Wig Wag.
A water main break on La Loma Avenue in Berkeley cut off water to a number of Berkeley Hills households on Saturday.
Steven Finacom
A water main break on La Loma Avenue in Berkeley cut off water to a number of Berkeley Hills households on Saturday.

Not long after the 3:51 a.m. earthquake on Saturday morning, which was centered in Berkeley, a couple of water mains broke in the urban East Bay. Caused by the earthquake, or coincidence? East Bay Municipal District workers at both sites said it was just old cast iron pipe, but the timing suggested that ground movement might have been a factor in the breaks. 

A water main break on La Loma Avenue in Berkeley cut off water to a number of Berkeley Hills households on Saturday a little after 4 a.m. The break was on the east side of the long 1300 block of La Loma, somewhat uphill from the steep curve above Shasta Road. EBMUD staff on the scene said it appeared to be a six inch line that had broken. They were preparing to replace it with a plastic sleeve in order to restore service; the pit they dug to find the break was was as deep as a standing man. Reaching the break was complicated by the challenge of digging through the concrete, rather than asphalt, street paving. 

In Point Richmond, the break caused a sinkhole to form, tilting the cherished railroad “Wig Wag” sign. An observer on the scene by about 8 a.m. said that by that time water had already filled gutters all around the site. No prediction as yet about how long it will take to repair the damage to sunken streets… 


(Tom Butt contributed to this story.)

Press Release: Amidst Pressure, CDCR Enters Negotiation with Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers
Mediators, Advocates: “Battle is Still Uphill, Health Still Deteriorating”

From Isaac Oliveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Saturday July 16, 2011 - 11:49:00 PM

Oakland—With the Pelican Bay prison hunger strike entering its third week, mediators reported Thursday that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has responded to pressure from strikers and outside supporters, beginning initial negotiations with strike leaders in the prison’s Security Housing Unit, along with an outside mediation team. Advocates working on behalf of the strikers continue to rail against the CDCR’s slow movement over the past two weeks in addressing the prisoners’ demands, expressing grave concerns about the strikers’ rapidly deteriorating health. Hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay remain on strike, with thousands more participating in prisons throughout California's 33 prisons. 

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and a member of the prisoner-selected mediation team says that leaders are determined to keep up their strike, but worries about the CDCR’s willingness to move negotiations forward. “Both parties are dug in,” says Nunn. “The CDCR is not offering anything substantial, and the strikers aren’t receiving anything substantial. So they’ll keep going. And we don’t know how long it’ll be before people start dying.” 

Earlier this week, advocates and supporters received word that some of the strikers’ health had deteriorated to near-fatal levels. With the CDCR slow to move on negotiations, and with already poor health conditions at the core of the prisoners’ demands, many fear that time is running out. “The strikers’ claims of substandard and prejudicial medical care at Pelican Bay are certainly true.” says Dr. Corey Weinstein, a correctional medical consultant and human rights investigator with 40 years experience providing health care to CA prisoners. Weinstein continues, “Given my long history of working with California prisoners I have grave doubts about the Department of Corrections’ ability to adequately carry out their own guidelines and protocols even during this urgent and public moment.” 

Meanwhile, organizations and individuals have held demonstrations throughout the US, in Canada, and in Australia, and have flooded CDCR headquarters and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office with demands for negotiation. Strike supporters are urging people to take further action to have the strikers’ demands met. “Everyone who is against torture needs to support this hunger strike by matching the courage of these prisoners,” says Molly Porzig of Critical Resistance, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. “Historically, people have taken up civil disobedience to prevent mass death, and we're in such a moment now.” 

Negotiations are set to continue Friday. Mediator Dorsey Nunn says the team will continue to urge the CDCR to negotiate in good faith: “The strikers’ demands are so minimal, they want to have hope like anyone else. The CDCR could end the strike by providing even a little bit of hope for these prisoners.”

Berkeley Hit by 3.4 Quake

By Bay City News
Saturday July 16, 2011 - 08:57:00 AM

A 3.4-magnitude earthquake shook Alameda County this morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The tremor, at 3:51 a.m, centered on an area described by the USGS as two miles southeast of Berkeley and three miles northeast of Emeryville, which placed it in Berkeley's Southside neighborhood, adjacent to U.C.'s Clark Kerr Campus and close to the Hayward fault, which runs through Memorial Stadium, now under construction.

The quake had a depth of 4 miles, according to the USGS.

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Solano Avenue Artist's Latest Installation

Friday July 15, 2011 - 11:29:00 AM
Full Work
Full Work

A homeless artist has created this installation on Solano Avenue.

Press Release: UC Regents Vote to Increase Tuition, Students Successfully Remove “Trigger” Increase

From Darius L. Kemp, Director of Organizing and Communications
Thursday July 14, 2011 - 06:00:00 PM

Oakland, CA – Despite a strong mobilization of students across the state against further tuition hikes, the UC Regents approved an additional 10.5% increase to tuition this morning. The total tuition increase for 2011-2012 will be nearly 19%. Only four Regents voted against this increase—Student Regent Mireles, Regent Marcus, Regent Island and Lieutenant Governor Newsom. 

This tuition increase is a significant blow to affordability and accessibility in the UC system. “This is a sad day for the University of California. Once again, the Regents have refused to consider alternative options, and chosen the easy route of placing the entire burden on students and their families,” said Claudia Magana, UCSA President, and 4th year student at UC Santa Cruz. 

Students greatly appreciated the comments of Lieutenant Governor Newsom who was the only Regent, other than Student Regent Mireles, to speak out against the tuition increase. “We agree with Lieutenant Governor Newsom. This tuition increase is another direct attack on the middle class. The Regents should have refused tuition increases, and done something different. Students are afraid we are simply going to be in the same place next year,” said Nelson Cortez, External Vice President and 4th year student at UC Santa Cruz. 

The Regents had initially proposed a 5.6% increase to occur automatically in 2012-13 if an additional $100 million cut came down from the state. Students poured into the Regents meeting to speak against this “trigger” increase and organized across the state to make sure that their voices were heard. “This trigger increase was completely unacceptable to students. We mobilized and advocated aggressively with dozens of students coming for public comment and hundreds of students sending in letters and emails. The removal of the “trigger” increase was a significant victory for students on an otherwise sad day for affordability and accessibility in the UC system,” said Joelle Gamble, External Vice President and 4th year student at UCLA. 

Lastly, students were very disappointed to see the UC Regents vote for a salary pay increase of $27,500 for Patrick Lenz, Vice President of Budget and Capital Resources on the same day that they approved such an extensive tuition increase which brings his salary up to $300,000. Students do not believe that such an increase is appropriate in light of the sacrifices being asked of students and their families. While Lenz is not the only administrator receiving a raise at this Regents meeting, he is the only administrator who will be receiving a raise that comes entirely from the General Fund. “Most Californians would be surprised to find that a top UC administrator is receiving a significant raise on the same day that students and their families are being asked to give so much more. Such a decision does not align with the values of a public institution,” said Magana. 

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Press Release: Berkeley Oral History Office Seeks Port Chicago Accounts

From Kathleen Maclay
Thursday July 14, 2011 - 12:17:00 PM

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office are looking to a July 23 memorial service for the hundreds of servicemen and civilians killed and hurt in the largest homeland disaster during World War II to aid the office’s search for first-hand accounts of the accident that helped desegregate the U.S. military. 

The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) is a research unit within UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, and has initiated interviews with surviving witnesses to the explosion of more than 5,000 tons of TNT as sailors loaded munitions. The explosion demolished the Liberty ship SS A.E. Bryan as well as the SS Quinalt Victory and rocked communities for miles around. UC Berkeley seismographs recorded the strength of the disaster’s second explosion as equal to an earthquake measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale. 

Some 320 servicemen and civilians died, and 390 were hurt. Two-thirds of the men who died were African American sailors, and according to the website of the U.S. Department of the Navy’s Naval Historical Center, the Port Chicago disaster accounted for 15 percent of all African American casualties of World War II. 

The incident highlighted the era’s racial tensions and segregated military, as white sailors at the port were not involved in the munitions loading, and the black sailors had limited training for the job. 

Of the 200 black sailors who refused to return to work unless unsafe conditions were corrected at the port east of San Francisco, 50 were court-martialed and convicted of mutiny. Efforts to posthumously exonerate those convicted at Port Chicago have repeatedly failed. One sailor, Freddie Meeks, asked for and received a pardon from President Clinton in 1999. 

“We will honor those who have passed, as well as the resistance of African American soldiers who certainly are a part of the civil rights movement and the desegregation of the military,” said David Dunham, manager of ROHO’s World War II Homefront Project. 

ROHO will have an informational table at the memorial and commemoration, which will be held at the Military Ocean Terminal in Concord, Calif. The memorial will take place on July 23 from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by an informal gathering and ranger-led tours from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

Reservations are required by July 16 to join in the ceremonies at the site that became the 392nd unit of the National Park Service in 2009. For information about reservations and required clearances, call (925) 228-8860, ext. 6522, or visit www.nps.gov/poch/index.htm. 

The WWII American Homefront Oral History Project possesses dozens of accounts of the day of the disaster from around California and the San Francisco Bay Area. While those living in the area have recounted that the explosion rocked buildings and shattered glass around the region, the military’s wartime suppression of incident information left some residents baffled about the cause of the shaking until they learned of the mutiny trials much later. 

Among these oral histories are several in-depth, first-hand accounts of the Port Chicago explosion that document a range of responses, reactions and memories. 

Anyone with a first-person account of Port Chicago can contact rtr@lists.berkeley.edu or call project manager David Dunham at (925) 937-2290. 

More about the WWII American Homefront project is online at www.bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/rosie. 


SOURCES: David Dunham, manager of ROHO’s WWII Homefront Project: ddunham@library.berkeley.edu, (925) 937-2290 

Javier Arbona, ROHO’s primary Port Chicago interviewer/researcher: (607) 233-4615, javier@berkeley.edu

Chile Increases Reward for Berkeley Killing Information

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday July 14, 2011 - 09:08:00 AM

A contribution from the Chilean government has boosted the reward for information leading to the killer of Adolfo Ignacio Celedon Bravo to $20,000, according to Berkeley police. 

Bravo, a Chilean citizen, had recently moved to Berkeley to be with his fiancee when he was shot during a robbery attempt in the early morning of Sept. 12, 2010. 

The City of Berkeley and the Bay Area Crime Stoppers previously had offered a reward of $17,000, but the Chilean government has added to that reward following strong interest from the people of Chile. 

Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said Bravo's story was covered extensively by major news outlets in Chile. "It was of great interest to the Chilean community. A promising young man coming to the United States to follow his dreams," she said. 

"We receive emails every other week from four different national media outlets in Chile asking for information," Kusmiss said.

Woman's Burning Body Discovered in Rockridge near Berkeley Border

By Bay City News
Thursday July 14, 2011 - 08:46:00 AM

A female body was found burning in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood this morning, a police spokeswoman said.

Police received multiple calls reporting the body at Ivanhoe and Chabot roads at around 4:40 a.m., Officer Holly Joshi said. 

Investigators were unable to determine the victim's age and race due to the extent of burns and injuries, Joshi said. 

Joshi said it appears the body had been dumped at the Rockridge location and that the victim had suffered trauma before she was burned. The cause of death was not known as of this morning. 

The first priority for investigators is to identify the body, Joshi said. 

The department is asking for the public's help in identifying the victim and are reviewing missing persons cases for a possible lead. 

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Police Department's homicide unit at (510) 238-7230.

Contention at Berkeley's Landmarks Commission over Historic Garden and Southside Victorian Landmark Houses

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 10:21:00 PM
Tellefsen Hall on Le Roy includes a historic garden and a rustic clinker brick bridge over the north branch of Strawberry Creek.  The upper floors of the house were (photoextensively remodeled from their original character in the 1950s.
Steven Finacom
Tellefsen Hall on Le Roy includes a historic garden and a rustic clinker brick bridge over the north branch of Strawberry Creek. The upper floors of the house were (photoextensively remodeled from their original character in the 1950s.
The current Tellefsen Hall basketball court, which is proposed for alteration into a patio area.  The bamboo, oak tree, and fireplace in the rear of the property are all issues of contention in the redesign discussion.
Steven Finacom
The current Tellefsen Hall basketball court, which is proposed for alteration into a patio area. The bamboo, oak tree, and fireplace in the rear of the property are all issues of contention in the redesign discussion.
2201 Blake Street, the older of the two historic Bartlett Houses, stands on a large property at the corner of Blake and Fulton.
Steven Finacom
2201 Blake Street, the older of the two historic Bartlett Houses, stands on a large property at the corner of Blake and Fulton.
2205 Blake Street, the second of the two Bartlett Houses, had a portion of the rear removed during foundation work earlier this summer.
Contributed Photo
2205 Blake Street, the second of the two Bartlett Houses, had a portion of the rear removed during foundation work earlier this summer.

A lengthy and involved meeting of the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission on Thursday, July 7, included discussion of two projects proposed at landmark homes where neighbors have been at odds with owners, as well as the announcement that the level of staffing for the Commission will be reduced due to City budget cutbacks. 

The two controversial projects involve three of Berkeley’s most important historic homes. One is the Volney Moody House on Le Roy Avenue, a clinker brick mansion that was praised and widely publicized at the height of Berkeley Arts and Crafts era for its design and sympathetic integration with the landscape. The building, shorn of its ornate upper floor exterior in a 1950s remodel, has been used since 1960 a private residence hall for the California Marching Band. 

The other property includes two landmark 19th century Victorian houses built by the Bartlett family at 2201-2205 Blake Street, in the current Le Conte neighborhood. The houses, which until earlier this year had been owned by just two families for more than a century and a quarter, are regarded as among the most intact and impressive of Berkeley’s surviving Victorian-era residences. 

Tellefsen Hall 

The Commission continued a public hearing, and discussion, on a proposal to revamp the landscaping at 1755 Le Roy Avenue, now known as Tellefsen Hall and home to about 44 California Marching Band members. 

Tellefsen Hall owners who were absent from the last Commission discussion attended this month and spoke to the Commission in support of the proposal. They were countered by immediate neighbors who were critical of some of the landscaping plans and the general upkeep and behavior at the residence hall, and by some Commissioners who were skeptical of aspects of the project. 

Designers for the project, Masalo Kamelani and Yoonju Chang of MaYo Landscape Architects, returned to the Commission to discuss revised plans that had been vetted onsite by a subcommittee of the LPC.  

Kamelani described the subcommittee visit as “a very positive and proactive meeting”. Neighbors objected, however, to the fact that they weren’t invited to attend as they had been promised. Commission staff and Commissioners said there had been in a mix-up in tracking who should notify the neighbors, and apologized. 

Kamelani said that revised plans for the project, which is intended to re-landscape much of the creekside garden south of the main house, include removal of a proposed firepit and salvaging a rustic stone wall for reuse on the site or recycling to other construction projects. 

“We’re going to try to reuse every rock we can salvage from the rock wall,” she said. 

Three members of the Tellefsen Hall Board of Directors spoke. Ben Bachelder asked the LPC to “approve the design as it has been modified by the landscape architects.” Speaking to concerns expressed by neighbors that the new landscape will intensify outdoor noise and late night partying, he said “it’s kind of a pre-emptive assumption” that there will be “too much use by the students.”  

He said the Board was willing to work with immediate neighbors on putting a fence between the two properties and wanted to make the garden area “a more useful space for the students.” 

What will the students be able to do in the renovated garden that they don’t do there now, asked Commissioner Paul Schwartz. “It’s a basketball court that isn’t very functional,” Bachelder said. The project would also remove a small lawn that doesn’t grow well, and fix retaining walls. 

“Will there be an intensification of use, specifically, and noise? That definitely seems a bone of contention with the neighborhood,” said Commission Chair Gary Parsons. 

“It doesn’t seem to be a very neighborly thing to say, ‘I want your property to be so uninviting you won’t use it,” Bachelder replied. He said there would probably be more “day use” during the academic year of the revamped grounds. 

Neighbor Clifford Block asked the Commission not to act that night, in order to allow time “to permit the consultations that were agreed to.” “Staff were tremendously overstressed and it got dropped,” said Parsons, regarding the botched meeting between the designers, the subcommittee and the neighbors. “It is probably fair we allow that to happen.” 

Block said that the concerns of the neighbors “can very readily be dealt with by the landscape architect” with modifications to the proposed plans. He said removing a large stand of bamboo that grows along the property line would be “tremendously damaging”. Visual landscape screening “is very important when you’re living next to a boarding house with people that are always changing.” 

He noted new seating proposed in the design “will be five yards from our bedroom windows. Already there’s a lot of talking at night…it will be a conflict.” 

Neoma Lavalle from the Tellefsen Board said she had lived at the house as a student 15 years ago. The student residents are generally there “from mid-August to mid-June,” she said. There’s an on-site house manager, and a student house president who both interact with the Board. “We definitely understand the concern of the neighbors,” she said.  

She said that while the landscape project is incremental, “we’re firmly committed to also improving” a corner parking lot on the property that has no landscaping. The first step, however, is to do the hardscape in the garden. “We’re not really in favor of getting rid of bamboo…we’d really like to put in a fence.” 

“There will be more day use if we improve the design,” she said, adding there are 44 residents “who need a little more living room.” However, “we’re not foreseeing any changes in more gatherings or parties or band events.” 

Neighbor Gladys Block said she was worried about “potential damage to the oak” in the corner of the property. “It’s important to us.” The plans, she said, move an adjacent retaining wall back, cutting into the root zone around the oak. Coast live oaks are protected in Berkeley, she noted, and “they’re proposing to cut off, I would say, about 15 feet of that root system…we’re really concerned that moving back that part of the retaining wall could seriously damage that oak.” She asked for external review of the tree and the design plans by an arborist. 

“The house is a gorgeous residence hall but it’s surrounded by a very neglected landscape,” said Richard Powell who identified himself as a third Tellefsen Hall Board member. 

The association did seismic work on the house, has accumulated more capital for renovations, and is ready “to start improving the land”.  

“Right now there’s no place to go outside…we have a good plan in place to address that…we want to work with the LPC,” he said. 

“It’s all the way it was before” in terms of future events, he said. “This is just going to be for daytime use,” an area for the student residents “just to have a relaxing break in the sun.” 

He said the association wanted to have a gardening service, but the garden “really needed some fundamental work redone” before it could be properly maintained. After the new landscape is installed, “we’ll use that budget for landscaping services to maintain it.” 

Torren Block, son of the neighbors, said that noise from Tellefsen Hall has “been a problem for 20 years. The neighbors are “regularly woken up. This is simply going to make it worse.” 

Barry Brinkley, another neighbor said that once “you could walk by the north side of Strawberry Creek outside the UC campus and hear the voice of your grandfather,” apparently meaning the sound of the creek as it flows through the Tellefsen garden, adjacent to the street. “That voice has been altered over the years.” 

