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Thomas Lord


Parking Ticket Scofflaws Take Note! Berkeley's About to Boot Your Car

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:26:00 PM
Thomas Lord
Thomas Lord
Thomas Lord

[Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles about Berkeley's new SmartBoot system. Tomorrow's article will explore the risks to citizens created by the city's use of this technology..]

Have you accumulated too many overdue parking parking tickets? If so, the Berkeley Police Department is putting you on notice: your car may soon be booted.

Beginning October 18th BPD will start using new tools to enforce against parking scofflaws. The "boot van", equipped with cameras, a computer, and wireless network connection, will roam the city scanning the license plates of parked cars, looking for those with too many overdue tickets. 

When the boot van spots a vehicle with 5 or more outstanding parking tickets, each at least 30 days old, an alarm will be signaled and the parking enforcement officer will verify the identification and immobilize the vehicle with a SmartBoot™. . Notices will be posted on both the driver's side window and windshield to ensure that drivers know their vehicle cannot be driven. 

The SmartBoot physically resembles traditional boots and immobilizes a vehicle in much the same way, but it adds some high-tech twists. SmartBoots have a numeric keypad. A car owner can remove a SmartBoot, in minutes by punching in a secret numeric code. The catch is that to obtain the code, the violator must first call a customer service number, give a credit card number, and pay up. (The new booting program also includes provisions for owners unable or unwilling to pay over the phone by credit card, and provisions for drivers physically unable to remove the boot themselves.) 

BPD is encouraging parking ticket scofflaws to pay up now, before October 18th, to avoid the extra hassle and penalties of getting booted. 

The Scofflaw Problem 

In the twelve month period ending on September 28, 2011, parking ticket scofflaws accumulated a roughly $1.5 million dollar debt to the city. 

Until now, the city's system for tracking down violators has been expensive and inconvenient for both the city and the violators: 

City employees have had to search "by eye" for offending vehicles and then arrange for them to be towed. The cameras and computers on the boot van are expected to streamline this process: The boot van can drive the speed limit while simultaneously scanning license plates on both sides of the street. One enforcement officer can check many more vehicles per hour than by using traditional methods. 

In the past, violators had to spend hours making a payment (including a $300 towing fee, plus impound charges for vehicles not retrieved promptly). Violators had to visit the impound lot to retrieve their vehicles. Now, drivers with a suitable credit card and phone can remove boots themselves, in minutes and be on their way. 

The Cost of Getting Caught 

If your car is booted, here is what you can expect: 

Seizure notices on your car: Parking enforcement officers will attach large notices to the driver's side window and windshield, alerting you that your car has been booted. The notices include a toll free customer service number which operates 24 hours a day, every day. 

Opportunity to pay over the phone If you have a suitable credit card, the customer service number can accept payment for your outstanding tickets, plus a $140 non-refundable booting fee, plus a $500 refundable deposit on the boot itself. Those unable to make such a payment can, for example, visit city service center to pay their fine in person. 

Self-help removing the boot: Once you are paid up, you'll be given the secret code number that can unlock the boot. You can remove the boot and be on your way in minutes. 

Return the boot for your deposit: You must drop off the boot at a return center to receive back your $500 deposit. Late fees accumulate if you do not, although BPD Traffic Bureau Lieutenant Diane Delaney says that the city can work something out with people who genuinely can not make the 24 hour deadline. 

Or else get towed after-all: If you've been booted and don't resolve the issue within 48 hours, your car becomes "tow-able", says Delaney, with a corresponding accumulation of additional fees. 

Attempting to Enforce Fairly and Evenly 

Delaney says that BPD wants to be sure the new enforcement technology is applied evenly to all parts of the city. Therefore, she says, the Traffic Bureau has divided the city into 10 "zones". The boot van will be deployed in one zone at a time, cycling through all other zones before returning. 

BPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Mary Kusmiss emphasized that pursuing parking ticket scofflaws has always been a focus of the department — the new boot van and SmartBoot are new tools in that effort, not a change in priorities.

Mumps Outbreak on UC Berkeley Campus Prompts Call for Vaccination Boosters

By Patricia Decker (BCN)
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:37:00 PM

Fever, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. For members of the University of California at Berkeley community, these symptoms could spell more than a common cold -- they could mean a case of the mumps.

The university community is experiencing an outbreak of the viral infection after several cases of mumps were confirmed in students last Thursday, campus health officials said.

On Tuesday, UC Berkeley's health services website posted an alert about the outbreak, encouraging all Cal students, faculty and staff -- regardless of their vaccination history -- to receive an additional dose of the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, or MMR. 

Most people receive two doses of MMR, with the first administered at 12 to 15 months of age and the second given any time at least four weeks after the first dose. 

Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus originating from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person. 

"University Health Services and the City of Berkeley's Public Health Division are working closely with the California Department of Public Health to limit (the) spread of the disease," the alert read. 

Members of the UC Berkeley community should review their vaccination history, and health officials recommend that people seek vaccination if they are not sure whether they have received two doses of MMR. 

Officials also said that a third MMR dose may be helpful in stopping mumps outbreaks. 

The cases confirmed last week involved students residing on the Clark-Kerr campus, which is about half a mile south of the main campus, and living in the Cloyne student cooperative on the north side of campus. A suspected case also involved a student residing in the Cheney Hall dormitory. 

The number of confirmed cases was not provided in the alert. 

Symptoms generally develop 16 to 18 days after exposure to the virus, but may manifest anywhere between 14 to 25 days after exposure, health officials said. 

Those who may have been exposed to mumps should be alert for symptoms including fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite, as well as swollen or tender salivary glands under the ears, jaw or under the tongue -- on one or both sides of the face. 

Treatment involves getting plenty of rest and consuming fluids. Antibiotics, which are not effective against viruses, are not useful in treating mumps. 

University health officials advice those who may be infected to stay home and contact a health care provider. UC Berkeley students or Tang Center patients may contact the nurse advice line at (510) 643-7197. 

Calls to representatives from University Health Services and the City of Berkeley's Public Health Division seeking comment were not immediately returned today.

Charles Rawson Collier, 1935-2011

Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 02:27:00 PM

Charles Rawson Collier, a long time resident of Berkeley, passed away on September 6,2011, just days before his 76th birthday. Charles came to Berkeley in 1964 with his first family to work as a visual artist, producing acrylics, etchings and prints. He soon became involved with the Free Speech Movement, participating in demonstrations and rallies at the Peoples’ Park and elsewhere in Berkeley. He with his wife Corlu founded the Committee for the Rights of the Disabled (CRT), a precursor of the Center for Independent Living in the Berkeley area. Charles advocated for handicapped accessibility on San Francisco transport and many other issues. He himself fought lifelong adversity and disability to live independently in his own home until his recent illness.  

Charles had a mischievous enjoyment and childlike enthusiasm for inventions, creations, and disruptions of the norm. He delighted in the kites flown at the Marina Park and the anonymous sculptures that appeared on the Bay shores. He spent months planning for his perfect photo of a solar eclipse. He was proud of his ability to solve all kinds of problems, including building of his own leg brace. He reinvented himself as new interests came into his life. He became well known for his Renaissance Woodwind Instruments (Collier Instruments) which he fashioned in his shop at the back of his house – recorders, shawms, flutes, and cornettini. His instruments are still played by early music groups in concert. When the business lost ground, he developed linotype equipment which allowed for greatly expanded printing capacity, As the industry moved to new technology. Charles became a recording engineer. He recorded student concerts for the Berkeley Public Schools and the Cazadero Music Camp, giving students, parents and teachers the joy of savoring student performances with his professional recordings.  

Charles will be remembered by neighbors and friends for his insistence on doing things for himself despite impediments. He loved zipping around Berkeley from his Grant Street home on his electric scooter, visiting his favorite coffee shop and Thai restaurant on Shattuck Avenue, or traveling as far as BART would take him to new destinations. He documented accessibility on BART with the hope of producing a publication. 

Charles was born in Washington, D.C. on September 10, 1935 to Nina Perera Collier and Charles Wood Collier. He grew up on Indian Spring Farm in Darlington, Md. He attended the Friends School in Baltimore, then Swarthmore College, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in NYC. He moved to Berkeley after exploring life in Taos, NM; Oaxaca, Mexico; and Portland, OR. He is survived by his two families, Melinda Collier and daughter Nina Collier; Corlu Collier, daughter Liz Collier, and son Richard Mulders; siblings, Leo, George, Lucy Collier and Monica Schmidt; nephews David John, Nicholas and Patrick Collier; niece Lucy Jane Collier; and extended family. A memorial event will be scheduled at a future time.

Updated: Nobel Prize News Wakes Berkeley Professor

By Jeff Shuttleworth(BCN
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 04:52:00 PM

University of California at Berkeley professor Saul Perlmutter won the Nobel Prize in physics today by being part of a team of scientists who discovered that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating pace. 

And now Perlmutter's fame is expanding at an ever-accelerating pace as well. 

Perlmutter, 52, told about 150 people at a news conference at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he is a faculty senior scientist, that he was wakened at 3 a.m. by a reporter who asked him how he felt about winning the prize along with two other scientists. 

He said he spent about an hour wondering if it was a hoax as "reporter after reporter" called him, but he finally got a call from Nobel Prize authorities in Sweden who officially told him that he had in fact won the prize. 

Perlmutter, a native of Champaign, Ill., who earned his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1986, will get half of the $1.5 million prize. The other half will be shared by Adam G. Riess, 41, of Johns Hopkins University and Brian Schmidt, 44, of Australian National University's Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories. 

Perlmutter heads the international Supernova Cosmology Project, which pioneered the methods used to discover the accelerating expansion of the universe, and has been a leader in studies to determine the nature of dark energy. 

Riess and Schmidt are members of the competing High-Z Supernova Search team. 

Joining Perlmutter at the news conference, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said Perlmutter is the 22nd Berkeley faculty member to win a Nobel Prize and the 13th Berkeley Lab member to be a winner. 

Birgeneau said, "There wasn't a eureka moment" in which Perlmutter and his colleagues made a quick finding but instead "it took decades of work that went against the conventional wisdom and they did the hard science necessary for a great discovery." 

Perlmutter, a balding, bespectacled man who spoke with a smile and great energy, said scientists had previously thought that the universe was slowing down and "could come to a halt someday." 

But he said he and his colleagues found that the universe is in fact speeding up. 

Perlmutter said his team spent months confirming their findings before they announced their breakthrough because they wanted to make sure they were correct. 

"It was the slowest 'aha' moment in history," Perlmutter joked. 

He said the acceleration of the universe is thought to be driven by dark energy, but there is still much that remains to be discovered. 

"Science is a method, not a finished product," Perlmutter said, adding, "We don't know if we can do something magical" with his group's findings. 

In announcing the prize, the Nobel committee said the discoveries by Perlmutter, Riess and Schmidt "came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves." 

But the committee warned that their findings indicate that the universe probably "will end in ice." 

Perlmutter lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter and thanked them "for putting up with me" when he "disappears for nights on end" and works around the clock on his research. 

Commenting on his approach to his work, Perlmutter said, "You have to enjoy having your mind boggled to go into this field. It's part of the joy of it." 

Another part of the joy of winning the Nobel Prize for Perlmutter is that Birgeneau handed him a parking pass that entitles him to park for free anywhere on the UC Berkeley campus, a privilege that's reserved for Nobel winners. 

Perlmutter joked, "Now it's all been worthwhile!"

Berkeley's Northbrae Neighborhood Called One of America's Great Places

Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 05:20:00 PM

The American Planning Association has designated Berkeley's Northbrae neighborhood, the home of Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, as one of "America's Great Places". From the APA website: 

APA's flagship program celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow. 

APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live. They are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. They are places where people want to be — not only to visit, but to live and work every day. America's truly great streets, neighborhoods and public spaces are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement. 

The designation describes Northbrae thus: 

Nestled in the rolling foothills amidst outcroppings of volcanic rock, Northbrae stands out for its spectacular vistas of San Francisco Bay, environmentally sensitive design, connections to a unique network of 136 paths and steps crisscrossing Berkeley, and two nearby commercial areas for shopping and entertainment. Built on land used for grazing cattle, Northbrae was developed by Duncan McDuffie, who envisioned a park-like neighborhood of single-family houses nestled on lots facing tree-lined streets. 

A full description of Northbrae's many amenities can be found on the website. 

The Northbrae neighborhood is free from the highrise mixed use residential/commercial buildings of the type now envisioned by the city council as appropriate for Berkeley's flatland neighborhoods, including Downtown, Southside and West Berkeley. There are no plans to add such uses.

Updated: Daniels to be Interim Berkeley City Manager

Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 04:30:00 PM

Rumors escaping from last night's special meeting of the Berkeley City Council,reported this morning, indicated that as widely expected Deputy City Manager Chris Daniel will become Berkeley's Interim City Manager when Phil Kamlarz retires at the end of November. This has now been confirmed in an email from Councilmember Jesse Arreguin forwarding a communication from the city clerk's office.

Councilmember Worthington, seconded by Councilmember Moore, moved to appoint Christine Daniel as Interim City Manager for a period of 6 months, subject to review at that time and to authorize the Mayor to negotiate salary.

The motion, which passed unanimously, was sponsored by Berkeley's two gay councilmembers, possibly because Daniels will be not only Berkeley's first woman city manager, but also the city's first Lesbian and first openly gay city manager.  

Calls to Daniels' office have not been returned.

Press Release: UC Berkeley's Saul Perlmutter awarded 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

From Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:23:00 AM
UC Berkeley and LBNL physicist Saul Perlmutter
Roy Kaltschmidt, LBNL
UC Berkeley and LBNL physicist Saul Perlmutter

Saul Perlmutter, who led one of two teams that simultaneously discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, to be shared with two members of the rival team.

Perlmutter, 52, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), led the Supernova Cosmology Project that, in 1998, discovered that galaxies are receding from one another faster now than they were billions of years ago. 

He will share the prize with Adam G. Riess, 41, of The Johns Hopkins University and Brian Schmidt, 44, of Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories, two members of the competing High-Z Supernova Search team. When the discovery was made, Riess was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley working with astronomer Alex Filippenko, who at different times was a member of both teams. 

Perlmutter is the fifth Nobel winner for UC Berkeley in the past 11 years, and the 22nd Nobelist overall. This is the ninth Nobel in Physics awarded to a UC Berkeley faculty member, the most recent winner being George Smoot in 2006. 

The most recent National Research Council nationwide rankings identify the Department of Physics as among the best in the nation. 

The accelerating expansion means that the universe could expand forever until, in the distant future, it is cold and dark. The teams’ discovery led to speculation that there is a “dark energy” that is pushing the universe apart. Though dark energy theoretically makes up 73 percent of the matter and energy of the universe, astronomers and physicists have so far failed to discover the nature of this strange, repulsive force. 

In recent years, Perlmutter has been working with NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build and launch the first space-based observatory designed specifically to understand the nature of dark energy. A dark-energy mission was named the top telescope-building priority in an August 2010 report from a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Using supernovae as cosmic yardsticks 

Perlmutter was a postdoctoral fellow at LBNL when he decided to focus on Type Ia supernovae as yardsticks to measure the geometry of the universe. Astronomers knew that the universe was expanding, but the main question at the time was whether the universe was open, and thus destined to expand forever, or closed, meaning that the expansion would eventually stop and the universe would collapse back on itself. 

He and his LBNL team were puzzled by initial results in 1997 indicating that, not only was the universe’s expansion not slowing down, it was speeding up, contrary to all cosmological theories. 

“The chain of analysis was so long that at first we were reluctant to believe our result,” Perlmutter said. “But the more we analyzed it, the more it wouldn’t go away.” 

The High-Z team came to the same conclusion at the same time, based on an independent set of Type Ia supernovae. 

“There was no hint of this when we started the project,” Riess said in 1998 while still a Miller Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UC Berkeley. “We expected to see the universe slowing down, but instead, all the data fit a universe that is speeding up.” 

