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2150 Shattuck is now the “Chase Building”, with two prominent blue bank logos
                          displayed atop the tallest structure in Downtown. The logos are lit for much of the
Steven Finacom
2150 Shattuck is now the “Chase Building”, with two prominent blue bank logos displayed atop the tallest structure in Downtown. The logos are lit for much of the night.


Press Release: Congresswoman Barbara Lee Opposes Debt Ceiling Deal

Monday August 01, 2011 - 09:49:00 AM

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) released the following statement in opposition to the debt ceiling deal released on Sunday night: 

“Of course, I don’t want to see our nation default, but after having reviewed this deal in detail, for a number of reasons, I am simply unable to support it.  

“First, it totally fails to address the urgent and most pressing crisis in the country: the lack of jobs and economic growth. At a time when investments are needed to jump start our economy and put people back to work, I believe this deal and its cuts-only approach is the wrong approach. Clearly, allowing the false link between the debt ceiling and the deficit to gain any credibility was a mistake. And it is an outrage that we stand here today. A clean debt ceiling vote and a reasonable and balanced approach to deficit reduction is what has long been required. 

“Second, while I can appreciate that some provisions to limit the impact of the cuts were included, the bill falls short of achieving the balance necessary. The hard reality is that cuts of this size will likely result in massive cuts to vital human needs and safety net programs and will cripple our ability to help our must vulnerable communities, including seniors, the poor, and low income people who are struggling every day to just get by. And it includes no revenues and no guarantee of revenues going forward.  

“With over forty five million people living in poverty and the wealth gap at astronomical levels, we must demand that the super rich, big oil and other big corporations that enjoy tax giveaways and loopholes also contribute to deficit reduction.  

“Finally, it is entirely unacceptable to me that this deal would open the door to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Enough is enough. We cannot allow the extreme Tea Party Republicans to advance their agenda to dismantle our government by rewarding their extreme tactics with this bad deal. I continue to support the President using the 14th amendment if necessary to raise the debt ceiling.”

U.C. Berkeley Graduates to Be Tried in Iran on Sunday

By Jeff Shuttleworth, BCN
Friday July 29, 2011 - 04:26:00 PM

Two University of California at Berkeley graduates are scheduled to stand trial in Iran on Sunday on charges of espionage and entering the country illegally. 

Sunday also marks the second anniversary of the day that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, as well as a third UC Berkeley graduate, 32-year-old Sarah Shourd, were arrested while hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region near the Iran border. 

Although Iran has accused them of espionage, the hikers and the hikers say they aren't spies but instead were detained after they accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iran. 

Iran released Shourd, who is engaged to Bauer, last September because she was in poor health. Shourd announced in May that she would not return to Iran for a trial because she is suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Shourd and the families of Bauer and Fattal led a rally outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York today to demand that Bauer and Fattal be released. 

Shourd, who was a teacher in Damascus, Syria, before she was arrested, said in a statement that she's hopeful Bauer and Fattal will be released soon. 

She said, "I know in my heart that when Shane and Josh walk out of prison, they will hold no bitterness towards anyone. I hope that day is soon." 

Shourd added, "I know their hearts will be filled with the same love and respect for the world that they had two years ago. If anything, they will have more." 

According to a website that supports the hikers, Bauer and Fattal have appeared in court only once, on Feb. 6, when they testified that they are innocent. 

Bauer, a freelance photojournalist, and Fattal, an environmental advocate, previously were scheduled to stand trial on May 11 but their trial was postponed. 

According to the hikers' website, the last contact that Bauer and Fattal have had with their families was on May 22 in one of only three brief telephone calls home that they have been allowed to make since they were arrested. 

In a recent interview, Shourd said her detainment was "horrible" and "the most difficult situation of my life." 

She said, "You're never free and I feared for my life." 

Shourd said it was difficult to leave Bauer and Fattal behind at the Evin Prison in Tehran and she is devoting her life to traveling around the world to raise awareness about their plight and trying to get them freed. Shourd also said it's hard to be separated from Bauer. 

"Shane and I have been in love for almost six years but he's been in prison for nearly two of those years," Shourd said.

Three More Meetings on Siting Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (News Analysis)

By Zelda Bronstein
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 10:03:00 AM

Between August 3 and August 8, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will hold three public meetings about possibly locating its second campus in or partly in Berkeley. Each meeting will deal with one of the six finalist venues for the new facility; the other three contenders are in Alameda, Richmond and Oakland, respectively. If the three Berkeley meetings have the same format as the initial gathering, in Alameda, members of the public will be given two minutes apiece to speak. 

Contrary to rumors floating around the community, there will be no new jobs at the second campus, which will consolidate work at three existing LBNL sites. Nor will the second campus, a government agency (the Lab is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy), itself yield any tax revenue. 

What a second LBNL campus will yield is a great deal of traffic; inflated property values; and—if it’s located on the one all-Berkeley site along Aquatic Park—buildings that tower six stories and very likely higher. Lab representative Sam Chapman told a June meeting of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce that the smaller the site, the taller the buildings are likely to rise. At twelve acres, the Aquatic Park venue is the smallest of the six places under consideration. 

Commenting on the City of Berkeley’s current project to rezone West Berkeley and specifically to allow taller buildings in the district, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have both stated that buildings rising over the current legal limit of 45 feet—about three stories—would harm the many birds, including egrets, herons, bitterns and comorants, that use Aquatic Park as year-round habitat. Both organizations urged the City to maintain the current 45-foot height limit. 

The Aquatic Park proposal will be addressed on Thursday evening, August 4, from 7 to 9 pm at the Frances Albrier Center in San Pablo Park. 

The two partly-in-Berkeley are a proposal from Wareham Developers, which consists of two existing Lab facilities—the Joint BioEnergy Institute at Emery Station in Emeryville and the Lab’s Life Sciences Division at 717 Potter Street in West Berkeley (both owned by Wareham); and a proposal from the owners of Golden Gate Fields and others. The southern part of the racetrack property is in Berkeley. 

The meeting about Golden Gate Fields will be on Wednesday, August 3, at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Avenue, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. 

The meeting about the Wareham properties will be on Monday, August 8, at Emeryville City Hall, 1333 Park Avenue, from 7 to 9 pm. 


Press Release: Major Environmental Groups Oppose Albany City Effort to Bar Non-Resident Comment on Proposal to Combine Lawrence Berkeley Labs and Shopping Mall on Golden Gate Fields Site

From Norman LaForce
Monday July 25, 2011 - 05:20:00 PM

The City of Albany is restricting public debate on a major Golden Gate Fields development proposal involving Lawrence Berkeley Lab's proposed campus, according to a group of organizations and community leaders who say the public is being excluded from debate at City workshops paid for by the developer. 

The Stronach Group has proposed shopping and hotel rooms for Golden Gate Fields in combination with a Lawrence Berkeley Lab Second Campus at the expansive bayside racetrack site. The developer's proposal would cut open space in the development to only 35 percent of the site, down from 75 percent promised in a public process a year ago. 

"Golden Gate Fields is trying to resurrect the shopping mall plan that Albany residents rejected," said SPRAWLDEF president Norman La Force. "The city just spent $500,000 and went through a long visioning process to arrive at a plan that the vast majority of residents supported. That plan called for 75 percent of the site to be park and open space. The City Council and the Stronach interests want to get the citizens to jettison that vision." 

The City of Albany has scheduled public workshops regarding selection of Golden Gate Fields as one of the six potential sites for the Lawrence Berkeley Lab Second Campus. 

But the City and its consultant, Fern Tiger Associates, is barring any but City of Albany residents from attending the workshops, set for July 30, 31 and August I at the Albany Community Center. Attendees to the community meetings must preregister. Registration is provided only to Albany city residents. 

Exclusion of the public from the workshops violates constitutional free speech rights and deprives Albany residents of the contributions of the broader public to the important waterfront decision, according to the Sierra Club, Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP), Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF), former Albany mayor Robert Cheasty, former El Cerrito mayor Norman La Force, Ed Bennett, Teddi Baggins, Robert D. Postar and Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin. 

"The City and its consultant want Albany residents to abandon the vision for the waterfront the residents said they wanted for a plan that resurrects the shopping mall proposal people had rejected." said Norman La Force. "City residents are best served by hearing all viewpoints, not just those chosen by the developer." 

The group's attorney, Kelly Smith, objected to the public's exclusion from the meetings in a letter to the City Attorney on Monday. He noted that all of the groups and individuals objecting have important contributions to make to any discussion regarding Golden Gate Fields, the Lab campus and local parks. 

The letter to the City states that limiting a public meeting at a public place is a "prior restraint" of free speech and a violation of the United Statesand California constitutions. 

"A non-resident member of the public will reasonably construe the preregistration requirement as an admonition that they will not be allowed into the meetings if they attend or that they will be otherwise restrained from fully and actively expressing themselves at the meetings," according to the letter. 

Because the group's rights will be deprived once the public hearings begin this weekend, the attorney's letter demands that the City immediately lift any restriction on attending and participating in the meetings. 

"The constitutional violations stated above involve a very short time before the community hearings are held, and my clients' right to participate has been irrevocable infringed. 

"We intend to pursue all legal remedies, including injunctive remedies if the prior restraints are not removed by close of business Tuesday, July 26, 2011," according to the attorney's letter. 

"It is astounding that the City of Albany proposes to bar Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin from attending these meetings," said La Force. "Just imagine if the during the civil rights movement city officials in Birmingham, Alabama held a meeting on civil rights issues, but told Martin Luther King that he couldn't attend or speak because he was a non-resident. That is the principle at stake here," La Force said.

Where is Nuclear Energy Going? A Debate

By Gar Smith
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:30:00 PM
Mark Hertsgaard, Winona LaDuke and Stewart Brand at the Brower Center.
Gar Smith
Mark Hertsgaard, Winona LaDuke and Stewart Brand at the Brower Center.

Three Green Luminaries squared off at Berkeley’s David Brower Center on July 21 during a contentious debate over the future of nuclear energy. The so-called “Fix It or Nix It” debate pitted Native American activist (and two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate) Winona LaDuke against Stewart Brand, legendary founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue and, more recently, a vocal advocate for nuclear energy. The debate was moderated by Mark Hertzgaard and co-sponsored by the Earth Island Institute and The Nation magazine. 

After an opening welcome by Earth Island Journal editor Jason Mark, Hertsgaard introduced the speakers and plugged their respective books. Winona is the author of The Militarization of Indian Country and Stewart is the author of Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. 

Hertsgaard began with an explanation that the event nearly had been cancelled as a “security threat.” A powerful but unnamed member of the environmental community had objected to offering a platform to Brand because of his pro-nuclear stance. There were threats of boycotting Earth Island Institute were it to sponsor the event. Fortunately, Hertsgaard concluded, Earth Island stood firm. Appropriately enough for the home of the Free Speech Movement, the Berkeley-based organization decided to go ahead with the event. The audience’s applause indicated that Earth Island’s directors had made the right decision. 

Hertsgaard kicked things off with the quote from Brand’s new book. It was an update of the classic line from Brand’s 1974 Whole Earth Catalog: “We are as gods and we might as well get good at it.” Whole Earth Discipline updates that to: “We are as gods and we HAVE to get good at it.” 

“We are terraforming the Earth,” Brand told the audience, “so we need to learn to do the terraforming well. And the tool for doing that is technology.” 

Brand mentioned how India and China — not the US — are really going to determine how the Earth develops and he pointed to China’s push to expand its energy production. While visibly cringing at China’s new coal plants, Brand expressed no qualms about China’s proposed nuclear expansion and believes it bolsters his case that the nuclear option is both reasonable and inevitable. 

Hertsgaard seconded Brand’s criticism of coal — noting that 13,000 in the US die from coal production each year — but he pointed out that China has recently announced that it hopes to reduce its energy consumption by a whopping 40-45% — simply by applying existing efficiency strategies. 

Brand shot back that even these savings would not be able to satisfy China’s growing needs. In China and around the world, people who “used to walk” now want motorbikes, cars, and airplanes. 

Brand dismissed anti-nuclear concerns as “techno-paranoia.” As an example, Brand quoted David Brower himself who once proclaimed: “All rechnology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.” 

Brand proceeded to describe new technology as a value-neutral process that was innocent of intent — simply a process of discovering “cool new ways to do things.” So “don’t over-interpret” technology, Brand warned. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were initially feared, Brand argued, but they have subsequently been shown to pose no threat to human health or the environment. Living systems have been swapping and recombining genes for millions of years, Brand said, so there was nothing new about human scientists resplicing genetic codes to design new species. Critics of GMOs were wrong to fear this new technology, Brand insisted, and they now must learn to accept GMOs. 

Brand seemed deaf and blind to the continuing critical clamor over GMOs negative impacts on health (including allergic reactions, sterility and organ failure) and the demonstrable environmental damage caused by the spread of lab-manufactured crops and herbicide-resistant “superweeds” that, once released, have become a spreading menace in many southwest regions of the US. 

Brand appears to inhabit a parallel Earth that is free of the specter of corporate control or haunted by the profit motive; where new technology arises spontaneously, pure and without intent. But on the Earth most of us are familiar with, modern research is largely driven by corporations acting in the pursuit of extending market control and increasing profitability. In Brand’s world of “pure science,” there is no need for a Precautionary Principle (which is just a re-write of Dave Brower’s warning about the presumed “innocence” of new technology). 

Winona LaDuke countered with a calm insistence on “intergenerational justice,” as informed by the Native American concept that today’s decisions must be guided by a concern for the impacts our choices will have on the next Seven Generations. (This may have been the earliest formulation of the “Precautionary Principle.”) Winona expressed dismay at a world in which “science is the new God” and offered her own spin on Brand’s line: “We are not as Gods,” she said, “We are as children.” Winona went on to draw the important distinction between intelligence and wisdom. Stewart, she cautioned, was wrong to depend on high-tech Western intelligence without respecting the cautionary approach that comes with wisdom. 

At this point, Hertsgaard raised the unavoidable issue of the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan. Had this caused Brand to reconsider his support of nuclear power? 

Not at all. Brand responded by running down the statistics. Sure, there were three multiple reactor meltdowns and a spent fuel pool blown to smithereens in an explosion but, while 20,000 were killed by the tsunami, “no one died as a result of nuclear power.” Brand then recalled the e. coli outbreak that killed scores and sickened thousands in Europe. “But you didn’t hear anyone demanding that organic farms should be shut down!” 