“The reason you can’t (hear) is partially because of the management of that building,” he said. “The Blocks have been so disrespected in this process.” Tellefsen, he said, “has had cooks over the years that have been more considerate of the neighbors than the Board.” 

Regarding the oak, “if we have one that is doing well, we should be damn well taking care of it.” He said “the bamboo is a filter” between the properties and is important. “We ask that the place stay green, that it say clean, and that we have harmony and balance,” he concluded. If not, “you have a community that is upset...it’s a big issue, and we just want time at the table.” 

When the speakers were done, City Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson told the Commission from the staff table that only the LPC would be reviewing permits for this project. Some of the neighbor concerns, she said, could be addressed in conditions for approval but “the issue of the noise is not really your purview.” 

“I would just warn you to be careful that your highest priority is historic preservation.” She suggested that some of the issues could be the subject of free mediation offered by the City. “It sounds like the issue with the neighbor…will take solutions that are not part of the landscaping.” 

After hearing the public testimony the Commission entered into an extended discussion, debate, and dialogue with the landscape architects that grew testy at times.  

Commissioner Paul Schwartz was adamant that the rustic rock wall in the garden be preserved, not removed. It’s “one of the highlights of the landscaping,” he said. Why remove “a thing of beauty?” 

Commissioner Austene Hall added her concern that a new retaining wall in the garden could look “too modern and out of place.” “The rock should be reused as much as possible in that backyard.” 

“The one craw in my bonnet is the rock wall,” Schwartz continued. He said it would be fine to replace other retaining walls on the property but the rock wall “is a historic part of the landscaping.” If you remove the rock wall you are disturbing the main historic feature of the yard…the rock wall looks to me like it’s in fine shape and it’s one of the most beautiful things in the yard.” 

“I don’t know how ‘distinctly contemporary’ materials fit in to historic landscape,” he said. “It just boggles the mind.” 

“We very much understand the value of these rocks,” said Kamelani. The designers had suggested reusing some of the stone in the parking area, and elsewhere. “It has no meaning out in the parking lot, it has meaning where it currently exists!” Schwartz protested. 

“I think we can be creative about reusing the rock,” Kamelani said. “It is a historic landscape, and your plan is really to demolish it and build something new,” Schwartz replied. 

Chair Gary Parsons said that he didn’t “consider the rock wall as a make or break historic resource. I could see voting for its removal.” 

Commissioner Miriam Ng objected to lengthy discussion, arguing that the issue should go back to the subcommittee and discussion with the neighbors before being debated in detail at the Commission. Chair Parsons disagreed, saying that key parties were present at the meeting that night so it made sense to continue. Ng soon left the meeting. 

Parsons told the designers that they shouldn’t repair an unused fireplace in a corner of the property. “If you repair it, it will be usable.” “They’re planning to clear it, but I don’t think they’re planning to use it,” said Kamelani. 

Then take it out, said Parsons. “If I were a 22 year old kid that had some firewood and a match I’d put a fire in it.” 

“The residents are really attached to the look of it,” Kamelani demurred. “Do something to it that can’t be used,” Parsons emphasized. 

He also said “the circular inflammable bench (in the middle of the new patio area) looks like a firepit to me”. A fire pit had previously been proposed in that location. “It’s just a bench,” protested Kamelani. 

Parsons then turned his criticism to a proposed glass railing overlooking Strawberry Creek. It’s “completely out of character,” he said, as other Commissioners nodded. “We need a good rail,” said Kamelani, and they didn’t want to “introduce any sort of steel bar tubing” for rails. Do a historic-looking metal railing instead, Parsons suggested. 

“The vision of the landscape is something that needs to spread to other parts of the house,” Parsons continued, picking up on neighbor complaints that garbage cans line the sidewalk by Tellefsen Hall. They should be moved off the sidewalk, he said. 

“We have a master plan for the entire area,” said Kamelani, but because of the limited budget, not everything can be done in the first phase. “It doesn’t cost any money to move garbage cans off the street,” Parsons said. 

“You guys are designing not only for your clients but for the community around. That’s an important part I’d like to drive home,” Parsons added. 

He criticized the relocation of the retaining wall near the oak tree and removal of the bamboo, saying “what you’re getting for that is a lot of ill will.” “Use your landscape abilities to think of ways to intensify that screen” between the garden and the neighbors. 

The Commission finally decided to continue the public hearing until September, with the expectation that the subcommittee would meet with the designers and the neighbors in the meantime. The LPC voted 7-0 for the continuation. 

2201-2205 Blake Street 

Controversy over these two landmark houses—known as the Bartlett Houses, some of Berkeley’s best remaining 19th century Victorian homes at the corner of Blake and Fulton—surfaced publicly in a City meeting for the first time at the LPC as some neighbors appeared before the Commission to express concern about modifications to, and the future of, the buildings under a new owner. 

The two buildings were ‘red tagged’ last month by the Building and Safety Division for work done without permits. Work was suspended. 

The owner of the two buildings appeared at the meeting and spoke to the Commission, which had the topic listed on the agenda as an Action Item but no detailed written materials in its agenda packet.  

Instead, Commission staff had included an explanatory line in the agenda saying the buildings had a “red tag for work without permit on 2201; redtag to stop work for portion of building torn down without permit & illegal work on 2205.”  

A brief staff recommendation followed, suggesting the Commission “form a subcommittee to work with the property owners as soon as possible.” 

Because the item was not scheduled for a public hearing, several individuals spoke instead during the general “Public Comment” period at the very start of the meeting, then several hours elapsed until the Commission took up the topic again when it reached the formal agenda item late at night. By that time many of the neighbors had left, along with half the owner contingent. 

During the public hearing, Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey, who lives nearby, said she had been on the Landmarks Commission when the buildings were landmarked. “They are a beautiful addition, an anchor to the neighborhood,” she told the Commission, calling the two houses “an ambassador for historic resources.” 

“The new owner has given us cause for great concern,” she said. “He blew through two ‘stop work’ orders” from the City. “We’re very worried about this jewel of historic resources.” 

“This is a jewel, our neighborhood loves it, and we’re giving it to you to please take care of it.” 

Neighbor Gale Garcia told the Commission that the houses were largely intact on the outside, preserving almost all of their 19th century character on a large, treed, lot. “The owners have…performed extensive remodeling of a variety that would appeal to fraternity boys rather than preservationists or families, before even applying for building permits” for the interior work, she said. 

“This leads me to believe that the exteriors of these landmarked buildings are unlikely to be preserved unless there is strong oversight at every stage of the process.” 

She expressed concern about the staff recommendation, saying “it would be improper for the Commission to take any action on this matter without having plans before it and without holding a properly-noticed public hearing about plans for this site.” 

Charles Hadenfeldt, an immediate neighbor—“I live next door”—said that neighbors had initially been pleased to see foundation work beginning on the houses, but then they saw what appeared to be a fraternity moving in belongings and “this upset us greatly.”  

He also noted that the houses have two Mills Act contracts applied to them—agreements between the previous owner and the City to undertake historically appropriate repairs in exchange for property tax reductions. He said the Commission should evaluate the status of the contracts to make sure they are being fulfilled. 

“Things are kind of strange and I want you guys to be aware of it,” Hadenfeldt added. “I hope you don’t grant the owner special privileges because he has skewed the process.” 

Nathan George, who had arrived at the meeting with his wife and baby during the other comments, came to the podium next, apologizing that he thought the meeting started at 7:30, not 7:00.  

“I am the owner,” he told the Commission. “We pulled foundation permits on the building and started foundation work, then on one of the buildings we had started interior demo before we got the building permit in” for interior alterations. 

“During this time some of the tenants which already had leases on the buildings, which they no longer do, started moving some material in. Some of them had some fraternity signs which kind of began the whole process of the neighborhood getting upset.” 

“I’ve spent the last three weeks meeting with neighbors,” he told the Commission. “I’ve got letters and lots of support from people” but “there’s been continuous rumors and misinformation…we’ve even had people saying lies.” 

“All we’re doing…we’re talking about the 2205 building which had a deteriorated corner, and when we removed the stairs as part of the foundation work the corner was rotting and was falling down.” 

“We had full intentions of submitting the building permit to build the wall back up but we had pulled the foundation permit at the suggestion of the planning counter…” and deferred applying for the building permit for interior renovations until the full scope of the work was known, he said. 

“All we’re trying to do is restore” the buildings, George said. He said he had met with Zoning staff that morning (Thursday July 7) and would be meeting with another staffer in the next week. 

“All of our plans are just remodeling the interior of 2201,” finishing the foundation work, and rebuilding the back corner of 2205, he concluded. He said he had put on hold an idea previously described to neighbors of remodeling the carriage house on the rear of the property into another living unit.  

“My wife and I are now moving into this house, it’s going to be our primary residence, because of the neighbors complaining about the proposed tenants we have decided to uproot our seven month old baby” and move into 2201 Blake, he said. 

“We’re doing everything we can to please them,” he said of the neighbors, “and I get good favor from them in person. It’s really frustrating, when a lot of the neighbors are supportive and a few seem to, if you will, seem to stab me in the back afterwards. It’s been a very frustrating, very trying, time for my family and we just ask that we be able to move forward with your supervision to restore these buildings.” 

George and his wife, Amanda, currently live a block north of the Blake Street properties in a new house they built behind another landmark structure in 2008. Previously they lived with housemates in the front residence on that property, which is a City of Berkeley landmark, the Kueffer House, designated in 2003. 

In an e-mail interview in June, Nathan George told me that he closed a purchase on the property in March 2011. He said, “We wanted to preserve as much as possible but still modernize the electrical and plumbing” of the two houses. “We were therefore specifically advised to pull the foundation permit first…and then apply for the building permit later when we knew what would be done. Otherwise both permits would have been done at the same time.” 

George and his wife left on a business and vacation trip in May, returning June 6 intending to file for the interior renovation permits, he told me. When I asked whether that tight a schedule would have worked for occupancy for the fall semester by student tenants, he said “filing upon my return and doing the work before August was very reasonable,” based on another project he recently completed on Channing Way in Berkeley. 

He said his plan had been to have tenants start living in part of 2201 Blake in June “at a 50% discount on rent until construction was done. So our plans were to have the foundation done and have at least one bath operable while we updated the others.” 

George also spoke with immediate neighbors at a meeting I attended in June (at which I identified myself as writing an article for the Planet). At that meeting he had two men with him who introduced themselves as UC students who were going to live in 2201 Blake. One said he had a roommate, a Cal athlete, and they would be living in the rear upstairs of the property; the other said he was one of a group of six that would be living in the main part of the house. 

The plan for the property, George said at that meeting, was to renovate the two houses to have two units, each, legally subdivide the property (it sits on one large land parcel), put a fifth unit in the carriage house at the rear of the property, and sell the units, probably in 2012, as condominiums. 

George has subsequently said (as noted above in his remarks to the Commission) that the leases with the students are no longer in effect and he and his family will be moving into 2201 Blake instead. 

When the Commission took up the item on 2201 -2205 Blake late in the meeting, only a few people remained in the audience for the item, including George and the Hadenfeldts. 

Sanderson began the discussion from the staff table, saying that she needed to report a “correction to the staff recommendation.” She said the revised language of the recommendation would be that the Commission “form a subcommittee to assist staff as needed prior to LPC review of the structural permit.” 

We “ask you to create a subcommittee to support Jay as he reviews the structural alteration permit,” she added. Jay Claiborne is the Commission staff secretary, but was not present at the meeting. Sanderson said her understanding was that the owners would probably need a structural alteration permit to rebuild the exterior portion of 2205 Blake that had been removed during the foundation work. 

She referred to the removal of the rear corner of 2205 as a “collapse” several times during her comments. 

“The issue here up to this moment was the repair of foundations which was applied in 2008 (by the previous owner)” Sanderson said. “That’s not related to the issues of working on the part of the building that has collapsed and working on the interior without permits.” 

The Landmarks Commission does not have direct control over interior alterations to privately owned landmark structures, but does review permits for exterior changes. 

Sanderson said staff level review was appropriate and “our view of the LPO is that (this) can be handled by staff.” “We would hope that you would continue in that vein.” 

“Jay has asked a subcommittee be named to work with him,” she concluded. The buildings are red-tagged now, awaiting approval of the permits, she said. George, who had returned to the podium for the discussion, added “we got red tagged and then days later we submitted plans” for the interior alteration permits. Those applications are now pending with the City. 

“I just want to make sure there is a public involvement,” neighbor Barbara Hadenfeldt called out from the audience. 

(I asked Sanderson after the meeting if Commission review would extend to the two chimneys of the 2201 house that had already been removed. She said she wasn’t familiar enough with the project details to say.) 

Commissioners briefly discussed the topic after Sanderson’s comments. The project “now will be very closely watched,” Commissioner Hall said. Commissioner Wagley moved to create a subcommittee, a suggestion that was approved.  

When it came time to select the members, however, commissioners noted that none of them lived in that part of Berkeley. Eventually Wagley, Commissioner Christopher Linvill, and outgoing Commission Chair Gary Parsons were selected. 

“I just want to apologize for some of my earlier comments,” George then told the Commission. He said some of what he had said was “not appropriate for the discussion,” apparently referring to some of the comments he made about the neighbors.  

“I’m very proud of restoring things even when they’re not landmarks,” he added. “I just want to make them (these houses) fully restored and bring them back to their historic grandeur.” “We did another building which is my primary residence,” he added. 

Commission Staffing 

The July meeting was the last for Commission staff intern Amanda Bensel. The Commission’s regular secretary, Jay Claiborne, was not at the meeting and the City’s Planning Manager, Debbie Sanderson, sat in at the staff table.  

She told the Commission that Bensel’s position won’t be replaced. “Right now the City Manager isn’t approving any (new) interns when they leave.”  

“We’re into a service provision mode we haven’t experienced before,” she said, with budget and staff cutbacks. She said, “the permit counter input seems to be picking up (but) we lag about a year behind the rest of the economy.” The Planning Department derives much of its budget from permit and building fees. 

Sanderson said staff support for the LPC “comes out of our General Fund, not permit fees” but the staff support for the Commission is affected by the overall cutbacks.  

Claiborne, she said, would focus on “processing applications and plan checks and supporting the Committee,” while support for “larger issues” the LPC might want to pursue will need to wait. “We’ll have to put those on hold until the revenue picks up,” she said. 

She said that Claiborne’s position has been funded as a half-time senior planner career position, and the City is processing applications for a permanent new hire for the post. About 30 applications were received, she said, and the City will probably start doing interviews in a couple of weeks. 

“We just wanted to alert you to this,” Sanderson said. “We’ll do the best we can” with staff support, she added. 

Bensel and Sanderson noted two immediate consequences of the staffing cutback.  

First, Commission minutes will be abbreviated and probably cover actions only, rather than summarizing comments made by speakers or Commissioners. 

Second, the practice of providing staff support for Commission subcommittees will largely end. “Due to the staffing being cut in half there will no longer be staffing at all unless it’s a highly contentious property,” Sanderson said. The LPC extensively uses subcommittees to visit project sites and review details of project plans, reporting back to the full Commission with recommendations.  

Sanderson said that henceforth subcommittee chairs would be responsible for arranging meetings and taking notes at them. City staff will arrange some training in this, she added. 

In addition, Sanderson said, “we are looking at whether we should place some limitations on the number of applications (for Mills Act contracts) we accept each year.” The Mills Act, a piece of State regulation, allows property owners of landmark buildings to apply to municipalities for partial property tax reductions in exchange for using the money they save for an agreed-to program of building repairs and renovations. The City needs to monitor the contracts to ensure that the proposed work is actually done. 

“The Mills Act has saved many buildings in Berkeley,” emphasized Commissioner Anne Wagley. “For many people having the Mills Act enables them to take on a landmark and restore it.”  

In other business: 

o Commissioner Gary Parsons finished his last meeting as Chair. Commissioner Carrie Olson, the Vice Chair, was unanimously elected as the new Chair and Commissioner Austene Hall was unanimously elected as the new Vice Chair. Commissioner Antoinette Pietras was not at the meeting, and Commissioner Miriam Ng had left the meeting early, before the vote. 

o Modifications to the Standard Tool and Die factory at 2701-21 Eighth Street got a sympathetic hearing and general support, although the Commission spent some time discussing details. Commissioners were concerned that newly proposed openable windows be properly designed to fit with the historic character of the building, and asked that a proposed widening of an entrance to the building be kept as minimal as possible. 

o Commission staff reported that permits for 22 Roble Road, the landmark McDuffie estate, were final as of June 28th. In late 2010 and the first half of 2011 the Commission had devoted parts of several meetings to reviewing landmark applications for the property, then proposed renovation and alteration plans. 

o The Commission briefly heard from Downtown planner Matt Taecker and one member of the public, John English, about the design guidelines for the Downtown area that Taecker is revising. English emphasized that there are still factual errors in the City’s mapping of Downtown historic resources that need to be corrected, and suggested that the guidelines should also reflect a premise in the Downtown Plan for historic subareas in the Downtown. Taecker said that the guidelines would be going to the Planning Commission in the Fall, and invited Commissioners to send him comments. 

o The Commission also discussed, in an advisory capacity to City Design Review staff, a proposed design for replacing the façade of 2020 Shattuck Avenue, between University Avenue and Addison Street, with an entirely new, Modern, storefront of metal (Corten steel) and glass. Architect David Trachtenberg appeared at the meeting to present the design. There was a lengthy discussion of this topic by—and the author made comments about it to—the Commission. I’ll report on and discuss this involved and lengthy topic in a separate article.  

(Disclosure. The author is the Vice-President of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), and a participant in the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project, which works with property owners to put descriptive plaques on landmark and other historic structures. In the course of our e-mail interview, Nathan George asked me for information on contacting those two organizations to discuss the 2201-2205 Blake properties. I supplied him with contact information. BAHA and the Plaque Project have not held any discussions of the properties, as of the writing of this article.)

New: First U.C. Lab Meeting is Tonight in Alameda--Berkeley Meetings August 4 and 8

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 06:12:00 PM

The University of California tonight will hold the first of six public meetings to get input on potential sites for a proposed second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which the university manages. 

Most of the lab's 4,200 employees work at its main site in the Berkeley hills, but about 20 percent of them work at leased facilities that are dispersed around the East Bay. 

The proposed campus is an effort to consolidate those facilities and provide the lab with long-term cost savings. 

More than 20 cities and developers proposed ideas for a second campus, and university officials narrowed them down to six finalists. 

Those sites are Alameda Point, in Alameda; Berkeley Aquatic Park West, in Berkeley; Brooklyn Basin, in Oakland; properties in Emeryville and West Berkeley that are currently occupied by the lab; Golden Gate Fields, which straddles the Berkeley-Albany border; and Richmond Field Station, a site currently owned by the university. 

University officials said they hope to make a decision on their preferred site and move researchers into the new site by mid-2016. 