The discovery, reported by both teams in 1998, has since been bolstered by independent measurements. The earliest and most important of these confirmations were by the Millimeter Anisotropy eXperiment IMaging Array (MAXIMA), a balloon-borne experiment led by UC Berkeley physicist Paul Richards, and the Balloon Observations Of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics (BOOMERanG) experiment, led by the late Andrew Lange, a former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow, and Paolo De Bernardis. 

Team effort 

“This discovery was very much a team effort,” Perlmutter stressed, citing the efforts of the Supernova Cosmology Project’s individual members in theoretical studies of supernova dynamics, the detection of supernovae near and far, data analysis and interpretation, and other research components. 

Perlmutter graduated magna cum laude in physics from Harvard University in 1981 and began graduate work at the UC Berkeley, where he gravitated toward the study of astrophysics. He completed his Ph.D. with Richard Muller, UC Berkeley professor of physics, in 1986. 

While still a post-doctoral fellow, Perlmutter teamed up with fellow post-doc Carl Pennypacker to develop the technology to use Type Ia supernovae – which are bright enough to be seen across the universe – to measure cosmological distances. Other astronomers had observational data suggesting that Type Ias were all about the same intrinsic brightness, so that their apparent brightness from Earth could be used to calculate their distance. 

With observing time on several telescopes around the world, the Supernova Cosmology Project was able to test and improve its techniques. When the team eventually sat down with new data on Type Ia supernovae to calculate the basic parameters of the universe, however, the results were too bizarre to be believed. 

“The most striking part of the project was the huge skepticism,” recalled Pennypacker, now with UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and a guest in LBNL’s Physics Division. The skepticism was not only about proposed techniques, but about the underlying science. “Nobody believed we could do it,” he said, “and it was an enormous challenge to get things done.” 

Perlmutter, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has received numerous honors, including the 2006 Shaw Prize, shared with Schmidt and Riess; the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize, which he shared with his entire Supernova Cosmology Project team and the High-Z Supernova Search team; the 2003 California Scientist of the Year award; and the 2002 E. O. Lawrence Award in physics from the Department of Energy. 

He lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter.

Press Release: Public Meetings Planned for AC Transit Redistricting Process

From Clarence Johnson, AC Transit Media Affairs Manager
Monday October 03, 2011 - 01:08:00 PM

Federal and state laws require the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District to adjust its ward boundaries every 10 years in order to equalize populations following the completion of the federal census.  

To aid in the redistricting process, the agency’s Redistricting Committee and staff have developed proposals that will be vetted at a series of outreach meetings. Community members, elected officials and interested parties are encouraged to attend the meetings and offer their views and recommendations.  

The meetings will be held on the following days and locations: 




October 17, 2011 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Hayward City Hall 

777 B Street, Conference Room 2A 


October 20, 2011 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Bayfair Mall Community Room 

15555 E. 14th Street 

(Upper level near escalator, use Entrance 3) 

San Leandro 

October 24, 2011 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

North Berkeley Senior Center 

1901 Hearst Avenue 


October 27, 2011 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

AC Transit General Offices 

2nd Floor Board Room, 1600 Franklin Street 



At these meetings, the proposed boundary configurations – with descriptions, maps and demographics – will be displayed for public comment. Persons who are unable to attend the meetings can find the entire redistricting plans on the District’s website at www.actransit.org (click on “Ward Redistricting”).  

The public can also offer input and request additional information about the process and the proposed plans by emailing districtsecretary@actransit.org. The District’s wards also are available via the web at www.redrawca.org (click on “See Local Lines” and select Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District). At this site, the public can draw communities of interest, draft plans and submit them to the District Secretary. 

The deadline to submit comments on the initial redistricting plans is October 28, 2011.  







Does Signing a Petition Give Parents a Voice in Schools?

By David Bacon
Monday October 03, 2011 - 12:19:00 PM

Parent trigger laws, according to their proponents, give parents power. Gregory McGinity, managing director of policy for the Broad Education Foundation, calls them "a way for parents' voices to be heard."

Sounds good. But is the parent trigger concept a way to put parents in charge of their kids' education, or is it part of a political agenda that will rob parents of even more control? While hardly anyone argues that parents don't want, and don't deserve, a voice in their children's schools, many educators, and even parents themselves, doubt that parent trigger laws increase their involvement.

Many teachers believe parent trigger laws are a way for charter schools to gain a bigger share of the education system. For McGinity, that's not a bad idea. The Broad Foundation promotes the proliferation of charter schools, which he says simply offer parents "a different way for a school to operate." Teachers, however, are alarmed. They see the expansion of a privatized education system, and view parent trigger laws as a means for rushing the process forward.

Their concerns illustrate the big stakes behind passing and implementing these laws. Several very conservative players in national education reform have made parent trigger proposals a key part of their agenda. As they're introduced in state after state, California's experience is being watched closely. 

California's parent trigger law, SBX5 4, called the Parent Empowerment Act, was introduced by former State Senator Gloria Romero, and passed in an extraordinary session of the legislature. California was rushing to qualify its application for Federal Race to the Top funds, and proponents said the law would help its chances. In the end, the state did not qualify, but the law stayed on the books. The California version of parent trigger says that if the parents of 51% of a public school's students sign a petition (the "trigger"), they can decide to fire the principal, or bring in an entirely new staff, or close the school, or have it taken over by a charter school operator. 

While the California law specifies four options, the parent trigger process is closely related to the establishment of charter schools, which do not guarantee parent control. Using the trigger, "you get one shot and that's it, because once that charter is formed, that charter dictates how it will operate," John Rogers, associate professor of urban schooling at UCLA, told NBC's Education Nation. "[Parents] have fewer rights in the context of a charter than they would at a public school." 

Prominent Democrats, among them Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (a former field rep for United Teachers Los Angeles), spoke for the bill, although the votes to pass it came mostly from Republicans. Teachers unions lobbied against it, while a chorus of mainstream media hailed it. Patrick Range McDonald of the LA Weekly claimed it was the product of "minority parents and fierce reformers, who seemed to materialize from thin air." 

Not quite. While some grassroots parents undoubtedly did support the bill, it was the product of powerful political figures, backed by the wealthy foundations that shape much of the country's debate over education reform. SBX5 4 was written by the Los Angeles Parents Union, started in 2006 by the Green Dot charter school company. The LAPU was headed by political operative Ben Austin, who then started another organization, Parent Revolution, to promote and implement the parent trigger law. At its birth, Parent Revolution had a $1 million budget supplied by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Hewlett-Packard Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. 

Austin, recently replaced by Governor Jerry Brown on the state Board of Education, is Parent Revolution's executive director. He was an aide in the Clinton White House, and deputy to Los Angeles' former Republican Mayor Richard Riorden. PR's organizing director is Pat DeTemple, a lawyer who worked for Service Employees Local 1199 on the east coast, for the United Farm Workers before that, and was an organizer for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. 

Taking Aim: Compton, California 

When the law passed, Parent Revolution sent organizers into southeast Los Angeles, one of the nation's poorest communities, with some of its lowest-scoring schools. At first, they concentrated on parents at Willard Elementary School, in the Compton School District. 

Compton, where most families are African American and Latino, has huge budget problems, as do most working-class communities in the state. As of May, California had a $25 billion budget deficit. State spending on K-12 education was cut by more than $1,000 per student (13.1 percent) between 2007-08 and 2010-11 - a total education budget loss of $18 billion. Over half the state's schools reduced instructional days, two thirds slashed summer school, and three-quarters of its high schools increased class sizes. A year ago districts sent teachers and classified employees 23,000 layoff notices, and most recipients never went back to their classrooms. This spring thousands more pink slips went out. Some may be rescinded by the fall. Many won't be. 

In the current recession Compton's problems have grown to crisis proportions. Last summer its unemployment rate hit 22% while the state was at 12%. Job loss undermines the tax base funding schools and social services. According to Carolyn Ritchie, president of the Compton Council of Classified Employees, AFT Local 6119, this year its school district faced a potential shortfall of $6.5 million, and last June had to lay off employees. "Because they have to submit a budget to the county office of education for the next three years," she explains, "the Board of Trustees convened a committee of unions, teachers, classifieds, parents and principals, and held a series of meetings. They came up with eight options, some of which did involve school closures." 

When Willard parents heard from PR organizers that the school might close, principal Mario Marcos sent a letter home with students, explaining the budget options. "No decision has been made regarding closing any of our schools in the district," he emphasized. Parent Revolution then moved its petition drive to nearby McKinley. 

McKinley has an Academic Performance Index score of 684, one of the lowest in the Compton Unified School District. "A woman named Rosemary came to my door," recalls parent Carla Garcia. "She said she wanted to make changes to improve and beautify McKinley. There was a place on the form that asked about our concerns, so I signed and circled safety. I've been worried that the school gates are sometimes left open, and children might wander out, or other people come in." Garcia's daughter Ayalett is in Ms. Williams' first grade class, and Lynette is in Mr. Tellez' 3rd grade class. She's had kids at McKinley since 2000. 

Parent trigger proponents argue that the petition process lets parents decide how their school should be changed. But the petition Garcia signed didn't offer a choice of the four options in the law, because it must specify only one. Parent Revolution staff wrote the McKinley petition, before the process of contacting parents had begun. At the start of two inches of legal language in dense small print at the top of the page, it says it would "transform McKinley Elementary School under the RESTART MODEL, to be reopened under Celerity Educational Group, a Charter Management Organization (CMO)." 

Celerity has four campuses in Los Angeles, and in 2008-9 total revenue of $11,028,959, with expenses of $9,329,906. While its bylaws state "employees may join and be represented" by unions (a right guaranteed by state and federal law), another section says job duties, discipline "and all other work basis will be negotiated in individual at will agreements." At-will employment allows employers to terminate employees or change their conditions "at will." Right away parents were divided over whether or not they favored a charter conversion. Some, like Garcia, felt misled. "They never said this was a petition for a charter school," she charges. "I don't want that for McKinley." She eventually withdrew her signature. 

Parent Caroll Turner, however, was so impressed by Celerity she enrolled her daughter at one of its schools. "I don't think McKinley is a good school," she said. Turner came to Compton recently from Tyler, Texas. Before arriving she tried to talk with district staff about where to enroll her daughter. "They didn't tell me McKinley was a failing school," she said. "When I found out, I wanted to change that. Every child has a right to a good education." Other parents had mixed feelings about charters. Lilia Buenrostro, with a son in 3rd grade, works part time in the cafeteria and volunteers after school. She went to McKinley herself as a child. "I'm not against charter schools," she explains. "But why don't they organize one from scratch? I don't want them to do it at McKinley. I want McKinley to stay public." 

"I don't oppose charters either," says Ritchie. She has one teenage son in a local charter, and one in public school. "What I don't like is the process they used to get signatures. I don't want to see public schools become charter schools, but my main concern that that we have an open process. As a parent myself, I'd be furious if I didn't have any say." 

That became the second source of division among McKinley parents. Organizers employed a strategy like that used by unions facing hostile employers. "We knew we'd be in for a fight in Compton," explained DeTemple, Parent Revolution's lead organizer. His crew had no list of parents to work from, so they went door to door, he says, with surveys to identify them. "We knew our petition would be challenged, regardless of the number of parents who signed, and that would go on for a long time." To resolve those challenges in time to bring Celerity in for the following fall term, they wanted to get their petition filed by December. 

Organizers visited people individually, and then held house meetings for small groups of parents. They didn't try to organize large, open meetings to which all parents, much less teachers and staff, could come and debate their course of action. As a result, many parents felt excluded. 

Victor Varelas, an Ecuadorian immigrant, and former labor and student activist, was one of those parents who believed the school didn't pay adequate attention to families. He points to the benches in front where parents wait to pick up their children. "Why isn't there some cover from the sun or rain?" he asks. "On street sweeping days they get tickets for parking in front while they walk their kids to class. A $51 fine is a lot for families in this neighborhood. The school promises to do something about it but nothing changes." 

That's not what organizers discussed with him, though. "They said a charter school would get the API up to 800," he recalls. Varelas put four children through Compton schools, including McKinley, and now has four grandchildren there. He went to the children's open house, met with their teachers, and checked their work. Like many parents, he worried that a bad score meant a bad school. That's what the mainstream media and the standardized testing industry claim. But it's hard to explain the connection. "665 means education is bad. 800 means it's good," he says. It was even less clear what Celerity Schools would do better than McKinley. 

In the meantime, Varelas says, "they also told parents that the school would close, at every meeting. Some parents were scared there'd be no school at all for their children." Finally he grew uncomfortable with the process. "They'd always have these small meetings, where often there were more staff than parents. Other parents began coming to me, asking why they were holding meetings without telling everyone. The staff was always in charge at every meeting." Finally, on the morning of the press conference where the petition was turned in, Varelas left the campaign. 

Petitions were submitted, allegedly from parents of 256 of McKinley's 415 students. From the beginning, however, questions swirled around the signatures and the way they were gathered. On January 19 district human relations officer Alejandro Flores sent a letter to all the parents who'd signed, asking them to come to the school on January 26 or 27 to verify their signatures. Flores' letter was criticized strongly by Parent Revolution and its allies. Spanish-language media focused attention on its requirement that parents show a drivers' license or photo ID to validate their signatures. Commentators said it would make undocumented parents worry that their immigration status might be questioned. 

Parent Revolution set up a table outside the school on the verification days, urging parents to boycott the signature checking. Only a few more than 50 came in. Courts halted the verification process, and months of legal wrangling ensued. Finally, in mid-May, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr invalidated the petition because many signatures had no dates showing when parents had signed. Without dates, the district argued, it couldn't be sure the student in question was enrolled at the time, or was under the care of the person signing. 

Then, on May 25, the L.A. County Office of Education gave Celerity permission to open a charter school at the Church of the Redeemer, two blocks from McKinley. In December, at the time that Parent Revolution filed the trigger petition, Celerity had also independently applied for a separate charter in the McKinley neighborhood. The Compton district turned it down, although its staff recommended approval. The County Office of Education ultimately overruled the board. Parent Revolution hailed the announcement of the charter's approval as a victory, and Austin told a press conference ""the parents of McKinley ... have won that fight." 

Pulling for a Trigger in Buffalo 

While the McKinley drama was playing out in Compton, in mid-May parents in Buffalo NY pulled kids out of schools for half a day, protesting a two-tier school system. White students are concentrated in three high-quality college-prep high schools, while the high school graduation rate is only 25% for young African American men in Buffalo's majority-Black district. 

The action was organized by the District Parent Coordinating Council. It was strongly supported by Buffalo ReformED, an upstate education reform group that wants to implement a local parent trigger law patterned on California's. Buffalo ReformED is very openly pro-charter, but unlike Parent Revolution, which declares itself pro-union, it is very critical of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers. 

Buffalo ReformED is funded in part by the Oishei Foundation, set up by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Corporation, whose factories making windshield wipers became Buffalo's largest private sector employer. The reform group notes on its website that 8000 students in Western New York attend 16 charter schools, with waiting lines to get in. More charters would "foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn," the group says. 

A detailed paper on the teachers' union contract, however, makes clear that Buffalo ReformED sees the union as a main obstacle. "The Contract," writes director Hannya Boulos, "hinders any effort to provide extra assistance to students outside regular school hours, limits professional development, and limits instruction time, creating a culture that allows for teachers and administrators to do the bare minimum ... the Federation is securing their rights at the expense of students and parents." Boulos concludes that the contract's job protections, including seniority, job definitions, tenure and others "collectively contribute to poor student achievement, and a failing school system. This contract marginalizes the needs of students to a dangerous point." 

Implementing a parent trigger law in that context, therefore, would produce petitions to bring in charter companies to take over public schools. If Boutros' goals are achieved, that would drastically affect teachers' conditions and their union. 

Other national groups also propose parent trigger laws as part of agendas that favor charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, and restricting teachers unions. A major one is the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Chicago that has fought tobacco regulation and legislation to address climate change. It is part of a constellation of libertarian and conservative groups that includes the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. It's funded by the right wing Sarah Scaife and John M. Olin Foundations, as well as Exxon Mobil, Phillip Morris and the Walton Family Foundation. 