“I don’t believe all these things are equal,” Winona replied. She mentioned the dark history of Monsanto, Dow, and Agent Orange. “I don’t have amnesia,” she said, adding that “some people are living in an Oil Bubble.” 

While Stewart contended that GMOs could save Africa and the rest of the world from starvation, Winona warned against GMOs and monocultures. “Remember the Irish potato famine,” she scolded. A sustainable biosphere requires biodiversity – many crops working in supportive harmony, not a world dominated by the spawn of corporate-owned patented seeds. A prime example of supporting biodiversity is the Native American garden staple known as the Three Sisters — corn, squash and beans grown together in a mutual tangle than improves the vitality of all three foods. 

“Technology isn’t going to save us,” Winona continued, “We have to learn to be responsible.” Winona compared GMOs to “sexual predators” that can stalk stalks, cross-pollinate, and destroy natural and organic crops. “Food is more than a commodity,” she emphasized, “It’s a relative!” A question that haunts Winona, who comes from a native rice-growing culture, is: “How do you stop people from shopping and start them growing?” 

Brand returned to his praise for the promise of new nuclear technologies — including Integral Fast Reactors that, he claimed, could turn a liability into a resource by burning the world’s stockpiles of toxic radioactive spent fuel to create electricity. 

The first question raised during the 15-minute Q&A related to the waste issue. 

“Decommisioning all 104 US reactors could cost between $50-$100 billion. We only have $24 billion in a Nuclear Waste Fund but this can only be spent on underground storage (and this is no longer available.) With the US $14 trillion in debt, how can we cover the costs of closing existing reactors, let alone building new ones?” 

Brand sidestepped the question of cost and focused instead on the problem of storage. There was a simple solution to the dilemma, Brand suggested. US reactor wastes could simply be stored in the stable salt foundation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site at the Los Alamos Nuclear Labs in New Mexico (Yes, the same facility recently threatened by a massive wildfire.) 

“Stewart,” another audience member began, “I want to thank you for your many years of service. I learned about the Gaia Theory from you. But I have to say: I think you are fundamentally wrong here. Climate change is not the only issue. Even before climate became an issue, species were going extinct. How can we allow the biosphere to lose 50% of its species?” 

In response, Brand offered a strange defense. “Mother Nature is a real mother!” he began. “She’s tough.” If one species goes extinct, he argued, there are lots of others that will step in to fill the niches. “We lost the American chestnut and the passenger pigeon,” Brand noted, but “we can use GMO technology to bring back the lost trees and pigeons!” With genetic engineering, he contended, it would be possible to tap archived seed vaults to recreate the chestnut and, by splicing store-housed genes from extinct bird tissue, we could transform a close relative into a reborn version – an exact replica – of the long-gone passenger pigeon. This suggestion triggered an audible cringe among many in the audience. 

As the last speaker reached the microphone, Brand suddenly leaned forward to shield his eye against the light and piped up in delight: “Peter!?” 

Actor-author Peter Coyote returned the greeting. But then he quickly launched into the best critique of the evening. Admitting that he was still trying to recover from Brand’s vision of genetic scientists reincarnating the passenger pigeon, he offered the evening’s final revision of Stewart’s Godly Motto. “To my mind we are not as gods. We are more like idiot savants,” Coyote said. 

Picking up on Winona’s observation, Coyote lamented that, while “President Obama has a very intelligent Science Advisor, the president does not have a Wisdom Advisor.” Coyote said he found Brand’s “absence of doubt” about the inherently positive impacts of technology bordered on the “sociopathic.” 

Coyote asked Brand why he was willing to risk the magnificence of the biosphere by producing “a toxic poison with a half-life of 20,000 years for the sake of sustaining this Western culture.” Instead of trying to invent new technologies to feed the exponentially growing consumption of industrial society, Coyote asked why was Brand not working to change the current culture to one that is sustainable? 

Brand had the last word. “Remember voluntary simplicity?” He asked. “That was good for about six months. Voluntarily simplicity doesn’t work when most of the world is stuck in involuntary simplicity.” 

The entire recorded conversation can be heard on KALW. Check the station for broadcast times. www.kalw.org 

Gar Smith is the author of Nuclear Roulette, recently published by the International Forum on Globalization. The extensively researched and highly praised 94-page mini-book offers detailed critiques of every pro-nuclear argument and provides a persuasive case for adopting renewable energy solutions. The report is available from www.ifg.org for $16 (and $3 postage).

The Oslo Bomber's Manifesto (News Analysis)

by John R. Hall,Professor of Sociology, UC Davis
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 02:14:00 PM

I have just completed a very preliminary examination of the Norwegian manifesto posted just before the Oslo bombings. It is an astonishing and significant document, far from the incoherent ravings of a mad person, as I would wish it to be. And it is incredibly chilling in its ruthless rationality and relative coherence. Here, I offer some initial reflections. I have concentrated on the portions from page 717 forward, where the author details ideology, revolutionary strategy, and utopian vision of a future, federated Europe. Beginning on p. 1388, the author offers an autobiography and c.v. of Breivik, which presumably will be checked out by investigators and the media, plus a quite detailed account of his actions over the past several years. A number of important comparisons already have been made -- to al Qaida and the Oklahoma City bombing, for example. But in many ways, if the perpetrator indeed acted alone, he is something of a piece with the Unabomber, who similarly combined ruthless action with a carefully elaborated manifesto. There are important difference, to be sure. In particular, the Unabomber worked to conceal his identity so that he could carry out multiple actions, and he operated out of an environmental left ideology rather than a Christian nationalism. 

The latter part of the document depicts its account of pre-emptive war as a new mode of writing, exploring scenarios rather than writing fiction or history, thereby claiming to eliminate its usefulness to authorities seeking to use it as evidence when bringing charges against the author or a perpetrator of the acts it describes. 

As others already have commented, the label of 'Christian fundamentalist' seems wrong, at least in conventional use of the term today. Certainly the author represents himself as a nationalist/European federalist conservative opposed to 'cultural genocide' of the Enlightenment West, and seemingly he proposes reinstitution of monarchy as more representative of a nation than democracy can be. Only very late in the missive, p. 1134, does he embrace Europe's return to the traditional Catholic Church, for its apostolic succession of authority and its capacity to guide believers in matters of scripture. This development is to be coupled with a re-initation of patriarchy, developed in substantial detail (p. 1141ff.), and concern about 'the ongoing genocide of the Nordic tribes' and a discussion of its genetic basis and the dangers of miscegenation and sexual promiscuity (including a discussion of 'erotic capital,' leading to a frank discussion of the possibility that the state could 'play an essential role in national reproduction' (p. 1157ff.; quote, p. 1185). The treatise goes on to mention future education, economic, pollution-control, population-control, crime, cultural/anti-multicultural, deportation, and youth policies, as well as discussing financing an organization, categories of traitors (A, B, and C). In short, it is a comprehensive (in Mannheim's terms) 'utopian' vision, i.e., one that could never be realized in the world as it is presently institutionalized. 

Yet there is certainly a basis for recognizing the claims of a 'Christian' basis for the ideology, and a religioius fundamentalism as well. This latter claim, I make in relation to Martin Riesebrodt's important comparative study of U.S. Protestantism at the dawn of the twentieth century and Iranian fundamentalism 70 years later or so -- both of them strongly based in an ideology of patriarchy, as is the Oslo killer's manifesto (A Pious Passion, U. California Press, 1993). 

Yet this is not simply ideological quasi-religious fundamentalism/nationalism. Rather, the utopian program has all the markings of an apocalyptic crusader, and more generally, the apocalyptic warring sect that I described in Apocalypse (Polity, 2009). The lever by which the author makes contact with Christianity (beyond its status as the cultural basis of European civilization, is a modern-day 'PCCTS, Knights Templar' struggle to initiate a European 'civil war' against 'enablers' -- cultural marxists and multiculturalists who are 'aiding and abetting' cultural genocide, most significantly in efforts to accommodate Islam within Europe. The challenge, as the author sees it, seems to be to eliminate Islamic migration to Europe, assimilate or force emigration of Muslims, and to excise all Islamist or Arab influenced culture, art, and architecture from European countries. The Knights Templar, described as an 'ancient Christian European military order, is being re-founded not by Christians alone, but by 12 individuals, including a 'Christian atheist' and a 'Christian agnostic.' Eventually, p. 1309, the manifesto is clear that its appeal is to 'cultural Christians,' although it invokes the Bible and Church crusading history, especially the work of Bernard de Clairvaux, to justify the contemporary initiative. One of many elements is the crucial proposal to engage in asymmetric warfare -- a vein that is classically that of the apocalyptic warring sect, using a 'clandestine cell organization,' combining the rhetoric of ultimate belief in a cause with the cold, rational logic of how to operate. In considerable detail, the manifesto outlines a mode of operations that foreshadows the actions in and near Oslo, including the chilling note, page 886, that it will take 'the SWAT team 10 - 40 minutes to reach you,' and therefore, it is worthwhile to divide up the components of a planned action accordingly.Similarly, the author mentions, p. 995, 'announcing your operation' 'only seconds before you initiate' it, and suggests, p. 927, 'hide a knife behind a smile,' a recommendation, along with subsequent ones, that foreshadows the killer's use of a police uniform and a story about helping to ensure the safety of the island camp participants before beginning to slay them -- a technique that he used twice, in different places on the island. 

In a variety of passages, the document offers a detailed handbook of asymmetric operations of war, including attacks and sabotage, and evaluation of a variety of targets, accompanied by a detailed catalogue of equipment, weapons (including bombs made from fertilizer -- see esp. p. 1015), and armor, where to buy materials, and how to create weapons, detailed discussions of chemical, biological assaults, and attacks on nuclear reactors, as well as dietary recommendations, and an outline of a training regimen, recommendations concerning alliances with certain criminal networks [a theme that reprises the analysis of Eric Hobsbawm that I cited several weeks ago]. 

The author also announces that the apprehension of a Knights Templar is not the end of the operation: it 'will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase' (p. 948), and afterward, the task will be one of 'countering the misinformation campaign' (p. 1073), and comments on the use of trial opening and concluding statements for propaganda purposes (p. 1108-14). Alternatively, if you die, you will live on as a martyr in the memory of those carrying on the cause. 

The scope of the publication is almost encyclopedic. It also includes historical analysis of how the past millennium of European history lead to the present crisis and need for re-formation of the Knights Templar, as well as a sketch of the umbrella organization, membership, military uniforms for dress occasions, medals, appropriate tombstones, a proposal for subsequent compensation (upon victory) for people who contribute to the resistance movement (a sort of rational-choice approach to mobilizing supporters), and on and on. 

In short, the document envisions apocalyptic war as the means to reach a new European conservative/nationalist/Christian utopia. Yet unlike many other visions of apocalyptic war, this manifesto goes far toward detailing what that utopian world would look like. Even if, as it seems, this action is that of a lone individual, it is a dangerous development that we ignore at our peril. 

© John R. Hall 2011 


John R. Hall is a professor of sociology at the University of California Davis., who studies history, culture, and the sociology of religion. His published books include Apocalypse: From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity (Polity 2009). This article first appeared at http://zenpundit.com/?p=4211

California Wages War on Single Family Homes (News Analysis)

By Joel Kotkin
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 01:24:00 PM

In recent years, homeowners have been made to feel a bit like villains rather than the victims of hard times, Wall Street shenanigans and inept regulators. Instead of being praised for braving the elements, suburban homeowners have been made to feel responsible for everything from the Great Recession to obesity to global warming.

In California, the assault on the house has gained official sanction. Once the heartland of the American dream, the Golden State has begun implementing new planning laws designed to combat global warming. These draconian measures could lead to a ban on the construction of private residences, particularly on the suburban fringe. The new legislation’s goal is to cram future generations of Californians into multi-family apartment buildings, turning them from car-driving suburbanites into strap-hanging urbanistas. 

That’s not what Californians want: Some 71% of adults in the state cite a preference for single-family houses. Furthermore, the vast majority of growth over the past decade has taken place not in high-density urban centers but in lower-density peripheral areas such as Riverside-San Bernardino. Yet popular preferences mean little in a state where environmental zealotry increasingly dictates how people should live their lives. 

Some advocates do cite market forces to justify their policies. Economists on the left and right have cited the recent housing bust as proof that homes are not great investments, suggesting people would be better off leaving their money to the tender mercies of Wall Street speculators. Some demographers also suggest that young people will choose to live in high-density regions throughout their lives and that as boomers age they too will opt out of suburbs for urban apartment living. 

These “facts” may be more grounded in academic mythology than reality. Some widely quoted experts, like the Anderson Forecast at UCLA, cite Census information to say that demographics are shifting demand from single-family homes to condos and apartments, although the Census asked no such question. These experts also fail to address why condo prices have dropped even more in the major California markets than single-family home prices; the percentage of starts that come from single-family houses shifts from year to year, but last year’s number tracks around the same level as seen in the 1980s. 

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the analysis lies with long-term demographic factors. As I wrote last week, many of the “young and restless” folks whom city planners try to court tend to move into suburbs and affordable low-density regions as they grow older and begin starting families. Similarly, the vast majority of boomers, according to AARP, want to remain in their old homes as long as possible. Most of those homes are located in suburban, low- to medium-density neighborhoods. 

But who needs facts when you have religion? Take the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Metropolitan Transit Commission’s (MTC) new “sustainable communities strategy,” a document designed to meet the requirements of the state’s draconian anti-greenhouse gas legislation. 

This “strategy” seeks to all but reduce growth in the region’s lower-density outer fringe – eastern Contra Costa County as well as the Napa, Vallejo and Santa Rosa metropolitan areas — which grew more than twice as fast as the core and inner suburbs. Instead the ABAG-MTC projects a soaring increase in demand for high-density housing and its latest “vision” report calls for 97% of all the region’s future housing be built in urban areas, virtually all of it multi-family apartments, to accommodate an estimated 2 million residents 

The projections underpinning ABAG’s strategy are absurd. Over the past decade the population of the region’s historic core cites San Francisco and Oakland — where much of the dense growth would be expected to take place — increased by 1.7%, compared with 6.5% for the suburbs. Overall regional growth stood at a modest 5.1%, roughly half that of the previous decade and just about half of the national and state averages. 