The public meetings will involve presentations about the lab from lab representatives, information on potential site developments and comments from local officials. 

Members of the public and community organizations are invited to attend and comment. 

The first meeting will concern the Alameda Point site and will be held at the Auctions by the Bay Theater at 2700 Saratoga St. in Alameda from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

The hearing for the Richmond Field Station will be held on July 21, the Brooklyn Basin proposal will be discussed on July 27, the Golden Gate Fields site will have a hearing on Aug. 3, Aquatic Park West will have its hearing on Aug. 4, and the properties in Emeryville and West Berkeley will be the subject of the final hearing on Aug. 8.

Police Seek Help in Berkeley Gunshot Case

By Bay City News
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:34:00 PM

Police are asking for the public's help in finding a man who fired shots at a passing SUV outside a Berkeley liquor store on Friday afternoon. 

The shooting occurred near Stanford Liquors in the 3400 block of King Street at about 2:25 p.m. 

A group of men was in the parking lot of the liquor store when a black SUV headed west on Stanford Avenue turned north onto King Street. One of the men in the parking lot pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and shot at the SUV.  

Several bullets struck the SUV, but police are not aware of anyone who was hit by the gunfire. 

The shooter was described as a black man in his 20s with long dreadlocks. He was wearing a black and red Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, a black T-shirt and black jeans. 

The suspect and two other men drove away in a white four-door sedan similar to a Hyundai Sonata. A white two-door 1990s Acura Integra followed the car and is believed to be linked to the shooter. 

The suspect was last seen driving west on Stanford Avenue, police said. 

Police are asking anyone with information to call police at (510) 981-5900 or the anonymous tip line at (800) 222-8477 and mention case No. 2011-37739. 

"Any information may be critical to solving this crime," police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said. "Sometimes the smallest or seemingly insignificant detail can be the key to arresting the suspect or suspects in a crime."

Oakland Hotel Owner Richard Earl Singer Pleads Guilty to Solicitation of Arson

By Lynda Carson
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 09:22:00 AM

Oakland - In a plea agreement, on June 22, 2011, before U.S. Magistrate Claudia Wilken, wealthy Tiburon resident, criminal defendant Richard Earl Singer, pleaded guilty to one count of solicitation to commit arson at Oakland's low-income residential Menlo Hotel, and was remanded back into custody of the U.S. Marshal. 

Singer is scheduled next for an August 31, 2011, court date at 2:00 pm, for sentencing. Solicitation to commit arson is a felony, punishable with penalties including a maximum prison term of 10 years, and a fine of $125,000. 

According to charges filed by the FBI/ATF, on or about January 10, 2011, Richard Earl Singer did knowingly and with intent attempt to hire another person to burn down the Menlo Hotel or Ridge Hotel, both being occupied low-income residential hotels in Oakland, at that time. Additionally, federal officials charge that two people reported that Singer wanted to hire someone to burn down one of the hotels, and one of the informants worked with the FBI/ATF to stop Singer from burning down either of the hotels. 

Both low-income hotels are located downtown Oakland, and an arson fire large enough to burn down either of the hotels would have placed residents and other buildings at risk, including the fire-fighters called in to battle the blaze. Federal officials charge that as part of the arson scam, Singer suggested that the fire department may be slower to respond to the arson fire if they were to receive several false alarms before an actual fire was started, during a recorded conversation on January 10, 2011. 

In an affidavit dated January 13, 2011, federal officials have charged that Singer hired an arsonist and handed over a check for $1,500, so the arsonist could buy the materials needed to burn down the Menlo Hotel. Additionally, federal officials charged that Singer wanted to collect a maximum insurance payment, and planned to have the occupied Menlo Hotel burned down on January 15, 2011. Allegedly, Singer planned to pay the arsonist (a federal informant), an additional $63,500 around 48 hours after the hotel burned down. 

Also, on December 28, 2010, Singer met with one of the federal informants, and in a recorded conversation Singer was asked if he still wanted to get rid of one of his hotels in Oakland, and Singer said "yeah," according to the federal affidavit. The two of them continued talking and the informant told Singer how someone in New York was found that is a professional, and eventually they settled upon the Menlo Hotel as being the better target of arson. 

Singer was arrested on or around January 17, 2011, and was released from custody on January 20, 2011, after surrendering his passport, and posting a $700,000 secured bond. Additionally, Singer's wife Patricia Singer, and his mother Gloria Singer posted a $500,000 unsecured bond as co-signers, to further assist in bailing him out of jail. 

Singer was released into the custody of his wife Patricia where they both reside in the upscale hills of Tiburon, on Mark Terrace, in a 4 bedroom house valued at $2,100,000, and according to court documents he is restricted from having any contact with 2 witnesses that have informed on him, and alerted the ATF to his plan of burning down the Menlo Hotel. One of the informants was a former employee of the Menlo Hotel, according to federal officials. 

Adding to the criminal charges of conspiring to hire an arsonist to burn down the Menlo Hotel, a local elevator repair company out of Pacifica accused Singer, the owner of Oakland's Menlo Hotel and Ridge Hotel, of operating his buildings and the building's elevators in an unsafe manner, according to an April 2, 2010, letter from Curtis Bleyle of Bleyle Elevator, Inc., to Richard Singer, including Ryan Nathan, Sam Manning, and Joel McCall of the management company called RMD Services. RMD Services managed the Menlo Hotel and Ridge Hotel for Singer. In the letter Bleyle asserted that he will refuse to do business with Singer or RMD Services any longer, unless they operate their buildings and elevators in a safe manner. 

Singer has additionally faced a class action lawsuit from over 50 residents of the Ridge Hotel, and has faced lawsuits from many residents at the Menlo Hotel that have sued him for operating both hotels in slum-like conditions. 

Singer hired the law office of Arguedas, Cassman and Headly, LLP, in Berkeley, and Oakland attorney Paul Delano Wolf to represent himself against the solicitation of arson charge, a felony punishable by 10 years in prison. Singer's attorney Daniel Charles Roth, was not available for comment. 

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com

First Person: Blood on the Tracks Calls Up Anti-War Memories

By Gar Smith
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 05:20:00 PM
S. Brian Willson
S. Brian Willson

Reading S. Brian Willson’s Blood on the Tracks brought back a flood of memories for this reviewer. The day Willson had his fateful encounter with a speeding locomotive, I was in San Francisco, interviewing the Danny Sheehan, the charismatic head of Christic Institute. Sheehan was in town to speak about the “Secret Team,” a group of CIA assets that the Christic Institute charged were working under Col. Oliver North to run the illegal “Contra” war against Nicaragua. (To the surprise of everyone involved, the San Francisco Chronicle actually published the resulting article.) 

Part way through the interview, as Sheehan was preparing to go onstage, someone rushed into the room, whispered in his ear and rushed out. Sheehan looked up with a shocked expression. All he could say was: “I friend of mine was just run over by a train.” When Sheehan mentioned his friend’s name. I, too, felt the shock. S. Brian Willson was well known and deeply respected in the US anti-war community. In the auditorium, Sheehan invited David Hartsough to the stage. Hartsough had just come from the Concord Naval Weapons Station where he had been part of the Nuremberg Actions protest. He told the hushed crowd what had happened earlier that day, in agonizing, bloody detail. 

This memory triggered other memories — of protests, locomotives and, above all, Port Chicago (as the Naval Weapons Station was popularly known). 

When the first troop train attempted to move Viet Nam-bound soldiers through Berkeley, I was grouped with other members of the Vietnam Day Committee, standing in the middle of the tracks, holding part of a long banner that read: “Stop the War Machine.” Contrary to our naïve expectations, the train didn’t stop and I barely got off the tracks in time. The train rolled right over our banner. We folded it up the next day and mailed it to President Lyndon Johnson, along with a note of protest against the war and the wanton endangerment of civilian protesters. 

That night, I personally called the president of the railroad company at his home. He offered no apologies. Instead, he informed me that the protesters had broken Federal law — specifically statutes that prohibited “disruption” of trains carrying either USPS mail or “war material.” 

The Pentagon only made one other attempt to move troops by rail through the East Bay. After that attempt brought out even larger crowds of protesters, Washington abandoned the program. 

Following that success, members of the Vietnam Day Committee began to look for other ways to demonstrate growing public opposition to the US war in Viet Nam. The weapons station at Port Chicago seemed a perfect target. After all, this was where 90% of the bombs and napalm were stored before being shipped across the Pacific to be dropped on peasant villages. 

In 1965, at an early planning meeting in Berkeley, two attendees (who may well have been agents provocateurs) suggested that the best approach would be to plant explosives along the railway to blow up the tracks. “After all,” one proposed, “isn’t our ultimate goal to ‘derail’ the war effort?” 

The proposal was approaching consensus and seemed certain to pass. But having recently benefited from the experience of participating the Free Speech Movement (and serving some jail time for my beliefs), I felt I couldn’t remain silent, even though I was clearly in the minority. I spoke up to oppose that tactic. Remembering Mario Savio’s passionate speeches (which demonstrated the transcendental power of a well-reasoned argument), I mustered all of my rhetorical skills. I argued that resorting to violence would put us in the same camp as the Pentagon and such an act would surely be used by the government to tarnish the entire peace movement. 

To my great relief, it was decided that the Port Chicago Vigil would remain nonviolent. We would stand in front of the gates and attempt to block any weapons trucks that approached. Like Brian Willson and his friends — protesting another US war two decades later — we were determined to place our bodies between the munitions bunkers and the ships waiting at the waterfront. The vigil was set to open on the first weekend of August 1965, with a public demonstration between Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day. 

I was the first to be arrested. The Friday before the first large weekend demonstration, I caught a ride to the base and took up a position just outside a roadway guarded by an armed sentry. The young soldier on duty asked about my intentions. When I told him I planned to nonviolently block any weapons trucks that moved down the road, he told me: “If you try to do that, if you cross that painted line, I will have to shoot you.” 

I told him that I was unarmed and nonviolent and represented no threat to life. I told him there was no need to use his rifle and that I hoped, if it came to that, he would not shoot. 

Eventually, a truck loaded with napalm bombs moved up the road. With my full concentration on the approaching vehicle, I began to march forward to meet the roaring truck. I tried to put the prospect of being perforated by an M-16 out of my mind and moved forward in something like a trance. 

It came as a shock when my mind suddenly refocused and I found myself standing, still intact, with my body six inches away from the metal grill of the massive truck — stopped dead in the roadway. Hot Gandhi! Nonviolence worked! I had “put my body on the line” and literally stopped the war. (Or, more accurately, I had momentarily disrupted the schedule of one truck-sized part of the Pentagon’s war-machine. But, still, it felt immensely empowering.) 

Instead of being shot, I was arrested and turned over to the Contra Costa police who applied handcuffs and shuffled me into the backseat of a patrol car. 

It was uncomfortable sitting with handcuffed wrists bent behind my back so, as the police car sped down the highway, I shuffled around in the backseat like Houdini until my cuffed arms were resting comfortably in my lap. 

When the arresting officers opened the back door, they were not amused. “How did you do that!” they yelled. 

I brusquely was perp-walked upstairs and tossed into a cell with about 12 other men. 

Shortly after the police disappeared down the hall, one of the cell’s residents — a thin young man with short hair and a blond goatee — approached with the classic welcoming line: “What are you in for?” 

“Protesting,” I said. 

“Us, too,” he replied. “What about?” 

“Protesting the war,” I started to say. I didn’t finish the sentence because I had just been sucker-punched in the face. The unexpected blow sent me flying backwards , feet-in-the-air across the cell where I crashed into a metal trash can. The next thing I knew was, I was on a concrete floor surrounded by a world of flying fists and boots. 

I would later discover that St. John, the man who attacked me, was the leader of a local bandof neo-Nazis. They had been arrested for staging a violent pro-Aryan demonstration. 

Recalling all those film clips I’d seen about voting-rights protestors being beaten in the South, I covered by head with my hands, tucked my knees to my chest and curled up in a nonviolent ball. Fortunately, St. John and his followers soon tired of the pummeling. When I climbed back to my feet, St. John laid out “the rules.” If I didn’t want to suffer any more attacks, he explained, all I had to do was to agree to redirect some of my pocket money to provide his crew with a steady supply of Baby Ruth candy bars from the jail commissary. 

When I refused, St. John looked taken aback. I could see that I was headed for another beating. It was at that point that I heard a voice from the other side of the cell. 

“Hey man,” the voice called out. “Care to join us for a round of cards?” 

I looked up and saw four well-muscled African-American men seated at a table, playing poker. I thanked them for the invitation and crossed the cell to join them. From that point on, I never had any more problems with the pro-Aryans. 

During the night the guards returned to the cell and called my name. I assumed I was being released but, instead, I was taken to a room where I found myself being interrogated by an FBI agent. After a couple of disarming questions about the weather, Berkeley, and my family he ever-so-casually asked “Oh, and how does your mother feel about trespassing on Federal property?” It was at that point that I clammed up and insisted on my right to speak to a lawyer. 

I was released the next day but not in time to join the larger protest at the gates of the Weapons Station. Those protests saw several more that 20 people arrested, including Korean War veteran Tom Voorhees who had his leg broken by Naval security as they dragged him across the pavement. (Half of the arrests were dismissed after arraignment.) 

My case was added to those of the seven people detained on Saturday. In addition to Tom Voorhees, those arrested included a divinity student, a youth minister, a housewife, a shoe salesman, a male model, and two student anti-war activists. We all eventually stood trial in San Francisco. We might have been called the “Port Chicago Eight,” but this was two years before the protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial began on January 1966, after 11 contentious pre-trial hearings that spanned five months. 

We decided to insist on a jury trial. As I reported in an edition of the Guild Practitioner, “we felt we had been offered a unique opportunity to confront both the mass and the media with a legal offensive to match our militant disobedience.” A legal test of the legality of the war. The government did not want to see such a case brought to trial but our legal team — Al Brotsky, Peter Franck, Gabe Werbner and James Heavey — prevailed, winning a precedent-setting ruling from Judge William T. Sweigart that we were entitled to a jury trial. 

The case lasted months and became the longest-running misdemeanor trial in the history of the Ninth US Federal Court. (I wrote an initial report for the trial for the Berkeley Barb and, as the trial went on, I continued to file stories. As a result of what turned out to be a weekly reporting assignment, the Barb’s editor, Max Scheer, invited me to become the paper’s “peace beat” reporter. That was the moment that would steer me into a life-long career as a journalist.) 

From the first day of our trail, we attempted to use the “defense of necessity” plea, claiming that we had broken the law in an attempt to prevent a greater evil — i.e., the waging of an illegal war that was killing innocent civilians in Viet Nam. Judge Lloyd Burke ruled that we could not offer this defense. He did, however, offer to let us make a personal statement at the end of defense arguments. 

All seven of the defendants arrested in the group-protest were eventually acquitted when evidence showed that the Navy, in its zeal to arrest the protesters, had actually dragged seated demonstrators (who had “gone limp” as a form of passive resistance) across the public boundary line and onto the base. 

My case was different since I was the only one who had walked across a painted line on my own power. It appeared certain that I would be going to jail for “criminal trespass” onto a military base. Fortunately, my lawyer was the redoubtable Al Brotsky. 

“I’m a former Navy man,” Brotsky told the judge, “and I know from experience that the Navy sometimes makes mistakes.” Brotsky asked for the government to produce its blueprints outlining the base. Sure enough, it turned out the US Navy had drawn the all-important white line delineating base property in the wrong place — on public land. So I left custody in the same way I entered custody. I walked. 

Postscript: The first time I ran into S. Brian Willson was in an elevator in the Federal Building. He was on his new legs by then and we were both in the building on anti-war campaigns.

A Chicken-Shit Tale of Super-Market Marketing

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 12:50:00 PM
The photo Berkeley Bowl doesn't want you to see. Mary is in the middle, surrounded by her husband, and sons; and doesn't the label leave out the word "chicken" from "organic breast?"
Ted Friedman
The photo Berkeley Bowl doesn't want you to see. Mary is in the middle, surrounded by her husband, and sons; and doesn't the label leave out the word "chicken" from "organic breast?"

If you really want to know about it, this chicken-shit story began at my neighborhood meat counter. Some readers say my stories are chicken-shit anyway. 

Now I provide the evidence to prove their point. 

The sign at the meat counter said, "Mary's Organic Breasts." Signage at my store is often missing words. 

So I ordered one breast, saying "if it's okay with Mary,"(for me to take liberties with her breast). The butcher asked,"Don't you want two?" 

Sounds of two boys laughing. 

I told Mary the whole story about that breast recently when I called her at the family farm in Sanger, California, in Fresno County, the nation's "Christmas Tree City," soon to add yet another slogan—Home to Chickens That Chill. Mary loved my breast joke and I now love Mary. 

Berkeley loves Mary, too, judging by the success of her Pitman Family Farms products and their wide adoption in Berkeley super-markets. Andronico’s made Mary their only chickens supplier after she and her family made a personal presentation to Andronico's buyer. The butchers at my store cook Mary's chickens at home and give them high marks. 

I called Mary recently with some ideas about marketing air-chilled chicken as "chickens that chill". I could see—in my mind's eye—the TV ad or You Tube: chickens looking hip. In fact it's been done. 

But Mary was so busy filling orders—after a New York Times business-section front-page story, Oct. 22, had praised her farm—she had no time to promote her wildly successful chicken (and other fowl) business. 

And to think, Mary only recently was plucked from foreclosure. Her son saved the family farm by instituting standards for humane growing, according to Mary. 

The Times article also saved the farm. It promoted Mary's in language even more lurid than mine: announcing Mary's plans to "use carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious before" before they are—slaughtered. 

Mary doesn't like the word slaughter. "We don't slaughter our birds she says. We treat them the way the French do," she told me. Chicken-death with French compassion and dignity. Besides, "Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong." 

Here was where I told Mary a chicken-slaughtering story from the 1940s, before Mary's time. There was a chicken-slaughterer in the alley behind my dad's wallpaper and paint store in Springfield, Illinois, where birds were decapitated live and dropped into a bucket where they continued to twitch to death (hence the phrase, "jumping around like a chicken with its head cut off.") 

I peered into the slaughtering shack once and saw unsanitary, cramped conditions, and dirty cages smeared with chicken feathers. And the smell! 

Mary has changed all that. 

Mary invited me out to the farm, but advised me not to show up with any viruses and warned that I'd have to wear a special coat to protect the birds from me. And I thought I was the good guy. 

My last words to Mary: "Keep me abreast" of news from the farm. 

Then I had to hit the ground running to cover the chicken-scene in Berkeley. Mary had said that Berkeley was a big share of her Northern California fowl business. Mary's rules the roost at Andronico’s stores where Mary's is the chicken of choice with customers because they have no other choice. 