Heartland in the Heartland 

The Heartland Institute has been at the forefront of promoting parent trigger laws to legislators, Tea Party groups, and school reform advocates across the country, according to communications director Jim Lakely. Last year Heartland published The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education, by Joseph L. Bast, Bruno Behrend, Ben Boychuk, and Marc Oestreich. "Conservatives and libertarians should support the Parent Trigger because it could allow parents to choose charters or even vouchers," the paper urges. 

After Ohio's first-term Republican Governor John Kasich announced he was including it in his budget proposal, Osterreich, Heartland's legislative analyst, enthused: "It is clear that the traditional union model of reform - more money, more teachers - has failed Ohio. Gov. Kasich's announcement of a Parent Trigger breathes life back into a dying system by empowering parents to tackle school problems in the most democratic and localized way imaginable." 

In March Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 5, restricting the bargaining rights of 350,000 Ohio public employees, including teachers, in the face of massive protest. He cited an alleged $8 billion deficit to justify it, the same rationale he used to cut the education budget. That will have a devastating impact on Ohio schools. When legislators started to pull back from including the trigger measure in the budget as well, it was amended to cover only Columbus City Schools, and the budget then passed. 

In New Jersey Heartland works with Republican Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, who introduced a parent trigger bill in January that would allow only three options - replacing a schools staff, handing it over to a charter operator, and one additional option not found in California - giving parents vouchers they could use for any other school, public or private. After the bill failed to move, Heartland Institute organized a forum, featuring the senator, for an audience of other legislators, and business and government leaders. Kyrillos, managing partner in a real estate firm, also introduced a bill to end tenure for teachers and set up a merit pay system. 

Mississippi's parent trigger law, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, is even more restrictive, allowing only charter school conversion. Other bills are in the wings in Indiana, West Virginia and Georgia, where Heartland also plays a major role. Missouri's trigger bill, HB 393, died when the legislature adjourned in May without passing it, and Colorado's died in a Senate committee. Two bills were introduced in Pennsylvania in 2009, but also failed. In Iowa, North Carolina, North Dakota, Michigan, Maine, Utah, and Maryland media reports indicate that bills are still being considered. 

In almost every state, severe budget crises are leading to the layoff of teachers and larger class sizes. At the same time, a wave of Republican governors and legislators are insisting that deficits must lead to budget cuts, without any increase in taxes. There is no way this cannot result in a deterioration of the school system. For conservative think tanks like Heartland Institute, this is all part of a larger agenda for shifting wealth back into private hands, and shrinking the section of government that provides services like education. They oppose measures to make public schools more effective, especially smaller class sizes, because districts would need more money, and have to hire more teachers to implement them. They justify the cuts by saying, as Oestreich does, that more money and more teachers have failed. He presents parent trigger laws as a substitute for more funding, and because they move schools out of the public system. 

Foundations closer to Democrats prefer to keep such a program at arm's length. But they accept as a given the wave of restrictions on the funding that schools require. They make no call for the one thing that would help public schools beyond question - higher taxes producing more resources for every student. The common ground among liberal and conservative education reformers, therefore, is that if students don't learn, teachers must be at fault. Schools can be improved, the argument goes, without spending more money, if the bad teachers are weeded out, and newer, younger and better teachers take their place, or if schools are turned over to more efficient and innovative private operators. 

Broad Foundation's Gregory McGinity says, "A significant increase in education spending is not something schools can count on. You have to make sure the funds are getting to the right place." According to Broad's senior advisor Dan Katzir, "Asking whether 'charters' are a solution to America's public education's woes is like asking whether medicine is a solution for illness. Only the right 'type' of medicine, under the right conditions, will make a difference. But when it does, it can make all the difference in the world." 

Other reform think tanks go further, even when it seems to contradict the goal of better teachers in more effective classes. Students First, the project started by Michelle Rhee after she resigned as school superintendent in Washington DC, opposes reduced class sizes and more educated teachers. "Small class sizes and required higher pay for higher degrees may have marginal beneÞts, but the evidence of their effect on student achievement is weak," she says in her Policy Agenda. Parent trigger is a major part of that agenda. 

One reason the Heartland report likes parent trigger laws is that liberals, it argues, will support them, in addition to "the center-right coalition" it sees as the source of "most reform proposals based on empowering parents." But there are even more powerful tools the Institute and its allies are prepared to use if they have the political power to do so. In Detroit, a parent trigger process was not needed to advance the wholesale transformation of public schools. 

In March of 2009, Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Robert Bobb Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools. Bobb's salary is being supplemented by the Broad Foundation, where he's a Fellow. For the next year he fought with the Detroit school board, which won a court decision backing its control over academic affairs. After the 2010 election, however, the incoming Republican legislature quickly passed a new Emergency Manager law, allowing Republican Governor Rick Snyder to appoint managers with almost total power over cities and school districts in financial trouble. That gave Bobb full financial and academic control of the district. 

By 2010 50,139 Detroit students (36%) already attended charters. Bobb then closed 59 schools, reconstituted 39, and contracted out 1,429 payroll positions (13% of the workforce). Nevertheless, the district deficit rose from $139 to $332 million. His 5-year deficit elimination plan in response will increase high school class sizes to 60 students, and close 70 of the 142 remaining schools in the district by 2013. 

As Michelle Rhee's Students First agenda states dryly, "New governance models have emerged to allow real reform to take place." 

Connecticut Takes a Different Road 

In Connecticut, however, another alternative emerged in the negotiations over a parent trigger bill, introduced in its state legislature in February 2010. The original proposal was made in a group of reforms put forward by the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, strongly supported by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. ConnCAN has focused its energy on opening charter schools and a "money follows the child" scheme to make school districts give charters the state average per-pupil funding for each charter student. Recently ConnCAN launched an initiative, 50CAN, to spread its program to the rest of the country. Its recently-resigned director, Alex Johnson, praised "the brilliance of the parent trigger concept [of the California law] as a tool for activating parents in support of charter school conversions in the LA school district ... [because it] creates a value proposition that offers an immediate, direct benefit to those [parents] who join the campaign." 

After negotiations, however, Connecticut's resulting law created a different program to support parent engagement. Under it, all schools that have not made adequate yearly progress in mathematics and reading must form a School Governance Council. A school board can also voluntarily establish one for any school. 

Parents elect seven members, and teachers five. The council members then choose two other community leaders. The principal may appoint a non-voting member, and high school students can elect two others, also non-voting. The councils review the school's achievement data, its draft budget, and advise on hiring, program and operations. The council must develop a parent involvement policy and a school-parent compact, and must survey parents every year. It does not, however, have authority over matters governed by a union contract between teachers and a district. 

After three years, if the school doesn't improve, the council can recommend reconstitution to the local board of education. If the board doesn't agree, the state Education Commissioner decides. Options include the Federal models of firing the principal, replacing the entire staff, and charter conversion, and state models creating "CommPACT" and "innovation" schools. 

"We wanted parent involvement in a meaningful way," says Connecticut AFT head Sharon Palmer. "The parent trigger process didn't provide that. Our goal was better bonding between parents and teachers, and a process where parents could take ownership." Although there was little trust between parent groups and teachers at the start, she says, in the end most agreed, 

This approach is similar to one Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, says took place in Chicago, when the Chicago Public Schools established Local School Councils in 1989. "These elected, parent-majority bodies make critical decisions about school programs, budgets, and leadership at most CPS schools," she says. "They are the engine for local site management, accountability, and participation." However, according to Woestehoff, the councils were undermined first by a "business- and politician-driven movement" under Mayor Richard Daley, and later by Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he headed Chicago schools. 

Like Woestehoff, many education activists believe other alternatives offer more parental control than parent trigger laws. Steve Peha, president of Teaching That Makes Sense, says, "More choices doesn't always mean better choices. The [California parent trigger] law seems to encourage a dangerous polarization of an important issue ... Why not vote to 'improve' a failing school and then take direct responsibility for contributing to that improvement? With more than 50% of any parent community behind improvement (as opposed to restructuring or closure), a school could make immediate and significant gains on many fronts." 

Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, asserts, "Signing a petition to close a school does not engage parents in a dialogue, visioning or powerful decision-making ... It's short-sighted and underestimates the power of communities to make systemic change. Additionally, it runs a serious chance of abuse and racial polarization where intentions behind the petition may not be just about academics." 

Perhaps responding to similar doubts, Austin claims that in the future, Parent Revolution's campaigns in California may not actually result in the formal filing of petitions. "The most transformative use," he says, "is not to use it at all. Parents can organize to bargain, by using the petition to say, 'we tried to change through traditional routes, and now we have the power to fire you, so you have to sit down and negotiate.'" DeTemple adds that "we're trying to build parent chapters, and we expect them to ally with teachers and administrators, using the petition as leverage with the district." Neither would specify a school or district in which this use was taking place, however. 

The Los Angeles Times, which is viewed today with extreme hostility by UTLA and most teachers, suggested another modification. "It makes more sense for the parent petition to have the power to force major transformation, but for the local school board to make the actual decision on which option should prevail." But when the legislature held hearings on modifying the California law to include teachers in the petition process as well as parents, the even more union-hostile Orange County Register fumed "These proposed rules protect bad schools and take power away from parents and give it back to the unions." 

In July the California State Board of Education adopted new regulations for the process. They require posting a sample petition on a website, public disclosure of financial support, including the payment of full-time staff, for groups circulating petitions, and forbid paying for signatures. Signatures will be verified by comparing them to existing school records. The regulations still don't require public meetings of parents, however. According to the California Teachers Association, which supported the new regulations, other state laws still require that any charter conversion have the support of a majority of teachers at the affected school, but the new regulations are silent on that issue. 

At McKinley, meanwhile, PTA president Cynthia Martinez thinks the school should be given a chance. "The educational level is not where it should be, but it's gone up over the last two years," she believes, and credits the change to Principal Robinson. "A school isn't something you can change from one day to another." 

But there's still no cover over the bench where parents wait. They still get citations when they park in front to drop kids off. Education quality aside, you can imagine a mother holding a $51 ticket deciding that the next time that petition comes around, she'll sign. 

This article first appeared on Rethinking Schools, Fall 2011  

For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org

Dr. Toy's Best Toys

By Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D.
Monday October 03, 2011 - 11:25:00 AM

“Hot” is not what makes toys great, because “hot” gets cold fast. What is more important is play value of the toy, appropriateness for child’s age, interests and abilities plus the child’s ability to be playful, and engage with the right toy that best matches the child. Dr. Toy reminds parents and teachers that “play is children’s work” and should be respected and understood by all adults. We should be thinking: “What products or ‘tools for play’ can we obtain to provide wholesome experiences for children and plenty of positive play interactions?” 

Let’s start Gift Suggestions with Dr Toy’s Ten Best Basic Toys every child should play with anytime: 


  1. BALL—available in all sizes and shapes so find the one your child can pick up and play with most easily
  2. BOARD GAME- many different ones are excellent and fun for child and whole family to play with
  3. CAR- and other transportation toys like a truck or train engage child in role playing and active play.
  4. CONSTRUCTION TOY- wonderful diversity of construction toys from plastic, metal to wood each provide skill building and logical thinking and great for eye hand coordination and imagination
  5. CRAYONS –colorful crayons help the child learn colors and discover their artist within as they explore what they can do with self expression
  6. DOLL- choices abound as your child enjoy friendship, communication, sharing secrets, learning to dress and undress, and further develop socially and emotionally.
  7. PUPPET-perfect for reading books aloud and for role playing anytime.
  8. PUZZLE- excellent for learning to match, discovery and manipulation skills.
  9. TELEPHONE- the right choice for communication and language development.
  10. WOODEN BLOCKS-basic tools for building and stacking as child wishes.

Dr Toy selects Best Products in different categories to support children’s learning, variety of skills, physical activity, and creativity. See Dr Toy’s Guide www.drtoy.com for more details on these products and others selected throughout the year including Best Classic, Vacation, Green Best Picks, and other great play products. The winning products include socially responsible, innovative toys, games, books, videos, audiotapes, software, CDs, DVDs, crafts, and other children's products. 

Dr. Auerbach believes, "parents need help to get a head start locating new, diversified products that children will enjoy using while they increase learning skills, enhance instruction, and expand creativity.” 

To help make choices for appealing and worthwhile gifts here are Dr. Toy’s winners matched to skills. 



  • Active Play – Alpha Toys (Alphabeasts), Carrera (Porto Corsa Racing), Constructive Eating (Three Garden Utensils), Fisher-Price (Big Action Construction Site), Funrise Toys (Tonka Strong Arm Cement Mixer), Funtastic/QuickSmart (QuickSmart Scramble Bug), Green Toys (Flatbed Truck & Race Car), Gryphon House (Budding Chef), iStar Entertainment (FyrFlyz), Jennara Productions (Miss Barbara's Pirate Adventure), Manhattan Toy (Quadrilla Twist & Rail Set), Metro Design (48" Play Wheel), MGA (Little Tikes Cozy Truck), Spin Master (Air Hogs Hyperactive), uKloo Kids (uKloo Treasure Hunt), Wishbone Design (Wishbone Flip), WowToyz (3D Dinosaur Puzzles).
  • Construction Play – Citiblocs(Little Builder Rattle Blocs), Fat Brain Toy (Tobbles ), Fisher-Price (Big Action Construction Site), HABA (Animal Upon Animal), Innovation First Labs (Hexbug Nano Hive Habitat), Laser Pegs Ventures (3D Lite Board), LEGO Systems (Ninjago: Fire Temple), Yoshiritsu (Hamacron Constructor).
  • Creativity & Art – Colorforms (Original Colorforms Set), Fat Brain Toy (Tobbles), Giddy Up! (Movie Make Up), Int'l Playthings (Glamology Enhancing Pack 4), Learning Materials (Coloraturo), Little Kids (Bend & Build Foamstructure), Patch Products (Design 'N' Doodle Silly Zoo), ThinkFun (Cartoon It!), Tiny Green Bee (Crunch a Color™), Wild Republic (Nuts & Bolts).
  • Creativity & Music – APA Animation Prod. (Sookie & Finn), Copy-Kids (Eat Fruits & Vegetables), Maestro Classics (My Name Is Handel), Music Intelligence Proj. (Tuneables:I Love Music!), MusiGo (Going Places), QuaverMusic.com (Quaver's Marvelous World of Music), Right Road Prod. (Right Road for Kids! Episode 1: You Are Special!), Rock 'N Learn (Sight Words), Sockeye Media (Nursery Rhyme Singing Time), Whistlefritz (Las Estaciones).
  • Technology – ClickN Kids (Looney Tunes ClickN READ), Cognitive Kid (Ansel & Clair's Adven.-Africa), Gund (Peek-A-Boo Bear), Hasbro (Cookie, My Playful Pup), Learning Journey (ABC WordPad), Smart Bomb Interactive (National Geographic Animal Jam), SmartLab Toys (Recon 6.0 Programmable Rover), Super Duper® Pub (Funzee Everyday Go-Togethers Software), Visions of the Millenium (Tell Me What Am I – Animal), VTech (2-in-1 Discovery Table), Your Baby Can (Your Child Can Discover!).
  • Language/Learning/Math & Reading Readiness – Abligio Books (Best Multiplication Workbook EVER!), Alpha Toys (Alphabeasts), Bailiwick Press (Cahoots ), BrillKids Int'l (Little Reader Deluxe), Critical Thinking (Crypto Mind Benders: Famous Quotes), Discover w/Dr. Cool (Break Open Real Geodes), Griddly Games (Oversight), Kids II (Sensory Plush Pals), Klutz (Guide to the Galaxy), K'NEX (Classic K'NEXosaurus Rex), Leo Marshall Designs (LeCardo), Lucky Cat Prod (Math Park).
  • Puzzles & Logical Thinking Games – b. dazzle (Temple in Paradise), Bloco Toys (Primates of the World Collection), Blue Orange (Fastrack), Cepia (DaGeDar), Continuum Games (Barnyard Stampede), FoxMind Canada (Fauna), Fun and Function (Social (e)Motion), Gamewright (Mermaid Beach), GaZima Games (Stomple), INI (Dabble), Lindergaff (Synonyms), Non-Trivial Quest (Non-Trivial Quest), POOF-Slinky (Our America Game), Pressman Toy (Ultimate Mastermind), Techno Source (Tetris Link), University Games (Kids Battle the Grown Ups), USAOPOLY (Telestrations).
  • Social & Dramatic Play – ALEX (Ready, Set, Tell Time!), Alpha Toys (Alphabeasts), Aeromax (My 1st Career Gear Assortment), B. by Battat (Car Go CarGo), Berjuan Toys (Breast Milk Baby Doll), Corolle Dolls (Bébé Amour), Chicco (Lemmy My First Puppy), Fashion Angels (Fashion Design Projector Set), Giddy Up! (Movie Make Up), Golly Gee-pers! (Table Manners Cards), Int'l Playthings (Glamology Enhancing Pack 4), MGA (Mini Lalaloopsy Treehouse), Ragananda (Ragananda Doll), Royal Council (Every Kindness Counts), Zing Toys (IckeeStikeez).
  • Socially Responsible Products – ALEX (Ready, Set, Tell Time!), b. dazzle (Temple in Paradise), Berjuan Toys (Breast Milk Baby Doll), Connor's Science Universe (Crystal Explosion), DuneCraft (Rainforest Biosphere), Giddy Up! (Movie Make Up), Golly Gee-pers! (Table Manners Cards), Int'l Playthings (Glamology Enhancing Pack 4), Royal Council (Every Kindness Counts), Tiny Green Bee (Crunch a Color), Worry Chest System (Worry Chest System).