Given this record, a more reasonable assumption would be population growth at something closer to 1 million, half the projected amount. Assumptions about the economy to support even this growth are also dubious. The ABAG report, for example, fantasizes that by 2030 the Bay Area will increase its employment by 900,000 — a neat trick for an area that overall lost 300,000 positions over the past decade. 

So, why wage war on the house? Some greens seem to regard the single-family house as an assault on eco-consciousness. Yet in many cases, these objections are overstated. Research supporting higher-density housing , for example, has routinely excluded the greater emissions from construction material extraction and production, building construction itself and& greenhouse gas emissions from common areas like parking levels, entrances and elevators. 

Further, higher densities are associated with greater congestion, which retards fuel efficiency and increases greenhouse gas emissions, a factor not sufficiently considered. Given that less than 10% of Bay Area residents take transit — and barely 3% in its economic engine Silicon Valley — higher density likely would create greater, not fewer, emissions. 

The ABAG report also studiously avoids mentioning the potential greenhouse gas reductions to be had by expanding telecommuting, which is growing six times faster than the fervently pushed transit commuting in the region. The Silicon Valley already has 25% more telecommuters than transit users. Clearly, by pushing telecommuting, you could get big reductions in GHG without a “cramming” agenda. 

Ultimately the density agenda reflects less a credible strategy to reduce GHG than a push among planners to “force” Californians, as one explained to me, out of their homes and into apartments. In pursuit of their “cramming” agenda planners have also enlisted powerful allies – or perhaps better understood as ”useful idiots” — developers and speculators who see profit in the eradication of the single family by forcibly boosting the value of urban core properties. 

In the end, however, substituting religion for markets and people’s preferences is counterproductive. For one thing, people “forced” to live densely will find other places to live the way they like — even if it means leaving California. This is already happening to middle class families in places like San Francisco and may soon be true of California’s traditionally middle-class-friendly interior as well. 

In the end, two markets are likely to grow in the Bay Area. One is low-end rental housing for students and an expanding servant class — after all Google millionaires need people to walk their dogs and paint their toenails. The other is luxury retirement facilities for the region’s growing population of aging affluents. Once a self-consciously “cool” youth magnet, Marin County, for example, is now one of the country’s oldest urban counties, with a median age of 44.5; San Francisco is headed in the same direction. 

Developers can drool over the prospects of building high-end assisted living joints for all those aging hippies who made their bundle during the state’s glory days and settled into places like Mill Valley. After all, unlike young families, these affluent oldsters will be able to afford indulging in the state’s mild climate, natural food restaurants and brilliant scenery. And with easily accessible medical marijuana and a good sound system for playing Grateful Dead recordings, the gray-ponytail set could be in for a hell of a good time, at least as long as it lasts. 

This piece originally appeared at Forbes.com and at newgeography.com. 

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow of the Legatum Institute in London. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.  

Photo by Mike Behnken

Cops 'N Robbers—Berkeley-Style

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 11:14:00 AM
This officer was having a nice day until a man calling himself the Urban-Strider got in the 
              officer's face, a common occurrence on Teley. It all started with some street kids sprawling
              on the walks with lots of gear. and then the Urban-Strider intervened, on behalf of whom?
              Ask not for whom the Urban-Strider strides; he strides for thee.
Ted Friedman
This officer was having a nice day until a man calling himself the Urban-Strider got in the officer's face, a common occurrence on Teley. It all started with some street kids sprawling on the walks with lots of gear. and then the Urban-Strider intervened, on behalf of whom? Ask not for whom the Urban-Strider strides; he strides for thee.
Is it an optical illusion, or is this perp, who is about to be cited sitting on an officer's squad-car hood? How did the perp manage to "play" the officer? Or is the officer "playing" the perp and what's up with "playing?"
Ted Friedman
Is it an optical illusion, or is this perp, who is about to be cited sitting on an officer's squad-car hood? How did the perp manage to "play" the officer? Or is the officer "playing" the perp and what's up with "playing?"
Is the perp--who is being cited--encroaching, or is he just gesticulating? His citation was not for encroachment, so he must just be demonstrative. What does it all mean?
Ted Friedman
Is the perp--who is being cited--encroaching, or is he just gesticulating? His citation was not for encroachment, so he must just be demonstrative. What does it all mean?

This Berkeley crime reporter sucks up to Berkeley police (university and city). It's more than a bias; it's abject fear. For most of us—whether for or against cops—our biases stem from fear of authority, according to Alfred Hitchcock. 

Have no doubt, cops can be scary. My father used to tremble when stopped by the police for a traffic violation. I don't tremble, but I do fear them. That's where the suck-up begins and for a crime reporter who is constantly interacting with them, the suck-up is a convenient position. 

So it is with "fear and trembling" that I embark on this analysis. I have been watching Berkeley cops watching me for 40 years. Thanks to the Planet, I now have a closer view. 

I made my first bonds with UCPD during the three-plus-hour take-down of a hapless treesitter in People's Park in January after two ruffians from the park tried to kick the treesitter out of the park to stem what the cops characterized as a crackdown throughout the park. Cops hammered into park users’ heads that an uptick in citations in the park was the result of the tree-sit, saying, according to park sources, that "we're 

here more often now, because of the tree-sit." 

Hate Man, that 72-year-old drop-out from front-page reporting at the New York Times, told me that university cops told him they'd written more than twenty citations in the park while the tree sit was ongoing. This made sense, because police patrols were increased during the tree-sit. 

Whether that cop gimmick whipped up a frenzy in the volatile West end of the park and led to the stabbing in the tree that night is anybody's guess. (see Planet January 31, 2011). Running Wolf, the claimed organizer of the tree-sit, is dead sure police "played" the case, and Wolf taunted UCPD officers the other day for instigating the stabbing incident, as I looked on. 

In full suck-up mode I apologized for Running Wolf's taunts on behalf of…whom exactly? See, I feel sorry for the cops of Berkeley sometimes. They take their "fair share of abuse" from overwrought Berkeleyans, some of whom still blame police—who were teenagers at the time—for their violence in People's Park in 1969. Suspects themselves are permitted the most vicious cop-abuse imaginable. 

During the recent retirement party for Mario's, a park user, who was suspected of "crashing" the party and subsequently cuffed, called the arresting officers gay child-molesters and rapists. But he was released. 

Surprised at his release, I asked why the party-crasher wasn't booked. "Oh, we know him," the officers said. 

Knew him or controlled him? Call it cops and robbers or cat and mouse: I call it manipulation. Know this about cops. They must control crime situations and crime scenes. In People's Park and around town, police divide perps (and that's all of us) into cooperators, like me, and non-cooperators, who are quickly identified, and cited repeatedly until jailed out-of-town. 

Control was obvious at the periphery of the massive UCPD operation that removed the treesitter from his tree perch last January. Haste at People's Park was cordoned off immediately that night and eventually an adjacent street was closed as well. 

Recent police "takeovers" of the mezzanine of the Med, and a week later Andronico's were classic crime-scene control, even though the crime (armed suspects) could not be found.  

Kids at home: Don't encroach on the police, unless they are "playing you," as they are playing a perp in the accompanying photos. If you think the perp in the photo is sitting on the hood of an officer's car, it's not an optical illusion. Sunshine, who hasn't been on the streets lately, is allowed to sit cross-legged atop a squad car hood now and then. 

But Sunshine is an adorable street character who always cooperates. 

When perps cooperate, they are often granted favors and even squad car hood privileges. A cop might look the other way on some petty violations while they might write up others, who are uncooperative. Savvy street kids play the cops for privileges while the cops are playing them back. And so it goes. 

I was asked by a cop to stand back when I was "interviewing" her. In full suck-up mode, I always stand back. This got me into a comedy routine recently when I stepped back and into the street to respect the space of two BPD officers on foot patrol. 

"Sir, you could be killed in the street," the pretty blonde officer snapped. "Does that mean I'd get mouth-to-mouth?" I asked. "Sir." the blonde replied, "I don't do mouth-to-mouth. I leave that to my [male] partner." Me to the male, "I hope you don't consider your partner's remark a gender slur." He didn't. 

Perhaps I am favored to have gotten away with that. But be advised, not all cops have senses of humor as did the clever officer, who announced he was headed to the donut shop across the street to "perpetuate a stereotype" (cops 'n donuts). 

Three officers entering the Med recently didn't like my donut joke. "Here for donuts?" 

I asked. Two scowling officers told me they didn't like that. And they were on official business at that.  

A city officer busting a perp outside Moe's recently told me that he was not required to answer my questions unless "the public safety" was involved. "There is no threat to the public safety," he mindlessly reiterated. 

There is always a threat to public safety on the southside. And most officers will talk to me (although this piece may change that). 

Ted Friedman did his first crime reporting for his hometown newspaper, the Illinois State Journal-Register, circulation, 65,000, in 1958 in Springfield, Illinois. He was 18. 




The Persistent Myth of the Impartial Press, in the Nation and Even in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 01:14:00 PM

In his blog today, Paul Krugman tackles a virus which has almost taken over the body politic, insidious creeping centrism. The whole piece is well worth reading, but here’s the money quote:

“We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

“So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.”

Professor Krugman, now almost the only intelligent voice allowed to be heard in the corporate press, spent most of his early career in academic economics, so it’s no wonder that he’s shocked at what’s going on in national politics and how the situation is being covered in the press. But sad to say, militant centrism is not all that new. It’s just gotten much, much worse lately. 

The Republican party, which once embodied the faux center when Dwight Eisenhower was president, Earl Warren was governor of California and Thomas Kuchel was a senator, has degenerated into a ludicrous form of self-caricature at one extreme. This is not really new: it all started with Ronald Reagan, and ever since his ascension to power Republicans have flirted with right-wing extremism.  

The American press in the first century of the republic gave voice to a bracing variety of points of view, but starting in the 1920s newspapers increasingly depended on corporate advertising for paying the bills. As a result, they took more and more pains to pretend that they were referees, not players in the game of government. Now that the Supreme Court has decreed that corporations can have all the political participation their big money can buy, the media both print and electronic are even more reluctant to offend those who write their checks. 

And both political parties, the media, and even academic-ish pollsters have nurtured the myth of the independent voter, the guy who supposedly inhabits the center and swing-votes come election day. But when I did precinct organization for the Democratic Party I soon learned that the guy who tells you on his doorstep that he is “independent” or “votes for the man, not the party” most often doesn’t turn up at the polls on Election Day. Modern polling has amplified the voice of the unconcerned, so that all too often Democrats like President Obama give unwarranted deference to pollsters’ reports of the ill-formed opinions of people who don’t participate in public life.  

Now-forgotten Republican Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, who ultimately resigned in a bribery scandal, used to claim that he represented the wishes of a never-existent “silent majority”. Jim Hightower’s book title said it all: “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos”. But try to tell that to the media. 

Besides trying to please the advertisers, the corporate press has devoted way too much space to sports coverage, and this has infected the real news. It seems that there’s always got to be two teams, occasionally the good guys and the bad guys but more often a clash of well-matched titans. I even ran into this problem when I was doing investigative stories for leftish magazines on scientific topics, where there is often a right answer and a wrong answer. Several times well-meaning editors tried to insert views of thoroughly discredited crackpots into straightforward stories on well-researched and well-settled science, in the interest of “balance”. No, despite some who think so, the earth is still not flat (and now climate change is really upon us too.) 

In the Berkeley Planet’s transition from a relatively standard commercial newspaper with paid reporters to a non-commercial news outlet written mostly by unpaid interested citizens, we’ve started to deviate more and more from 20th Century ideas of “unbiased” journalism. In truth, many questions are not well-served by ping-pong coverage “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”. Variety, yes, that’s what our opinion slots are for. But when there are well-informed people around who actually understand what they’re watching, there’s no reason to play hide the ball.  

And that goes double for the national press. Krugman puts it to them straight: 

“…what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will. 

“And yes, I think this is a moral issue. The 'both sides are at fault' people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray. 

“It’s a terrible thing to watch, and our nation will pay the price.” 

Around here you’ll be seeing more and more reports of important local happenings written by admittedly interested parties, labeled “news analysis” or even sometimes as “press releases” from trustworthy sources. The press release in this issue on behalf of concerned East Bay environmentalists (complaining about the attempt to limit discussion of the fate of Golden Gate Fields, a significant part of the whole bay shoreline, to those who happen to vote in tiny Albany) is a good example of the kind of information that’s too important to be left to supposedly impartial reporting. We know that when organizations like these think that there’s a problem, they’re likely to be right, and we think our readers need to know what they think. And we see no need to pretend that we’re above the fray.

The Editor's Back Fence

New: Try a Bit of Bach Today

Saturday July 30, 2011 - 06:45:00 PM

A tasty little treat provided by Berkeley's Magnatunes for our enjoyment.






JS Bach (Inventions and Sinfonias) by Kathleen McIntosh 


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:04:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 03:05:00 PM

Budget Deficit; Debt Ceiling; Tea Party = Republican Suicide  

Budget Deficit 

Unfortunately, Tea Party-supported House members became beholden to the Tea Party platform, which in part means no new taxes even if the taxes are on the rich. House members are up for election every two years. Thus, a vote for taxes on the rich would probably lose them Tea Party support in the next election and jeopardise their reelection chances. That means, these House members are unable or unwilling to compromise for the good of the country even if it means putting the country into default. A Congress whose members cannot compromise cannot lead, a sad state of affairs indeed. 

Ralph E. Stone 

* * * 

Debt Ceiling  

Our country is on the brink of losing the trust of major financial institutions in the world. Why are our lawmakers in Washington not using their minds? If the US doesn't raise the debt ceiling it will default on its debts. Right now it feels like a quarrel between Democrats and Republicans in far away Washington. Soon we will know that there is an economic slump in our own home town. Shops will shut down. Factories will close. Jobs will be lost. We will enter an era of long-term Depression. How can it be possible to increase government revenue without raising taxes on people with incomes over $250,000? Economic justice should prevail. The rich must contribute their fair share of taxes at this time of economic crunch. 

Romila Khanna 

Tea Party = Republican Suicide  

First of all: The Republicans and Tea Party threatened to shut down the U.S. government and just talking about default will be bad for long-term prospects of the economy . How many times was the debt ceiling raised when Republicans and Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush held power ... numerous ... and now the GOP is using the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage. The GOP and Tea Party see the debt ceiling battle as the first step to regaining total power in 2012. Heaven help us! 