But at Berkeley Bowl, Mary's doesn't even get into the main meat case. Rosie's and Happy Dan rule that roost. We can only hope Happy Dan is not Colonel San but has happy chickens who are not tortured before they die. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQehQ_e2xGk 

But surely the Bowl has thought of that. Yet they ordered me to not photograph the chickens. (See accompanying photo.) 

Do those chickens have an agent? I've shopped at the Bowl since 1970, when it was The Bowl (in a former bowling alley), and not just an improved Safeway (the Shattuck store was once a Safeway). Yet, here's a gap where I do not interview some Bowl flack about how kind Happy Dan is to his birds. Who knows what he's happy about? Call me a biased reporter. 

Whole foods, which is having trouble with its new phone system, was not easy to reach, and they have a chain of command which links you to corporate public relations. 

Whole Foods is stoked on Mary's, using it for their in-store rotisserie chicken and passing out succulent samples of what you can achieve with the bird in your home oven. 

When you sift through the list of humane growing standards met by Mary's, you might marvel at how well-treated the birds are. They not only roam, but spend their lives only at Mary's. I couldn't help envying them. Wasn't the movie "Brewster McCloud," about a guy who wanted to be a chicken, or was it just a big bird? 

What about "Big Bird"? They're all chickens to me. Let's go with Foghorn Leghorn; now there's a chicken with moxie. 

I'm not saying I want to live as a chicken; I'm just saying that if I did, I'd want to be at Mary's doing my chicken-thing. Don't get me clucking. 

Now to redeem my offer to say some things about chicken-shit. This misunderstood poop makes the best fertilizer known to farmers, according to Berkeley legend George Kalmar, now a successful Vermont pig farmer (and he's Jewish). 

Perhaps we care about our chickens because they are sustaining us and they are seriously cute. 

Bon appetit. 

Ted Friedman reported this from the south-side; but come fall, he's headed for Mary's farm to bond with his peeps. Stay abreast with his tweets, berkboy@twitter. 


Counter Culture Author Roszak Dies As American Vision Fades

By Paul Kleyman (New America Media)
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:21:00 PM

The American vision grew dimmer this past week. In Berkeley last Tuesday, Theodore “Ted” Roszak –the author of 20 books, including that rare combination of bestsellers in both fiction and nonfiction– succumbed to a long and enervating illness at age 77. And Monday’s press conference with President Obama was less than reassuring that Ted Roszak’s vision of an older and wiser future will not become pixilated like a scratched DVD and fall apart in the minutiae of Democratic giveaways. 

The current president is in the process of establishing himself as Deal Cutter in Chief -- evidently attempting a grand budget bargain that would only neuter Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid a little. 

At the same time, he’s presiding over a fast-leaking employment boat. An apprehensive nation wonders whether Barack Obama will emerge a master of brinksmanship—painting Republicans into an extremist corner—or whether he will endorse, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman put it last Friday (July 8), “false conservative views.” 

An Original Thinker 

Ted Roszak understood the fallacies of bipartisan deal-making as well as any social historian. He chronicled the arc of my baby boom generation from his books The Making of a Counter Culture (1969) to The Making of an Elder Culture (2009). 

He was also that rare writer who published bestsellers in both nonfiction and fiction. (His better known novels were The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein (1996) and Flicker (1991) which my Internet search tells me has become something of a cult classic for its splicing of Hollywood history and an ancient religious conspiracy. 

Ted Roszak had a fertile, challenging and fun intellect. He was an original thinker, and I was deeply proud to call him a friend and mentor since we met in the late 1990s. 

Ted was enormously hopeful that the collective wisdom of the boomer generations would emerge and, while losing battles along the way, would eventually win the war for social justice and humanism. We'd go to lunch now and then, although not much in more recent years, when his recurring infections sapped his energy, or as he guarded his time to be with his granddaughter, Lucy. The sophisticated public intellectual frequently laughed and would say, “I never thought I would become a doting grandfather, but I love every minute of it.” 

Not only was Ted a genuine visionary—a word I’ll consider a bit later —but he was an unrepentant optimist, not a cockeyed one, but one with a clear-eye on the capacity for progress, which history told him was well within our reach. Over those lunches, I'd, well, be more skeptical. I’d say, “Don’t you think, Ted, that you might have overstated your idea that boomers would bring more wisdom to society in old age?” He’d have none of it. Social change has its turmoil, he’d variously insist, but reason and political power of the huge generations would prevail, especially among aging women. 

Predicting an “elder insurgency,” Ted told me in an interview that he fully expected the United States to see a national rebellion of the old that would begin with “women in their 50s who are getting stuck with eldercare for no money,” as well as with little help and few ways to cover the often-crushing costs of such care. Too few Americans still understand that Medicare does not help much with long-term care, the kind most crucial for an aging nation. 

More broadly, Ted showed that our extended lives will yield a smaller society. (He scoffed at the idea of a population bomb, a notion he could show belied by both the new longevity and shrinking fertility rates worldwide.) The elder culture would demand more opportunities for work—purposeful, contributive endeavors for all, long into years once consigned to a rocking chair. He noted past societies that had grown older, always becoming more affluent and with greater gender equality. 

Longevity and America’s Wealth 

“Visionary” is a word that finds its way into laudatory tributes all too often. I’ve had it shine on me, basking for a moment, I then got realistic and took note of the true light of actual seers like Ted Roszak. Ted was prescient because his foresight was firmly grounded both in his knowledge and grasp of social history and in his instinctive humanism. He was convinced that any achievement of technology or societal organization is only meaningful to the extent that it, for better or worse, affects human beings and our condition directly. 

In Elder Culture, Ted revisits a lost memory of the 1960s, events going on behind the tumult and headlines. A dominant theme of that time among the smart and powerful, both on the left and right, was that all Americans could most benefit from its vast post-war wealth. He describes how, in 1962, a Ford Foundation think-tank assembled some of the nation’s finest thinkers at a conference in Washington, D.C., to outline a Triple Revolution. It would reconcile the issues of war, racial justice and automation (what we now loosely refer to as technology). 

Major thought leaders of that time theorized about how to apply the country’s great affluence to free every citizen from the restrictive bonds between jobs and income. They felt the nation held the resources to end poverty and free the U.S. population to pursue happiness in ways that would surely realize greater purpose and productivity across the land. 

The idea was so palpable that in 1964, even Milton Friedman, on his way to becoming a Nobelist and the father of modern free-market economics, agreed that America should spread the wealth. That year, Friedman, who was the chief economic adviser to GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, proposed the negative income tax. True to the Republican mold, there would be no spending on social programs, as others wanted, but the IRS would provide income to those whose earnings fell below a certain level. 

“Abuse, Scamming and Banditry” 

So what happened? The ensuing years brought, among other developments, the drain of war, Watergate and the Reagan Revolution. Meanwhile, the wealth of our nation grew—and shifted upward. As others have noted recently, whereas as the richest one percent of Americans collected eight percent of all U.S. income in 1970, the super-rich consumed triple that proportion, or 23.5 percent of national earnings in 2010. 

Of the current mess we’re in, Ted commented in a print and video interview that I did two years ago. “You know,” he told me, “this whole economic crisis is a kind of perverse measure of how rich we are. It’s been filled with abuse and scamming and banditry. What we’re going through is not like the sort of economic crisis people in Somalia might go through. They are authentically poor.” In Elder Culture he appeals to boomers to revive the discussion about America’s astronomical wealth, “when we thought we could provide a decent standard of living and health for everybody.” 

Ted attacked the hegemony of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a “meaningless statistic” wielded as the principle lever of America’s misallocation of its resources. Oddly, for instance, he wrote that health care appears in the GDP as a liability, not an asset. “If a mechanic repairs a mangled car,” he remarked, “that is a positive item on the balance sheet; if a physician repairs a broken body, that is a negative item.” 

“What our economics lack,” he wrote in Elder Culture, is an index for life and health.” 

To counter the GDP and the gross obsession with budgets, Ted recommended the creation of the National Life Expectancy quotient. The NLE, he wrote, would be “a simple number that elder power may one day enshrine in our political life.” Where the measure was shown to improve, he explained, the nation could say “true wealth is being created.” Conversely, he went on, “where the NLE is failing, there is no other indicator that would let such a society qualify as economically successful.” 

Can anyone now watching the stock market push toward 13,000 -- while Democratic leaders negotiate with the GOP over how much “pain” vulnerable America must “share” to balance government budgets -- seriously doubt that narrow GDP group-think and related “bottom lines” are failing us and our future? Anyone, that is, except those benefiting directly or politically, such as by turning a blind eye to the transgressions. 

President Obama’s press conference Monday (July 11), offered a dismaying distortion of “compromise” to get things done. Ted wouldn’t have been surprised, just irate. His seeming evenhandedness would actually compromise the integrity of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But that’s for another discussion. 

The Soul of Systems 

In Elder Culture, Ted wrote, “When we debate social institutions and programs, almost inevitably we get caught up in administrative technicalities and budgetary minutiae. How will the program be run? How much will it cost? Who will pay? Distracted by these details, it is easy to overlook the fact that every system has a moral core – a soul that animates its daily life. 

Even when we devise institutions by way of confused debate, somewhere inside that debate there are ethical commitments that derive, not from research or statistical analysis, but from living experience.” 

Ted Roszak reminded anyone who would listen that bottom lines are soulless unless they give us life lines. His vision for us was beyond the moon, while his values were solidly planted in our unfettered human potential to make everyone count, of any color, age or social background.



A Student Ghetto District for Berkeley Would Weaken Student Power

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 11:07:00 AM

While I was trying to get last week’s issue out from an undisclosed location in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the midst of techno-hell caused by ATT’s simultaneously failing voice and data lines, I got a call from a reporter who was doing a story for another publication, asking me if I had any position on a move to create a special Berkeley City Council district just for students. I told him, somewhat peremptorily, that I had no opinion on the topic, which I didn’t at the time, being busy with other problems.

Afterwards, though, I wondered what was up, and when I got back to what passes for civilization I checked the Daily Cal.

Reading a comprehensive story by student reporter Anjuli Sastry, this is what I learned: 

“In an attempt to gain a stronger student presence on the Berkeley City Council by allowing for the creation of a student council member, the ASUC has asked the council to extend the deadline for public redistricting proposal submissions in a letter dated July 5. “Following a series of letters from the ASUC Office of External Affairs to the council, the office requested that the council push the deadline to Nov. 1 to provide enough time to create a proposal for a super-majority student district wherein students can elect their own student representative.”  

Something about the story seemed familiar, so I checked the Planet archives. In fact, our reporter had covered a similar push way back in 2006, when many of today’s students were still in junior high. 

At that time, during a city council race aimed at unseating Councilmember Kriss Worthington, perpetual District 7 challenger George Beier, as part of a campaign which included Telegraph Avenue beer parties and other stunts designed to appeal to his vision of student concerns, was promoting the establishment of just such a district: 

“A large map depicting the proposal decorates the Telegraph Avenue door of the campaign office Beier shares with District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who is running for re-election. It includes comments suggesting that the current district lines have deliberately disenfranchised students. ‘The students have no voice,’ Beier told the Planet. ‘If that were any other minority in town, we would be taking steps to correct that problem.’ “
Pardon my cynicism, but Oh Sure. 

All along, Wozniak has been a big backer of an all-student district. 

In 2006: 

“Crediting Beier for the plan, which he calls a ‘good idea,’ District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak says it will benefit District 8 by creating a district in which the population is more homogenous by age, eliminating a large percentage of the students and gaining more long-term residents. Wozniak won his council seat four years ago in a run-off with then-student Andy Katz, who garnered 41 percent of the vote. “
In 2011: 

“The districts have been prone to spread students over several districts, and in fact, you dilute their impact,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “There should be enough time for students to engage among themselves and take control of their impact on politics.”
Dilute their impact, or spread their impact? In fact, Wozniak and many of his constituents in District 8 (full disclosure: I live there) would like nothing better than to get those pesky students out of their elections and into the student ghetto where they belong. As it stands now, students have a controlling voice in at least two districts, and a significant voice in at least three others. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who cut his political teeth as a student activist, was able to get elected in District 4 largely because of strong student support, and he’s very aware of it. 

From the 2006 article: 

“Rent Board member and student Jesse Arreguin opposes the creation of a student district, which he calls a “student ghetto.” The district could allow the other councilmembers to get away with ignoring student needs by saying the representative of the student district would take care of them, he said.”
And now he’s on the Council. 

The current City Council majority, controlled by Mayor Tom Bates, fielded candidates against dissident progressives, both Arreguin and District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington, but their picks lost because of vigorous student participation in those elections. Ranked choice voting has further strengthened student power in the several districts which have significant numbers of student voters. 

Kriss Worthington explained to the Daily Cal reporter that creating a student district would require placing a charter amendment on the ballot: 

“The city council can’t take half of one district and half of another district and put it together — they are not legally allowed to do that, but voters can do that,” Worthington said. “In the short term, we are trying to figure out how to keep or expand student majority in District 7. In the longer term it’s about how you put something on the ballot that can win.”
Then-City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque laid out the rules in a 2001 memo quoted in the 2006 Planet story: 

“The complex nature of carving out a student district was expressed in an Aug. 16, 2001 memo written by City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque in response to a similarly radically redrawn district proposed by students in 2001.
“The City Charter requires that the council districts be as nearly equal in population as possible, and that any redistricting ‘shall preserve, to the extent possible, the council districts originally established herein,’ ” she wrote, indicating that the 2001 effort to significantly redraw the boundaries by ordinance was illegal.”
If students want a unique voice on the Berkeley City Council, there’s a better way to do it. In today’s housing market, students are dispersed all over Berkeley. The last time a student was elected to the council was in 1984, when all candidates ran at large before district elections were adopted in 1986. That was Nancy Skinner, now representing Berkeley in the state Assembly. 

District elections have their virtues, notably requiring district councilmembers to be much more accountable to the voters than those elected at large ever were. But they are tempted to be parochial—it’s hard for councilmembers from the hills to understand the concerns of citizens who live in the flats, let alone those of students. 

The only councilmember elected at large is currently the mayor, who has few executive powers but a lot of unearned clout because he or she is elected citywide. Rather that constructing an artificial student ghetto district, which would really represent mainly students living in group housing near campus, it would be better to add a couple of additional at-large seats to the council. That way students who live everywhere from Fraternity Row to West Berkeley could aggregate their voting power behind student candidates who would be responsible for representing all students no matter where they live. 

It wouldn’t be necessary (and might even be illegal) to designate one of those seats just for a student, because they were about a quarter in Berkeley’s population in the last census, according to the Daily Cal story. With ranked choice voting, electing one or two students at large should be fairly easy, and a lot more satisfactory than shoving the majority of student voters into a single district.


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 06:18:00 PM


Dan O'Neill




Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 12:49:00 PM

Preserve the Bartlett Houses; Phone Hacking Scandal; Chartres Cathedral; Oil Prices Up; How to Improve the Economy 

Preserve the Bartlett Houses 

My daily walks take me frequently past the two Bartlett Houses at the northeast corner of Blake and Fulton Streets. If I remember correctly from reading the landmark application about the site some time ago, they were built in 1877 and 1892. 

In addition to the two stately houses facing Blake Street, from Fulton Street you can see the lush backyard with many beautiful trees and the original carriage house, and even the tiny servants’ quarters attached to the older house. Taken as a whole, this is probably the most stunning Victorian scene that remains in Berkeley today. 

The new owner of the Bartlett site is Nathan George, who lives nearby. I understand that he has gutted most of the interior of both houses. Sadly, interiors of historic buildings are not protected by landmark designations. I sincerely hope that Mr. George understands how beloved this Victorian site is. There are many landmarks in Berkeley, some more worthy of the title than others, but this view is loved by neighbors and by people from all over town. I hope that it will be preserved in entirety rather than exploited for profit, as happens so often in Berkeley these days. 

Peter Schorer 

* * * 

Phone Hacking Scandal 

The phone hacking scandal that has emerged in Britain has already inflicted huge damage to the Murdock media empire. In a desperate attempt at damage control, its flagship newspaper, the News of the World, was shutdown. Prior to this scandal Murdoch would operate the levers of power with complete abandon favoring the political party which best suited his bottom line. In a twist of irony the ruthless hunter, using every despicable means to invade the privacy of its citizens, has now become the hunted. In a classic ‘Johnny Come Home lately”, Britain’s political elite who were accustomed to groveling for favors from Murdoch have now become his greatest detractors and harsh critics. The Guardian of London deserves credit for relentlessly pursuing the unfolding scandal. 

Unfortunately, Murdoch’s media tentacles are pervasive. His US media includes the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the New Your Post and Fox News. The WSJ current czar, Les Hinton was head of UK’s News Corps. empire during the period when much of the phone hacking was taking place. Incredulously, he testified before the UK House of Commons that it was ‘only one bad apple’ reporter who was responsible. 

Fox News has been the favorite hunting ground for Republican presidential wannebe’s. Its outrageous claims of being ‘the most trusted news source’ has been mocked and effectively ridiculed by Comedy Central’s, Jon Stewart. These growing media conglomerates are a growing menace often pursuing their corporate agenda to the detriment of our democracy. 

Jagjit Singh 

* * * 

Chartres Cathedral 

The July 10th S.F. Chronicle featured an inspiring story of France's spectacular Chartres Cathedral. This brought back warm memories of a talk I once heard Charles Laughton deliver on this very subject. It had to be many, many years ago as Laughton died in 1962. (I discovered this when I "googled" him. Incidentally, I was somewhat puzzled by the description of him as a "tortured but brilliant actor".

Laughton gave this memorable talk in the Berkeley Community Theatre early in the 1960's. He must have spoken for 90 minutes, eloquently, almost passionately praising the Cathedral, describing in great detail the stained glass windows, a treasured relic (the Veil of the Virgin), and a 12th century sculpture on the facade of the Cathedral, the soaring columns and aerial-ribbed vaulting held aloft by ranks of wheel-like flying buttresses. Built from 1194 to the 1250's, part of the facade and towers are Romanesque. He described descending into a crypt's chalking air, and climbing the 350-foot Gothic spire for views that proved breathtaking. Laughton spoke so movingly of this Cathedral and the rolling fields of the surrounding Beauce region, I was reduced to tears and I vowed that I would someday see for myself Chartres.
And that I did -- a year later. I shall never forget the thrill of walking in the green labyrinth behind the Cathedral and walking through Chartres' charming neighborhoods.

So I thank Charles Laughton for sharing his love and admiration for one of the world's greatest attractions -- Chartres Cathedral. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 

* * * 

Oil Prices Up 

Comment on: Oil and gasoline prices on the rise again; oil and gas prices still rising as investors see global demand improving. By Sandy Shore, AP Business Writer, On Thursday July 7, 2011. 

I can picture AAA wrecker services someday being called by cell phones to re-charge electric automobiles stranded in highways and dirt roads and parking lots like jumping dead batteries. Go Electric! Barack Obama tapping into oil reserves is a temporary solutions. 