Dr Toy’s Ten Best Toys-2011 



  • Citiblocs (Little Builder Rattle Blocs),
  • Fisher-Price (Big Action Construction Site),
  • Green Toys (Flatbed Truck & Race Car),
  • nnovation First Labs (Hexbug Nano Hive Habitat),
  • Star Entertainment (FyrFlyz),
  • Laser Pegs Ventures(3D Lite Board)
  • LEGO Systems (Ninjago: Fire Temple )
  • Little Tikes/MGA(Little Tikes Cozy Truck),
  • Spin Master (Air Hogs Hyperactive)
  • oshiritsu (Hamacron Constructor).

*Dr Toy’s Best Toys Awards 

"Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children's Products" was developed by noted child development authority, Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. (a.k.a. "Dr. Toy") as a service to consumers who desire to purchase safe, affordable, educationally oriented, and stimulating toys and products for children. Dr. Auerbach introduced “Dr. Toy's Guide” when she saw the need for more year-round resources for consumers to identify and choose the most appropriate, safe and engaging learning and developmental products for all children. Dr. Toy’s Guide www.drtoy.com was the first website about toys. Her book, Dr Toy’s Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (Play Quotient) for parents, and others who care about children. In addition to her "100 Best Children’s Products," Dr. Toy awards for the “Best Classic,” the “Best Green,” and the “Best Vacation. “ All award winners are carefully chosen from among many hundreds that Dr. Auerbach reviews at toy fairs, in catalogs, and through many sources. She uses extensive criteria that she has developed over many years. For more information, go to http://www.drtoy.com. 

Tree-Sit Resumes to Protect People's Park Trees as University Fells Nearby Tree, Threatens to Buzz-Saw Tree Hosting the Sit

By Ted Friedman
Thursday September 29, 2011 - 08:49:00 AM
Littlebird, behind a mask, carries on a People's Park tradition as cops threaten his perch.
Ted Friedman
Littlebird, behind a mask, carries on a People's Park tradition as cops threaten his perch.
Re-born tree-sit organizer, Running Wolf, holds the ashes of People's Park's latest tree assault victims. University the perpetrators.
Ted Friedman
Re-born tree-sit organizer, Running Wolf, holds the ashes of People's Park's latest tree assault victims. University the perpetrators.

At last, a new plot twist in the apparently on-going saga of People's Park tree sits.

This sit is all about protecting trees themselves. See there's actually a connection here, unlike past sits, which claimed Ohlone indians owned the park, if not "all of the known world."

It's all been staged before--two years ago. But not with such intricate plot twists.

Sit3 (it's a franchise now) began late Tuesday, less than ten hours before the university felled two small trees they said were impinging on nearby trees. Even the tree-sit host tree is a target. As the police have said in the past, the tree sit host tree was sick and had to be euthanized with a buzz-saw.

According to the latest sitter, Littlebird, 29, from Portland, Oregon, the police have wasted no time telling Littlebird that he's nesting on borrowed time. 

Event organizer, Zachary Running Wolf Brown, 48, is worked up over the loss of the trees and the threats to the host tree. He may be as worked up as he was two years ago when the university went after and destroyed four acacias (Planet: January 07, 2009) in the park. Despite Running Wolf's best efforts to save them. 

Subsequent tree-sits in the park have come to violent ends. I asked Littlebird if he was aware of the troubled history of tree-sits in People's park. "A little," he said. I gave him more. "Isn't that platform too small?" It was smaller than the one Amy Blue plunged from earlier this month. (Planet: Sep 7, 201). Littlebird said he'd "ordered" a larger one and Running Wolf promises a replacement. 

In the meantime, "I'm tied down right now," he said. Littlebird has experience from tree-sitting at demos in Oregon, he said. 

Running Wolf calls him "solid." When Amy Blue and Moon Shadow, fell from the last tree-sit tree, Running wolf blamed the tree-sitters' youth and lack of experience. It's different this time. 

It's always different, but it begins to sound the same. 

I called Amy Blue in Santa Rosa last week to see how she was doing after breaking her back when she fell from a limb early in the morning in September. She's recuperating at her parents' home, she said, and would return to Berkeley in three months. 

Her injuries are worse than I reported. In addition to two fractured vertebrae, she has a broken collar bone and ruptured spleen, she said. 

She acknowledged she had been negligent the night of her fall by not tying herself in as Running Wolf had instructed, but she blamed cops who shined flashlights up at her, she said. "I was changing limbs when I fell to avoid the lights in my eyes, so the cause of my fall was a combination of them and me." 

She reported as well that university police--"playing good cop and bad cop-- threatened me with outing my trans-gendered identity if I didn't tell them how to find Moon Shadow", she said. 

"They told me they had busted my boyfriend (a third sitter had gone up the tree the day before), and when I cried, they stuck their camera in my face to capture the tears." 

i stumbled onto the latest tree-sit after getting a call from Running Wolf at 10:30 a.m. 

Before I could get to what I am calling camp protest, a permanent protest site, at the North east corner of the park, not far from two large student dorms, I noticed that Hate Man had been dislodged. 

Hate Man said that he'd had to move when the tree-cutters from the university (see photos) lopped off two trees. He seemed barely concerned for the trees, being more concerned over the fact that tree sitters were back. 

Hate Man, an award-winning hater, has a special over-the-top hate for the tree-sit. The tree-sit attracts police and helicopters, he feels. 

The re-born tree-sit bears a good resemblance to the acacia protest two years ago, after which arborists differed over the condition of the felled trees. Running Wolf claims to know that the university is just looking fro an excuse to go after the host tree-sit tree. 

"Prove it," we said. He's working on it. Meanwhile, the tree-sit is re-forming. 


Ted Friedman reports for the Planet on the South side and its most expensive property, People's Park. 








"Occupy Wall Street" Comes to Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 12:26:00 PM

As Jimmy Durante used to say, ever’body wants tuh ged in tuh duh’act. (If you’re too young to remember him and/or don’t come from Brooklyn, Everybody Wants to Get into the Act.) After a frustratingly slow start, the Occupy Wall Street action finally has legs.

Over the weekend, it became front page news in the big national papers. They all ran approximately the same story, recounting how the previously invisible campers took to the road and were arrested in impressive numbers while trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in the auto lane. Most of the stories featured approximately identical quotes from various Poli Sci professors at second-tier institutions, ones easily located in the metropolitan areas where the newspapers were published, on the order of “If they want to accomplish anything, they’ll need a program and identified leaders.”

Well, no. The most useful analysis of what seems to be going on could be found on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times Science Section, in a fascinating article about slime molds. Here’s the basics: 

“Slime molds are a remarkable lineage of amoebas that live in soil. While they spend part of their life as ordinary single-celled creatures, they sometimes grow into truly alien forms. Some species gather by the thousands to form multicellular bodies that can crawl. Others develop into gigantic, pulsating networks of protoplasm. 

While naturalists have known of slime molds for centuries, only now are scientists really starting to understand them. Lab experiments are revealing the complex choreography of signals in some species that allows 20,000 individuals to form a single sluglike body. “ 

These congeries of creatures can move long distances as a group, consume all kinds of fodder, and generally take over the world by concerted action. Kind of like the Wall Street Occupyers, isn’t it? 

And now they’ve started spreading around the country. They’ve been detected in places as diverse as Chicago and McAllen, Texas, wherever that might be.  

They’re even in Berkeley, have been for a while now. The first wave was a group of Red Diaperish older people who spontaneously organized a “Tax the Rich” sign-waving in front of the empty Oaks Theater on Solano in mid-September, with allusions to the ongoing Wall Street action but no formal affiliation. The original convenor of that group, an artist friend of mine, doesn’t even use the Internet, but she found someone to publicize their second appearance on Solano with a commentary in these pages.  

The message was all over the web before it hit the big papers, of course. But national press, complete with videos of 700 people getting arrested, did wonders for spreading the word.  

Now even U.C. students, a bit slow off the dime, are poised to get into the act, according to the Daily Californian. A couple of planning meetings have already happened. There will be an official planning meeting (“General Assembly”) at noon this Saturday in front of the Bank of America at Center and Shattuck, followed by a full-dress Occupy Berkeley action in the same location the Saturday after that.  

These new folks are fully up to code in their use of modern media. They’ve got a web site, http://www.occupyberkeley.org/, a Facebook page, Twitter (@occupyberkeley), and even a telephone number (1-510-924-0268) and an Email address for questions.  

Of course, using all this stuff as they are, they haven’t quite managed to free themselves from corporate shackles. The first item on the website is an invitation to join a Google Group, and Facebook and Twitter are also somewhat corporate, aren’t they? 

So what’s the message? Well, it seems to be whatever you need it to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There has even been sotto voce speculation, in Twittering and commenting in various venues, that some Tea Partyers might want to make common cause with Occupyers, since none of them have anything good to say about big banks. 

The possibly apocryphal story about what President Franklin Roosevelt is supposed to have said to African-American union leader A. Phillip Randolph comes to mind: “Go out and make me do it.” Roosevelt supposedly knew what the right and just way to deal with “Negro” demands was, but was reluctant to take the intiative to set things right without pressure from Randolph and his troops.  

This story has been reported to be a favorite of President Barack Obama’s. He might be hoping that the Occupyers will “make him do it.” 

Whatever, of course, “it” is. That’s the problem. So much is wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. Lists of grievances have been produced in New York, Berkeley and elsewhere, but solutions are not so easy.  

It’s all about money and moneymen, though, as it always is. There’s another Roosevelt presidential quote for that one: “malefactors of great wealth”—but it’s from a different president, trust-busting Teddy, way back in 1907. The malefactors been around for a while, and they’re still up to the same old tricks. 

Commentators on current events are talking about “right” and “left” populism, but the distinction continues to be fuzzy. Those of us who didn’t sleep through our European history lectures can’t help remembering what we learned about other periods, especially the 1930s, when the many populist streams initially seemed to be flowing together into a mass almost as powerful as a slime mold on the move.  

Slime has a bad name in some quarters, but this is not intended to be a pejorative analogy. Slime molds are one of nature’s many forces, neither good nor bad intrinsically, just what happens.  

We’ve been down these paths before. Commenters on Occupyer websites and Facebook pages are already citing Mario Savio’s famous Free Speech movement exhortation. 

And these new populists could easily take as their manifesto Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 speech announcing the Second New Deal, in which he denounced all of the same evils being catalogued this week on Wall Street. What’s often forgotten is that America’s most powerful homegrown Fascist, Father James Coughlin, started out as a strong supporter of the New Deal and denouncer of bankers. He cleverly manipulated radio, the modern media of his day, to build a strong national following for diatribes that sounded not unlike some of the speeches which are now being made in New York and elsewhere, if you leave out his anti-Semitism.  

The populism of the 1930s eventually diverged and re-coalesced into a variety of mass movements, some good and some bad. Even Hitler started out as a populist.  

Some of my Old Left descended friends now organizing for this new movement can remember family stories about the horror with which some of their parents and grandparents greeted the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact, though it eventually collapsed. They don’t want to make the same mistakes their parents did, but they don’t necessarily have a completely new strategy to cure the ills of society.  

Meanwhile, we can expect the Major Media to continue to look for The Leaders, because that makes reporting so much simpler, doesn’t it? Just a simple quote or two and home to bed. Both publishers and politicians searched furiously for the “Negro Leaders” in the 1960s, and were continually confounded by the likes of Fanny Lou Hamer, who didn’t fit their stereotypes of what a leader looked like.  

In the end, all we really know now is that this movement, whatever it will turn out to be, is on the move. Why and where are yet to be determined. It will be fun to watch. 





Using Feudal Succession to Keep Berkeley Twee

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday September 29, 2011 - 11:32:00 AM

It’s one of those tedious on-the-one-hand on-the-other-hand kind of things. Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz is retiring (with a pension uncomfortably close to $300k per year) and he’d like to put his thumb on the scale when the question of the successor to his powerful position is weighed by the Berkeley City Council. Is this good?

In theory, I’ve always been in favor of hiring from within an organization when at all possible. It saves the expense of conducting a national search for a replacement administrator, and the decision-makers (the city council, in this case) are likely to know the virtues and deficiencies of the candidate from first-hand experience.

But in this case, it seems like just another example of how governance of Berkeleyans is looking more and more like feudalism instead of like a democracy. No one in recent memory has succeeded to office, either elected or appointed, without an active link to his or her predecessor. Outsiders just don’t have a chance. 

Let’s look first at the electeds. Governor Jerry Brown, to start at the top, is the son of a previous governor, which did him no harm the first time he ran for the office. State Senator Loni Hancock, the former Berkeley mayor, is the wife of previous Assemblymember and current Mayor Tom Bates, who was succeeded in his last office by his longtime aide Dion Aroner, who migrated to the Senate after she was term-limited out and was then succeeded by Hancock, who then hand-picked and endorsed Nancy Skinner, who had been a colleague on the Berkeley City Council with her. 

Whew! Sounds like the biblical Begats, doesn’t it? Even on the Berkeley City Council itself, two of the current members are former aides to councilmembers. (And we won’t even get into the activities of Aroner’s current lobbying firm, now an arm of the Safeway expansion effort…) 

This kind of manipulation doesn’t always produce bad results. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who’s sharp as a tack and very good at her job, was handpicked and eased into office by her predecessor, former Berkeley councilmember Ron Dellums, who went on to become mayor of Oakland. But by and large, citizen candidates are at a serious disadvantage if they try to enter these exclusive clubs. 

Again in theory, Berkeley has a “weak mayor” charter. According to plan, the mayor should function simply as an at-large member of the council who also presides over meetings and appears in ceremonial contexts as needed. But Tom Bates, probably because of his experience wheeling and dealing in Sacramento, has managed to abrogate a fair amount of power to himself in his two terms as Berkeley mayor, notably by using the ploy of controlling the council’s agenda through a subcommittee which operates out of the limelight. And the City Manager has cooperated hand in glove with this strategy. 

This is not necessarily wrong, according to the city charter. The tradition of having a powerful manager and a relatively powerless elected body started with a reaction against political machines in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s mostly been followed in Berkeley and other California cities of similar size since then. Berkeley’s current city council is unusually weak even by California standards, with the majority (most votes are 7-2 or 6-3) voting at the behest of city staff and/or the mayor most of the time. The mayor occasionally intervenes on behalf of his favorite developers, but he also takes a lot of long and luxurious vacations as befits the retiree which he actually is. 

City Manager Kamlarz achieved his current position of eminence and ample compensation by operating under the radar and being Mister Nice Guy in public. On his watch, he and his fellow employees did well, very well, and citizens didn’t bother to find out why. 

He was famous, over his decades as Deputy City Manager, for “finding” money for councilmembers’ pet projects when there was a budget crunch. His strategy was pretty simple: his initial budgets just allocated funds to various areas which were never intended to be spent, and which could therefore be “found” when political exigencies required it. 