Let's put it another way: If Republicans win and we fail to raise the national debt limit by Aug. 2, the government will default for the first time in U.S. history. But, before I make a final judgment I'm going to wait until Aug. 3 and see if the 25 million Social Security checks are in the mail. How ridiculous to even think such a turn of events is possible; it would be suicide for the Republican Party and could never happen? 

Ron Lowe

Berkeley Iceland--There Are Better Alternatives than Sports Basement

By Tom Killilea / Save Berkeley Iceland
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:52:00 PM

The preservation of Berkeley Iceland, a major goal of Save Berkeley Iceland, was solidified in the Summer of 2010 when the California State Historical Resources Commission found the building eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. At the same time the rink was listed on the State Register of Historical Resources. This reaffirms the 2007 landmark designation by the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission. While the preservation of the building is secure, the future of Berkeley Iceland as a community asset is still threatened. 

In the Spring of 2010, two offers were made for the building which represented two different developments: 

  • Sports Basement, operator of large discount sporting goods stores with plans to convert site to a large retail operation – no skating or community center in the development.
  • San Francisco housing developer with designs by a UC architect to build low-impact housing on the North and South wings and restoration of the rink and public area.
Since mid-2010, East Bay Iceland (EBI), the current owners of Berkeley Iceland, has worked exclusively with Sports Basement, a chain of big-box sporting goods stores. After fighting a losing battle against landmark and historic designations which prevented the total destruction of Berkeley Iceland, EBI choose to work with an organization whose business model would ensure that a rink would be unlikely to ever open in the building again. 

Sports Basement’s plan to create a 71,000 square foot store in the Berkeley Iceland site radically changes the character of the neighborhood. Rather than serving as a healthy, fun sports facility, it will become a place principally for selling. Instead of families and groups coming to spend time together in a welcoming environment, there will be crowds of individual shoppers coming and going without really being part of the community. Rather than the patterns of pickup and drop-off, there will be buyers in cars looking for parking. Instead of a community center, a store. This is an odd legacy for EBI, a company owned primarily by the Zamboni family, a name synonymous with ice sports. 

Prior to EBI entering into exclusive discussions with Sports Basement, the SF developer with a plan including restoration of the rink made an offer for Berkeley Iceland. This project involved some modification of the North and South sections for housing, and provided a path to renovation of the rink and Milvia St. entryway for a community ice center. After following recommendations of EBI's agent to firm up designs and introduce them to key Berkeley groups (including a well received presentation to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association - BAHA), the developer was told that EBI had entered into an exclusive arrangement with Sports Basement. Rather than provide the opportunity for a project which would restore a needed recreation facility and provide new housing, EBI choose a path which will remove that option. 

Sports Basement has been looking to put a store in Berkeley for a few years. They pride themselves on contributing to the community. I don't believe the move into Berkeley Iceland reflects the approach to the community they espouse or that the location is suitable for a large retail operation: 

  • Berkeley Iceland is not in a major business district.
  • Public transportation to the site for shoppers is problematic. Access from the freeway and major traffic routes is difficult.
  • Surrounding streets are not well traveled and, with Curvy Derby coming, easily clogged.
  • Parking during the day is challenging.
These issues all at the same time raises questions of sustainability and impact on the neighborhood. 

There are alternative locations for Sports Basement which would better serve Berkeley, and probably Sports Basement. Sports Basement reportedly attempted to lease the old Ross site at the corner of Alston and Shattuck.. What better way to help invigorate an ailing downtown than to have a model retailer anchor a key site which has been empty for years. Other spaces in West Berkeley, closer to the freeways, sports fields, and Bay Trail with ample parking, would be easier to develop and more accessible for their target customers in the greater East Bay. 

These alternatives make more sense than a store more than 50% larger than Berkeley REI with less parking than Monterey Market in a predominantly residential neighborhood. 

Alternatives exist. Sports Basement has other options to enter the Berkeley market that make more sense. Viable options exist for development of the Berkeley Iceland site which restore the community recreation ice center as part of a mixed-use, environmentally friendly development which compliments the neighborhood. The Berkeley community needs to let Sports Basement, EBI, and CIty leaders know we need Berkeley Iceland back!

Chase Logo Foreshadows a Berkeley Skyline of Advertising

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 01:43:00 PM
2150 Shattuck is now the “Chase Building”, with two prominent blue bank logos
                              displayed atop the tallest structure in Downtown. The logos are lit for much of the
Steven Finacom
2150 Shattuck is now the “Chase Building”, with two prominent blue bank logos displayed atop the tallest structure in Downtown. The logos are lit for much of the night.
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom

Is there anyone in Berkeley who wants the skyline of the city to be defined, night and day, by blatant commercial advertising?

It’s hard to imagine there is—other than, perhaps, a few libertarians who don’t like any sort of governmental regulation on principle, or some property owners who always put profit above community.

However, the City of Berkeley has now allowed commercial signage to prominently mark the tallest building in Downtown Berkeley, and the door is open for anyone else to do the same.  

Unless the City clarifies its rules, this will happen time and again. The sky is literally the limit. Advertising, not architecture, will come to define the views across Downtown Berkeley. 

It’s been a few weeks since the Chase Bank logo—lighted much of the night—went up on top of 2150 Shattuck, the brown high-rise at Center and Shattuck next to the Downtown BART station entrance. 

The Chase signage was administratively approved last year by City planning staff under a strange interpretation of the Berkeley Signage Ordinance. 

The Ordinance would seem to prohibit such things as putting the logo of a multi-national corporation fourteen stories in the air above Berkeley. The Ordinance says, “no sign of any type shall be suspended from or attached to the face of a multistory building above the third floor space, or forty feet above the existing grade adjacent to the building, whichever is less.” 

In Downtown—where 2150 Shattuck is located—special design guidelines also speak to this issue, saying that no signage shall be on the upper facades of buildings, except “building identification signage.” 

City staff interpreted the two sets of rules in a very permissive manner. The owners of 2150 Shattuck essentially asked the City to allow Chase Bank to blazon its logo on the very top of the building as “building identification signage.”  

The owners, for whatever reason, now want to call it the “Chase Building”, and that’s certainly their right. But I don’t believe a more careful reading of the signage ordinance quoted above would allow them to slap the Chase logo on the building and pretend it’s simply “building identification”.  

City staff disagreed, and that’s why the most prominent symbol on the skyline of Berkeley, other than the Campanile, is now a bank logo. 

That’s just the beginning. Under the staff interpretation, anyone could propose a corporate logo atop a building of any height, simply by calling it “building identification” rather than commercial advertising. The City would receive no benefit, other than the fees paid to offset the time of City staff processing the application.  

That’s a loophole big enough for a billboard. With Downtown proposed to have several new high-rise towers, some taller than the new “Chase Building”, this is a critical urban design issue.  

Do Berkeleyans understand the possibility that every high rise built in Berkeley will sport a lighted corporate logo? Do you want to look out at the Bay view, day and night, and see, perhaps, a “Target Building”, or “BP Building”, or “Halliburton Building”… whoever wants to buy the name of a Berkeley high-rise? 

Of course one can’t predict the exact businesses that will buy their way atop Berkeley’s towers. But commercial advertising on the skyline is, in fact, what will happen if the existing rules aren’t clarified. 

There’s a simple solution for Berkeley policy makers.  

First, the Planning Commission should include in the new Downtown Design Guidelines rules specifically stating that corporate logos are NOT to be construed as “building identification signage”.  

If an owner wants to give a corporate name to their building, that’s fine, and they can display it within the existing 3 story or 40-foot limit and the dimensions and guidelines set by the signage ordinance. But they shouldn’t be allowed to put it higher. 

Second, if necessary, the Signage Ordinance should be amended by the City Council to explicitly prohibit the same thing. 

The key thing is to act now, before anyone actually proposes additional corporate signage on the skyline. 

I’ve raised this issue, as have Jim Sharp and Daniella Thompson, who had also independently written to the City forcefully expressing the same concerns. None of us were successful in stopping the Chase logo—which is now there as long as the bank and the building owners like—but I’m not going to give up on the issue of future signage. 

This past week I went to the Planning Commission and the Berkeley Design Review Committee to raise the matter. Members of both bodies seemed interested and concerned, and asked their staff to address it.  

I’m hoping something actually comes of the interest of the Planning Commissioners and Design Review Committee members. If not, then the Council should get involved in the fall, as the final planning and zoning rules for the Downtown are acted upon. 

The view belongs to all of us, not to those corporations who want to buy it. 

My previous article about discussion of the Chase signage at the Landmarks Preservation Commission last October 7 can be found here: 

Our Homes--Obama's Gift to Wall Street

by Daniel Borgström
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:13:00 PM

I turn 70 this summer, and I've been fearing that President Obama was about to make a deal cutting Social Security and Medicare. But a few days ago on KPFA I heard of something just as bad--a possibility I hadn't even thought of. Obama is considering a deal to close tax loopholes which would eliminate the "home mortgage interest write-off." It's part of the Gang of Six Plan to reduce the deficit. 

I don't have a mortgage or even own a house. But I do live in one and pay rent for a small living space. My landlady isn't rich either; she's barely getting by, and if the tax deduction for mortgage interest were eliminated, she may well lose her house. 

If that happens, I would lose my place to live, and many other homeowners who might rent me a room will also be losing their houses. This is because many low income people included that tax write-off in their financial planning and by doing so stepped into a trap, now about to be sprung. 

The current foreclosure and homeless crisis would get worse, and there'd be a ripple effect on coffee shops, restaurants and other small businesses, as people find themselves with less money. 

So I did something I've never done before. I phoned the Obama White House. The reason I've never done that before is because I always doubted that it does any good. But a drowning man will clutch at a straw, and that news had me truly scared. 

I found the number; it's (202) 456-1111. After a short wait, I actually got to talk to a live, living person who takes calls & messages for the president. However, the phone connection was poor on the landline. 

"Hello, hello, can you hear me?" I asked. The reply, which I could barely make out, assured me that yes, the call-taker could hear. So I briefly explained that the proposed elimination of the "mortgage interest write-off" would push us out of our homes. "Please don't eliminate the mortgage interest write-off," I said. 

Then, the call-taker asked me what issue I was talking about. 

"The mortgage interest write-off," I said, naming it yet once again. I wondered if the call-taker couldn't hear me due to the poor connection, or if she was just totally uninformed. 

Anyway, having finished what I intended to say, I started to give my name and address, but the call-taker told me that wasn't necessary. "Don't you need to know who's calling?" I asked in surprise. "No." and the phone went dead; the call-taker had hung up. 

Later in the day I compared notes with a friend who'd also called the White House over that same issue. In my friend's case, the phone connection was fine, otherwise, the response was similar. 

Many, many Americans could wind up homeless, but call-takers at the Obama White House didn't seem to know anything about it. Nor do most Americans, who depend on the corporate media for their information. 

Cutting that deduction is only part of the "Gang of Six" plan. It's outrageous how the politicians of both parties, enabled by a complacent and deceptive media, are doing the bidding of wall street, declaring, in effect, all-out class war against the poor and the middle class. 

DANIEL BORGSTRÖM lives in Berkeley and writes about antiwar and political activism in the Bay Area. His website is at http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/

Translating Code: Deciphering the Real Republican Agenda

By The Occasional Curmudgeon
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:01:00 PM

First, we are a civilized people. We are, after all, Berkeleyans. We abhor violence and have institutionalized and elevated the pursuit of peace to the level of religion. We led the resistance to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and our Congressional district’s representative—herself a resident of Our Fair City—was the only one of more than 400 House members to vote against U.S. action in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11. So we would never raise a hand against another human being, not even in self defense. We are, after all, Berkeleyans…. 

But I want you join me for a moment in a little exercise, a mind game, if you will. I’m going to say two words, and you tell me your galvanic reaction—what fantasy comes immediately to mind. Okay, don’t restrain yourself, here we go: 

“Mitch McConnell.” 

Whoa there, Bunky, I can see your blood pressure rising, your face is flushed, your jaw clinched—and you’ve balled your hands up into fists. Now be honest: just for a second, didn’t you fantasize slapping that smug, insulting little thug around? Swiping those wire-framed glasses off his apple-slice of a nose? Teaching this sarcastic, hypocritical pendejo some humility? Come on, now, you did, didn’t you? 

Take some deep breaths and let the impulse to beat the living crap out of ol’ Mitch and his four or five fleshy chins pass. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re a sensitive, fair-minded person, and your reaction is understandable. The important thing is you didn’t act on it, and it doesn’t mean you’re latently violent, just human. And a Berkeleyan. 

Ironically, though, the Senate minority leader can be lauded for one gesture: his honesty in revealing a major component of the Republican agenda. We may be fighting two unnecessary wars, some 24 million people effectively may be out of work (and many will never work again in their chosen careers), the country may be going to hell in a hand basket, but Mitch’s overriding mission is to do everything he and his Republican henchmen can to scuttle Barak Obama’s presidency. He alludes to it in almost every public appearance. This represents the triumph of ideology (and possibly, racism) over common sense and the best interests of the country and its citizens. Harrah! 

Which brings us to the current (alleged) debate on raising the nation’s debt limit before the world’s largest borrower defaults on its loans, shutting down the gubbiment at the end of the month, and where the other component of the Republican agenda comes into play. This is the single-minded, arms-linked obstinacy of the Republicans to terminate George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest [Bushspeak] ‘Mericans that Obama wants to use as a means of raising desperately needed revenue to pay down the huge deficit mostly run up by GWB and his cohorts during their eight dreadful years of warmongering and wrecking the country. McConnell and his Republican counterpart in the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, have consistently stated that any form of tax increase is “off the table” and that the solution to the debt dilemma is to “reduce spending.”  

This has become a mantra for the Republicans, most likely orchestrated by anti-government sociopath Grover Norquist, purveyor of no-tax-increase pledges, destroyer of moderate Republican careers, speaker of catty little epithets like wanting to get government small enough to drown in the bathtub, who sets the Republican’s agenda at his weekly K Street strategy meetings. Now the party line, it is recited in lock-step repetition by every Republican pundit who manages to get in front of a video camera, e.g., Rep. Peter Roslean (R-Ill.), in a July 11 appearance on the PBS “News Hour”, observing that it was mandatory that Obama “change the trajectory of spending in Washington, D.C.” 