AAA (pronounced "triple A"), formerly known as the American Automobile Association, can offer re-charging electric vehicles with their road service memberships. 

It might be a faster way to charge electric vehicles or a new way to design the batteries of electric automobiles because wrecker services in America can usually charge a battery almost instantly. 

At least the fear of driving electric automobiles will decrease if AAA will provide the service like winter time fears of a stalled automobile in the freezing winter months keep drivers driving to work. 

Daniel Escurel Occeno 

* * * 

How to Improve the Economy 

There are two views of how our nation should improve the economy. One view says that we should not increases taxes on the rich. The rich are the investors in risky ventures. They are the investors in productive capacity. Without their venture capital the economy would grind to a halt. The other view says that human capital is even more important than money. This view says that raising taxes to support education is the way of making our young people capable of great productivity. This view says that the training and strength and spirit of ordinary people matters even more than financial capital. Which view do you hold? Why? 

Romila K hanna

New: Mayor Gives $200,000 of Public’s Money To Preserve His YMCA Pass

By Victoria L. Peirotes
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 05:39:00 PM

Tuesday’s Council meeting had its YouTube moments. None was more telling than Mayor Bate’s framing and passage of Consent Calendar Item #14. It was a new low in his long-running show of contempt for the public and his council colleagues. I speak of a man who has proven himself politically dexterous enough to go limbo-low in both categories.  

Item 14 was designed to pass below the radar of public attention. It authorized the execution of a contract with the Berkeley YMCA for $200,000 for fitness center memberships for City employees. Why was it particularly egregious? Look at history.  

Last year Mayor and Council authorized a similar resolution of $300,000 to hand out freebie bennies to City employees (Mayor included). Meanwhile the public, in vast numbers, literally begged for a $78,000 commitment to keep Willard Pool open for south-side and the public for the summer of 2010. The handouts to Mayor, Council and City employees were endorsed; Willard Pool ceased operation and has been dozed under. 

This year’s trade-offs were as just as stark and rank. On 6/28/11 Council passed “sweetheart deals” for city employees without any verifiable reporting of “fiscal impact to the City”. The deals were proposed by city employees, for city employees, public oversight and interests be damned. No independent labor negotiators were contracted. An emasculated Council couldn’t find $65,000 to support a half-dozen deserving social programs. Yet they endorsed $200,000 of public funds so the Mayor can work out, if he so chooses. Where is the public in this equation? 

Berkeleypays some solid-waste people over $200,000/year. We pay some parking enforcement people over $120,000/year. We have, per capita, over 50% more city employees than comparable cities. City commitments to long-term pension debt are purposefully unreported but estimated at $5,000/every resident and growing. Our debt to long-neglected city infrastructure repairs and infrastructure is unreported. 

Yet our Mayor, with Council’s approval, has “spiked” the City Manager’s pay in the past 2 years by 20 %, such that he now draws down more than city managers in larger cities such as San Jose, Oakland and SF. Assuming he lives for another 20 years, our city is indebted to him in retirement for about $7 million. And oh yes, he isn’t a Berkeley resident. 

Finally, consider the City Manager’s suggestion that City employees have made concessions. For years the City Manager has loaded Berkeley’s budget with “place-holder” FTE’s (Full-Time Equivalent) positions. These were never filled but provided a “slush fund” for overtime payouts and other flex payouts. What concessions? There are none. The positions being “given up” were never ever occupied.  

The Council endorsed budget includes no layoffs of a bloated city infrastructure; it gives raises for all city employees while other communities are reducing city employee costs by 10% or more. 

What’s not to like? For a community that is universally hurting, from the highlands to the flatlands and from northlands and southlands, I suggest our Mayor and Council and particularly our City Manager are using and abusing us.  


Press Release: UC Students Oppose Tuition Hikes and Call on UC to Absorb Cuts and Seek New Revenue

By Darius L. Kemp, Director of Organizing and Communications University of California Student Association
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:18:00 PM

Oakland, CA – This Thursday, the UC Regents are set to vote on a 9.6% overall increase to mandatory student fees and a 10.5% increase to tuition specifically. This increase is on top of the 8% increase already approved for 2011-2012, which means a roughly 19% total tuition increase. Such a large increase in a single year will have a devastating impact on access and affordability and the UC Student Association is strongly opposed.  

Students have been hit too hard in too short a period of time and should not be expected to cover the entirety of the additional $150 million budget cut from the state. Students have felt the impact of deep cuts over the past few years and continue to pay more for less with classes, departments, services and faculty all being slashed. “Students reject the approach taken by the UC Regents, which has presented an increase to student fees as the only available option to address the entire additional cut from the state. In light of the continuous annual fee increases in recent years, UC Office of the President and UC Regents should make every effort to absorb the additional $150 million cut,” said Claudia Magana, UC Student Association President and 3rd year student at UC Santa Cruz.  

The proposed increase also includes a 5.6% mid-year “trigger” increase that will occur automatically if the UC faces further cuts. This would set a dangerous precedent whereby budget cuts are passed on directly to students without a full discussion or consideration of all relevant factors and alternatives. Further, the proposal includes a 9.6% increase to both tuition and the Student Services Fee, yet all of the funds generated from the increase will go towards tuition. The result is that the tuition itself is increasing 10.5% and students are concerned that this is not being framed to public in a transparent manner.  

Students also have additional concerns about aspects of this proposal. While students from families that make under $120,000 a year are protected from this increase in 2011-12, there is no plan to protect them from a larger cumulative increase in fees in 2012-13 and beyond. Also in the proposal, students are required to pay a surcharge that covers the cost accrued to cover the Kashmiri lawsuit, which is unacceptable and should be rescinded.  

“Students recognize the difficult financial situation the UC system is in and the failure of the state to provide adequate support. For this reason, the UC Regents must work collaboratively with students in advocating for innovative and forward thinking revenue solutions to support higher education. The Regents cannot simply pass this burden onto students and their families through endless fee increases,” said Claudia Magana, UCSA President and 3rd year student at UC Santa Cruz. 


:::: ::::

Will the Chron Ever Let the People of SF Pick Their Own Mayor?

By Dave Blake
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:04:00 PM

For those like me weary of the Chron's relentless record under two right-wing corporate ownerships of promoting conservative mayoral candidates (usually successfully), it's still a shock to see how blatantly they wield their power. And that's in the news sections, not the editorial. Regardless of where you stand on the question of just how progressive interim SF mayor Ed Lee may or may not be, they're at it again. So I put forth the following question: 

Should the Chronicle tone down their shameless promotion of their pet candidate for mayor? Now, that's an unfair way to frame a question, really: it assumes a fact not in evidence (like "When did you stop beating your wife?"). And that's just how the Chron is waging its campaign to get Ed Lee on the November ballot. 

With the August 12 filing deadling looming, the Chron, for all its new-found economizing thinness, has published one John Coté print article every week for the past three weeks on the subject, plus a fourth that opens with a gratuitous reference to the project ("There are plenty of City Hall types on tenterhooks about whether interim Mayor Ed Lee will change his mind and run for a full term. But we know of at least one job he clearly doesn't want: director of the Municipal Transportation Agency.") Add to that a June 16th Nevius column and a June 28th Rachel Gordon CityInsider (print version) piece. Coté is the soul of journalistic objectivity compared to Gordon, who loves to gush about the mayor's supposed coyness in frequent (mostly on-line) Insider articles. The pieces prominently highlight the non-candidate's draftability without mentioning Lee's promise not to run (unlike Coté, who to his credit cites it once an article.) Here's a sample, from Gordon's print-version contribution: '''Actually, you know, I haven't paid much attention to that, to be quite honest with you,' Lee said. But if the mayor decides to go the write-in route, a la then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano's bid for mayor in 1999, he doesn't have to pay attention to the political whirl for a long time yet." 

In fact Coté seems to be wearying of his assignment. Today's article devotes half its space to finding "Draft Lee" fans and half to the article's signature question: "Are these really grassroots movements urging Lee to add his name to the ballot or simply Astro-Turf campaigns being rolled out by seasoned political operatives to appear as if there is a political groundswell?" Even so, the section editors were on the job: the article is headlined "Backers push Lee toward race" and, on the jump page, "Backers from friends to pros call for Lee." The accompanying photos are a head shot of Lee and a picture of a carouser wearing a "Run Ed Run" tee at a "Drink a Draft of Beer to Draft Ed Lee" event, without bothering to mention the fact you can find deep in the article, that the pictured carouser (a Newsom appointee, they don't ever tell the reader that) organized the event, a $3-a-pint party which managed to draw all of 25 people.


Dispatches From The Edge: Italy: The Barbarians At The Gates

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 05:55:00 PM

Paestum, Italy—

Walls tell you a lot about a country’s history. Since their purpose is to keep people out who want to get in, they generally mean trouble. In the case of this stunning ruin of a city southeast of Naples, back in the 6th century BC the Greeks were trying to keep out the Etruscans who didn’t cotton to a colony plunked down in their midst.

Italy has lots of walls, particularly in the north and center where towns and cities cluster on the high ground. The Italians did not build on mountain tops for the view. What is picturesque now was safe haven from the barbarians back then.

Except, the barbarians are back, only this time they are not tribes with scary names like Goths, Huns and Lombards. Today the brutes have bland sounding labels like the International Monetary Fund IMF), the European Union (EU) and Moody’s. And some of the worst are homegrown: Silvio Berlusconi and Giullo Tremonti. 

Italy is in deep trouble, though it is hardly alone. While the headlines go to Greece, Portugal and Spain, Italy has the second highest rate of debt in Europe and one of the lowest growth rates. On July 8, Italian bond yields jumped to a nine-year high, and the country’s stock market tanked. Given that Italy has the third largest economy in the Eurozone, if it is in trouble, so is the Euro. And, unlike Portugal, Greece or Ireland, Italy is far too big for a bail out (not that the thuggish austerity programs being forced on all three of those countries have anything in common with “bail outs.” They are simply taxpayers covering ruinous speculation binges by French, German and Dutch banks). 

There are signs that the Italian economy is running off the rails, but the signs are subtle. Lots of locked houses and long grass, for instance. 

The locked houses are in Pompeii, where the government no longer has the money to shore up the walls of the 2,000 year-old city. From the Pompeii of glorious mosaics and stunning frescos it has become a ghost town that one views from roads and sidewalks. 

The immense Doric temples at Paestum are wonderfully preserved, but grass has reclaimed much of the rest of the site. It is charming to wander through the ruins, finding lovely mosaic floors, peristyle gardens or swimming pools, but the Italian authorities did not let the grass grow in order to stimulate the curiosity of tourists; they don’t have the money to cut it. 

There is a sense in this country that people are holding their breath. The current center-right government is pushing through a $68 billion austerity package that will increase the retirement age, cut medical benefits, and lay off state workers, but many of the cuts will not take effect until 2013 and 2014. Hoping to avoid the wrath of voters, the current finance minister, Giullo Tremonti, has back loaded the cuts so they won’t take effect until after next spring’s elections. 

As in ancient Rome, there are graffiti everywhere. There are hammers and sickles painted on the walls in Naples, as well as scrawls threatening “death to the Communists.” The left took power here in the last elections and is currently locked in a battle with the local Mafia over corruption. A cursory glance at this teeming, energetic, and most Italian of cities suggests the left is holding its own: the Mafia’s tactic of flooding the place with garbage is not working. The streets are chaotic, loud, and anarchic, but clean. 

Sometimes it is hard to decide if Italians are holding their breath or their noses. For instance, Tremonti’s political advisor, Marco Milanese, a member of parliament, was arrested last week as part of a corruption investigation, forcing Tremonti to give up using Milanese’s luxury flat in Rome. In the meantime, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi secretly tried to slip a clause into the budget bill that would delay paying a huge $1.5 billion fine against his flagship media company, Fininvest. 

Compared to social unrest in Greece, Spain, Britain and Portugal, Italy has been relatively tranquil. While the Greeks are in open rebellion against the austerity packages of the IMF and the EU, Italian demonstrations have been big but generally quiet. Tremonti told the Financial Times that Italians are different than Greeks and would accept austerity, because “The Italian people understand,” he said, “their demand is to be serious and rigorous. People are strongly in favor of this discipline.” 

Tremonti is whistling past the graveyard, his words an eerie echo of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s comment that Greeks were “unified” behind the government program.” Outside the parliament Athens seeths with rage, and hundreds of thousands of Greeks battle tear gas and police batons to demonstrate quite the opposite. A recent poll found that 80 percent of the Greeks oppose the austerity plan. 

There is nothing to indicate that Italians won’t follow the Greeks into the streets once the cuts hit home here. A stencil on a wall in Citta de Castello shows two stick figures, one firing a gun at the head of the other. Underneath the picture is one word: “capitalism.” 

Europe(and much of the world) is currently in the throes of a counterrevolution led by a combination of local capitalists and international finance. Using the crisis sparked by bank speculation, its goals are to weaken trade unions, roll back social services and pensions, and privatize as much as possible. Wages have fallen across the continent, and temporary jobs with sketchy or non-existent benefits have grown at the expense of regular employment. 

The “crisis” is a one-way street. As a Financial Times analysis pointed out last month, “Millionaires across the world are richer they were before the financial crisis, the latest sign that the wealthy have weathered the downturn far better than other groups.” 

The number of millionaires in North America went from 2.7 to 3.4 million from 2008 to 2010 and, in Europe, from 2.6 to 3.1 million during the same time period. Italy was the only EU country that saw a slight drop in the number of millionaires: 179 to 170. The countries with the largest number of millionaires are, in decreasing order, the U.S., Japan, Germany, China and Britain. 

Capital is playing hardball in this counterrevolution. 

On one level, governments like in Greece have unleashed their police in an effort to drive the hundreds of thousands of young people, teachers, government workers and trade unionists off the streets. 

On another level, rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch deliberately downgrade bonds in order to protect private investors. When investors are asked to absorb some of the losses that their speculation generated, the rating agencies step in and make an offer no country can refuse: drop efforts to make private speculators pay or we tank your bonds and drive up the cost of borrowing money. “The credit rating agencies are playing politics not economics. The timing of the downgrades are not a coincidence,” one “senior EU official” told the Financial Times

The “bailout” will not stop Greece from defaulting on its debt (with Ireland, Portugal and Spain likely to follow). Nor is there any way for a country like Greece to climb back out of the debt pit as long as its currency policies are dictated by Germany and France. 

Italy has some experience with this business of crisis and currency, although its current leaders choose to ignore it. Back in the early 19th century, Naples was the largest city in Italy, and the south had a diverse and dynamic economy. It was the first region in Italy to build railroads, but the madness of the Catholic Church derailed the effort by blocking passage through the Papal States. Pope Gregory XVI called rails “roads to hell.” 

According to Sir Martin Jacomb, former Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the sabotage of railway development marks the beginning of the south’s decline. But it wasn’t until the lira was made the national currency in 1861 that “ it [the south] lost its ability to correct its uncompetitive position. Able and enterprising people moved to the north or emigrated, and the situation became permanent, as it remains today. The tragedy endures.” 

Southern Italy has been locked into poverty for close to 200 years, a fate that is almost certain to befall other periphery members of the EU. Generations of poverty and emigration will be the price tag for protecting the investments of the very people who brought the current economic crisis on. The Citta di Castello stencil was, if anything, an understatement. 

So far Italy is quiet, but everyone is aware that the coup of capital is being contested in the streets of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Britain, as it will eventually be in Rome, Naples, and Milan. 

In the aftermath of the Peterloo massacre in 1819, where the British government sent cavalry to scatter a massive demonstration demanding political reform, an enraged Percy Bysse Shelly penned “The Mask of Anarchy,” which ended in words that today’s powerful would do well to consider: 

“Rise like Lions after slumber 

In unvanquishable number— 

Shake your chains to earth like dew 

Which in sleep had fallen on you— 

Ye are many—they are few.” 







Eclectic Rant: Libya and US Debt: Another Treasury-Draining War

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 01:22:00 PM

The United States national debt exceeds $14.2 trillion and climbing. About 14 million Americans are unemployed. Public health, education, social services, and police and fire departments are facing cutbacks. Yet, the bill for U.S. participation in the NATO-led Libya mission is projected to reach at least $844 million by September with the U.S. funding about three quarters of the military spending by all NATO countries. This expenditure is on top of $1.2 trillion and counting, we are spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Clearly, we cannot continue these enormous war expenditures ad infinitum, especially with our faltering economy. This money could be better spent elsewhere.

Here are some of the important events in the NATO-led Libya mission. 

* On February 16, 2011, Libyan police clashed with thousands of anti-government protestors in the coastal city of Benghazi, calling the demonstration "a day of rage." These protestors joined a smaller demonstration in support of arrested human rights activist and lawyer Fathi Tarbel, who represents the families of over 1,000 prisoners massacred at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996. (Tarbel was subsequently released.) Benghazi is a hot bed of anti-government sentiment. There were also demonstrations in Baida, Misurata, and Zentan, as well as pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in Benghazi, Tripoli and elsewhere. Reportedly, as many as 200 anti-government protestors killed. Regime opponents called for a nationwide strike. 

Gaddafi tried to allay unrest by proposing the doubling of government employees' salaries and releasing 110 Islamic militants who oppose him. In addition, Gaddafi had lately met groups of students, journalists, lawyers and others to hear their complaints. This was not enough for protestors. The demonstrations escalated and Gaddafi’s response was swift and brutal. 

The Libyan grievances are similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt: high youth unemployment and the harsh suppression of all political activity under an autocratic rule which has lasted decades in this oil rich country of 6.5 million.  

* On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council resolution 1703 (www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm) authorized a "no fly" zone over Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interpreted the no-fly zone over Libya to require "certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems." Since the resolution, the no fly zone has expanded to assisting Libyan rebels by bombing and strafing Libya forces. 

* On February 26, 2011, The UN Security Council referred the Libyan situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is a treaty-based court governed by the Rome Stature (http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/romefra.htm). It is independent of the UN. The ICC is joined by 114 nations. The U.S. did not join. Parties to the treaty are obligated to cooperate with the ICC.  

On June 27, The ICC issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his spy chief, citing evidence of crimes against humanity committed against political opponents. The African Union refused to recognize the arrest warrant issued for Gaddafi as they believe it will “seriously impede” all efforts aimed at a peace settlement to the Libyan conflict. The African Union may be right as Aisha Gaddafi, the Libyan leader's daughter, disclosed that there had been direct and indirect negotiations with rebels before the ICC action. 

* Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that only Congress has the power "to declare war."  

* The War Powers Resolution of 1973 (50 U.S.C. 1541-1548) is a federal law intended to check the power of the President in committing the U.S. to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. The Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war.  

Section 1542 of the War Powers Resolution states: ”The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.” 

* The key word in Section 1542 is "hostilities." President Obama argued that the U.S. is just enforcing the UN Security Council mandate to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Gaddafi's forces. He further argued that the NATO-led mission is not the kind of "hostilities" envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.  