In my years on the Landmark Preservation Commission I wasted many a long hour discussing maintenance projects for key city properties that never actually happened. Restoring the fountain in MLK Civic Center Park and repairing the clubhouse in John Hinkle Park are just two examples. Members of other commissions have told me about similar phantom projects which never materialized, and were probably never intended to. 

Two of our four branch libraries experienced “demolition by neglect” with this strategy. General fund money which should have gone to repair them in years of relative economic stability wasn’t spent when it was available. Instead, managerial sleight of hand substituted expensive rebuilding funded by a bond issue approved in a ballot measure now generally conceded, by those who bother to try to understand it, as having been deceptively worded by the city administration. Oh well… 

There’s no question that Kamlarz is indeed a Nice Guy. I was among those who applauded his appointment eight years ago because I genuinely liked him. As a good liberal, he’s taken excellent care of his city employee colleagues over the years. 

But now I think that Berkeley doesn’t need more of the same, especially when unfunded employee pension liabilities threaten to sink the ship in the coming years. As much as I would like to applaud the symbolism of his choice of Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel to be Berkeley’s first female city manager, that’s not nearly enough to guarantee her the job. City Attorney Zach Cowan, appointed directly by the city manager, slid into succeeding his boss Manuela Albuquerque on skids greased by Kamlarz, and he’s been almost as bad as she was, which is quite an achievement. (See discussion of sneaky library bond issue ballot measure language, above.) Predictably, the Bates PR engine is already on board with the Kamlarz choice. 

Nonetheless, it’s highly unlikely that enough public sentiment will materialize to demand an open search for the next manager. Most of the time, it’s the hired staff that runs the show in Berkeley, not the electeds, and except for a few chronic malcontents citizens are loathe to complain. Why should they? This is the land of the lotus eaters. If you have a lovely view home in the hills, Berkeley’s signature great eats and the income to pay for it all, why kvetch? Too bad about the swimming pools, but there's always the Claremont... 

(I’ve toyed with the idea of producing and selling a bumper sticker that says “Keep Berkeley Twee.” I know that one like “Keep Austin Weird” would never fly here. Despite the so-last-millenium Bezerkeley hype in some of the retrograde press, we’ve been way too cozy in recent years.) 

The Editor's Back Fence

UC Mines Our Brains for the Sake of Corporate Profit

Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 11:42:00 AM

Here's a particularly juicy post on Richard Brenneman's blog, pointing to a juicy story on another blog: 

UC mines our brains for the sake of corporate profit 

This is the Weekend Issue

Saturday October 01, 2011 - 01:33:00 PM

As is often the case in sleepy Berkeley, there's not much news this weekend. Most likely this issue will be up until Monday, if you're wondering. 

New stories will be added if anything happens.

Bill Gutting CEQA Passed in Sacramento, Signed by Brown--
Skinner and Hancock Voted Yes

By Becky O'Malley
Friday September 30, 2011 - 08:33:00 AM

Reader Roger Marquis sent me the link to a broadcast by environmental lawyer Gary Patton on KUSP in Santa Cruz.

It's about a blatant attempt to gut CEQA which had been passed by California Democrats in Sacramento and when he wrote was on Jerry Brown's desk. Roger said:

"I haven't read anything (yet) about how our representatives voted on AB900, the latest attack on CEQA. Here's the story on Gary Patton's Land Use Report.

Wish we had something like this here in the East Bay."

Here's what happened after the Patton broadcast aired on September 12:

Brown signed AB 900, along with SB 292, whose implementation was required for AB 900's implementation. State Representative Nancy Skinner voted for both these awful bills; State Senator Loni Hancock voted yes on 900 and no on 292.  

Let them know what you think about these pro-corporate votes.


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins: The Happy Couple

Dan O'Neill
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 10:36:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Beware the Hurry to Build at Haste and Telegraph

By Carol Denney
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:43:00 PM

“If people have an exciting idea, certainly we can try and show community support so that we can encourage the property to move forward,” Worthington said. “Having a vacant lot sitting there is costing the city a lot in terms of lost vitality to Telegraph.”

Daily Californian 10-4-2011

This quotation was a prominent part of the most recent story on the vacant lot at the corner of Haste and Telegraph currently being demonized by public officials, press, residents, and students. The latest article in the Daily Californian describes University of California architecture students eagerly offering designs for projects-to-be in an atmosphere of urgency.

The article neglects to mention that the vacant lot at Haste and Telegraph was previously a single room occupancy hotel which provided both retail space and 77 units of crucial low-income housing. The building was the victim of deliberate arson, as the previous residents know who received warning the night before one wing was set ablaze. 

Berkeley has systematically destroyed its single room occupancy housing, replacing it with high-end condos and “affordable” rental units which are only affordable to the $80,000 a year median income crowd. Single room occupancy units, which generally are the only option for the lowest income and homeless groups they often shelter, are becoming an endangered species. 

It should matter to us as a community, if we care about helping low-income people and homeless people get off the streets , that we replace and protect such housing, which also offers important alternatives for migrant workers, seasonal workers, artists and musicians who come to town for brief periods, and people who need a starting point before they can contemplate the expensive first-month last-month security deposit requirements of more permanent housing. 

The Daily Californian article also neglected to mention that current lot owner Ken Sarachan submitted a proposal for a combination retail and housing complex which was turned down by an earlier city council. Sarachan is not quoted at all, which implies that he is somehow an obstacle to the lots development, despite the fact that his earlier proposal included affordable units and proposed that it be named for Bob Sparks, a beloved community housing activist. 

A history-free story runs the risk of greasing the wheels for a proposal which may not replace the crucial 77 units of low income housing Berkeley sorely needs. A vacant lot may be characterized as contributing little to the avenue, but a development there which precludes the replacement housing Sarachan once tried to build is a theft of potential housing which is irreplaceable. 

Beware the atmosphere of urgency surrounding potential development of the lot at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street in Berkeley. Putting up a building of some kind at that corner might seem urgent from some perspectives. But the need for single room occupancy housing is much, much more urgent. Our community needs to insist that all 77 units of single room occupancy housing be replaced by any new development at the corner of Haste and Telegraph.

How Berkeley Employee Costs Eat Up the Rest of the City's Budget

By David M. Wilson, Berkeley Budget SOS
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:24:00 PM

Berkeley residents are beginning to understand why there is no money for those nasty potholes, decayed play structures, community pools, and safety-net social services. They are also beginning to see cracks in the whole civic structure as the City is forced to cover tens of millions in unfunded pension and infrastructure liabilities. 

Silently and stealthily, City employee costs have devoured the rest of the City budget. 

In FY 1991, the total City budget was $139,380,776. 64% of this amount, $90,643,816, was devoted to personnel costs (wages, overtime and other cash payouts, and benefits). The rest of the money was there to keep our streets and sewers and parks in good shape. Twenty years later, in FY 2010, without any significant change in population, the total budget rose 226% to $315,000,553 and employee compensation rose to $252,571,909 or 80% of the budget. 

During that same period, the CPI was up 166% but the City budget was up 226% and employee cost was up 224%. How did we fill the shortfall? Instead of tough bargaining with our unions, we caved in to their wish list, and paid for it by short-changing things like parks, road and sewer maintenance, and the like. 

For example, 1991 capital expenditures by the Public Works Department was $13,563,971. In 1992, $27,054,500 was budgeted. Assuming a total City budget of about $140,000,000 for each of those years, this equates to about 10% and 19% respectively, for capital improvements in those years. 

Twenty years later, for Public Works capital improvement, only $12,967,999 was spent in FY 2010 and $8,387,008 was budgeted for FY 2011. This equates to 4% and 3% respectively of the total City budget of $315,000,000. 

When adjusted for inflation the 1991 expenditures of $13,563,971, should have been $22,516,191 in 2010, just to break even. The $27,054,500 budgeted in 1992 should have become $44,910,470 in 2012, just to break even. Looking at just the past two years as compared to twenty years ago, we’re talking about a real dollar decrease of $26,808,190 in what the city has spent for ongoing infrastructure maintenance and improvements. 

It’s clear that part of the budget that was previously devoted to capital improvements and rainy day reserves is being eaten by the out-of-control employee costs. It’s kind of like the cuckoo who lays her eggs in a smaller bird’s nest. The cuckoo babies get bigger and bigger and starve the rest of the fledglings out of their home. 

How we got here is a bit less clear. Certainly it is not the fault of employee unions: they exist to cut as good a deal as they can for their members. But Berkeley’s job is to cut as good a deal as it can for the city as a whole. Are we afraid of being called “anti-progressive” if we bargain too hard? Or is there something structurally wrong making the City Manager chiefly responsible for negotiating wage/benefit packages of which he is a primary beneficiary?  

The City Council knows or should know all of this. But instead of real solutions, it is now ready to ask the voters (yet again) to pay more taxes. In the meantime, other cities, like San Francisco, have bargained with their unions to bring wage/benefit packages into line with available resources. Berkeley should do the same. 

A new report by the civic group Berkeley Budget SOS reveals that Berkeley has the highest number of employees and highest employee compensation per capita of twelve regional cities of similar size (to view report “City Employee Costs, Proposed Savings and Action Plan” go to www.berkeleycouncilwatch.com). 

Berkeley Budget SOS is a civic organization dedicated to fiscal clarity, accountability and sustainability. It produces articles, analyses, insights and recommendations aimed at resolving the City’s fiscal challenges without additional taxation to its already financially-burdened residents.

Pepper Spray Times

Grace Underpressure
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 10:27:00 AM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street

Forwarded by Estelle Jelinek
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 07:02:00 AM

Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street - 

This statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York City 

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. 

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known. 

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. 

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses. 

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. 

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization. 

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices. 

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions. 

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right. 

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers' healthcare and pay. 

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility. 

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance. 

They have sold our privacy as a commodity. 

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. 

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit. 

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce. 

They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them. 

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil. 

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people's lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit. 

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit. 

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media. 

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt. 

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. 

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas. 

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.* 

To the people of the world, 

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. 

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. 

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal. 

Join us and make your voices heard! 

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Who has the Right to Remove Benches At Bus Stops? A Bus Stop Bench Story

By Lydia Gans
Monday October 03, 2011 - 12:51:00 PM

Berkeley's civic leaders have a reputation for making profound declarations on national and global politics but when it comes to decisions regarding quality of life issues of people right here in Berkeley they seem to be incompetent or uncaring. Much can be said about the treatment of people who are poor and homeless or mentally ill but even in small matters one might wonder how decisions are made about what and for whose benefit. My experience is an example.

I live in a senior residence near Dwight and Telegraph and enjoy the shops and restaurants as well as the street life along the Avenue. I also appreciate the easy access to downtown Berkeley on the #1 and the #1R bus which I use almost daily to go to the library and the YMCA. AC Transit is a boon – buses run fast and frequently, but no matter how efficient the system is, riders must always expect to have a wait. That's why benches are placed at bus stops. That's why there was a bench at the bus stop on the corner in front of Peet's on Dwight and Telegraph. On July 10 that bench was removed. That was extremely disturbing. 

I am not young (I'm the same age as Rita Moreno) and have some problems which make it difficult to walk or stand for a long time. Not being able to sit while waiting for the bus is painful for me. And certainly I am not the only senior or disabled person who needs that bench. I immediately emailed the city. This was their reply; “The City requested that the bus bench on Telegraph at Dwight be temporarily removed for several months in order to interrupt illicit behavior that was happening at that location. Berkeley Police and other City staff are monitoring the situation and will request that AC Transit reinstall the bench once it has been determined that doing so will not contribute to antisocial or illegal behavior in the area. We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope to restore the bench as soon as we can.” I find it hard to envision what kind of “illicit or antisocial behavior” can happen on an uncomfortable steel ribbed two seater perched on the edge of the sidewalk! 

My pleas to City hall got nowhere. I was told by the city manager that the TBID had requested the removal. I couldn't' find any way to reach the TBID or Roland Peterson on line so I went to Craig Becker at the Med. He told me he wasn't aware that the TBID had said that but he admitted that they really didn't like benches very much because some people would just sit there “all day long”. It seems to me that benches are intended for sitting! 

The process here is getting increasingly convoluted. I emailed the city manager and got this reply. “Benches are public amenities and the more the better except whe certain individuals privatize this public amenity. We removed the ones at haste and telegraph because an individual insisted on using them to display and sell books. Check with Roland Petersen on the TBID position. Sorry for the inconvenience and hopefully we'll bring it back soon.” This is unacceptable several reasons. At issue is the bus stop corner on Dwight, not Haste where the vendors are located and it obviously is not a place for a bench. I immediately let him know that. That was a week ago. 

Furthermore, his referring me to Roland Peterson makes me wonder who calls the shots around here. Does the TBID, which represents business property owners tell the city what to do. Does Mr. Hynes ask Mr Peterson what amenities the public, that is the people who live here, shall have? And does all this mean we have to worry about the city removing more benches? “Sorry for the inconvenience” won't do it. Do we the people have to organize a demonstration to get results?

Laura's Law Revisited: Response to Ralph Stone

By Jack Bragen
Saturday October 01, 2011 - 09:13:00 AM

First of all, please give me credit for my ability to understand this issue. It is not that I don’t understand, I simply do not agree. 

Secondly: I question the accuracy of your statistics and they have been given without a qualifying context. By this I mean that you haven’t given the “who, what ,where and when” and also in what category these statistics have been gathered. I seriously doubt that there are 74 percent fewer homeless in New York. 48 percent less drug abuse? Unbelievable. Among what category of people, where, what time period and so on have these unbelievable statistics been created? Can you provide a link to a page that would have all of the details of this study? Because so far, you have stated something that is without context and seems improbable. 

Third: Laura’s Law does not specify how the subjects will come to the attention of those who enforce it. That means that the ugly scenario of enforcers going into people’s homes could still happen, even though it may not have been done in the pilot programs. 

Fourth: The homeless need food, medical care, housing, jobs and a purpose to life. Forcing psychiatric treatment on people will not solve the problems of the homeless. 

Fifth: I question the accuracy of your statement that our rights will be protected, and I question the circumstances, and even the existence of such a court appearance. 

Having a court appearance, one in which the counsel’s paycheck is generated by the same corrupt court system, is no guarantee of people’s rights being protected. Few people in their right mind resort to using a public defender if they can possibly afford better counsel. 

And no, I am not confusing Laura’s Law with preexisting laws. Laura’s Law will launch an entirely new and oppressive system of enforcement. 

Huge numbers of people commit infractions to the law, such as drunk in public; most of them do not require psychiatric treatment. When our society across the board medicates all of those who are considered a problem, it’s not mental health being dispensed, it is use of psychiatric drugs as a form of mass punishment. 

Mr. Stone, I don’t think you fully understand the ramifications that will be created by widespread use of this law. 

Tom Friedman Tries to Scapegoat Baby Boomers -- He Should Remember That We Helped Forge American Prosperity

By Ruth Rosen
Friday September 30, 2011 - 01:18:00 PM

Baby Boomers, who have now morphed into “young seniors,” certainly did not contribute to the economic decline of America. On the contrary, this huge demographic bulge—as we have moved through our highly-publicized life cycle-- helped create the country’s consumerist prosperity with our teenage allowances and middle age purchases.

Yet running through the debate on the national debt is the subterranean belief that “young seniors,” once known as Baby Boomers, are stealing from future generations by having too many hip replacements and using up too much medical care to stay healthy and active. 

Just recently, for example, /New York Times/ columnist Tom Friedman, as he wandered through the streets of Greece, wrote (www.nytimes.com) with Athenian authority that Baby Boomers were responsible for this country’s huge debt. Just because Eric Cantor and seventy-eight million other people fit into the rather vague category (1946-1964) of the Baby Boomer generation doesn’t mean that a particular generation caused the housing bubble, or turned our nation into one gigantic gambling casino. 

Yes, Virginia, there truly are people who daily bet against the economic health of the nation. 