What kind of spending? Defense allocations? War spending? Stimulus payments to oil companies racking up the highest profits in corporate history? Nope, for the Republicans, “reducing spending” is code for “eliminating social programs.” To put it another way, the Republicans have been waiting 70 years for an opportunity to dismantle Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs, especially Social Security and, since the 1960s, Medicare and its state-administered equivalent for the poor, Medicaid. With the blood-soaked ground prepared for them by Bush/Cheney and an ultimatum looming at the end of the month that could have dire economic circumstances—namely, shoving an already feeble economy off a cliff into world depression—now they have their chance, a tailor-made situation to back Obama right to the wall. It’s a gamble, to be sure, but the Republicans are banking on the premise that, hard up against an election year, and given the choice between throwing the country to wolves or cutting the left’s beloved social-support programs to the bone, the President will cave.  

So far, despite some posturing and what has become the trademark Obama inspired speech, it looks like he may. Rumors abound that in the secret meetings the President has convened with the Republican leadership, Obama has placed Social Security and Medicare on the carving board and agreed there will be no tax increases. The fact that Obama is even willing to negotiate is a mystery, since it should be obvious by now that he’s unlikely to get anything meaningful from the Republicans in Congress. Was he listening when McConnell opined that his party’s objective was to devote all its energies to ensuring his failure? Even Obama’s mentor Abraham Lincoln, deep into a civil war the North was losing, is reported to have said that consensus can be paralyzing and that, beyond a certain point, one must act.  

The President’s reluctance to stand by his principles and deliver on his campaign promises was never more apparent than this week when he abandoned Elizabeth Warren, his original choice to head the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, charged principally to be a watchdog on the kind of post Glass-Steagall bank speculation that brought us mortgage-backed securities, which the banks knew would fail, then simultaneously betted against with hedge funds and reaped billions in profits when the economy deep-sixed in 2008 as a result. (Not bad…you sell securities made up of bundled junk mortgages for inflated prices, then hedge against them with a division in your own brokerage, so you get paid both ways.)  

Formerly a professor in the Harvard Law School, steel-trap bright, gutsy, and an outspoken defender of consumer rights, Warren is feared and virulently despised by both Wall Street and the Republicans (who have treated her with open hostility in Congressional hearings) and probably wouldn’t have made it through her confirmation hearing anyway. Nevertheless, Obama could have appointed her via executive order and put real teeth into the CFPB. Now we’ll have a mainstream Democrat in charge, and the agency will probably become a pawn for the right. Obama’s refusal to defend his own disciples (Warren had been a member of his inaugural advisory team, subsequently tapped to put the CFPB together, and was initially anointed to run it) is further indication that he is unlikely to stand fast against evisceration of social programs and support for the poor.  

Hope we can believe in? Sure sounded nice in ’08…. 

For the good of all of us, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Maybe Obama has something up his sleeve. Maybe he will get a concession or two out of the Republicans and save social support programs. Maybe the Republicans will come to realize how immensely unpopular they’re becoming in the eyes of the voters with their draconian policies and obstructionism and come to the bargaining table in earnest. Maybe Obama will bring the troops home early from Afghanistan, cancel the contracts for the 250,000 government contractors (i.e., mercenaries) also there, and save us taxpayers $2 billion a week. Maybe the wealthiest Americans and the representatives they own in Congress will suddenly suffer a pang of conscience, realize there are few places on the planet where they could have accomplished what they have here, and agree to ante up some bucks to keep the country afloat.  

And maybe I can fly by flapping my arms. But ya’ gotta’ believe, Bunky, ya’ gotta’ believe. Now go break into a closed state park and take a nice, soothing walk in the woods. 



The “Occasional Curmudgeon” is Berkeley writer David Esler

The Emaciated Middle Class and a Cream-Top Economy

By Rizwan A. Rahmani
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 10:11:00 AM

Despite the very nature and raison d’etre of Congress as a forum to discuss and negotiate solutions to the nation’s needs, we are knee-deep in “my-way-or-the-highway” season. Eric Canter, the glum and sophomoric Virginian, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (of “wasn’t meant to be a factual statement” when talking about the Planned Parenthood budget fame) walked out of debt ceiling talks, and John Boehner too walked out and said “I have decided to end discussions with the White House and begin conversations with the leaders of the Senate in an effort to find a path forward." (beholden to his Tea Party contingency), vowing to leave taxes as they are but cut spending by several trillion dollars over ten year. Really? This is a transparently ideological maneuver manifested by a total lack of understanding of the intricacies of our political process: a single-minded posturing to promote a single-strategy approach, cutting spending a la Grover Norquist. 

The same party had no qualms about raising the debt limit ceiling seven times during the last president’s two terms—who took a nearly half-trillion dollar surplus left to him by his predecessor and turned it into $3.8 trillion dollars deficit with a hollowed out equity and housing industry. In the seven weeks prior to the Jan. 20th transition, Americans lost over four trillion dollars in assets. Mr. Speaker and his party know full well that not raising the debt ceiling this time is economically unfeasible and will be disastrous for the recovery. U.S. debt is approximately 90 percent of the GDP: the worst offender is Japan’s with a debt of 220 percent of their GDP. Countries struggling to overcome economic hard times carry large debt, this is a given. But the right’s manufactured ‘debt doom’ is rooted in specious outrage and grandstanding—it is more about raiding the people’s piggy bank for their corporate masters (Freedom Works, American Crossroads, et al). Bought-and-paid-for political hacks are using the country’s pending grave economic fate as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of their political ambitions. After all, McConnell vowed to let this Presidency fail to benefit his own party’s political gains—at the expense of this country’s economic success. He is even shirking his duties and asking the executive branch to do his dirty work, with certain exculpatory political caveats for a favorable election season. 

Although they are meeting the President on a regular basis to give the appearance of working together (after looking at polls that favor congressional cooperation), there doesn’t seem to be any real intention of quid pro quo or consolation: the resolution recently passed by Congress is an example of that childish obstinacy. It is quite amusing to hear the Tea Party haughty rhetoric about constitution without any true understanding of the workings of the constitution or our government. A good example of all this hollow stentorian bluster was Joe Walsh’s cluelessness on the size of U.S. economy when asked by Chris Matthews: he was off by 11 trillion dollars! Do they realize that their Republican icon Ronald Regan ran the largest deficits in two terms—larger than all the previous deficits combined accumulated by every President before him. The debt limit was raised 18 times during his presidency! 

Pardon my skepticism (I am even leery of Harry Reid’s plan) with the mendacious sincerity of their fiscal restraint—since the last President never raised an eyebrow to any discretionary spending, created the bureaucratically and fiscally massive Department of Homeland Security, fought two wars without accounting for their cost in the general budge, added hundreds of billion dollars to the pentagon budget, and his congress, headed by Tom Delay, and broke all house rules to hand out about four hundred billion dollars to big Pharma late in the morning without paying for it. And in their eyes his Presidency was infallible! Yet Boehner and his cronies threatened to lambaste the current President (and much to my dismay he played into their threat) if he didn’t extend the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of earners for another two years—which adds approximately $700 billion to the deficit over ten years, and in actuality the impact on our economy is multi-fold (if you consider the interest on that debt): the actual tax cuts amounted to $1.35 trillion, and it was fiercely opposed by Bush’s very own treasury secretary Paul O’Neal, with his “ deer in a headlight” comment (and was fired for his professional candor). So.... suddenly the same party has got spending religion? 

Tempest in teapot, I thought after the last mid-term election—yet it may prove to be a pivotal moment in American political history and perhaps the straw that breaks the camel’s back: the back of the American middle class. Until the mid-nineties the American middle class had been thriving on the post WWII fecundity of American economic riches, but that once-healthy working class has been withering away on the vine for some time now. The American middle class was the envy of the world, with buying power that exceeded the wildest aspirations of any other similar class in the world, made possible even on a modest blue collar factory worker’s wage—but it is now being forced to give up even the most basic amenities of a developed industrialized nation, forfeiting what was, only thirty years prior, the status quo. 

When I arrived in this country in 1979, I was simply astounded by the affluence of the middle class, and the luxurious lifestyles they led with their houses, their latest cars, stereos, and the amenities in their homes. In India, these were trappings of the rich and famous only, and the middle class lived hand to mouth, struggling to stay above the social demarcation line of poverty—like a drowning person flailing epileptically to keep their head above water and fearing the engulfing strength of the next (economic) vortex that would venture too close. 

America is sinking into an economic quagmire percolated by the Tea Partiers who only hum one tune: small government and few regulations. Their tax plan only benefits the richest Americans and corporations. The post-9/11 greed that has been fueled by deregulation at all levels which the Tea Partiers now support: most prominently in the military, health, and financial sectors. Armed with newly bequeathed freedom and a blank canvas of minimal regulation, corporate America painted an absurdist view of how business in America should be conducted. The politicians keep an implacably sham patriotic rant of how this is the greatest country on earth (and still is a great country what’s left of it) it hadn’t occurred to them that to keep America great, you must pay a handsome sum. Statistically our great country hasn’t been great in a number of things, whether it is health care, education, infant mortality, standard of living etc. 

Corporations have become even more emboldened during the last mid-term election by the Supreme Court decision of Citizen United vs. FEC which basically gives them carte blanche to spend obscene amount of monies on lobbying—monies that are simply out of the realm of average citizens—through special political packs like the American Crossroads GPS, which is able, unfettered, to influence election outcomes: a milieu which was, formerly, the sole domain of the voters (‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ anyone?). Now these corporations are free to write their own policies through their minions (lobbyists), with the politicians of their choosing in their pockets. 

Some states decry shortages of budgets; these same states have no qualms about giving their corporate cronies further tax breaks laded on the backs of the average workers and at the cost of education. The tax burden on the richest class of this country is at its lowest in 60 years: yet one still gets an earful about the state of ‘high taxes’ from the same class. The last staggering statistic is that the richest 400 American families own about 50% of the economic assets of this country. 

While the middle class is economically a shell of its former hale appearance, even battered and desiccated, it still manages a slight semblance of its economically plump glorious past. In India there is an old saying, “Even a dead elephant is worth a million rupees”. Today, after poaching the mighty elephantine middle class for years, the rich are perched comfortably in their ivory towers, without an iota of concern for their acts. When the dormant but festering sentiments of this large disappearing class awakens, the economic elites had better learn some lessons from history.


Dispatches From the Edge: Afghanistan: Anatomy Of A Hit

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 03:24:00 PM

The assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar July 12 is one of those moments when the long and bloody Afghanistan war suddenly comes into focus. It is not a picture one is eager to put up on the wall. 

Karzai, a younger half brother (because their father had multiple wives) of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was the Kabul government’s viceroy in southern Afghanistan. What his nickname, “the king of Kandahar,” translates into is “warlord.” He controlled everything from the movement of drugs to the placement of car sales agencies. Want to open a Toyota dealership? See “AWK,” as he was also known, and come with a bucket load of cash. 

AWK’s power, according to the Financial Times, “lay in a mafia-style network of oligarchs and loyal elders, funded, according to U.S. media reports, by heroin trafficking.” He was also on the CIA’s payroll. No truck moved through the south without paying him a tax. No United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) projects could be built without his okay. In case someone didn’t get the message, his Kandahar Strike Force Militia explained it to them. Next to AWK, Al Capone was a small-time pickpocket. 

And he was our guy. 

So was Jan Mohammed Khan, assassinated July 17, a key ally and advisor to the Afghan president, and a man so corrupt that the Dutch expeditionary forces forced his removal as the governor of Uruzgan Province in 2006. 

The entire U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan—from the initial 2001 invasion to the current withdrawal plan—has relied on a narrow group of criminal entrepreneurs, the very people whose unchecked greed set off the 1992-96 Afghan civil war and led to the victory of the Taliban. 

AWK was a member of the Popalzai tribe, which along with the Alikozai and Barakzai tribes, has run the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand since the early 1990s, systematically excluding other tribes. According to the Guardian’s Stephen Gray, “The formation of the Taliban was, in great measure, a revolt of the excluded.” 

When the Americans invaded, “AWK and the Barakzai strongman and former Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai not only seized control of NATO purse-strings by acquiring lucrative contracts, but they also manipulated U.S. intelligence and Special Forces to gain help with their predatory and retaliatory agenda,” says Gray, harassing and arresting Taliban members until they fled to Pakistan. 

AWK not only poured money into the coffers of the Kabul government, he insured a second term for his brother by stuffing ballot boxes in the 2009 election, and he was a key actor in identifying targets for U.S. night raids. It is the success of these night raids in killing off Taliban leaders that has allowed the Obama Administration to claim a measure of victory in the Afghan war and to lay the groundwork for a withdrawal of most American troops by 2014. 

With U.S. polls running heavily against the war—59 percent oppose it—and with more than 200 votes in Congress for speeding up the withdrawal timetable, the White House wants the war to be winding down as the U.S. goes into the 2012 elections 

For the Afghan central government and the Obama administration, then, AWK was probably the most powerful and important warlord in the country. 

As in chess, there are winners and losers when a major piece falls. 

The assassination has dealt a serious blow to the Americans. The rosy picture of progress painted by the U.S. Defense and State departments is shot to hell, literally. The Taliban have demonstrated that all the hype on “improved security” is about as real as an opium dream. Even if the assassination was due to a personal quarrel rather than a Taliban hit, few will believe that is so, particularly after Khan’s assassination just five days later. 

While the Kabul government has appointed another Karzai in AWK’s place, there is almost certainly going to be a bloody intercine battle among surviving Kandahar power brokers. A major infight will end up robbing Kabul of much needed funds and further isolate the government. The only hope for the Karzai government now is to ramp up talks with the Taliban while Kabul still has some power and influence. 

And that fact puts Pakistan in the driver’s seat, because there will be no talks without Islamabad. The Americans need these talks as well, so don’t pay a lot of attention to the White House’s huffing and puffing over aid. 

In any case, the decision to cut some $800 million in aid to the Pakistani military has been less than a major success. Pakistan Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told Express TV that “If Americans refuse to give us money, then okay…we cannot afford to keep the military out in the mountains for such a long period.” 

Pakistan currently has tens of thousands of troops on the 1,500-mile Pakistan-Afghan border, fighting an insurgency that did not exist until the American invasion drove the Taliban into the Tribal Areas and the Northwest Territories. From Pakistan’s point of view it is fighting its own people, and losing up to 3,000 soldiers and civilians a year, because of Washington’s policies in the region. 