Reportedly, Obama overruled Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who had told the White House that they believed that the U.S. military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.”  

* House Speaker John Boehner said Obama's justifications for the Libyan mission doesn't meet the "straight-face test." Or in legalese, it didn't pass the laugh test. 

* Remember back in December 2007, the Boston Globe asked 12 presidential candidates about military action aimed at stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons. “In what circumstances, if any,” the Globe asked, “would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?” Barack Obama responded: “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” 

Interestingly enough then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked that Libya's civil conflict was not a vital interest to the U.S.  

* On July 7, the U.S. House of Representatives voted not to bar funds for U.S. involvement in the NATO-led Libya mission, but did vote to bar military aid to Libyan rebels. President Obama has authorized $25 million in nonlethal assistance to the rebels, including ready-to-eat meals. And the U.S. has supplied $53 million in humanitarian aid to the rebels. Neither is effected by the legislation. The House rejected a measure that would have prohibited funds for the U.S. military to continue its limited role. 

* The U.S Senate has postponed voting on a resolution sponsored by Senators John Kerry and John McCain that would authorize military action in Libya for up to a year. The resolution specifies that no U.S. ground forces will be deployed, and that the U.S. will not bear reconstruction costs in a post-Moammar Gadhafi Libya. The resolution need 60 votes to pass, but seems to have broad support. 

* Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich and nine other members of Congress have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop U.S. involvement in the NATO-led Libya campaign. If the court follows precedent, the lawsuit will likely be dismissed because individual Congressmen do not have standing to sue the President when the Congress as a whole has not acted. The exercise of war powers is a political question for the President and Congress, not the courts. And here, the House has acted to fund the Libya campaign and the Senate is likely to follow suit.  

* Most military experts agree that air power alone rarely, if ever, wins a conflict. The combined use of air power and ground forces--whose potency has been multiplied by precision weapons--remains the most effective way for a country to win major wars. Before the Libya conflict, NATO was probably counting on the Libyan rebels to be the ground forces. But the rebels are untrained and outgunned by Gaddafi's military. In this regard, in June, the France announced that it was providing direct military aid to Libyan rebels including guns and rocket-propelled grenades, in the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya . Britain said it is providing body armor, police uniforms and communications equipment. These actions provoked rcitics who have already claim that NATO is overstepping the boundaries of the U.N. Security Council mandate that authorized the intervention. What next, NATO military advisors on the ground to assist the rebels as we did in Vietnam? 

Clearly the reason now for the NATO-led Libya mission, if it was not implicit in the UN Security Council mandate 1973, is a regime change, that is a regime without Guadaffi. But is a regime change of vital civil interest to the U.S., and if not, why is the U.S. participating, especially when are economy is faltering?

My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader)

By Dorothy Bryant
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 12:40:00 PM

"I had a romantic idea of the earth religions. I felt they took us back to the beginning. . . I thought they had a kind of beauty. But the past here (in Nigeria) is still lived . . . The dark abyss of paganism.
"A Lagos city councillor said to me, 'Muslims and Christians practice forgiveness and cannot harm you. In the pagan religion there is no forgiveness . . .there are rules you have to follow very strictly, and if you go against them you either die or go mad.'"

V.S. Naipaul The Mask of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010)

I once shared Naipaul's romantic idea of the “beauty” of pagan religion. Then I did some research for a play I wrote about Gauguin in Tahiti. I learned that the word TABU, used throughout the world, came from the Tahitian language, because so many things on Tahiti were TABU: like women walking on the same paths as men, or touching anything men ate, or even riding in a canoe. (The only authentic scenes in those romantic south sea island movies were those of girls swimming out to meet ships from Europe. It was “sink or swim” getting to those ships whose crews were so much kinder to them than Tahitian men.) 

I learned that Tahitians were terrified of nightfall, because the spirits of the dead—their dead, their ancestors—now fearsome, haunted the dark, trying to capture the souls of the living. Dying did not end suffering. Death meant "going into night" among those evil spirits who ruled after the sun went down. 

The Christian missionaries preached a god who loved all human beings, a god who insisted on forgiveness, not vengeance, and who promised that a virtuous earthly life would be followed by an afterlife in paradise. Whatever problems Christian missionaries from Europe created, we can understand their success in gaining converts. 

(Send a page from your Commonplace Book, to be printed in this space.)

Leftover Whales

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 09:25:00 AM
Mother and calf: grey whales in a Baja California lagoon.
Jose Eugenio Gomez Rodriguez (via Wikimedia Commons)
Mother and calf: grey whales in a Baja California lagoon.

If you have to get scooped, it might as well be by David Perlman. 

How it happened: I try to visit the UC Berkeley campus every Cal Day to scout for possible stories. The UC Museum of Paleontology, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and Jepson Herbarium are all good sources. Some faculty member or grad student is likely to be doing interesting research on a local organism. 

This year I got into a conversation with UC professor David Lindberg about his work on the California gray whale, including some paleohistory and behavioral observations. It sounded like column fodder. I looked for his recent publications but found nothing related to what we had discussed, so filed the idea away for future reference. 

Then last week his research article, co-authored with Nicholas Pyenson who is now with the Smithsonian, was published online by the Public Library of Science. Good stuff. And kudos to PLOS for its open source policy. It’s always frustrating to find some fascinating piece of research hidden behind a paywall. 

Before I could knock a column out, the Chronicle beat me to it. Perlman had a front-page story on Monday with the gist of the Lindberg-Pyenson paper. For anyone outside the Bay Area who may be reading this, David Perlman is a living legend in science journalism. He’s somewhere around 92 and still going strong. 

Started with the paper in 1940, was present when the hydrothermal deep-sea vents off the Galapagos were discovered in 1964, broke the AIDS story in 1981. Recipient of the Helen Thomas Award and has two science journalism awards named for him. 

I looked over his whale piece very carefully. He didn’t get anything wrong. Of course not. 

Anyway, there were a few crumbs of fact left over, so I thought I’d see if I could expand them into a Planet piece. 

The gray whales that migrate up and down our coast are one of three original populations. The Atlantic gray whales were wiped out about 400 years ago, probably by those enterprising Basques. The western Pacific grays are endangered, down to a few hundred. Our grays were also hammered by whaling, although the toll is a matter of controversy. Their predictable journeys between their feeding grounds in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas and their calving groups in the lagoons of Baja California made them easy targets for shore-based whalers. Once protected, they rebounded to a current population on the order of 20,000. 

Their natural history was thought to be reasonably well known. Other baleen whales, including blues and humpbacks, filter pelagic crustaceans and small fish from the water column. Most grays, though, are bottom feeders, hoovering up benthic crustaceans called amphipods and polychaete worms from the seafloor muck. And all grays were believed to take part in the annual migration. 

This picture was muddied by the discovery of apparently resident gray whales off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State in the 1960s and 70s. This is a small segment of the total population, about 155 individuals as of 1998. Instead of benthic organisms, the residents—like typical baleen whales--were eating a mix of pelagic species, including crustaceans, fish, and squid. 

This behavioral flexibility intrigued Pyenson and Lindberg. It occurred to them that the nearshore foraging habitat used by contemporary gray whales might not have been available to their ancestors during the Pleistocene glacial maxima, when a huge amount of water was locked up in ice and you could have walked from Berkeley to the Farallones. Comparing the extent of Pleistocene ice at the northern end of the whales’ historic range with estimates of carrying capacity, they concluded that there would not have been enough shallow seafloor to support the present population of grays, let alone a conjectured larger pre-whaling population. 

Maybe the whales, or at least enough of them to squeeze through the genetic keyhole, switched from benthic to pelagic food sources when the ice made their normal routine impossible—and did this not just once but multiple times, through the whole sequence of glacial cycles. 

Pyenson and Lindberg raise the issue of whether the resident whales of the Pacific Northwest have a special genetic heritage that enables pelagic filter-feeding, as with the different specialist populations of orcas. There’s no data one way or another for grays. It could be that neither foraging strategy is all that hardwired. Consider the Canada geese that at some point realized they didn’t really have to migrate, given the alternative of hanging out on a golf course all year. 

In another case of cetacean opportunism, the authors report that single gray whales have been showing up in the Mediterranean lately; one made it all the way to Israel in 2010. Were the Atlantic and Pacific populations once linked through ice-free Arctic corridors? The Great Thaw is bad news for polar bears and other high-latitude species, but it may have reopened a door for the gray whale. 

Senior Power: The Affordable Care Act (ACA):

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 01:03:00 PM

The American Version of Health Care for All is the title of a forty-two page OWL publication that senior citizens and boomers should know about and read carefully.

OWL is a membership organization located in Washington, D.C. at 1025 Connecticut Avenue NW, #701, D.C. 20036, with state and local chapters throughout the U.S., including Ohlone/East Bay, Sacramento, San Diego, Placer County and San Francisco, all with websites. In recent years “Older Women’s League” has become a bit of a misnomer on two very positive counts—(1) OWL is The Voice of Midlife and Older Women, and (2) much of what OWL reports and engages in affects positively both women and men. 

The Older Women’s League was begun in 1980 by Tish Sommers (1914-1985) and Oakland, California resident Laurie Shields (1922-1989,) who recognized and defined the need for older women to organize nationally and advocate for change in public policy. It became the only national membership organization then dedicated exclusively to promoting social and economic equity for mid-life and older women. Several of its publications were selected for inclusion in Women & Aging: A Guide to the Literature (1997).  

Each year OWL launches a Mother’s Day campaign highlighting an issue of special concern to midlife and older women. This year the focus is again on health, particularly the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). OWL’s publication, The Affordable Care Act; The American Version of Health Care for All,includes five illustrations by political cartoonist Bulbul. OWL is able to mail a copy to non-members with a suggested contribution of $10 to cover printing and shipping costs. Otherwise, the report is available as a .pdf on national OWL’s website 

The Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act is a voluntary federally administered, employee-financed insurance plan that is now part of the ACA. It provides qualified participants who become functionally limited with benefits to pay for assistance so that they can maintain independence at home or in a nursing facility. 

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not the ideal single-payer system, it is the best approach to achieving universal and affordable health care. It makes significant steps toward covering the majority of Americans. It makes it possible for states to institute their own health care system, including a single-payer approach, as long as it meets the criteria for comprehensiveness of benefits and the population covered, affordability and cost savings. It is also still possible to establish national public health insurance such as an enhanced Medicare program for all ages. 

In the meantime, there are improvements that can be made to the ACA. OWL has outlined them in 12 recommendations. They include (I’ll list just a few): fully fund the Elder Justice Act; eliminate age rating in insurance premiums; allow the Secretary of Health ad Human Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices under Medicare; initiate coverage for dental care and expanded coverage for vision, hearing, and podiatry services under Medicare. 

An Appendix responds to Myths with Facts. They include refutation of the Myth that “The bill was pushed through without transparency, hearings or debate:” In point of fact, there were 15+ months of hearings, meetings, debates and town meetings on the health care reform proposals. An estimated 79 bipartisan hearings were held by the House. Two hundred thirty nine amendments were debated, and 181 witnesses were heard prior to final passage o the ACA in the House of Representatives.  

Why does the ACA require everyone to get insurance or face a financial penalty? 

The goal of the ACA is to ensure that nearly all Americans have basic health care coverage protection. (Members of Native American tribes and an exempt religious sect are exempt.) The requirement to obtain insurance begins in 2014. There will be subsidies to help buy health insurance work. Employers with 50+ employees who do not offer coverage must pay a penalty … 

[Excerpted in part with permission of OWL—The Voice of Midlife and Older Women] 




Seventy-seven elderly people who were evacuated from nursing homes near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant died within three months, according to a survey. The deaths are more than triple the 25 recorded at the nursing homes during the corresponding period last year. According to the survey, 826 elderly people were evacuated from 12 nursing homes near the nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Those who died after evacuating were aged 68 to 104-- 46 in their 90s, 19 in their 80s, 7 in their 100s, 4 in their 70s and one was 68. The major causes of death were pneumonia and brain infarction, the survey found. Some died of old age, the nursing homes said. There could be calls to have the nuclear plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., pay compensation for the elderly evacuees' deaths, according to observers. [“Fleeing crisis takes deadly toll on elderly / 77 Fukushima evacuees died within 3 months.” The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2011.] 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program) helps low-income individuals and families buy food. Although SNAP is the national name, your local program may use a different name. In California, it’s “CalFresh.” Go online to the National Council on Aging’s website for easy access (five languages!) to anonymous information about your eligibility. 




MARK YOUR CALENDAR: July, August, September 2011 Call to confirm, date, time and place: 

Wednesday, July 13 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Writing Workshop with Christina Hutchins, poet laureate of Albany, will facilitate. Free. No registration required. Drop in and work on your poetry with a group of supportive writers. Dan Hess (510) 526-3720 x17. Also August 10 and Sept. 14. 

Thursday, July 14 7 – 8 P.M. The Summer Concert Series. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Ave. Ramana Vieira, the New Voice of Portuguese World Music, is a premier contemporary Fado artist. Fado is a melancholy and often-mournful music similar to the American blues as it tells stories of heartache and disappointment. (510) 526-7512. 

Thursday, July 14 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Av., Alameda. Drumming Circle. Join the Mercy Retirement Community Drumming Circle. Drumming is known to improve circulation, loosen stiff joints, stimulate the mind. Sign up in the office. Free. 

Friday, July 15 8 A.M. – 2 P.M 8th Annual Healthy Living Festival. Compassion & Choices of Northern California is a participant. Oakland Zoo, Knowland Park, 9777 Golf Links Road. Presented by United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. Health screenings, financial planning information, medication dropoff/disposal program. Enjoy a walk through the zoo. (510)729-0852. 

Monday, July 18 7:00 P.M. Berkeley West Edge Opera preview. Arlington Community Church, 52 Arlington Ave., Kensington. Sponsored by Friends of the Kensington Library and a Meet the Composer grant. Director and Kensington resident Mark Streshinsky and cast singers will look at how an opera is created, with a taste of the music and drama of the finished product of an original opera, "Caliban Dreams," inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Free. (510) 524-3043. 

Wednesday, July 20 1:30 P.M. BerkeleyCommission on Aging. Meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Confirm (510) 981-5178. 

Monday, July 25 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: Seeing, by Jose Saramago. Meetings are held on the fourth Monday; each starts with a poem selected and ready by a member with a brief discussion following. New members always welcome. Free. (510) 524-3043.  

Tuesday, July 26 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month: "Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” Feel free to come to one or all discussions. Also August 23rd: "The Glass Room" and September 27th: "Let the Great World Spin". (510) 526-7512. 

Tuesday, July 26 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, Central. Tea and Cookies. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. Monthly on the 4th Tuesday. (510)981-6100. 

Wednesday, July 27 1:30-2:30 Alameda County Library, Albany branch. Great Books Discussion Group. Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Parking! 526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday, July 27 1 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center. (510) 548-9696. 

Wednesdays, beginning in August 10:30-12 noon Parkinson's Yoga & the Art of Moving. Jewish Community Center East Bay – Oakland Branch, 5811 Racine St. (58th & Telegraph). $120./month. (925) 566-4181. 

Wednesday, August 3 10 A.M.-noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council meeting. Public invited. (510) 981-5190. 

Wednesday, August 3 6-8 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library. 1247 Marin Av. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Advance registration required. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 ext. 5.  

Thursday, August 4 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM Emergency Preparedness. Albany branch of the Alameda County library. Speaker Colleen Campbell, Senior Injury Prevention Coordinator, will discuss materials and lead a discussion on benefits of being prepared. Free program for older adults, caregivers and service providers. No reservations required. (510) 526-3720 x16.  

Saturday, August 6 11 A.M. – noon. End of Life Planning Workshop. Berkeley Public Library West branch, 1125 University Av. Learn basics of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives. (510) 981-6270. 

Wednesday, August 7 6-8 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Advance registration required. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 ext. 5.  

Wednesday, August 10 10 A.M – 2 P.M. 10th Annual Healthy Aging Fair Festival. Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward. Free lunch. Raffle prizes. Entertainment. Free shuttle from South Hayward BART. (510) 577-3532, 3540. Sign up at your senior center for free bus service. In Berkeley contact Deborah Jordan (510) 981-5170 for information. 

Wednesday, August 17 1:30 P.M. BerkeleyCommission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center. Check to confirm (510) 981-5178.  

Saturday, August 20 11 A.M. Landlord /Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. Also Sept. 17.  

Tuesday, August 23 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, Central. Tea and Cookies. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. Monthly on the 4th Tuesday. (510)981-6100. 

Tuesday, August 23 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month: “The Glass Room.” Feel free to come to one or all discussions. (510) 526-7512. 

Wednesday, August 24 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. Great Books Discussion Group. Eliot's The Hollow Men and The Waste Land. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Parking! 526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday, Sept. 7 10 A.M.-Noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council meeting. Public invited. (510) 981-5190. 


Saturday, Sept. 13 10 A.M. – 3 P.M. 34th Annual Health Fair. Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd., Oakland. Free health screenings. (510)544-8910.  

Friday, Sept. 16 10 A.M. – 1 P.M. 14th Annual Senior Resource Fair. Presented by San Leandro Senior Services. San Leandro Senior Community Center, 13909 East 14 St. (510) 577-3462. 

Wednesday, Sept. 21 1:30 P.M. BerkeleyCommission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Check to confirm (510) 981-5178.  

Tuesday, Sept. 23 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month: “Let the Great World Spin". Feel free to come to one or all discussions. (510) 526-7512. 

Tuesday, Sept 27 3 P.M. Tea & Cookies Book Club. Central Berkeley Public Library. 

Tuesday, Sept. 27 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month, Feel free to come to one or all discussions. "Let the Great World Spin". (510) 526-7512. 

Wednesday, Sept. 28 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. Great Books Discussion Group. Morrison's Song of Solomon. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Parking! (510) 526-3720 x 16. 

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

On Mental Illness: The Suffering of Schizophrenia

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 12:53:00 PM

I can not overstate the intensity of suffering that goes along with being schizophrenic and having a full-blown psychotic episode. Part of it comes from imagined events that are perceived as completely real, and these imagined events are often horrific, awful, and terrifying. Part of the suffering is from the fact that the brain is malfunctioning in a considerable way. Because of the brain lacking its normal regulatory mechanisms, the suffering that is felt could be as much as tenfold what a non-afflicted person can feel. And thirdly, additional suffering is created by real events; caused by the outcomes of the disorganized and sometimes dangerous behavior of a person having a psychotic episode. 