This is hardly the first time that Tom Friedman has seemed delusional. He supported the Iraq war because he somehow believed that President George W. Bush would fight the war in Tom’s way, for Tom’s beliefs, for Tom’s goals. What was he thinking—or smoking? Now he wants us to applaud as he substitutes ‘generational clash” for the former “clash of civilizations,” which he has decided is the real struggle our nation faces in the future. 

Let’s get real. If Friedman accuses Baby Boomers of “behaving badly,” is he still fighting the cultural wars? If so, he’s right that some boomers have largely been responsible for expanding democracy by fighting for the human rights and legal equality of racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians and disabled. Did we dance and smoke too much? I’m not sure. But we didn’t drink nearly as much as the “greatest generation” and many of us have spent our lives fighting for the common good, especially the preservation and health of the planet. 

But if Friedman is accusing the baby boom generation of creating the debt that will burden the next generation, he ought to resign from the Times with dignity, before his analyses get him laughed off the Sunday morning talk shows. 

Unfortunately, Friedman is not alone in believing that the Baby Boom is responsible for the nation’s economic decline. True, President Bill Clinton, another Boomer, helped create the financial crisis by deregulating the financial industry. And true, some Boomers in the financial industry turned the country into a gigantic casino, while the corporate sector has outsourced America’s skills to workers in other countries. Also true, George W. Bush nearly bankrupted the country with two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. 

But is this part of Boomer culture, or what market fundamentalists have accomplished since President Ronald Reagan first dabbled in what his vice-president once called “voodoo economics?” And Ronald Reagan was no Boomer. 

Surely, Tom Friedman must read his colleagues Paul Krugman and Robert Reich and know that those who created the housing bubble and the madness of the subprime mortgages, who outsourced jobs, crushed unions, have tried to dismantle government, destroy public education, erode health care for the poor, do not represent the views of a particular generation. They represent the ideological insanity of right-wing Republicans, market fundamentalists, who are holding our country hostage to their belief in markets, as opposed to the health and welfare of the common good. Indeed, as ardent fans of Ayn Rand, they don’t believe in a common good. Greed is good. Self interest is what makes the country great. 

If right-wing Republicans get their way, and refuse to raise revenue, we may indeed leave a tattered America, including an immense debt to the next generation. But this horrific burden is the result of right-wing Republicans who have given incompetent CEOs millions of dollars in bonuses and but refused to cut the taxes of the wealthy. 

Baby Boomers are not the problem. There has been no generational cry to dismantle government, public education, keep the financial industry unregulated, outsource jobs or keep profits hidden out of the country, or any refusal to tax the wealth. It is not Baby Boomers who prowl the corridors of power as they search for ways to eradicate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. 

Oh, that we were so powerful. The truth is so much more complicated 

Friedman’s problem is that he confuses generational clash with the clash between classes. Is the Baby Boomer generation responsible for the lack of progressive taxation that created and maintained a broad middle class until the 1980s, when “greed became good?” Who created the insane idea that the rich need tax cuts while the poor need to pay their fair share? 

There is a simple and clear way to avoid burdening the next generation with debt. It’s called taxes. It’s our dues to the common good. Students today are shocked to learn that the much-publicized prosperity of the 1950s was achieved when the very wealthy paid as much as 90% in taxes. They are unaware that the wealth of this nation depended on making things, not simply betting for or against a particular stock or commodity or the failure of this bank or that insurance company. 

I realize it’s old fashioned to talk about class struggle, but the reality—which Friedman misses with his muddle-headed analysis---is that the wealthy have successfully waged class warfare against those who used to be proud members of unions and enjoy the security of a middle class life. Now unions have been crushed with concessions by businesses that operate in a global economy and in an atmosphere of greed. 

Nor does Friedman even mention the impact of a global economy. Does he also believe that Baby Boomers all over Europe are responsible for the growing economic crisis in the European Union? 

The idea of a “generational clash” is bogus and Tom Friedman should be ashamed of such a simplistic and unsubstantiated analysis. But these are the pundits that our newspaper of record pays to explain the world to us, which is why we look elsewhere for intelligent and penetrating journalism. 

/Ruth Rosen, Professor Emerita of History at U.C. Davis, is a former columnist for The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Studies at U.C. Berkeley and the author, most recently, of The World Split: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America, 2006.

Letters: Mental Illness Column; Pension of City Manager; What is the Peak Democracy Open Town Hall Costing Us?

Thursday September 29, 2011 - 12:42:00 PM

Mental Illness Column 

Mr. Bragen, I wish I could shake your hand sir!!! You hit the nail on the head in your article On Mental Illness: Cigarettes, Coffee and Metabolic. Syndrome, 

My 24 year old; 365 lbs., 2 packs of cigarettes smoking a day habit; diabetic son is a diagnosed schizophrenic. 

Just 7 years ago he was a well-adjusted, athletic, first year student attending Southern AR University. I’m sure you know the rest of the story. Fast forward to 2011 and my son weights all of 365+ lbs. (depending on the scale he is using that day) with dreams of going back to school, of driving again, etc. It is a catch 22; my son needs the medication to stave off the voices but the consequences that come with that is a huge girth, depression (on top of being schizophrenic) and overall poor health. 

I get frustrated as a parent to change what is wrong with the system but I haven’t found many others who share my feeling. 

Thank you for the insightful article. 

Stephanie Copeland
Little Rock, AR

Pension of City Manager 

Am I the only one who is shocked that the city gives a pension of almost $300,000 a year, higher than base salary, to a retiree? There oughta be a law. No wonder municipalities are going bankrupt... 

Jean-Luc Szpakowski 

What is the Peak Democracy Open Town Hall Costing Us? 


"What is the Peak Democracy Website that does not allow public debate costing us? Voting yes or no to poorly worded statements is not democracy--does not allow to discuss details of the wording or ask questions. Check out the pricing on the site. 

Is the city of Berkeley paying these fees?" Why not set up a Facebook Page instead? Then place the money saved into a program to hire Youth Workers for the summer jobs program? 

Mary Rose Kaczorowski


Dispatches From The Edge: Why The Drone Wars Threaten Us All

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:25:00 PM

Lost in debate over whether the Obama administration had the right to carry out the extra-legal execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemini cleric and al-Qaeda member, is who pulled the trigger? It is not a minor question, and it lies at the heart of the 1907 Hague Convention, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the 1977 additions to the ‘49 agreement: civilians cannot engage in war.

In the main, laws of war focus on the protection of civilians. For instance, Article 48, the “Basic Rule” of Part IV of the 1977 Geneva Conventions, states, “In order to ensure respect for and protection of civilian populations and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between civilian populations and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” 

What follows in the 1977 Conventions are nine articles specifying what the general rule means, ranging from prohibitions against attacking power plants and water sources and spreading “terror among civilian populations” to destroying the “natural environment.” There are many civilian-related sections in other parts of the Conventions, but the 10 articles that make up Chapter I, Section I, Part IV on “Civilian Population” are the clearest guidelines about what is allowed when civilians are caught up in war. 

The Conventions were mainly a response to the horrors of World War II, where civilian deaths were more than twice those on the military side. Of the approximate 80 million people who died in WW II, 55 million of them were civilians. In comparison, out of some 17 million who died in World War I, seven million were civilians. 

The logic behind Article IV of the Conventions is that civilians are innocent bystanders, with no ability to defend themselves or inflict damage on an antagonist. However, if civilians take part in hostilities, they lose their protected status. If the warring parties have an obligation to protect non-combatants, civilians also have obligations, the most important of which is that they do not act as soldiers. 

In short, if someone takes a pot shot at you, it is irrelevant if he or she is a civilian, by their actions they are no longer innocent bystanders. Members of a resistance movement may not wear uniforms or be part of a military organization, but if they blow up your Humvee or ambush your patrol, they are combatants. 

Which is why the question of who killed Anwar al-Awlaki (and over 2,000 people in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen killed by drones) is relevant. If the cleric was killed as part of a military operation—as with, for instance the assassination of Osama bin-Laden—then the arguments are around issues like whether we have the right to execute enemies without a trial (the Conventions say we don’t), or violate another nation’s sovereignty. 

But al-Awlaki was not taken out by Navy Seals, he was assassinated by a member of the Central Intelligence Agency, the organization that runs the drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. CIA members are civilians. Indeed, the new director, David Petraeus, formally resigned his Army commission to make that point. Even if he had not, however, the CIA is not a military organization and is not under the control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Why is this important? Because if civilians in the U.S. are killing combatants in another country, then those civilians lose their protection under the Conventions. Worse, it means all U.S. civilians become potential targets. If a CIA employee based in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, or Djibouti in Africa kills a Pakistani, Somalian, or Afghan with a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone, one can hardly complain if everyday U.S. citizens are targeted for retaliation. 

One could argue that, since al-Awlaki was an American citizen, the hit didn’t really contravene the Conventions and the arguments should be over whether you can order the killing of an American citizen without due process. However, others targeted by the drone war—like members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Group, and the Somali Shabaab—do not fall in this category. 

According to the CIA, the drone wars have killed no civilians. “There hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop,” John O’Brennan, the Obama administration’s counterterrorism advisor told the New York Times. 

That assertion is almost beyond ridiculous. Even a supporter of the drone war like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, says the claim is “absurd.” The United Kingdom based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that out of the 2,292 people killed by drones in Pakistan, 775 of them were civilians. Pakistan journalist Noor Behram puts the total much higher, telling the The Guardian (UK), “For every 10 to 15 people killed [by drones], maybe they get one militant.” 

The U.S. claim, however false, allows the drone war to continue. There is nothing in the Conventions that bars lying. 

The Obama administration (and the previous Bush administration) argue that drone war is part of the “war on terror” that Congress mandated after the 9/11 attacks: hence we are at “war” with at least the Taliban and its allies, the Shabaab, and al-Qaeda. But the CIA still has no authority to exacute a war. The last two run by the organization—the war in Laos and the Contra war against Nicaragua—were not only unmitigated disasters, they were illegal. 

Many countries have already stretched the Geneva Conventions to the breaking point with regards to civilians and the treatment of prisoners. For instance, by using the term “collateral” to describe civilian deaths, a country sidesteps the Convention’s stricture against “deliberate targeting” of civilians by claiming the damage was “inadvertent.” By calling insurgents “combatants” rather than “soldiers,” the U.S. has water boarded people, thus finessing both the Conventions and the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture. 

One could get cynical about this—aren’t civilians always the victims of war? —but in their own uneven way, the Geneva Conventions have protected civilians. Indeed, it was the Conventions that led to what is now an almost world wide ban on landmines and may end up eliminating cluster weapons in the future. The fact that laws don’t always work, or that people of ill will figure how to contravene them, is an argument for greater adherence to the rules, not ignoring or contravening them. 

The danger is that the U.S. is blurring the difference between civilian and military, and that is a dangerously slippery slope. We already have a former general running the CIA, and former CIA Director Leon Penetta heads up the Defense Department. If we reach a point where there is nothing to distinguish our military institutions from our civilian ones, then all of us are fair game. 

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

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

By Dorothy Bryant
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 09:22:00 AM


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

—W. S. Merwin, b. 1927 

Three lines—one homely, familiar image—the sharp point of a needle piercing my being, dragging the thread of a loved one’s absence, stitching the “color” of this loss through me and into “everything I do.” 

Exactly. Using abstract, even vague terms like “absence” and “separation,” Merwin opens us to the widest possible range of loss, great or small, brief or permanent. In sixteen words, clear to any reader, he says more than hundreds of pages can tell about the loneliness, loss, and grief—of brief or long-term physical or psychic distance—or of the ultimate separation: death. 

Not that we learn something new, but that we are reminded of something that, at a deeper level, we already know. 

And, somehow, we are profoundly, paradoxically, comforted. He has stitched our losses into a color, a texture added to us. 

That’s why we need poets. 




(Send the Berkley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book) 



On Mental Illness: The Expectation of Employment

By Jack Bragen
Monday October 03, 2011 - 01:04:00 PM

Most persons who have severe mental illness would like to work, if they possibly can. We are often prevented from working by the barriers against us in society and not just by the disability. Having a severe mental illness is a perfectly legitimate reason for not having a job. It would not be accurate to call us bums or freeloaders, any more than someone who suffers blindness or a broken back. While our disability is invisible, it is just as real as a person’s disability that is plainly visible, such as a missing limb. 

Many persons with mental disabilities, when not employed, have a lot of guilt over it. And this is not necessary. Often the persons who are hardest on us are us. The belief that we ought to be employed, while not accurate, can be at the level of obsession. It can create life situations that lead to a relapse of the illness. 

It adds to our problems when family members chime in on our job predicament and criticize us for failed work attempts. It is not supportive to lay guilt and blame on someone for not succeeding in a situation where that person may have tried their best, and had already supplied him or her self with an adequate amount of anguish over their “failure.” 

Just as someone with a physical disability can work at a job in which the disability doesn’t interfere, there are some jobs that a person with a psychiatric disability can readily maintain. Physical work that requires fast movement is often off the table due to the slowing effect of the medication. Skilled work in a situation in which there is little or no immediate pressure has often been a fit for me. However, it is hard to find this in a job; usually employers create a situation in which they can get as much production from each employee as possible. Thus, in my twenties I was good at electronics but often could not handle the job situations. I often tried to do electronic repair as a self employed technician, but this was rarely profitable. 

A lot of persons with mental illness are thrilled to even work at a “bottom of the barrel” job such as sweeping floors. I once did such jobs and have had my fill. It would be nice if “real” professional employment somehow became available to more people with chronic mental illness. However, among those with a severe form and an early onset of illness, professional employment is relatively rare. 

This is not to discount that there are persons with mental illness for whom work isn’t a problem. They may or may not disclose their diagnosis at work. However, the difficulties I am discussing in this article may not exist for them, or may have been overcome years ago. Employment should be embarked upon with an open mind to the idea that it may not turn out to be difficult, or a person may be more than equal to the difficulties. 

I was able to work at various jobs and earn a modicum of pay during my young adulthood. I eventually developed a case of burnout. I attribute part of this to my fighting against the restraining effects of antipsychotic medication. Antipsychotic medication has quite a depressing and slowing effect that ordinarily would make someone unable to work at a competitive rate. I tried to compensate for this by increasing my effort level. The result was that I was able to hold down some of the jobs at which I was hired, but later developed the burnout that I mentioned. 

At some point in life, a person with mental illness may be forced to apply for Social Security in order to have money to live on. I know that there are a lot of middle-class and wealthy people who complain about SSI recipients living off of their tax money and not having to work, as they do. We live in a society in which those who lack the ability to survive are taken care of rather than left to die. Telling us to “go get a job,” comes from a hard nosed attitude that lacks understanding. 

I believe that persons with a disability, if they can, ought to find some way of contributing to society rather than simply taking up space. For example, I have a relative who does volunteer work when not employed. Even babysitting for other family members, I believe, is a good enough thing to do, as opposed to sitting around in front of the television or getting drunk with buddies. In my view it doesn’t matter if one’s venture is intended to make a profit, or not. Either way, one can do something that is useful to oneself and others rather than being a blob. And I believe that most persons with psychiatric disabilities feel the same way as I do; that they ought to do something useful with their time. 

I don’t believe that a requirement to earn our own way in life would be relevant for most people with a major mental illness. We ought to stop comparing ourselves to this standard. And we ought not be looked down upon or condescended upon for having a disability. We deserve the same respect as anyone else does, and that includes respect from ourselves. 

As always, I welcome your comments and stories which can be sent care of The Planet, or directly to me at bragenkjack@yahoo.com. Also, please note my science fiction short story e-book for Kindle, “Selected Short Fiction of Jack Bragen” which is currently available on Amazon, and my blog, at bragenjack.blogspot.com which has recipes, commentary and fiction.

The Public Eye: There is No Political Middle Ground

By Bob Burnett
Friday September 30, 2011 - 10:09:00 AM

The defining characterisitic of the 112th Congress has been extreme Republican partisanship, an unprecedented willingness to hold the Federal government hostage until conservative demands are satisfied. The GOP tactic has disrupted the US and demolished the myth of a middle ground in American politics. 