One loser is India, even though in the long run peace in Afghanistan will allow New Delhi to reap the rewards of a Central Asia gas pipeline. In the short run, however,Indian diplomacy in the region has badly misfired. India intervened in Afghanistan— providing more than a billion dollars in aid—in order to discomfort Pakistan. 

But in 2009 New Delhi withdrew its support for the Karzai government because India was convinced the Americans were about to jettison the Afghan President. That never happened, but Karzai decided that his long-term survival lay in making peace with the Taliban, which in turn meant warming up ties with Islamabad. 

In the meantime, Pakistan—fearful of India and suspicious of the U.S.—tightened its ties with China (discomforting the Indians even more). In fact, in the end, China may be the big winner. Beijing runs a huge copper mine and seems to have no trouble getting its ore out of the country, which suggests there is a deal among China, Pakistan and the Taliban to keep the roads open. China is also building a railroad, as well as exploring for iron ore and rare earth elements.  

There are other potential winners here as well. Iran has traditionally been involved in northern Afghanistan, where it has roots among the Tajiks, who speak a language similar to Iran’s Farsi. Iran also has close ties to the Shiite Hazaras and pumps aid into western Afghanistan. Iran’s help will be essential if the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks are to join in any peace agreement. 

Whatever the final outcome, the U.S./NATO adventure has been an unmitigated disaster. With Europeans overwhelmingly opposed to the war, there is a stampede for the exit by virtually every country but Britain and the U.S. In the end, Afghanistan may well end up the graveyard of NATO. 

The major losers, of course, are the Afghans. So far this has been the deadliest year for civilians since 2001. Most of those deaths come via roadside bombs, but casualties from NATO air attacks are up. In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, Afghanistan is still grindingly poor and stunningly violent. After almost a decade of war the words that spring to mind are Macbeth’s: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” 

Conn Hallinan’s writings are at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 









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

By Dorothy Bryant
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 01:11:00 PM

“I had time to learn Greek because I was not invited to dinner.”

—from the letters of George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans),, (1819-1880)

After any setback, that dry, flat, ironic quotation has always inspired me to “stop whining and get back to work!” 

Mary Anne Evans met setbacks and challenges on a grand scale. She lived for 20 years with George Henry Lewes, calling him her “husband” although they could not marry because the bizarre marriage/divorce laws of the time kept him legally bound to his former wife (and forced to support the children she conceived with another man). Hence Mary Anne—George Eliot—was isolated, exiled from her social class, “not invited to dinner.” Lewes was still accepted everywhere socially, as men with iffy domestic arrangements were, but Mary Anne was cut off even by her family, 

Like other serious women writers, she had taken a male pen name—to set her apart from those whom Hawthorne called “those scribbling women” who wrote popular romances (one of few ways, aside from factory labor, that a woman could earn a bit of money). Perhaps her pen name was also intended to shield her family from her disgrace. But growing respect for her work did not win her social acceptance. 

Biographers credit Lewes for running interference for her: negotiating with publishers; shielding her from the more blatant insults of polite, insular English society; for devoting himself to fostering her genius. The irony is that their relationship supported her inner genius while making her socially a non-person. When Lewes died, she married their close friend and surrogate son, John Cross, 20 years her junior, who was emotionally fragile and dependent on her. With that act, she achieved instant respectability (to go with her fame as the author of 7 novels), and her brother actually started speaking to her again. 

She was described as a formidable intellect—not a compliment for a woman in those days. One of the bright spots for American writer/feminist Margaret Fuller (also guilty of superior intellect, condescended to by Emerson, detested by Hawthorne) when she went to Europe, was that she was able to meet George Eliot. 

I wish I could have eavesdropped on their conversation. 

Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book 

Wild Neighbors: Smelling Like a Bird

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 12:56:00 PM
Male "Oregon" dark-eyed junco: does smell influence mate choice?
Mike Baird
Male "Oregon" dark-eyed junco: does smell influence mate choice?

“Smell” is an interesting verb. It can mean either the production or the reception of an olfactory signal. “The old dog smells bad” and “The old dog smells badly” are equally valid and meaningful sentences. 

Birds smell, although not as consistently, in either sense, as dogs. Here’s a catalogue, from an article in The Auk by Julie Hagelin and Ian Jones: “[B]irds embrace a remarkable diversity of aromas, such as the musky plumage of storm-petrels; the tangerine-like perfume of Crested Auklets; the acrid, sour odor of Hooded Pitohuis and Variable Pitohuis; the sweet and dusty fragrance of the Kakapo; and the foul stench of the Hoatzin.” 

Introductions may be in order here. Storm-petrels, the “Mother Carey’s chickens’ of sailors’ lore, are small pelagic birds related to albatrosses. Crested auklets are puffinlike North Pacific seabirds. Pitohuis, thrushlike songbirds native to New Guinea, are among the few known birds with toxic flesh. The kakapo is a large, flightless, nocturnal, nearly extinct New Zealand parrot. The hoatzin is a very odd, somewhat pheasantlike creature found in South American riverine forests; in Guyana it’s called “stinkbird.” 

Later, Hagelin and Jones mention the “noxious scent” of the hoopoe. Other ornithologists have noted the characteristic musty smell of the Hawai’ian honeycreepers, reminiscent of an old canvas tent or, to some, earwax. The pioneer naturalist R.C.L. Perkins called it “disagreeable.” 

These smells are various in origin. Some result from chemicals in the oil produced by the uropygial, or “preen,” gland at the base of the tail, which the bird spreads over its feathers. Hoatzins are victims of their digestive systems: they process leaves in an expanded foregut analogous to those of ruminant mammals. The reek of hoopoe droppings clings to both the birds and their nests, and likely repels potential predators. 

It used to be conventional wisdom that birds had a poorly developed sense of smell, which would have been a mercy for hoopoes and hoatzins. A few exceptions, notably the turkey vulture, were acknowledged. Turkey vultures can detect carrion purely by scent and in fact have been recruited as pipeline inspectors, checking for leaks where the noxious gas mercaptan escapes. But Hagelin and Jones report that a fully functional olfactory system has been found in every bird species that has been studied. Birds, like mammals, live in and navigate a world of odors. 

In addition to the turkey vulture, kiwis and tubenosed seabirds locate food by smell. The latter also use odor to identify their own nests in huge breeding colonies. Homing pigeons orient, at least in part, by smell. In a 1972 experiment, pigeons whose olfactory nerves had been snipped either never made it back to the loft or took longer than usual coming home. European blue tits avoid nest boxes that smell of weasels. 

The possibility of avian pheromones—olfactory sex attractants—has generated much interest. So far the crested auklet remains the strongest candidate. Mature auklets of both sexes produce a tangerine aroma whose source has not yet been localized; the preen gland is not involved. In courtship, both partners perform what Hagelin and Jones call a “ruff sniff” display, placing their bills in their mates’ nape feathers. Auklets in the lab strongly oriented to tangerine-scented aldehydes, avoided mammalian musk, and were indifferent to the smell of bananas. 

A team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing recently reported that female budgerigars show a preference for the uropygial-gland odors of males over females. Apparently it takes a budgie to detect the difference. I had a pair for a while, and they both smelled the same to me. 

The most recent lab findings, published in June in Behavioral Ecology, involve the familiar dark-eyed junco, the first songbird species to be investigated for preen-oil pheromones. Danielle Whittaker of Michigan State University worked with juncos from three geographically disjunct subspecies: “slate-colored” juncos from Virginia, “white-winged” juncos from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and “Oregon” juncos from the San Diego area. The three were once considered separate species and, given the vagaries of taxonomy, may well be again. Like the auklets and budgerigars, the juncos were subjected to maze tests that allowed them to demonstrate their olfactory preferences. 

Those preferences, Whittaker et al wrote, were not in the predicted direction. Instead of preferring the scent of the opposite sex, both males and females preferred the scent of males. The scientists had also hypothesized that the juncos would prefer the smell of opposite-sex members of their own populations. But no; males failed to discriminate between Virginia, Dakota and San Diego females, while females favored exotic males. Finally, it was expected that females would opt for the scent of males with larger body size and/or more white on their tail feathers, both presumably badges of mate quality. Instead, females “spent significantly more time near the preen oil of males with smaller body size.” 

So maybe females are prone to avoid the more macho-smelling males because they’re more aggressive? Maybe the male responses had as much to do with territorial defense as mate preference? Interesting complications. 




The Public Eye: What’s Happened to Obama?

By Bob Burnett
Sunday July 24, 2011 - 12:42:00 PM

As he heads for the debt-limit showdown with Republicans, President Obama cannot be comforted by the latest Gallup Poll that shows him trailing the generic Republican Presidential candidate by five percentage points. Republicans won’t vote for him; Obama has lost support among Independents and has alienated many Democrats. What happened? 

Fortunately for Obama, there is no “generic” Republican Presidential candidate; the GOP isn’t offering vanilla but instead varieties of tutti-frutti. Head to head the President leads each of the announced candidates including Romney and Bachmann. But that shouldn’t cause observers to discount his drooping poll numbers. The President has a problem that may thwart his re election bid. 

One explanation is the “The Great Recession,” where unemployment hovers around 9 percent and millions of Americans are without meaningful work. Nonetheless, while voters grumble about Obama’s handling of the economy, they understand that he inherited a gigantic mess from the Bush Administration. A recent McClatchey/Marist poll found that 61 percent of respondents blame Republicans for the economic malaise. Obama’s problem is deeper. 

When Barack Obama was elected President, many of us – the 53 percent of the electorate who voted for him – had extremely high expectations. Over 31 months our hopes have diminished. As a consequence, Liberals now routinely castigate the President on a wide range of issues, 

The President’s handling of the economy has provoked the most criticism. Writing in NEW YORK magazine, retired TIMES columnist Frank Rich blasted Obama “for the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression.” As a consequence, “a [large] share of the American electorate views him as a tool of the very fat-cat elite that despises him.” “By failing to address that populist anger, Obama gave his enemies the opening to co-opt it and turn it against him. Which the tea party did, dishonestly but brilliantly…” 

Scarcely a week goes by without one of the big three liberal economists – Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and Joseph Stiglitz – lambasting the President. Recently NEW YORK TIMES columnist Krugman lamented that Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes, we can” had become “No, we won’t.” 

It’s hard to find any major Democratic constituency that is happy with President Obama. Many Americans are dissatisfied with his handling of the war in Afghanistan; they believe he chose to escalate when common sense called for withdrawal. Lawyers are concerned with the Department of Justice’s handling of suspected terrorists and the failure to close Guantanamo prison. Feminists are aggrieved by policies that have led to a diminution of services to women and children. Environmentalists are concerned about the Obama Administration’s failure to aggressively address Global Climate Change. And on and on. 

What happened? Frank Rich complains about Obama’s “passivity.” Others grumble the supposedly great communicator has failed to control the political narrative – as is currently the case where the discussion in Washington centers on the Republican theme, “reduce the deficit,” when it should be on “increase the number of good jobs.” Writing in THE NEW YORK REVIEW, Yale Professor David Bromwich observed, “Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy… protracted moods of extreme abstraction seem to alternate with spasmodic engagement.” 

Not surprisingly, there’s recently been a spate of articles “psychoanalyzing” the President. Writing in THE NEW YORKER, George Packer observed that Obama “takes responsibility as an end in itself.” In his blog, Packer explained, “there something in Obama’s character that needs to be seen as reasonable – as the one grown-up – in the room – and that is deeper than any partisan policy views he might hold.” 

Out here on the left coast, we don’t need to resort to psychoanalysis to agree on two things: First, in 2009 President Obama bungled a historic opportunity to fix America’s financial system. He failed to break up the too-big-to-fail banks, hold Wall Street speculators accountable, and, in general, bring fairness to the economy. 

Second, Barack Obama has not been the leader we expected. He is competent but not transformational. He is responsible but not a visionary. 

The core of our dissatisfaction may stem from what initially attracted us – the notion of Obama being the first black President of the United States. Those of us who value the civil rights movement saw Obama’s election as the culmination of an epic struggle featuring American heroes like Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were inspired by Barack’s soaring oratory and believed he would care more about social justice. We expected him to be a hero. 

Now we recognize that Barack Obama is a realist, not an idealist. We understand that above all else, he is a politician. In 2008, Americans elected the black Bill Clinton – without the sex addiction. That’s better than electing a generic Republican, but still a big disappointment. 

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

Eclectic Rant: Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

By Ralph Stone
Sunday July 24, 2011 - 12:39:00 PM

A belated happy birthday to Nelson Mandela on his 93rd birthday. He was born on July 18, 1918.  

Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island. Following his release from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  

Since his retirement in 1999, one of Mandela's primary commitments has been the fight against AIDS. His son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS on January 6, 2005. AIDS continues to be a major problem in South Africa and indeed, in all of Africa. An estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than in any other country. It is believed that in 2009, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of AIDS. 

In 2002, my wife Judi and I visited South Africa. While we were in Cape Town, we took a ferry ride to Robben Island, the political prison where Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were imprisoned. The island is now a museum and the guides are former prisoners. Our guide served 8 years of a 10 year sentence for carrying explosives. He described the appalling conditions that the inmates endured. Our guide recounted how he had recently met a former prison guard, who had beaten him daily. The former guard was on the island to show his wife and two young children where he used to work. The guide warned him that if he was on his tour, he would single him out as one of the brutal prison guards. The former guard decided not to take his family on the tour. The guard did say he would like to sit down and talk with our guide. The guide said he had mixed emotions about such a meeting. I have always wondered whether the two ever met and, if so, the outcome of the meeting. 

During our visit to Soweto, a Black township just outside Johannesburg, we asked one of our black guides about his feelings toward white South Africans. He told us that Nelson Mandela invited his prison warden to sit at the head table at his inauguration and then hecommented, "Where our leader leads, we must follow no matter how bitter or angry we feel."  

We also visited Guguleto, a township near Cape Town. Our Black guide took us to a Community development project where we dined on African cuisine, including one of Mandela's favorite dishes -- a tasty casserole of beans and corn. Our Black guide took us to his squatter shack in the township. It was a two-room shack where he and his young son lived. The inhabitants of four such shacks shared an outhouse, which was cleaned once a week. We saw first hand how thousands of Blacks lived during apartheid. These townships were scheduled to be demolished and residents moved to new housing. 

Again Happy Birthday Madiba. You are one of the twentieth century's great men.

Senior Power: Good Housekeeping

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 12:57:00 PM

Question: I rent an apartment. The landlord doesn’t provide rent receipts, and my checking account doesn’t provide cancelled checks. How can I get receipts for my rent without incurring the owner’s wrath? 