During an episode of acute psychosis, the sufferer could believe that they are living through a nuclear holocaust. The atomic blasts could be partly hallucinated and partly imagined to exist via delusions. The imagined scenario of a delusional person is not always the end of the world, but whatever it is, can be quite vivid and terrifying. The psychotic person could believe that family members have died, or that the world is taken over by “the devil.” There is no limit to the strange things that can be imagined and believed. Additionally, the paranoid aspect of this illness can create a great deal of fear. The reader may ridicule this and may think that you can’t suffer very much by your imagination. It is true that fighting in a war in reality and watching people get killed and maimed is harder than being psychotic. Yet being psychotic is still very unpleasant. The psychotic person, at the least, is awfully ill and is suffering from a badly malfunctioning brain; that person can not interact normally. The suffering that is experienced could be equated to that of other illnesses even though most of the pain is psychological. 

If the person with Schizophrenia survives the episode of psychosis, and they sometimes don’t, the return to “tracking” reality due to being hospitalized and medicated doesn’t mean that the suffering is over. The person is then dealing with medication side effects, post psychotic depression, and a situation of at times receiving poor treatment from the psychiatric treatment providers. The hospitalization that follows a psychotic episode is usually better than the preceding episode, but there is still no shortage of pain. 

The first thought upon resuming living in “reality” following a repeat psychotic episode is something like “here I am again, back in the hospital.” Often, it is a feeling of shame, disappointment, or even despair. The progress that was made prior to having the repeat episode is partly lost. The person may be “reset” back to a lower level of functioning for several years to come. A psychiatrist said that it takes ten years to completely recover from a psychotic episode. If someone has these episodes more frequently than ten years apart, he or she never gets to feel a full recovery. (This is not to say a person can stop medication after the ten years of being stable. On the contrary, the medication is largely the cause of avoiding another episode.) 

Upon recovery, the person with schizophrenia discovers that the “reality” that he or she has returned to may be one of limited prospects. This is not to say anything against mentally ill people who have gotten an education and/or “made something” of themselves. Not all persons with mental illness can pull that off. And some of those who do may still find themselves stuck with repeat episodes, an occurrence which may sabotage some otherwise successful careers. Living happily ever after is a scenario that’s somewhat rare for someone with chronic mental illness. 


Please feel free to send me your stories or comments. Please specify whether or not your letter can be used in the column. Your name will not be used unless you request it. I can be reached at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com

Arts & Events

Swing Jazz and The Dazzling Divas at Berkeley's Le Bateau Ivre on Two Wednesdays

Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:42:00 PM
The Dazzling Divas at Berkeley's Le Bateau Ivre
The Dazzling Divas at Berkeley's Le Bateau Ivre

Southside Berkeley's beloved Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat), a French cafe complete with title from Baudelaire Rimbaud*, offers unique entertainment along with its usual good food on Wednesday evenings. The next two programs are especially lively. This week, there's an evening of swing jazz with a touch of Dixieland, and next week it's opera favorites from the Dazzling Divas. 

This Wednesday, July 13th, from 7-9pm, you can hear Trombonist and KCSM radio host Mal Sharpe, together with guest Irish jazz vocalist and RTE radio host Melanie O'Reilly, also featuring Mike Ramos on guitar, Richard Hadlock on Sax, Jim Gammon on trumpet and Paul Smith on bass. 

Then next week, on Wednesday, July 20th, again from 7-9pm, opera singing Divas Pamela Connelly, Kathleen Moss and Eliza O’Malley light up the hall with arias, duets and trios from celebrated operas of Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, Bizet, Delibes and more with special guest pianist Alexander Katsman. 


Bateau Ivre: 2629 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley (510)849-1100 

*Thanks to Chuck Siegel--how embarrassing. 


The San Francisco Mime Troupe is Back in Berkeley This Weekend

Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 05:36:00 PM

The San Francisco Mime Troupe's 2011 summer show opened as usual in Dolores Park over the July 4th weekend, played its first Berkeley engagement at Cedar Rose Park in Berkeley last weekend, and now has added a Berkeley show on Saturday at Willard Park (aka Ho Chi Minh to old lefties). The new date is Berkeley's gain and Southern California's loss, because a planned run down south fell victim to a construction delay in the scheduled venue. 

This year's production recounts the trials and tribulations of a radical theater troupe trying to keep its soul in the face of unexpected funding cuts. Sound familar? Check it out Saturday at 2:00. The award-winning music gets going at 1:30. Admission is free, but bring some money, because they pass the hat, vigorously, at the end of the show.

Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson

Book Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 05:18:00 PM

It’s a good sign when the testimonials on the back of a 440-page autobiography include the likes of Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner and Martin Sheen. But that only hints at the praise directed at S. Brian Willson’s long-awaited memoir. The testimonials continue on the inside — for another seven pages — and include plaudits from Cindy Sheehan, William Blum, Kris Kristofferson, Norman Solomon, Peter Dale Scott, Cynthia McKinney and Country Joe McDonald. 

This whopping epic (published by Oakland’s feisty PM Press) tells the story of a Vietnam-era soldier who entered the war as a red-blooded small-town recruit and emerged as a die-hard dissident, driven to expose and oppose not only warfare in general but also the US’ unique role in spreading military terror around the world. 

Willson returned home to become a leading war resister — a man whose dogged determination to confront the war machine lead him to fast on the steps of the US capital and eventually cost him both legs — severed on September 1, 1987, when he was run over by an ammunitions-filled locomotive on the first day of a nonviolent protest on the railroad tracks leading to the Concord Weapons Station. 

As Daniel Ellsberg notes in his powerful introduction, “Viet Nam was not a mistake any more than the Iraq War is a mistake…. They are part of a pattern of brutality written into our country’s DNA.” Americans seem to feel that “it is our manifest destiny as exceptional people to gain ever more material goods, even at the expense of anyone and everyone else, and the earth. We continue to treat others as inferiors.” 

Before embarking on his self-styled “psychohistorial memoir,” Willson lays down some grammatical ground rules. His manuscript does not refer to US citizens as “Americans” but as “US Americans” arguing that “it is presumptive and arrogant to do so, considering that the USA is but one country of many on the American continents.” Willson’s book also insists on capitalizing the phrase: American Way of Life. “As an acronym,” he explains, “it signifies being AWOL (‘absent without leave’ in military jargon) from our humanity and the natural systems of the planet that sustains us.” 

Born on the Fourth of July 

Like other autobiographies, Blood draws us back through the author’s childhood. The son of a rabidly conservative salesman, Willson grew up in the small-town ambiance of central New York State where he learned to revere the military and fear the “communist threat.” Like fellow vet and activist Ron Kovic, Willson was born on the Fourth of July. He was a member of his high school honor society and a standout athlete on the baseball diamond and the basketball court. His family’s John Birch/Barry Goldwater worldview suffered its first small fractures at Eastern Baptist College when he happened across a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. He decided to abandon his plans to enter the Baptist ministry and instead enrolled to study law at the American University in Washington, DC. 

Willson’s plans to become a lawyer were derailed by a draft notice that arrived in March 1966. He enlisted in the Air Force and within three months was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Willson’s depictions of combat training are revelatory. Commanded to plunge a bayonet into a dummy 100 times while screaming “Kill! Kill!” Willson’s body freezes in revulsion. “In my head I wanted to comply” he writes, “but my body stubbornly refused to cooperate…. Much later, I came to understand that the human body has its own wisdom, one older than the thinking mind.” 

Auto da Fein Viet Nam 

Willson’s education continued in Viet Nam, an experience that he captures in a cavalcade of stunning, surrealistic scenes, events and encounters. Here’s just a taste: “One evening while watching pornographic movies on the patio of the officer’s club, pilots were eating steaks and drinking beer with their Vietnamese whores when the siren went off warming of potential incoming.” 

In one poignant recollection, Willson writes of a rare invitation to share dinner at the home of a Vietnamese family. After the meal, the family asked to sing a “special song.” It was called “Ode to Norman Morrison” and was dedicated to a US anti-war activist who set himself afire beneath Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Pentagon office window. In a stunning aside, Willson pauses to note that Morrison was not the only US citizen to immolate himself to protest the war. “There were at least eight others from March 1965 to May 1970, ranging from 16 to 82 years of age, including three women. Five of the immolations occurred in California.” 

As an intelligence officer, Willson began to doubt the rationale of the military’s “free-fire zones,” which allowed pilots to strafe and bomb farming villages on the flimsiest of suspicions. His concerns were dismissed and he was warned not to become a “gook-loving kook.” Willson’s worst fears were confirmed when a Vietnamese lieutenant invited him along to inspect a recently bombed village in Vinh Long Province. 

“I didn’t see one person standing,” Willson writes. “Most were ripped apart from bomb shrapnel and machine gun wounds, many blackened by napalm beyond recognition; the majority were obviously children. I began sobbing and gagging…. I took a few faltering steps to my left, only to find my way blocked by the body of a young woman lying at my feet. She had been clutching three small, partially blackened children when she apparently collapsed. I bent down for a closer look and stared, aghast, at the woman’s open eyes…. Napalm had melted much of the woman’s face, including her eyelids, but as I focused on her face, it seem that her eyes were starring at me.” 

The full horror of America’s war in Viet Nam settled deep inside Willson’s soul that day. “I could not talk about this experience for twelve years, and the thought of it still creates tremors in my body,” he confides in his book. “I often find myself crying at the thought of it, and at times feel a rage that nearly chokes me.” 

A Warrior for Peace 

Confessions like this make understandable his transformation into a relentless critic of US military interventions. Willson’s experience as a combat officer made him a formidable critic in the anti-war movement — and a target of covert government surveillance. Working with Veterans Against War, War Resisters League, and Veterans Fast for Life eventually took Willson (in the company of singer/actor/activist/veteran Kris Kristofferson) to Central America, where the US was waging a secret war against the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. 

To Washington’s mounting anger, Willson visited hospitals to visit victims of US-backed “Contra” attacks, protested outside the US Embassy in Managua and addressed 300,000 Nicaraguans at the Plaza of the Revolution on November 8, 1986. 

On his return to the US, Willson was determined to find an enhanced strategy to confront Pentagon brutality — some tactic that carried more moral force than mere words, fasting or vigils. With his friends Duncan Murphy, David Duncombe, David Hartsough and others, Willson decided to revive the historic peace vigil outside the gates of the Concord Naval Weapons Station — the major transshipment point for US weapons being sent overseas. 

Showdown at the Concord Weapons Station 

“After a couple of weeks of seeing so many trucks and trains pass slowly by our vigil, visibly loaded with rockets and bombs, I started ‘seeing’ bodies inside the boxcars.” It may have been latent Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Willson reflects, but “all I knew was that the rockets and bombs we saw on flatbed railcars looked, to me, like bodies of the dead.” 

This chilling vision drove Willson to envision a form of confrontational protest that was to prove even more dangerous than he could have imagined. He resolved to begin a 40-day fast that would take place on the very rails leading into the Weapons Station. 

The protest was named the “Nuremberg Actions.” The vigil was intended to call attention to the fact that Washington’s Central American wars were illegal under both the US Constitution and international law. And, further, that the Nuremberg Principles — enunciated during the famous trials that held German Nazi officials to account for atrocities conducted during WWII — compel citizens to not only “refrain from participating” in illegal government acts but also to actively oppose them, even if that means breaking other laws. 

The Nuremburg Action statement read in part: “Once the train carrying the munitions moves past our human blockage, if it does, other human beings in other parts of the world will be killed and maimed…. We are not worth more. They are not worth less.… It is worth giving our lives to save theirs.” 

“We assumed we would be arrested and made plans to fast in jail as well,” Willson recalls. This was an honest assumption. Previous protests at the weapons station had all concluded with arrests and jail terms. In addition, the base had safety protocols in place that held train traffic to a slow 5 mph. Train operators were instructed to halt trains whenever there were any obstructions on the tracks (a sensible rule, given that the trains were loaded with tons of high-explosives). 

The Navy Decides to Go for a Kill 

But on September 1, 1987, someone in the military chain-of-command decided to play by different rules. There were early signs. For the first time, extra security (a show of armed marines wearing flak jackets and brandishing M-16s) was trotted out. One shouted out to Hartsough: “There is going to be violence today.” 

The protest had been widely announced — to the base commander, to politicians and government officials, to the press. It was clearly stated: “Fasters will not move for approaching rail traffic.” The morning was sunny and clear as Willson and fellow fasters Duncan Murphy and David Duncombe took their positions on the railway track at 11:40 a.m. A weapons train was seen approaching the Weapons Station but it pulled to a stop several hundred feet away from the vigil. The protesters were clearly visible to the two men standing on the front of the engine to act as “spotters.” 

Slowly the train began to move. And as it bore down on the three men, the engine began to pick up speed. Instead of 5 mph, videos of the incident revealed the train was travelling upwards of 15 mpg when it struck Willson and, at the moment of impact, it was accelerating. Duncan suffered a gashed shin but Willson, as he attempted to rise from a seating position and move off the tracks, took the full brunt of the locomotive. 

Horrified onlookers watched as Willson’s body was smashed beneath the train and bounced 20 feet down the track “like a rag doll.” In the process, the train amputated both of Willson’s legs just below the knee, leaving his boots, with his severed legs and feet still inside, scattered alongside the rails. One arm was torn open and a large part of Willson’s skull was ripped away, exposing his brain. 

Willson credits his wife Holly (with her training as a midwife) and former Green Beret medic Gerry Condon for stopping the bleeding and saving his life. 

The military attempted to spin the story, portraying the near-murder as an “accident” but eyewitnesses and videotapes told a different story. After a long and painful recovery, Willson sued the government. In the course of the subsequent investigations, it was revealed that the train crew had been given special instructions that day to proceed without stopping. The train crew’s defense in the “Nuremberg Actions” case was ironic: They insisted they were “only following orders.” 

“When the Naval command gave the order to move the train forward, the message was that the government was willing to murder us in order to protect their cargo, cars full of weapons designed to kill other people.” Like the napalmed villagers in Viet Nam, “like the eleven campesinos I saw being carried to their graves in Esteli [Nicaragua], we were in the way of empire. We had to be eliminated.” 

But the War Machine was stopped that day. After running over Willson, the locomotive and its cargo of rockets and bombs braked to a halt outside the Weapons Station. And as word spread about what our government had done that day, the people of the Bay Area decided to rise up rebel against intimidation. 

The next day, as Willson remained unconscious in a hospital bed recovering from multiple surgeries, thousands of nonviolent activists — including Joan Baez — descended on the Weapons Station. They chanted and sang and then they rolled up their sleeves and began tearing up the tracks that had been used to carry US-made bombs, rockets and ammunition to waiting ships. Inspired by Willson’s sacrifice, the people united and actually stopped the Pentagon’s War Machine. 

The story of Willson’s near-death experience only takes us to the middle of this detailed (536 footnotes!) and fascinating autobiography. The middle of the book also offers a special treasure — a 60-page book-within-a-book filled with a stunning collection of photos that recapitulate the author’s amazing life and travels. 

A Man in Motion 

S. Brian Willson continues to be a man in motion. Four months after being crushed beneath a speeding locomotive, Willson was back on his (new, prosthetic) feet, participating in an anti-war protest on the steps of the US Capitol with Dan Ellsberg, Ed Asner and others. He soon resumed a full campaign of agitating, actively waging peace with fact-finding trips to Central America, Palestine, Iraq, Panama City, El Salvador, Cuba, and Haiti. 

These days, however, Brian has stopped flying. He refuses to promote polluting forms of travel that stoke climate change. He has designed and built his own sustainable home, powered by solar panels. He has replaced the engine on his 1984 Chevy pickup truck with an electric motor. 

S. Brian Willson is currently embarked on a “carbon-free” book tour to promote “Blood on the Tracks.” You won’t have any problem spotting Brian out on the highway. He’ll be the one traveling down the road in an “arm-powered handcycle” beneath a whip-pole flying the flag of Veterans for Peace. 

Local Book Tour Appearances:  

Wednesday, July 13 

7:00 PM -- 8:30 PM 

Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center
55 Eckley Lane
Walnut Creek, CA 

Thursday, July 14 

7:00 PM -- 9:30 PM 

CommunityChurch of Sebastopol
1000 Gravenstein Hwy N.
Sebastopol, CA 95472 

Friday, July 15 

7:30 PM -- 9:30 PM 

First United Methodist Church
9 Ross Valley Dr
San Rafael, CA 94901 

Sunday, July 17 

Noon -- 1:30. First Unitarian Church
1187 Franklin Street (at Geary)
San Francisco, CA 

Monday, July 18 

6:00 PM -- 9:30 PM 

Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists
1924 Cedar St
Berkeley, CA 94709

Around & About Theater & Music: La Traviata at Festival Opera; Woman's Will Midsummer Night's Dream at Live Oak Park; Oliver! at Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 01:10:00 PM
Festival Opera's LA TRAVIATA
Robert Shomler
Festival Opera's LA TRAVIATA
Festival Opera's LA TRAVIATA
Festival Opera's LA TRAVIATA Robert Shomler
Festival Opera's LA TRAVIATA

La Traviata at Festival Opera: Festival Opera, with Michael Morgan as artistic and music director, stages opera in a way that the original meaning of the word becomes apparent. Each artistic element of the production has its own place, accompanies the rest on an equal footing: singing, orchestration, acting, set, spectacle. And with this production of Traviata, dance reassumes its importance in operatic spectacle as well. Mark Foehringer, who has excellently stage directed the show, is a splendid ballet choreographer; the dancers from his Mark Foehringer Dance Project in San Francisco tear up Flora's party in Act II with wonderful gypsy and toreador numbers. And a brief, masked Carnival rout outside the window of the dying Violetta--with an early winter morning Paris dimly glowing--shows the influence of the director's years in Sao Paulo.  

From Peter Crompton's set design, Mark Antaky's lighting, Denise Gutierrez's costuming to the performances of local singers in the supporting roles--like a spirited Igor Vieira as the Marquis--to the crucial characterization of Germont, the father who comes to convince the former courtesan to leave his young son, played and sung splendidly by Nicolai Janitzky, it's a glorious production, which both reveals the bare form of the now-classic opera and illuminates it with beautiful interpretation, more than mere ornament. But the evening belongs most of all to Rebecca Davis, whose Violetta is wholly her own, both as sung and acted, a stunning rendition of one of the greatest soprano roles in the medium. 

This weekend only, July 15 and 17, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek. festivalopera.org 

And from August 6 to 14, Frank Loesser's operatic musical, The Most Happy Fella, based on They Knew What They Wanted (Sidney Howard's play and the Garson Kanin movie with Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard), set in the Napa Valley of yore. 