There are four explanations for the Republican rejection of bipartisanship. The first is political. Republican legislators have been indoctrinated to believe that if they do not toe the conservative Party line, radical “Tea Party” activists will campaign against them in the next election. As a consequence, many Republican politicians are afraid to compromise less they lose office. 

Cultural differences provide a second explanation for Republican political rigidity. Since the 2000 election, the United States has become more polarized and the differences between Blue and Red areas have increased. Even in a Blue state, such as California, gerrymandering has created Congressional districts that are deeply Red. Across the US, public sentiment differs dramatically in Blue and Red districts. Blue and Red districts have widely different information silos. Blues listen to Rachel Maddow and Reds hang on every word Rush Limbaugh utters. As a consequence of these cultural differences there are two radically different perceptions of “reality.” Republicans don’t appreciate a Democratic policy position because they never hear it discussed seriously; the conventional “wisdom” in Red districts is dramatically different from that in Blue districts. There is a huge communication failure. 

Republican dogmatism reinforces their negative worldview. UC Professor George Lakoff’s classic Moral Politics postulates that Democrats see the world in positive terms – the “nurturant parent” model – and value collaboration and empathy. In contrast Republicans adhere to the “strict father” worldview, where life is dangerous and citizens must take a defensive stance and organize hierarchically. Republicans regard compromise as a sign of weakness; they consider President Obama a wimp who doesn’t understand how perilous the US situation is. 

Finally, in recent years Democrats and Republicans have developed conflicting perspectives on core American values. On April 13, President Obama gave a succinct summary of historic American values: “we are all connected,” “each one of us deserves some basic measure of security,” “We believe…that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves,” [we value] “fairness…shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.” Most Republicans no longer believe Democracy is based upon empathy; they no longer accept the axiom, “we are all connected.” As a consequence, Republicans do not share the Founders’ vision of the basic American social compact. In their “patriotism” each of us stands alone. 

Despite increasing levels of partisanship, Washington pundits continue to believe in a hallowed political middle ground inhabited by “independents”and high-minded politicians from both Parties. Many advocate bipartisanship as a way of attracting this mythical group. But recent polling evidence indicates this is a fantasy: Americans are either Democrats or Republicans or turned off. 

A recent Pew Research Survey divided registered voters into three groups: “mostly Republican” 25 percent, “mostly Independent” 35 percent, and “mostly Democratic” 40 percent –there’s another group of possible voters,10 percent of the eligible population, who Pew labels as “bystanders” because they don’t vote. However, the mostly Independent group are actually Democrats and Republicans who, for whatever reason, eschew Party labels. 10 percent are “Libertarians” who vote Republican. 11 percent are “disaffected.” Amd the remaining 14 percent Pew calls “Post-Moderns,” “moderates but liberal on social issues,” who vote Democratic. 

An earlier Pew Poll studied Independents in more depth and divided them into five distinct groups (100 percent). “The Disengaged (17% of independent voters), which is disproportionately comprised of women, young people and minorities… are essentially political bystanders.” Two groups favor Democrats: “Shadow Democrats” 21percent and “Doubting Democrats” 20 percent. Two groups favor Republicans “Shadow Republicans” 26 percent and “Disaffecteds” 16 percent. 

What the Pew polls make clear is that people who call themselves Independents often do so because they are disgusted by the politicians in their native Party, or by Washington in general, but their underlying values and worldview are either Democratic or Republican. Republican leaning Independents may not like House Speaker John Boehner but they prefer the Republican stance. Democratic leaning Independents may be dissatisfied with President Obama but they prefer the Democratic stance. 

In his memorable keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, Barack Obama said, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there’s the United States of America.” Obama believes this and therefore has tried to invoke bipartisanship and govern by principled negotiation. It hasn’t worked because it doesn’t reflect political reality. 

In contemporary America there is no room for bipartisanship. We are solidly divided between Democrats and Republican who exist in their own, quite different, realities. Regardless of what Washington pundits say, there is no political middle ground; if you are not a Democrat or a Republican then you are turned off – you believe the political process has failed, America has failed. 

The bottom line is clear. Obama has to abandon his instinct for bipartisanship and principled negotiation and acknowledge his position as leader of the Democratic Party. The President has to be partisan. 

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

Senior Power… My Generation’s War

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday September 30, 2011 - 09:53:00 AM

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

In 1994 I chanced upon a brief television interview of Aanenson describing A Fighter Pilot’s Story, a VHS production he had created. I was so impressed with this compassionate man that I asked the editor of The Library Journal, for which I reviewed videos and books, to consider it for LJ Reviews. My review began: 

“Using personal photos, combat film, period music and correspondence, 73-year old Aanenson created this masterwork to explain his World War II combat experience to his family. The ‘story’ is of a 20-year old Army Air Corps enlistee as he learned to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt, met his future spouse, was commissioned, and flew European missions. This touching first-person narrative conveys the emotional and physical transformation wrought by the brutality of war. A young man ‘nearly lost all hope.’ ” 

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


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

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

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

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


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

The RMS Queen Elizabeth was launched in 1938 with luxury accommodations for 2,283. During her World War II career, the “grey ghost” ferried service personnel across the Atlantic without convoy, zigzagging every 7 minutes, with no air-conditioning and very little ventilation, usually in 6 days. On most voyages as a converted troop ship, she carried between 13,000 and 15,000 persons, with lifeboat accommodations for 8,000. 

On one trip in 1944, 500 WAACs (later, the Women’s Army Corps) and 18,000 men were crammed onboard. An enlistee recalled “To conserve fresh water, we washed with salt water, and I bunked with the four other women officers in a former bathroom, on the bottom underneath four hammocks. … arrived about a week later in Scotland to the news that the European invasion had begun.” Thirty of these women were assigned to the 5th Army Airways Communications System to provide air traffic control for the 8th Air Force. 





From the Berkeley City Council, September 20, 2011. Item #52 Action Calendar: 

“…. Staff has received complaints from the taxi using public about, and also witnessed, a variety of issues related to taxi operations. … Such situations include: smoking in the vehicle, refusal of short fares, reckless driving, obstructing traffic, failure to yield to pedestrians, aggressive behavior, unpermitted use of residential streets for vehicle maintenance and storage, owners allowing unpermitted drivers to operate vehicles, owners allowing drivers to operate unpermitted vehicles, offensive treatment of female customers and female pedestrians.” [sic] This suggests that there have been no complaints regarding offensive treatment of aged customers, which is not the case. 

Census data show seniors continue to suffer in silence. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the overall number of older adults living in poverty has increased. Even more significant is the number of seniors who have experienced an increase in economic 

Insecurity or those simply living on the edge. Seniors with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level rose from 33.7% to 34.6% since 2009. 

Coming soon: a national strategy on Alzheimer’s. People concerned about AD and its effect on families, the health care system and the country as a whole have lobbied for years for a national action plan. Advocates celebrated in December 2010, when Congress passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, aimed at developing such a plan, although the bill had no budget appropriation; President Obama signed it into law in January. 



MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events that may interest boomers and seniors. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com


Wednesday, Oct. 5. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course. 

Designed for motorists who are 50+, taught in one-day. To be eligible, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration required. $12 per person fee for AARP members; $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. MastickSenior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, Oct. 5. 10:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Balance Your Walk with the Alexander Technique. Lenka Fejt, certified teacher. This 6-part workshop on the Alexander Technique has begun. Prepaid fee of $60. 510-747-7506. Also Oct. 12. 

Wednesday, Oct. 5. 12 Noon – 1 P.M. Playreaders. Meets weekly on Wednesdays to read great plays aloud, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Oct. 12,19, and 26. 

Wednesday, Oct. 5. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. Felicia Chen, soprano; Daniel Alley, piano. Jason Yu, piano. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 5. 6 P.M. – 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. 

Thursday, Oct. 6. 10 A.M. – 1 P.M. Lavender Seniors of the East Bay’s Annual Aging in Place Symposium & Resource Fair for Older Adults. Marina Community Center, 15301 Wicks Blvd., San Leandro. Refreshments, entertainment. Free. Dan Ashbrook at 510-667-9655 Ext 1. Email dan@lavenderseniors.org

Thursday, Oct. 6, 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. West Edge Opera presents highlights from their upcoming production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Thursday, Oct. 6. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library South branch. 1901 Russell. 510-981-6100. Also Oct. 13. 

Mondays, Oct. 10, 17, 24. 11:10 A.M. – 1 P.M. Introduction to Video Production. Learn video camera, script writing, storyboarding, basic lighting and sound. Produce a newscast and a short documentary. No experience required. Equipment provided. Graduate to the advanced class on October 31, 1:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Monday, October 10. 7 P.M. Kensington Library’s Knitting Club – “The Castoffs.” 61 Arlington Av. All levels are welcome and some help will be provided. Free. Contact: Louise O’Dea, 524-3043, lodea@ccclib.org

Tuesday, Oct. 11. 1 P.M. Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) 

Marilyn Ababio and Dorothy Ridley, POLST representatives inform about POLST, a form that spells out the medical treatment you desire during the end of your life + question and answer period. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 11. 7 P.M. Latin American Music, with. Rafael Manriquez and Ingrid Rubis. Kensington Library, 61Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, Oct. 12. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. Andrea Wu, piano. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 12. 6:30 P.M. – 8 P.M. Drop-In Poetry Writing Workshops. Free. Albany branch of the Alameda County library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Thursday, Oct. 13. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Oct. 20 and 27. 

Thursday, Oct. 13. 10:30 A.M. New Member Orientation & YOU! Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Guided tour outlining the various activities, programs, and services, and a coupon to enjoy a complimentary lunch provided by Bay Area Community Services (BACS)! Make a reservation by visiting the Mastick Office or calling 510-747-7506. 

Saturday, Oct. 15. 11 A.M. Landlord/Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510- 981-6100. 

Monday, Oct. 17. 9:30 A.M.- 12:30 P.M. Beaded Jewelry Making. Rose O’Neill, Custom Jewelry Designer. Beads and tools will be supplied. Limited to 10 students. $15 per person. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. (Also Mondays, Nov 21 and Dec 19.) 

Monday, Oct. 17. 2 P.M.-3:30 P.M. Queue Rolo, M.A., M.S., Museum Studies, SFSU, will present “W.A.Leidesdorff: America’s 1st Black Millionaire.” Free for OLLI and Mastick Senior Center members. MastickSenior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 18. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers General Meeting: Program to be announced. Location: Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. at Geary, # 38 bus. 415-552-8800. graypanther-sf@sbcglobal.net, http://graypantherssf.igc.org/ 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. University Gospel Chorus - Another Day's Journey. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 1:30 P.M. Alameda County Library San Lorenzo branch, 395 Paseo Grande. 510-670-6283. Social Security Administration Public Affairs Specialist Mariaelena Lemus will address older adults’ questions and present information specifically for them. Program repeats at other branches through December. No reservations required. Free. Library Older Adult Services at 510-745-1491. 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 7 P.M. – 8 P.M. The Bookeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. Book discussion. Alameda County Library Albany Branch, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. (On Sunday, Oct. 23 @ 2 PM, the author will read and talk. Albany Community Center.) 

Thursday, Oct. 20. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library West branch. 1125 University. 510-981-6270. Also Oct. 27. 

Sunday, Oct. 23. 2 P.M. – 3 P.M. The Albany Library (1247 Marin Av.) presents Laurie King, the author of Albany Reads book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Community Center Hall. 510-526-3720.
Mondays, Oct. 24, 26 and 31. 10A.M. – 12 Noon. Oliver Guinn, Ph.D Economics, returns to teach “Our Damaged Economy: The Financial Meltdown and Economic Inequality.” Free. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Monday, Oct. 24. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club. Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain’s most overt treatment of the moral and societal implictions of slavery in America. Free. Contact: Louise O’Dea, 524-3043, lodea@ccclib.org. 

Tuesday, Oct. 25. 1 P.M. AC Transit and YOU! Representatives from United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County will inform about the Regional Transit Connection (RTC) Discount Card Program and the Clipper Card, route changes, and the 10-year AC Transit Fare Policy. Refreshments. Free. MastickSenior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 25. 3 - 4 P.M. Tea and Cookies. Central Berkeley Public Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, Oct. 26. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. Tony Lin, piano. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 26. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library Albany branch. 1247 Marin Av. Great Books Discussion Group. Roman Fever, Edith Wharton short story. Facilitated discussion. Books available at the Library. Parking! 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 26/Sacramento and 27/South San Francisco, 2011

"Dementia Care Without Drugs - A Better Approach for Long-term Care Facilities" symposia about misuse of psychotropic drugs as treatment for dementia, difficulty in managing dementia treatment, and non-pharmacological approaches to care. CANHR staff attorney Tony Chicotel presentation, "Stop Drugging Our Elders!" California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform http://www.canhr.org. 415-974-5171. Fax 415-777-2904. 

Thursday, Oct. 27. 12:30 P.M. Celebrating a birthday in October? Cake, music, 

balloons, and good cheer. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. . 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, Oct. 27 1 P.M.- 3 P.M. Fall Dance…Halloween Stomp. Come in costume 

to be eligible for “best costume award”, enjoy door prizes, and refreshments. Volunteers enter free with volunteer badge. Cost is $2.00 per person. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, Oct. 27 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation with William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion on “The Sceptered Isle: Music of England”. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Saturday, Oct. 29. 12:15 P.M. Halloween Bingo Bash. Patrons will receive a free Halloween dauber (ink marker) compliments of Center Advisory Board and Bingo Committee. Doors open at 10:00 a.m. with the first game at 12:15 P.M. 18 years of age+ are welcome. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Av. 510-747-7506. 



Eclectic Rant: Response to Jack Bragen

By Ralph Stone
Thursday September 29, 2011 - 12:42:00 PM

This is somewhat of a response to Jack Bragen's article, "Response to Laura's Law In A Nutshell." Mr. Bragen is responding to my September 22 article, "Laura's Law in a Nutshell."

I am not sure Mr. Bragen fully understands Laura's Law.

First of all, I believe a large percentage of California's chronic homeless are mentally ill and would be well served by implementation of Laura's Law. Laura's Law could be viewed as an alternative to institutionalization, jail, or a continued life on the streets. Is it the final answer? No. But New York's experience with Kendra's Law, model for Laura's Law, resulted in 74 percent fewer homeless; 83 percent fewer arrests; 49 percent less alcohol abuse; and 48 percent less drug abuse, and it has been a resounding success in Nevada County.  

How do the mentally ill come to the attention of the authorities? Not as Mr. Bragen suggests. The police do not go out en masse and round up the mentally ill. Usually, the mentally ill come to the attention of the authorities through so called "quality of life" crimes like public intoxication, disorderly conduct, as victims of crime, or as perpetrators of crime as, for example, was the case with Laura Wilcox, shot to death by a mental patient who resisted his family's attempt to seek treatment.  

Perhaps, Mr. Bragen has confused Laura's Law with Cal. Health & Welfare Code Section 5150. Under Section 1550, when any person, as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer, member of the attending staff, of an evaluation facility designated by the county, designated members of a mobile crisis team, or other professional person designated by the county may, upon probably cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody and place him or her in a facility designated by the county and approved by the State Department of Mental Health as a facility for 72-hour treatment and evaluation. Any involuntary hold beyond 72 hours would have to be court ordered. 

The rights of the mentally ill are well protected. There is a court appearance and representation by counsel. By assuring timely and effective intervention for the disabling medical condition of severe mental illness, assisted outpatient treatment could restore the capacity of the mentally ill to exercise civil liberties and reduce the likelihood of the loss of liberty or life as a result of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization, victimization, suicide, and other common outcomes of non-treatment.  

While we as a society must safeguard the civil rights of the unfortunate, we also have an obligation to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Laura's Law provides such safeguards.

Arts & Events

American Teacher Has a Lesson: Superman Is a Myth; Teachers Are the Real Heroes

Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 10:30:00 PM

The film opens October 7 at San Francisco's Roxie Theater

Last year, filmmaker David Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman created a mega-buzz by pushing the idea that the problem with US education was: lazy, overpaid, unionized, tenure-protected teachers. Guggenheim's solution: "privatizing" education by promoting charter schools (which, in many cases, were publicly supported).