Answer: I wish I had a good answer for you. What did your landlord say when you asked her/him for a receipt? The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board informs me that there is no such requirement, which is pretty amazing. (Of course, BRSB’s domain does not encompass rent-subsidized Section 8 project-based senior/disabled housing.) Wells Fargo provides automated information by phone as to the date on which a given numbered check (e.g., your rent) “cleared,” which at least relieves you of concern that it was not received and cashed. 

I suggest you go to the public library on a Lawyer in the Library night. A brief consultation is free but you need to get there early and to sign up well in advance. Consult Mark Your Calendar at the end of this column for some of the dates and locations. The Berkeley and Oakland Public Library systems regularly offer this service at several branches. 


Question: Is it possible to get a checking account without paying a monthly service fee to the bank? 

Answer: In today’s world, it is important to have a checking account. Some banks do not charge a senior citizen for a non interest-bearing checking account if s/he doesn’t write zillions of checks and has authorized a regular direct deposit, which is relatively easy because many senior citizens receive Social Security or SSI, and or pension checks. These non interest-bearing accounts do not usually generate cancelled checks, although they provide monthly statements of activity and ATM access.  

A Basic Checking Accountis normally for people who write few checks each month and would like an ATM or debit card. Some banks may associate fees with this type of account, e.g. a maintenance fee, which is a monthly fee, charged to your account if your balance falls below the required amount, or you may be charged a fee if you write more checks than the number allowed monthly. You may be able to avoid fees being charged to your account if you use direct deposit for your paychecks. Before opening any account, be sure to ask about any and all fees that are associated with it. Sit down and talk with a “banker.” 

Many banks offer Student Checking Accounts and Senior Citizen Checking Accounts geared towards the particular needs of students and senior citizens. They are similar to Basic Checking Accounts, but may offer discounts on certain things. For instance, a Student Checking Account may offer free ATM usage or discounts to venues that appeal to students, while Senior Citizen Checking Accounts may offer discounts on prescriptions or discounted travelers checks. 

An Interest-Bearing Checking Account is designed to pay you a small percentage of interest on your account regularly if you meet certain qualifications. One of the most common requirements is maintaining a certain balance. It is important to know how your bank calculates this minimum balance. Some banks require you to have the minimum balance in your account every day of the month while others require the average of your monthly balance to be higher than the minimum balance. You should know this information so that you’ll know when, where and how you would be charged a fee. 


Question: There’s a bed bug rumor going round. 

Answer: Is that a question? Alas, bed bugs and rumors are quite possible anywhere. If you too are a Doc Martin PBS TV fan, you may recall the episode in which the first thing he did after arriving in a Truro, England hotel room was a hands-on examination of the bedding for… I think his companion, also a physician, referred to… “little creatures.”  

There are some individuals who are allergic to the bite of bed bugs and may experience anaphylaxis, which is a highly allergic reaction that can lead to anaphylactic shock, much like a bee sting might in certain individuals. Blisters and skin-rashes (skin eruption) that may itch are typical. 

Bed bugs (cimicidae) are small, bloodsucking insects that have been known as human parasites for thousands of years. The term usually refers to the species that prefers to feed on human blood or, if they can’t get that, warm-blooded animals. In the developed world, bed bugs were largely eradicated in the early 1940s, but have increased since about 1995. This resurgence is attributed to greater foreign travel, more frequent exchange of second-hand furnishings, greater focus on control of other pests, and increased resistance to pesticides. Bed bugs are resistant to DDT. 

The name is derived from their preferred habitat-- houses, beds, areas where people sleep, although bed bugs are not strictly nocturnal. Attracted by carbon dioxide, warmth, and certain chemicals, they are capable of feeding, unnoticed, on hosts for five+ minutes. Dwellings can become infested with bed bugs in several ways: bugs and eggs on pets, clothing and luggage; infested items such as furniture or clothing; nearby dwellings or such infested parts of buildings as duct work and false ceilings; wild animals (bats, birds); and transfer from clothing or bodies of visiting persons. Signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and molts. Eradication requires perseverance and a combination of pesticides and mechanical approaches-- vacuuming, wrapping mattresses, heat treatment. A costly “Allergy bed bug mattress protector with micro zipper technology for secure encasement, antibacterial and hypoallergenic” is on the market.  

Are bed bugs infectious? The City of Berkeley Vector Control defines: “Avector is a carrier of an infectious agent that is capable of transmitting infection from one host to another. Vectors include arthropods, such as mosquitoes, fleas and ticks, as well as vertebrates like rats, skunks, and raccoons.” The City’s Environmental Health Division informs me that “bed bug infestation is considered a vector control issue.”  




MARK YOUR CALENDAR : July, August, September. Be sure to confirm. 


Readers are welcome to share by email news of forthcoming events that may interest boomers and seniors. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com


Wednesday, July 27 1:30 – 2:30 Alameda County Library, Albany branch, 1247 Marin Av. Great Books Discussion Group. George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. (510) 526-3720 x 16. 


Wednesday, July 27 1 P.M. Gray Panthers of Berkeley. Meets at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. (510) 548-9696. 


Thursday, July 28 6-7:50 PM. Berkeley Public Library, West branch. 1125 University Ave. Lawyer in the Library. Sign-ups start at 5 pm, in person only. Names put in random order at 6 P.M. (510) 981-6270. 


Saturday, July 30 10 A.M. – 4 P.M. Outdoor Only 50 Cent Sale. Friends of the Albany Library. friendsalbany@yahoo.com or (510) 526-3720 x 26. 


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 & ATelegraph). $120./month. (925) 566-4181. 


Monday, August 1 7 P.M. “Castoffs” Knitting Group. Kensington Library. 61 Arlington Ave. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome; some help will be provided. Free (51)524-3043. 


Monday, August 1 2 P.M. “Magic From Around the World With Magician Phil Ackerly”. Central Berkeley Public Library, Kittredge @ Shattuck. 


Wednesday, August 3 6-8 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. 1247 Marin Ave. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 


Wednesday, August 3 10 A.M. – Noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council meeting. Public invited. Call to confirm (510) 981-5190. (Note: City Council July 19, 2011 Consent Calendar agenda item #10 re Berkeley senior centers’ advisory councils.)  


Thursday, August 4 1:30 P.M. – 2:45 P.M. Emergency Preparedness. Albany branch of Alameda County Library. Speaker Colleen Campbell, Senior Injury Prevention Coordinator. Free program for older adults, caregivers and service providers. No reservations required. (510) 526-3720 x 7. 


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 healthcare directives. (510) 9891-6270.  


Wednesday, August 7 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library. Advance registration required.Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 x 5. Free. 


Monday, August 8 7 P.M. Musical performance by The Hot Fritatas. Kensington Library. Event sponsored by the Contra Costa County Library Summer Reading Festival. Free. (510) 524-3043. 


Wednesday, August 10 10 A.M.-2 P.M. 10th Annual Healthy Aging Fair Festival. Chabot College, 255555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward. Free lunch. Raffle prizes. Entertainment. Free shuttlefrom 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.  


Thursday, August 11 6-7:45 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, South branch. 1901 Russell St. Lawyer in the Library. Free legal advice and help with questions.
In-person sign-ups only; sign-ups begin at 5pm. Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 


Saturdays, August 13 & 14 1:30 P.M. music; 2 P.M. show. SF Mime Troupe's 2010: The Musical. Live Oak Park Live Oak Community Center in Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA. ASL interpreter on site on August 14. Outdoors. Free. (510) 227-7110. AC bus #18 stops nearby. 


Wednesday, August 17 1:30 P.M. BerkeleyCommission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center. Call 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. (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. 


Monday, August 29 7 P.M. Book Club:Dubliners by James Joyce. Kensington Lirary, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington, CA. Joyce declared Dubliners to be a chapter in the moral history of Ireland. This is a collection of 15 tales that offers vivid, tightly focused observations of the lives of Dublin's poorer classes. Free. (510) 524-3043.  

Monday, August 29 10:30 A.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers. Book Club. (415) 552-8800. e-mail: graypanther-sf@sbcglobal.net, web: http://graypantherssf.igc.org/  

Wednesday, Sept. 7. 6-8 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. 1247 Marin Ave. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 


Wednesday, Sept. 7 Noon. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Hall. Noon Concert Series 

will resume with Joe Neeman, violin and Miles Graber, piano, performing works by Bartok and Sarasate.  


Wednesday, Sept. 7 10 A.M.-Noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council meeting. Public invited. (510) 981-5190. (Note: City Council July 19, 2011 agenda item #10 on Consent Calendar re Berkeley senior centers’ advisory councils.)  


Thursday, Sept. 8 6-7:45 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, South branch. 1901 Russell St. Lawyer in the Library. Free legal advice and help with questions. In-person sign-ups only; sign-ups begin at 5pm. Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 


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. 


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


Saturdays, Sept. 17 & 18 1:30 P.M. music; 2 P.M. show. SF Mime Troupe's 2010: The Musical. Willard Park, Berkeley, CA. Outdoors. Free.  


Wednesday, Sept. 21 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging meets in a senior center, probably North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, cor MLK. #25 AC bus stops at the NBSC. Phone to confirm location (510) 981-5190. 


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. 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. 





On Mental Illness: NIMBY and Other Bigotry

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 01:08:00 PM

NIMBY, in case you’ve been living under a rock, stands for “Not In My Back Yard,” and is a reflection of people’s unacknowledged prejudice toward a group of people who are fine with you as long as they reside somewhere else. NIMBY-ism is a widespread phenomenon. For example; in a small group of aspiring authors (who were mostly obnoxious, as are most aspiring authors) I heard a conversation of how someone didn’t want their neighborhood ruined by “the low income housing” being built. (At the time, I didn’t mention that I happened to be a “low income” person and was in their writing group.) 

The attitude described as NIMBY, then, can be equated to the disdain of any group of people who someone does not want living nearby. The types of bigotry that people get away with, in our time, without being labeled as prejudiced persons, seem to be various forms of class-ism. Prejudice against persons with mental illness tends to show up in many of the same places as this class-ism. People get away with this, while they would no longer get away with racism. Overt racism has been established as a crudity; class-ism and the dislike of persons with mental illness have not. 

The substantiation for people disliking the presence of persons with mental illness is largely a collection of falsehoods. Persons with mental illness are stereotyped as nuisances, drunkards, criminals, people talking nonsense while walking in front of cars, or worse. In fact, most persons with mental illness who are in treatment are able to obey the accepted rules of common decency. Perhaps there is someone in your distant, if not immediate family who has dealt with a bout of depression or schizophrenia. You would probably hesitate to categorize that person as a public nuisance or criminal. 

If you have read Chaucer in your high school English class, one of the stories in the book alludes to the same attitude of disdain supported by falsehoods, in medieval times, but directed at Jews. In the 1950’s and before, the lies and the prejudice were directed at African American people and anyone who was not white Anglo-Saxon. 

The term NIMBY, when it is applied to persons with mental illness, is a very emotional subject. People hate and fear homeless people, for example, and are passionate about keeping them out of their area. People hate and fear persons with mental illness. This is a symptom of people being uninformed. People who have mistakenly chosen the path of hate also attribute un-cleanliness to whatever group they are bullying. 

It is not fair that mentally ill people are perceived and treated as a lesser form of human. To say you do not want housing for mentally ill people in your neighborhood is a rejection of perfectly good human beings who have an illness. People would think it absurd to reject a cancer treatment center in the neighborhood. People go on walks and other events to raise money for cancer research. Doing this has been established as a “good thing.” Mental illnesses don’t usually get the same status in society. However, we are dealing with just another form of illness; mental illnesses are physical diseases. Mental illness probably causes as much suffering as cancer. 

Persons with mental illness are human beings with feelings just as any other set of persons; and we have been artificially put into a category. We have the same aspirations, and in fact the same inalienable rights as do human beings in general. Not wanting us in “your” neighborhood reflects a sickness of the mind called prejudice.

Arts & Events

Theater Review: Ayckborn's Communicating Doors at Actors Ensemble of Berkeley

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:33:00 PM

Kind of an inversion of Plaza Suite, Neil Simon's comedy of three little comic melodramas in the same hotel room, a part in each essayed by the same actor, Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors proves to be a doorslammer that echoes down the corridors of time. 

A suspicious old party solicits a dominatrice through his business partner, but, once alone, only wants her to witness and deliver a deathbed confession of his grave misdeeds, a page hidden in the bidet. When mayhem ensues, the dominatrice somehow finds herself unglued in time, meeting the businessman's second wife in the past, occupying the same hotel room, and challenged to convince her of her own future murder, which she's just heard confessed ... 

It doesn't stop there! Ayckbourn has a field day with his take-off of Feydeauesque farce, involving not just multiple bodies in the same room, but different eras in recent time 

A little like a chain letter, or even like the old game of whispering the same message from one ear to another down a row of listeners/whisperers, waiting to see how distorted--or straightened out!--the message becomes. 

Suzan Lorraine's cast (Kim Stewart produced)--Carol Reyes, Claire Stevenson, Lee Vogt, Mark Holobetz, Jennifer Hughes and Bill Chessman--succeed in meshing more and more as an ensemble as the plot stretches like taffy across a few decades ... 

Vogt, as penitent Reece Wells, is particularly fine, accomplishing a convincing volte-face of character--after the audience has him well-pegged--to demonstrate the changes wrought by time altered through the characters' contra-temporal deeds. 

Carol Reyes also deserves special kudos for her portrayal of Reece's unflappable second spouse Ruella. 

Bill Chessman, as the confused hotel dick, gets better and better as his character becomes increasingly confused and semi-articulate. 

Among the designers, Helen Slomowitz's costumes are--as always--fine. 

It's an entertaining, engrossing play by a contemporary master toying with dramatic structure for the audience's--and his own--amusement. 

Fridays and Saturdays, 8 pm, and Sunday matinees at 2 through August 20. Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck at Berryman, $12-$15. 649-5999; aeofberkeley.org

Press Release: Berkeley Symphony Chooses New Executive Director

From Jenny Lee, BSO
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 11:28:00 AM

Berkeley Symphony Board of Directors today announced the selection of its new executive director, René Mandel, to head the 42-year-old organization. His appointment is the culmination of a nationwide search that began in April. Mandel will succeed current Executive Director James Kleinmann, who served Berkeley Symphony since 2006, and assume his duties with the orchestra on August 1. 