* * * 

Woman's Will, the East Bay's all-female Shakespeare company, will stage their late 60s Midsummer Night's Dream--the Far-Out Bard?--at 2 p. m. on the 16th in Live Oak Park in Berkeley (where they'll return on the 31st and August 6, after playing Dimond Park in Oakland on the 22 & 23, same time). Victoria Erville, artistic director, said the show would be staged simply, outdoors, and is about "magic, love and family--the family we're born into, and the family we create." womanswill.org 

* * * 

Woodminster Summer Musicals goes into the last weekend for Oliver! this Thursday through Sunday at 8, at the magnificent old WPA amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park, high over Oakland & the Bay. woodminster.com

Still Creatively Improvising, Berkeley Arts Festival Turns 20

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 09:09:00 AM
Paintings by local artists fill the vacant storefront space at 2133 Shattuck.
Steven Finacom
Paintings by local artists fill the vacant storefront space at 2133 Shattuck.
Bonnie Hughes, founder of the Berkeley Arts Festival, inspects the venue she and other volunteers are preparing for this year’s performances.
Steven Finacom
Bonnie Hughes, founder of the Berkeley Arts Festival, inspects the venue she and other volunteers are preparing for this year’s performances.

A quarter century ago Bonnie Hughes was perhaps best known in Berkeley as the proprietor of Augusta’s, a well regarded restaurant on Telegraph Avenue just north of Ashby. 

After she closed that business, she moved from her West Berkeley home to Downtown Berkeley and began a new career as creator and volunteer organizer of the Berkeley Arts Festival. 

The twentieth year of the Arts Festival kicks off this week, with pianist Sarah Cahill performing on Tuesday, July 12. 

There are nearly two-dozen separate performance dates extending through August 15, and numerous artists featured. “Basically it’s new music, a lot composed by the people performing it”, Hughes says. “Some of it is improv.”  

Some performers are regulars at the Festival, some new. Of one, Hughes says, “she plays the cello, but one year she played the bicycle wheel.” 

The performers range from the well-known and established Cahill, to cellist, Berkeley High alumnus, and Bard College student Dylan Mattingly who was born the year the Festival began. 

Most of the performances are at 8 pm, but a few are noon concerts. Admission is on a sliding scale, but Hughes hopes for an average of ten dollars contribution per audience member.  

See the website for calendar and performer details. In addition to individual musical performers there’s a book reading by Philippa Kelly, an Upsurge Jazz / Poetry night and, perhaps in the spirit of the original Festival year, a Stop the War sing-along. 

The Festival is unusual is that it has no permanent home but moves from location to location, improvising not only performances but performance venues in borrowed spaces in Berkeley’s Downtown. These are usually storefronts vacant between business occupants, and lent by the building owners. 

This year the festival occupies a storefront in the old Acheson Physicians Building, at 2133 University Avenue between Walnut Street and Shattuck. (The Berkeley Ace Hardware is the neighbor on one side, Long Life Vegi House on the other. The building is currently awaiting renovation / conversion to housing as part of the proposed Acheson Commons project). 

Hughes started the Festival in 1991 with a set of performances with an anti-war theme. “That was very well attended”, she says. “We got off to a rousing start.” By coincidence the Gulf War erupted at the same time, and “we had TV people from all over.” 

The original space was in part of the old Hink’s Department Store, now long since renovated into the Shattuck Cinemas. When the Festival had to move, it went to a former Crocker Bank space in Berkeley’s old Masonic Temple at Bancroft Way and Shattuck Avenue. 

The Festival operated there year round, and the Tinker’s Workshop also had a space in the corner of the facility. 

After that building was sold the Festival had to move, and went to various storefronts “for a month or so” at a time, says Hughes. “We could only plan a month or two ahead, because no one was able to promise longer than they could get permits” for a planned business or development in a particular space. 

The Festival is “always a seat of the pants operation”, Hughes says, organized largely by volunteers and using the borrowed spaces. “We do it on a shoe string.” The City of Berkeley gives the Festival $10,000 a year, but the rest of the support must come from admissions and volunteers. 

Admissions are split between the performers and the Festival.  

Other spaces used by the Festival over the years include the old Edy’s storefront that had become an Eddie Bauer store (it’s now the Downtown Kinko’s). In that venue “one of the walls was wavy and that made the music incredible”, Hughes said. The Festival also had quarters at one time in the building on Allston Way now being renovated for Magnes Museum collections. 

The current performance space is adorned for the Festival with large-scale paintings by four East Bay artists, Robert Brokl, Lisa Esherick, M. Louise Stanley and Livia Stein. The paintings line the walls and a narrow balcony / mezzanine that overlooks the performance area. 

How long will the Festival continue? Hughes isn’t sure. She jokes, “This may be the last year I do it, but everyone says I say that every year.” She’s now in her early 80s. There’s no obvious heir to organize the event.  

“I do it as a volunteer”, Hughes told me as we finished lunch one recent day Downtown. “There are not that many people who have the time or inclination to do something so time consuming.”  

Then she was off to the Festival space to check on preparations, look for extra chairs for the first Sarah Cahill performance, and attend to a multitude of other details. 

For more information on the Berkeley Arts Festival contact Bonnie Hughes: fabarts@silcon.com  

Or visit the website: http://www.berkeleyartsfestival.com/

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Screens Rare Gems, Timeless Classics

By Justin DeFreitas
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 07:15:00 AM
I Was Born But ...
I Was Born But ...
Women Men Yearn For
Women Men Yearn For
He Who Gets Slapped
He Who Gets Slapped

This year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival starts off with a premiere of sorts. Last year a stash of rare American silent films, many long though lost, were repatriated back to the United States for restoration and preservation. Upstream, one of the gems of the collection and the first to be restored, will screen Thursday, July 14, as the opening film of the annual festival that takes over the Castro Theater through Sunday night.  

Upstream is an early film by John Ford, one of the towering figures of cinema, American or otherwise. Made while the director was working for Fox, Ford admitted to having been captivated at the time by the work of F.W. Murnau, who had made a name for himself as one of Germany’s top directors with work as disparate as the horror masterpiece Nosferatu, the expressionist classic The Last Laugh, and a cinematic reworking of Faust. Hollywood was eager to recruit top European talent in those days and Murnau was a high-profile catch for Fox. Here, Ford was able to observe Murnau's methods firsthand, and though he wouldn't incorporate much of what he learned from Murnau until later films, Upstream, a melodrama that centers on a backstage love triangle among Vaudevillians, was produced during this period. 

The festival will screen Ford's film along with Murnau's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, the masterpiece with which Murnau brought Germanic technique and a palpable European sensibility to American filmmaking. Sunrise is celebrated for its roaming camerawork, its evocative set design, its emotional range and fable-like qualities. The plot concerns a young country couple whose happy home is threatened when the husband is tempted by a footloose city flapper. Murnau sets up dichotomies that are almost allegorical: between city and country, love and lust, virtue and temptation. It is melodrama raised to the level of poetry, a fable of love, devotion and redemption.  

Murnau’s camera is almost constantly on the move, tracking characters along village paths, through marshlands at dusk, along the busy streets of a bustling city. Sunrise is a whirlwind of motion and emotion, from tense moments wandering in darkness, to a sun-kissed stroll that leaves the couple bewildered in the midst of a traffic jam, to the kaleidoscopic revelry of a nightclub sequence.  

Saturday's highlight is Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born But..., one of the great Japanese director's early films, and one of his most beloved. Rather rather than employing his camera in bravura displays of pyrotechnic virtuosity, Ozu used it to simply observe his characters, to linger on their faces, on their homes, on their possessions—to look into the souls of everyday people under everyday circumstances. Ozu was both a naturalist and a rigorous formalist, a director who sought to capture life as it is lived, but within a framework of rigidly defined restrictions. He limited the camera’s range of motion and the angles from which it could gaze; he limited his editing to simple, direct cuts—no dissolves or fades; and dialogue was conveyed in simple master shots followed by alternating close-ups. This artistic code focused the viewer's attention on content over form, allowing character to reveal itself, allowing dialogue to breathe, and allowing revelatory spaces to open up between words and gestures and characters. Thus relationships and motivations and plot points gradually take shape before the viewer’s eyes. “Rather than tell a superficial story,” Ozu said, “I wanted to go deeper, to show ... the ever-changing uncertainties of life. So instead of constantly pushing dramatic action to the fore, I left empty spaces, so viewers could have a pleasant aftertaste to savor.”  

Long before Ozu refined this method and distilled it into the austere approach of his later, more famous movies, he made many lighter films—comedies, melodramas, even Hollywood-inspired gangster films. One of the best of his early films, I Was Born But... displays the director's remarkable ability to blend comedy with poignant drama. The film examines the difficulties both of children growing up and of their parents in handling them. A man’s young sons brawl with the local kids in their new neighborhood to assert their dominance, and once they do they exercise their power without restraint. Later their father falls from his figurative pedestal as they witness him kowtowing to his boss, the father of one their schoolyard underlings. What follows is both a loss of innocence and a tough lesson in parenting, as the father tries to express the realities of adulthood, and the boys learn that there are other ways to get along than by thundering in the brush and pounding one’s chest like a baboon.  

Evident in these early films are some of the techniques that Ozu would employ throughout his career: the floor-height vantage points that place his camera at eye level as his characters sit on the traditional tatami; and the alternating dialogue shots in which each character looks directly at the camera, placing the viewer right in the middle of the exchange, allowing stronger identification with each character, with each argument and with each perspective.  

And herein lies much of the appeal of Ozu’s films: His calm, gently unfolding dramas give us time to not only get to know his characters, but also to deeply care about them—to enjoy their humor, to admire their strength and to forgive their transgressions—so that, when a film ends, there is often a feeling of regret that these characters are gone from our lives. “Every time I watch an Ozu film,” says actor Eijiro Tong, “I start to feel very sentimental as the end of the film nears. As I think back over the story, it’s like a flood of old memories washing over me, one after another.”  

Also screening Friday are William Desmond Taylor's 1920 adaptation of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn; Il Fuoco, an Italian femme fatale drama; The Great White Silence, a 1924 documentary about a British expedition to the Arctic; and the first of two editions of the festival's popular series, "Amazing Tales From the Archives," in which preservationists screen surviving fragments and trailers from lost films or excerpts from in-progress restorations. 

Saturday evening showcases two of the brightest stars of the era, Douglas Fairbanks and Marlene Dietrich. The Woman Men Yearn For shows Dietrich a few years before Joseph Von Sternberg transformed her into an almost otherworldly figure of mystery and beauty, and Mr. Fix-It shows Fairbanks at his charming, comedic best.  

There were many stars in the silent era, but few could rival Douglas Fairbanks. The actor made a name for himself between 1916 and 1920 with a string of breezy, acrobatic comedies. His ebullience and his prodigious athletic abilities were on display in a series of brisk films produced at a brisk pace—four or five a year, sometimes more—in which genial, dapper Doug took on the world with gusto and a good-natured smile. He was the can-do, all-American boy, a variation on the same theme adopted by Harold Lloyd in his own screen comedies. 

Around 1920, Fairbanks would take a new tack as his ambition swelled. As a co-founder of United Artists (along with three other powerful Hollywood figures: Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Fairbanks' wife, Mary Pickford), Fairbanks would gain complete control over his work and would introduce a new genre to the medium by combining comedy with costume drama. He ditched the modern clothes for period attire, donning the garb of musketeers and pirates. Abandoning the casual spontaneity of his rapid-fire comedies, he followed instead in Griffith’s footsteps, producing fewer films—just one or two a year—with better production values, more complex plots, more costumes, more sets, more drama. Fairbanks had found a new formula, and he would stick with it for the better part of a decade, enjoying much commercial success. 

Saturday's screenings also feature a morning presentation of Disney Laugh-O-Grams; The Blizzard, a romantic melodrama by Swedish director Mauritz Stiller; Clarence Brown's The Goose Woman; and "Variations on a Theme," a session in which the festival's musicians discuss and demonstrate the principles and challenges of silent film accompaniment. The panel, moderated by Jill Tracy, includes the Matti Bye Ensemble, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, the Alloy Orchestra, Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne, Donald Sosin, and Wurlizter maestro Dennis James.  

Sandwiched between Sunday morning's installment of "Amazing Tales From the Archives" and a "Wild and Weird," a program of off-kilter short films, is Shoes, by Lois Weber, the most important female director of the era. Weber enjoyed a tremendous degree of artistic control over her films, which always managed to be entertaining while taking on some of the most challenging social issues of the day, from abortion and birth control to capital punishment, labor and prostitution. Later in the day, The Nail in the Boot, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, who would go on to make such cinematic treasures as The Cranes Are Flying and the monumental I Am Cuba, promises to be another excellent screening.  

The festival concludes with He Who Gets Slapped, a confluence of four prominet talents. Lon Chaney was the premiere character of the day, the creator of myriad deformed and deranged figures; John Gilbert was on the rise as one of Hollywood's romantic leading men; Norma Shearer too was on the rise, a budding star who would go on to make some of the most sophisticated dramas of the Pre-code era; and Victor Sjöström (billed as Seastrom in America), the pioneering Swedish director who rivaled Griffith in his influence in shaping the nascent medium of cinema into an international art form.  

For tickets, a complete schedule, and more, see www.silentfilm.org .

Oakland Museum Debuts the Michael Rossman Collection of Political Posters

By Gar Smith
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 09:11:00 AM

Karen McLellan and archiving consultant Lincoln Cushing have announced the posting of the first 1,322 of the 24,500 posters in Michael Rossman’s unparalleled collection of political posters. The initial selection is part of the Oakland Museum of California's exhibition of Rossman's "All Of Us Or None Archive." 

The All Of Us Or None (AOUON) archive project was started by Free Speech Movement activist Michael Rossman in 1977 to gather and document the poster-work of modern progressive movements in the United States. Though earlier work is included, its focus is on the domestic political poster renaissance, which began in 1965 and continues to this day. 

The Archive gathered posters from all streams of progressive activity — from movements of protest, liberation, and affirmative action, trade union and community struggles, to electoral and environmental organizing, community services, and visionary manifestos. Though strongest in work from the San Francisco Bay Area, its scope is national: one-quarter of its holdings come from out-of-state. These are complemented by an archive of international work. The collection consists of approximately 25,000 distinct titles. The collection is now part of the Oakland Museum of California. 

The initial release of this unparalleled collection has been greeted with rave reviews . Michael's friends at the FSM-Archives have called the collection “major eye candy,” “spectacular,” and “dazzling.” 

The Museum will be mounting a public exhibition in the near future. In the meantime, the first 1,322 posters can be seen online at the following link: 


New Novel from Berkeley Author Edie Meidav

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday July 12, 2011 - 01:56:00 PM
Author Edie Meidav
Author Edie Meidav

Berkeley-rooted author Edie Meidav’s new novel “Lola, California” comes out July 5th with Farrar Straus to extraordinary praise.  

Meidav will be in Berkeley to read from it at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Elmwood, in Berkeley on July 28, and at A Good Great Place for Books in Montclair on Aug. 5. She will also be reading August 4 at San Francisco’s Book Passage, in conversation with Zyzzyva Editor (and former SF Chronicle Books Editor) Oscar Villalon. 

Here is a sample of some of the praise— 

“Meidav is a rare thing, a less than well known writer who continues to publish big, dense, challenging novels with a major press. Should Meidav be better known? Almost definitely.”--The Millions, Most Anticipated Books of 2011  

“Lola, California --a crazed concatenation that may prove vital when we're all hiding inside with hot and wild dispositions.”-- Ed Champion WNYC Arts Guide 

“In this intense and tumultuous tale, Meidav adeptly limns the dark and sinuous obsessions of friendship with penetrating insights.—Booklist” “Brilliant . . . awesome. --Publisher's Weekly”  

Edie Meidav won the Bard Fiction Prize in 2006. Her “The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon” (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) won the Kafka Award for best novel by an American woman. “Crawl Space” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) was next in 2005. “I’ve probably written or started 50 novels; I’ve published three. Some of us love to get lost in the forest, some love to plan.” 

“Lola, California” features a magnetic household with a very dark center: when we meet charismatic and brilliant Vic Mahler, he’s on Death Row for killing his wife. His daughter has severed all ties, changing her name and disappearing into a marijuana growers’ community. Her teenage best friend, a foster child who idolized the Mahler clan, races the clock to effect a reunion before Vic’s execution. 

Meidav’s family moved to Berkeley in 1974, during “the buzzkill years” after its countercultural flowering. Mae Meidav, Edie’s mother, is an engineer, sociologist, and playwright; she also bellydanced at the family’s bohemian parties. “My family liked to give shelter to some of the fruits of the counterculture,” Meidav recalls; several classmates moved in to their household, often for long stretches.  

Meidav just came back from months in Cuba. “I was there to research a novel on the idea of a Latin American boxer. I went with my husband Stan Stroh, who is a painter, and our little girls. There were food shortages, water shortages, blackout—not your usual tourist trip.” 

Meidav credits her family for her love of adventure. Her father, Tsvi, who died in September, was born in Poland, raised in Israel, and lived most of his life as a geophysicist for the UN and his own energy-pioneering companies.. “I feel close to his spirit when I’m in motion,” says Meidav. In her essay, “Daughter of California” published at http://www.themillions.com , Meidav explores the charisma of Berkeley, California, and her father. 

Nina Shengold, in Chronogram Magazine, writes, “Lola, California is nothing if not surprising. [The main character] Vic’s psychopathology infects the next generations in unforeseen ways; some of the book’s revelations are gut punches. That many unfold in the echt Californian milieu of a New Age retreat adds to the resonance.” 

(Read Shengold’s interview at http://www.chronogram.com/issue/2011/7/Books/Sunshine-States

Edie Meidav is a recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and directed the writing program at the New College of California on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Now she is in residence at Bard College (in upstate New York at scenic Annandale-on-Hudson, about 90 miles from NYC) where she teaches creative writing and literature there. 

For more information, you can find Meidav on Facebook, at www.ediemeidav.com, or you can view an exciting “book video trailer” of LOLA by clicking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6iY2A5EwMM&feature=player_embedded#at=13 

Ms. Meidav’s Northern California reading schedule: 

July 23, The Gallery/Mendocino with Beth Lisick; 

July 28, Mrs. Dalloways/Berkeley; 

July 30, Four-Eyed Frog/Gualala with Sharon Doubiago; 

August 4, Book Passage/San Francisco with Oscar Villalon; 

August 5, A Great Good Place for Books/Montclair, CA with Carolyn Cooke.

Press Release: Chicken Clinic 2.0 At Ecology Center

From Beck Cowles
Wednesday July 13, 2011 - 12:27:00 PM

You're ready to take the plunge--or you already have. Keeping chickens and ducks is easier than you think, but it takes planning and some upfront expense. Longtime chicken wrangler Linnea Due offers advice on feed, housing, breeds, and more, and outlines common assumptions that can lead to trouble. In a Q&A format, she'll address hatcheries, Marek's vaccines, composting with manure, and how to get those all-important eggs. The class is free but limited to twenty, so sign up now. Please specify when registering if ASL interpretation is requested, (at least 10 working days in advance). 


Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 

Time: 6:30pm - 8:30pm 

Location: Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave, near Dwight Way, Berkeley. 

Cost: Free. Space is limited, pre-registration required.. 

Info: 510-548-2220 x239, register@ecologycenter.org. 

Wheelchair accessible.