René Mandel was Berkeley Symphony’s Artistic Administrator and Orchestra Manager from 2006 to 2009, and principal second violin in the orchestra. During his tenure, he administered areas concerning the hiring of musicians and soloists, managed the concert programming and successfully aided in the artistic expansion of the orchestra. Most recently, he served as the Director of Artistic Operations/Executive Producer at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, one of Canada’s leading orchestras. While there, he effectively implemented Music Director Kent Nagano’s creative vision for artistic projects and long-range planning, managed the artistic budget, and oversaw the orchestra’s concert programming and production. 

“We are very pleased to have René join us as Executive Director,” commented Tom Reicher, the president-elect of the Berkeley Symphony Board of Directors. “His experience as both a musician and an arts administrator will enable him to lead the business side of Berkeley Symphony and help the Symphony to continue its tradition of innovative concert programming and education of young people.” 

“It's a privilege to be returning to Berkeley Symphony, a Bay Area jewel,” commented Mandel. “I am honored to be entrusted with the stewardship of Joana Carneiro's bold and passionate artistic vision. I look forward to working hand in hand with Joana, the musicians, staff and Board to deepen our relationship with the community and to build upon the success of this fine orchestra." 

Music Director Joana Carneiro, who first met Mandel during the Music Director search that brought her on board three years ago, stated, “I’m delighted to welcome René as the new executive director. He is a leader with a deep knowledge of music and an infectious passion for the orchestra, and I’m eagerly looking forward to our creative partnership together.” 

Berkeley Symphony’s 2011-12 Season will open on Thursday, October 27, at UC Berkeley Zellerbach Hall. The program includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, featuring Johannes Moser, and Enrico Chapela’s Li Po for orchestra and electronic soundtrack. Season subscriptions on sale now. For additional information, please visit www.berkeleysymphony.org, or call (510) 841-2800. 



Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Sunday July 24, 2011 - 12:50:00 PM

Hearing of the killer heat wave in much of the nation, thanks to the powers that be, we in the bay area have our wonderful natural air conditioning. We also have some great entertainment lined up for the summer. 

San Francisco Mime Troupe, August 13 and 14, Live Oak Park; Sept. 17 and 18, Willard Park. All shows are free. 

Art and Soul, 11th block buster year, Oakland, August 20-21 Noon to 6 p.m. Live music on four stages. Downtown Oakland. 

Piedmont Avenue Art Walk, every 3rd Thursday, 6 - 9 p.m. Piedmontavenue.org 

Alameda South Shore Center, free concerts every Saturday at Center Court. July 30, August 6, August 13, August 20, August 27 and September 3. Free parking. 

Jack London Square Waterfront Flicks, free outdoor movies of taste. August 4, 18, Sept. 1 and 15. Movies begin at sundown. Bring blankets and stadium chairs. 

"Pristine Dutch and Flemish Masterworks" , California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, S.F. Through October 2nd. $12 - 16. (415, 750-3600). 

"Summer Swing on the Lake", Terrace Room at the Lake Merritt Hotel, Swing Dancing July 30. $45 for food and entertainment. (510) 903-3771. 

Chevron Family Theatre Festival, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, July 30. A non-stop day of world class family fun and free entertainment. (925) 943-SHOW. 

Circus Vegas, The Big one is Back! Hayward Southland Mall, July 28 - August 1st. (877-GOTFUND) 

World Premiere of "The Verona Project" (based on "The Tempest", California Shakespeare Theatre, Bruins Ampitheatre, Orinda, California. Through July 31. Tickets start at $35.00. (510) 841-1903. 

"Caliban Dreams", Premiere on July 30, 8 p.m. Berkeley West Edge Opera at the El Cerrito Theatre for the Performing Arts, $15 - 69. (510) 841-1903. 

31st Jewish Film Festival, presenting 45 films at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre through August 7th. 

Bay Area Playwrights Festival, nationally renowned showcase for new works, now in its 34th year. Runs through July 31st, Thick House, 1695 18th Street, S.F. 

San Francisco Symphony, "Summer and the Symphony", Michael Tilson Thomas, July 28, 8 p.m. and July 29, 8 p.m. (415) 864-6000. 

"Abstract Visions" Art Exhibit, selections by Peter Selz, Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut Street, Berkeley, Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday - Sunday, through August 7. (510) 750-3600. 

We trust some of the above events will get you out of that arm chair!

Eye from the Aisle: SEUSSICAL at Berkeley Playhouse—enough to make a Grinch grin

By John A. McMullen II
Sunday July 24, 2011 - 12:21:00 PM
William Hodgson is The Cat in the Hat
Larry Abel
William Hodgson is The Cat in the Hat

When approaching the Julia Morgan Theatre Center at the premature hour of 7 pm on Friday night last, I was confronted by many miniature homunculi which caused me to gasp and grasp tight the hand of my companion. She reassured me that they were only children. I was not anticipating them. I don’t get out much, except to go to theatre, and thankfully they are seldom there since they make noise and fidget.

It was the Berkeley Playhouse—which I had hitherto eschewed for the above reasons, and out of a preference for tragedy and irony. And to make matters more dire, this was SEUSSICAL, THE MUSICAL, god help us all. But I had been invited by a creative colleague, so I held my breath, if not my nose, and deigned to attend.

For all my Grinch-like persona and curmudgeonly mien, I must unequivocally and highly RECOMMEND this production to everyone, regardless of age. The Broadway-worthy performances of the cast are the first reason. Indeed, the performances are so engaging that the rug-rats—probably a third of the audience—are for the most part quiet and rapt for the entire two hours plus. 

The second reason is that Theodor Seuss Geisel’s doggerel is embedded in most every contemporary American’s consciousness: since 1950 his books have been read by Greatest Generation parents to their Boomer children, and I must assume the tradition has been passed down the generations. Behind the seemingly saccharine and simplistic plot lines and rhymes are a reflection of adult conundrums, models of compassion, and some curious world-within-world cosmic perspectives. 

The casting and direction of Kimberly Dooley is inspiring. She may be the luckiest director around to have assembled this cast of perfection—almost as if drawn from the books themselves or from some Seussical central casting. Or she may be an incredibly inspiring director who helped mold them to this peak. Ms. Dooley’s choreography on an individual basis ranges appropriately from the flashy to the athletic to the comically emotional. 

Benjamin Pither as Horton has a most pleasing, plaintive voice and molds himself into the elephant ears with a down-to-earth demeanor; he occasionally and naturally swings his arm to imply a trunk which is just enough. The emcee is William Hodgson as the Cat in the Hat; Hodgson’s limber and versatile movements combine with an expressiveness that was sort of scary personally, because Hodgson really does look and act precisely like my childhood remembrance of the character, appearing here and there and everywhere, and even morphing into “Satchmo”Armstrong when needed. Maizie, the fly-away mom who leaves the nest, is played by Sarah Mitchell. Mitchell, who shone in Shotgun’s “Norman Conquests,” has cornered the market on blasé irony, but who knew she has serious musical chops? Rebecca Pingree, who last played Cinderella for this company, plays Gertrude McFuzz, the bird with a one-feathered tail, who loves Horton; she steals our hearts, and her effortless vocal gymnastics make us wonder if we’re in NYC rather than BKLY. Nicole Julienas Sour Kangaroo completes the genres with a powerful gospel belt and a bad attitude…she, of course, is won over in the end.  

The lead who played Jojo the night I attended is wunderkind Nandi Drayton. There is always something special about a child actor who is a seasoned pro at ten. The kind of talent, that, when she auditions, you can imagine the accompanist turning around from the piano, mouth agape. And I didn’t recognize she was a girl playing a boy which is the perfection of any breeches role. 

Aerialist Kimberly Miller wraps herself “Cirque du”-style in two scarlet sash curtains, inverts, dangles, swoops and splits to our wide-eyed inhalations and oooo’s. There are no weak links in the cast, and everyone more than shines. 

Songs by Composer Stephen Flaherty with lyrics and book by Lynn Ahrens, range from melodic and touching to laughter-inducing to rocking. Flaherty and Ahrens also wrote Once on This Island and Ragtime and have been nominated for 20 Tonys (winning best score for Ragtime), and two academy awards for the animated film musical Anastasia. The SEUSSICAL optimism is contagious and molded deftly from the writings, with memorable songs like “How Lucky You Are,” and the touching refrain from “Horton Hears a Who”: “…A person's a person, no matter how small.” There is plenty of poignancy in their lyrics, and even a call to thinking large in “Alone in the Universe.”  

The musical direction of Tal Ariel, who is new to musical theatre, has enabled these marvelous performances. A jazz, rock and blues pianist and teacher and commercial producer and composer, he has an outsider’s touch that infuses a realism to the music and a strong beat that moves the young actors. He treated us gray hairs to some pre-show surprises, featuring “White Room” by Cream as one of the warm up instrumentals; it was a breath of fresh air, and much better than some prissy and pretentious show-tune. He put a great band together, and they rock the house while supporting the singers. The first act, the night I attended, had a bit too much bass which obscured the lyrics—incredibly important to Seuss; but much to the credit of the sound tech and the band, they fixed it for act two. 

Not all is aesthetic perfection. The ground plan of a laterally bisecting scaffold foreshortens the deep Julia Morgan stage and truncates much of the action by eliminating interesting diagonal movement. Too often a horde of an ensemble is lined up laterally on the stage. The stage pictures are most effective when five or fewer actors are in the scene. The set dressing of immediately recognizable flowers and fronds emblematic of the world of Seuss take us to that childhood place even in the preset. While many of the costumes are straight from the books, the clashing colors and stripes and patterns when crunched together in the cramped playing-space make the eyes recoil.  

Used to be that the way children learned theatre was to act with adults, model their performance upon those pros, then do it their own way only better. The Berkeley Playhouse has revived this part of performance pedagogy, and the teen and child actors more than hold their own in accompanying their betters. It’s amazing, all the incredible art, talent, and schooling that exists here in this little city of less than 110K. And the Playhouse is quickly working its way to being counted as another Berkeley treasure as directed by the artistic sensibilities of Elizabeth McKoy and the executive and education expertise of Jerry Foust. 

If you’ve got kids, don’t miss it. Like all good (and smart) children’s entertainment, there is as much there for Dad and Mom as for Sis and Bud. If you don’t have kids, but you were raised on Seuss, take a chance on this critic’s word and have a good time. I never knew what I was missing, and you’ll feel the same way, too.  

These tidbits may ease any fear of cloying syrupiness to get you over the hurdle: 

· While at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drunk on gin with his cronies from the humor magazine and was forbidden to write for them as punishment—so he wrote secretly and signed his articles “Seuss.”  

· He was a political cartoonist for the NYC Leftist paper “PM.”  

· He was the Commander of the Animation Dept. of the First Motion Picture Unit of the US Army Air Force.  

· He won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature for a study of Japanese Culture entitledDesign for Death. 

· He won the 1950 Academy Award for Animated Short for Gerald McBoing-Boing.  

· “In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its Chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize,and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to "bring back a book children can't put down." Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat.”(from “Wikipedia: Dr. Seuss”): 


Music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics and book by Lynn Ahrens 

Directed by Kimberly Dooley 


Playing through August 14th  


2640 College Ave., Berkeley CA 

Tickets/info: www.berkeleyplayhouse.org 





Around & About Music: Carmel Bach Festival; Berkeley West Edge Opera's Caliban Dreams

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:46:00 PM

For those heading down the coast, the Carmel Bach Festival is in its last week, with unusual programs like Stephen Prutsman's Bach, Jazz and the Spaces In Between, in which the San Francisco pianist plays his solo piece, Bach & Forth, working off themes from J. S. Bach, Charlie Parker and Schoenberg, as well as being joined by a string quartet for arrangements--some by Prutsman--of pieces by Bach, Dizzy Gilllespie, John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul, and Turkish and Uzbeki music, teasing out the relationships Prutsman discovers `in the mix. 

Or the evening, War & Peace, Landscapes of the Soul, put together by the Carmel Festival's new music director, British conductor and oboist Paul Goodwin, of pastoral symphonies by Vaughan-Williams and Beethoven, sandwiching a piece by contemporary British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, A Man Descending (which answers Vaughan-Williams' A Lark Ascending), which calls for a tenor saxophonist--in this case, the eminent New York player Joe Lovano. 

More innovation in California music programs--the true legacy of West Coast music: all of it, together ... 

Bach, Jazz & the Spaves In Between, 8 pm, Thursday; War & Peace, 8 pm Friday, both at the Sunset Theatre, Carmel. $51/$71. Reservations/Program info: (8310 624-1521; bachfestival.org 

* * * 

Berkeley West Edge Opera will present Berkeley composer Clark Suprynowicz's Caliban Dreams with libretto and lyrics by Amanda Moody (D'Arc) of Berkeley, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, featuring tenor John Duykers. Stage direction by Melissa Weaver; Jonathan Khuner conducts. July 30, August 5--8 pm; August 7, 2 pm--540 Ashbury, El Cerrito. $15-$69. 841-1903; berkeleyopera.org

Around & About Theater: Duerrenmatt's The Visit, My Fair Lady

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:41:00 PM

Duerrenmatt's The Visit, with Carla Spindt, Solano College Theatre, outdoors--free! Woodminster Summer Musicals stages My Fair Lady 

Duerrenmatt's The Visit, with Carla Spindt, Solano College Theatre, outdoors--free! 

Carla Spindt, one of the Bay Area's finest actors, is playing the lead in Friedrich Duerrenmatt's great play, The Visit, produced by Solano College Theatre, where Spindt teaches. Veteran actor-director George Maguire, head of the Solano College theater department, directed the satiric play, which is being staged outdoors in the park at Suisun Harbor Plaza in Suisun City, near Fairfield, featuring a cast of 20, mostly students from the Solano College program. Following The Visit, Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Spindt. All for free. 

The Visit, 7:30 pm, July 26-28, August 3, 4. Love's Labour's Lost, August 5-7, 10-13. (707) 864-7100 

Woodminster Summer Musicals stages My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady, Lerner & Lowe's perennial favorite, staged in the great WPA amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park, high in the Oakland Hills, will be Woodminster Summer Musicals' 45th season's next offering, August 5-7 and 11-14 at 8 pm, $22-$42. (August 4th at 8, $10, all seats, for preview.) woodminster.com