Well, hold onto your cape, corporate crusaders, because a new documentary is set to hit the screen like a load of kryptonite and is guaranteed to blow holes in that argument. American Teacher, a documentary directed by Academy Award-winner Vanessa Roth and narrated by Oscar-winner Matt Damon, puts the superhero cape where it belongs — on the shoulders of the country's dedicated and self-sacrificing teachers.

Instead of looking at the problem through the eyes of desperate parents, anxious children or an über-administrator like Michelle Rhee, American Teacher offers the missing perspective — education as it's seen and lived by the women and men who dedicate their lives to the classroom. 

We've all seen the stats. Among the world's industrialized countries, the US now ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. Bill Gates spent millions to figure out the best way improve America's educational system. It turns out the answer wasn't to be found in charter schools, test standards, class size, curricula or technology. As Gates admits in the film, "The more we looked at it, the more we realized that having good teachers was the key thing." 

It should be a no-brainer. "Without good teachers, we don't have a democracy," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells the filmmakers. And Barack Obama has made it equally clear that "the single most important ingredient inside the classroom is the quality of the teacher." Still, fusillades of anti-teacher vitriol continues to vent from the opinionaires at Fox News where teachers are routinely scapegoated as overpaid public servants who "seem like they are just serving themselves." 

In ten years, more than half of the country's 3.2 million public school teachers will be retiring. That is, if they can last that long. The fact is that today's teachers are quitting the profession in droves and college grads are no longer considering teaching as a profession. 

American Teacher was co-produced by local author Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari (both of San Francisco's 826 Valencia project). Eggers' mom was a teacher and Calegari is a former SF teacher with a master's degree in education from Harvard. Both teamed with Daniel Moulthrop to write the 2003 New York Times best-seller, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers

In typical doc fashion, the film makes its argument by focusing on the lives of a few iconic individuals. There's Jaime Fidler, a first-grade teacher in New York who heads to school at 7AM and gets home at 6:30PM. In her first year of teaching, Jamie spent more than $3,000 out of her own pocket for classroom supplies. "No pencils, crayons, nothing." She came back from her first day in tears, wondering whether she really wanted to continue. Fidler's case is the norm: More than 90% of US teachers have to spend their own money on classroom supplies. 

Even with 40 chairs in her classroom, Amanda Lueck, a 27-year-old Colorado middle school English teacher, has to seat some of her students on countertops along the windows. There's always too much to do, Lueck sighs. "Maybe if I had three of me, I might be able to get it done." Lueck's candid video diaries powerfully capture the stress of working long hours with little to no support. 

Most of his students know that Erik Benner, a Texas middle-school history teacher, grew up poor in a trailer. Benner's success provides inspiration to many of his students who are living in trailer homes today. "He pushes you really hard," one student says, "but he's also like your friend, too." 

Rhena Jasey, a New Jersey elementary school teacher, recalls how her friends were flabbergasted to hear she wanted to work in the classroom. "Why do you want to teach?" they asked. "You went to Harvard! You should be a doctor or a lawyer. You should make money." 

At San Francisco's Leadership High School, Jonathan Dearman explains his devotion to teaching. He loves challenging his students to rise to meet expectations. His reward is seeing that miracle happen when his students discover that they are capable of more than they would have believed. Dearman is African-American in a school system where 35% of all students are either African-American or Latino but only 15% of the teachers are members of a racial minority. 

Marguerite Izzo, New York State's 2007 Teacher of the Year, disputes the notion that "teachers work short hours and only part of the year." The truth is, the hours are long and the role requires not only a love for teaching, but the ability to make "thousands of decisions each day, tailored to the individual needs of hundreds of students with differing needs. It's an extremely difficult environment." 

On average, a teacher spends 50 hours at school and a minimum of 15 hours a week at home grading papers, preparing tests and lesson plans. Many US teachers routinely work more than 65 hours a week. 

Today's poor teaching salaries are due, in part, to institutionalize sexism. In the early 20th century, the film explains, women were recruited as teachers "in part, to reduce salary levels." Thousands of talented women (who were smart enough to be lawyers, engineers or astrophysicists) could only find work as secretaries, nurses or teachers. As women began to gain access to other professions in the 1980s, teaching became less attractive and some of the best and the brightest went off to pursue careers in professions that offered better salaries. 

For most of the film, these teachers come across as committed heroes, dedicated and preserving. But before the film ends, there will be bodies on the battlefield, some broken and bleeding. 

When Benner's $27,000 school salary is no longer enough to support his growing family, he has to take a second job driving a forklift in the evenings to pay his bills. With no time off to spend with his wife and two daughters, his marriage suffers. 

Nearly a third of US teachers are forced to work second jobs to pay their bills. If you add coaches, advisors and tutors, two-thirds of the teaching population are holding down second jobs. 

So it's not surprising that US teachers suffer from the greatest burn-out rate of any US profession — 20% quit every year and 46% of US teachers quit within five years, citing long hours, low salary, lack of support and lack of prestige. This attrition is estimated to cost the country more than $7 billion annually. 

In San Francisco, Dearman is forced to give up his "teaching habit" to earn a living in real estate. It is an especially sad moment, having seen earlier footage of Dearman surrounded by his laughing, adoring students. As one student tells the filmmakers: "He was a pillar and you always assume that pillar is going to be there." And then, one day, when a teacher has to leave a classroom that she or he loves to work in a Target store, drive a forklift, become a waitress or sell real estate, "it's traumatic." Kids are left crying in the hallways: "Mr. Dearman is leaving!" And what kind of lesson does that leave behind for the abandoned students? 

The film includes wrenching interviews with a half-dozen award-winning teachers who were forced to quit teaching to find financial security in other professions. They give different reasons — "I burned out," "I couldn't take it," "It was the lack of respect," "The financial realities of the situation" — but they all repeat the same common regret: "I think about going back every single day." 

This shouldn't happen. Our country should not force teachers to live in poverty. Teaching is one of society's most important jobs and teachers should be supported, honored and paid accordingly. While salaries for doctors and lawyers has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, the average teacher's salary has only risen by about one-third (and that's not adjusting for inflation). Because the profession fails to offer comparable rewards, it has become increasingly difficult for America's teachers to pay their bills. 

Rhena Jasey is lucky. She is one of eight applicants (out of a field of 600) selected to teach at a new charter school run by The Equity Project. TEP offers a starting salary of $120,000 (financed by public funds). The benefits of a professional-level salary benefit the schools as well. In Greensboro, North Carolina, increased salaries were accompanied by a decline in attrition rates from 20% to 14%; at the same time, student gradation rates improved nearly 12%. In Denver, Colorado, after teachers' salaries were increased, drop-outs subsequently plummeted 42%. 

The film places the US in an uncomfortable context by comparing America's schools with the world's top three leaders in educational performance — Finland, Singapore and South Korea. Unlike the US, all three actively recruit top college students; all three pay for teacher training (in the US would-be teachers pay for their own training, incurring debt to do so); all three pay teachers top professional salaries (at least 2.5 times greater than US salaries); all three treat teachers with respect (and do not require them to purchase pencils and paper out of their own pockets). There is no burn-out and almost no teacher attrition in Finland, Singapore or South Korea 

Meanwhile, back in the US, Erik Benner, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher and football coach, still has to drive a forklift every night after he leaves his day job. 

In the press packet, Nínive Calegari reflects on her own experience as a teacher and she sums it up nicely: "Teaching wasn't ever just a job for me: it was a way of life and it shaped the way I still think about the magnificence and fragility of our democracy, an honest day's work, creating community, and being responsible for other people." 

If you have friends who were swayed by Waiting for Superman, invite them along to a screening of American Teacher. And don't be surprised if Occupy Wall Street demonstrations start popping up on America's schoolyards.

Theater Review: Patience Worth by Symmetry Theatre Company

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:53:00 PM

"Many a singer's career has been ruined by the premature singing of songs."

A play about frustrated personal and social aspirations, about mothers and daughters, men and women, Michelle Carter's new play, Patience Worth was premiered by Symmetry Theatre Company—one of the handful or two of the Bay Area's tiny independent troupes that stage unusual shows with acting and production values that can rival the artistry of the bigger theaters—tells the true story of Pearl Curran (Megan Trout), an almost painfully normal young woman of the nineteen-teens, the pain all her own, a yearning to be somebody better, or of a better class. Pearl had little education besides musical training, but became widely published, the words on the page ostensibly not her own, but those of Patience Worth, a 17th century woman's spirit Pearl claimed to be speaking for. 

From Patience's first manifestation from a ouija board wielded by Pearl's socially ambitious acquaintance Emily Hutchings (Elena Wright) and the reluctant Pearl, through the adoption of a foundling, Patience Wee (Alona Bach—memorable in Just Theater's "Down a Little Dirt Road" at the Berkeley City Club) to satisfy one of Patience the spirit's biddings, through recognition and contention over Patience's "dictation" (or ventriloquism) to Pearl, and the repercussions on Pearl's family of her mediumship, Carter's new play (she's best-known for Ted Kaczynski Killed People with Bombs and others premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco), commissioned by Symmetry, in some ways is novelistic in its approach. It is well directed by Erika Chong Shuch, the choreographer/director who's worked with both Cal Shakes and Shotgun, realizing Pearl's spiritualist possession with a kind of pantomimic dance form for Megan Trout, effective and allusive of entertainment in the days of vaudeville ... 

"Peddle your prowess to another spook!"—Pearl's farewell to Emily as she takes possession of the spirit who possesses her. 

The cast—including Warren David Keith ( a frequent face on Aurora's stage) as Pearl's older husband, as well as the other men—publishers, journalists, "men of the world"—in her story (and Patience's) and Jessica Powell as Pearl's acerbic mother from the Ozarks and a couple more female authority figures (including a great turn as author-lecturer Agnes Reppler at the conclusion)—is strong, plays as a good ensemble and has great flexibility, which brings the story alive. 

Allen Wilner's set and lighting design's also strong—and simple—with good costume design by Jessica Powell and sound by Cliff Caruthers. 

The company's run just ended at Thick House on Potrero Hill in San Francisco; play, playwright, theater company are all deserving of a repeat of this effort, and of audiences for their further ventures. (Symmetry will be producing Emilie by Lauren Gunderson--Exit, Pursued by a Bear--about Voltaire's paramour, at the City Club early next summer. symmetrytheatre.com )

Friends of Negro Spirituals Heritage Day is Saturday

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 07:22:00 AM

Friends of Negro Spirituals will hold their 8th Annual Heritage Day this Saturday, 3:30-5:30 p. m. at the west Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline, Oakland. Admission: free.  

Honored as Negro Heritage Spirituals Keepers awardees will be 98 year old pianist and choir director Mrs. Juanita Letha Meadows; Grammy nominee, cultural historian and artistic director of the Cultural Heritage Choir, Linda Tillery; and the first recepient of the Marian Anderson Youngest Award, concert pianist and music instructor Dr. Carl Leroy Blake. 

The gathering will also salute the heritage of Negro Spirituals and African and American ancestors. The audience will sing together as a community.

Press Release: Afghanistan Peace Day: On the 10-year anniversary of the US war in Afghanistan, the Afghan and American people call for peace.

From Adam Hudson and Fatima
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:33:00 PM

Sunday, October 9th, 2011, 3pm - 7pm, Fremont, CA

On the 10th year of the US/NATO war in Afghanistan, the Afghan community along with their American allies will be gathering in Fremont, CA for “Afghanistan Peace Day”. This will be the first time in Fremont that such a gathering for peace will take place. 

Community leaders such as Imam Zaid Shakir, Samina Sundus, Dr. Arshad Irshad and Dr. Fakhrunnisa Faizani will be speaking. American war veterans and inter-faith community leaders will be speaking as well. A message from the “Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers” inside Afghanistan will be shared. 

Organizers include “Afghans for Peace” and “Muslim Peace Coalition”. 


3:00pm - Walk for Peace @ Fremont-Centerville Train Station (37260 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536) 

4:30pm - Gather for Peace @ Centerville Community Center (3355 Country Drive, Fremont, CA, 94536) 

6:30pm - Pray for Peace 


Fremont, CA is home to the largest Afghan community in the United States. The US war in Afghanistan is one of the longest in recent U.S. history and has surpassed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The US has spent $460 billion on the war in Afghanistan, while millions of Americans suffer economically in a deep recession. Our tax money is needed right here for education, social services and equal opportunity for all. 

For more information about this event and/or “Afghans for Peace”, please contact either Adam or Fatima: Adam Hudson: (925) 216-6146, adam@afghansforpeace.org Fatima: (818) 915-3743, fatima@afghansforpeace.org

Eye From the Aisle: PHAEDRA at Shotgun Players—heart-rending, masterful drama

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 09:42:00 AM
Patrick Alparone and Catherine Castellos
Pak Han
Patrick Alparone and Catherine Castellos

Taking a play that most literary folk know the myth of and turning it contemporary is a tricky undertaking. Adam Bock has masterfully accomplished this in his new play PHAEDRA produced by the Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage across from the Ashby BART.  

Euripides wrote two plays about the clash between Aphrodite and Artemis. If you didn’t pay homage to a god, they messed with you. It’s a metaphor to keeping balance in your life. 

The old story: Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and his late wife Hippolyta the Amazon, worships the Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt and Chastity, and eschews the pleasure of love. This pisses off the Love Goddess who makes his step-mom fall in love with Hippolytus—which can, I understand, create a difficult domestic situation. Roman Seneca wrote a play on the myth, Racine in 17th C. France wrote another; I remember being a teenager in 1962 and overwhelmed by the passion and taboo topic of the black-and-white film with Melina Mercouri and Tony Perkins that set it modern.  

The set reflects the mindset of the people who live in this pristine, orderly, and richly appointed house, beige and spare, and the mistress who urges coasters for every drink. Catherine is a chicly dressed business woman whose “hey-day in the blood” is by no means tame, married to an older man Antonio whose bed and worldview she does not share. Her powerful, judgmental and often absent husband is a modern equivalent of Theseus, if not so heroic and much more Republican. Into this strained tinderbox, fresh out of rehab, comes the prodigal son Paulie, still on drug probation.  

Rose Riordan’s directing is incisive while giving the actors freedom and time to invest their emotional expression of Bock’s tight script, and her staging fully uses the genius set in order to tell the story in pictures. Her encouragement of natural movement and behavior subtly and effectively draws us in.  

The acting is ensemble and superior. The title character is larger than life, a dominant woman in a struggle with an alpha male; she has a robust and buxom body wasted without being touched, her thick, black hair pinned tight cries out to be loosed and have the cascades fall. 

Catherine Castellanos is the perfect Greek domina, set up for a fall into frenzy, a loss of balance into the arms of Eros with no one there to catch her. With hair up or guard down she allows us to see her internal churnings, her moments of embarrassment and doubt, her unguarded Chardonnay-encouraged acting-out. Her voice changes, her bright eyes flash, weep, grow cold. It is a daunting character to embody as written by Bock, and she takes it to a classic level. 

Trish Mulholland as the Cockney maid sets the scene with a show-starting exposition, gives voice to our fears, and does all those things that the chorus performed on a hillside in Athens. She plays the part of the Nurse, essential in all female-titled antique drama, who gives warning and often bad advice, which, when acted upon, brings down their world. Warm and officious, pouring out love, she is the glue that is holding the household together. Too friendly and motherly, she is alternately cherished and spurned, like any servant can expect, and comes back to lick the hand of the master. When compared to her diva Arkadina, in “Seagull in the Hamptons” at Shotgun a season ago, we see her range to be spectacular. 

Lighting by Lucas Benjamin Krech and sound by Hannah Birch Carl allow us to take the time to feel the impact as the clouds gather and the light changes and washes over us in the aftermath of an emotional moment. The Chekhovian sounds resonate in our ears, our chests, our depths. I could not at first discern one of the haunting tones; then I recognized it as the moist finger circling the rim of the wine glass: sensual, ringing, a paean to Dionysus to whom these frenzy plays were made to honor. It is unsettling, not unlike the high-pitch of our nervous systems echoing in our ears in times of extreme stress. 

Nina Ball’s set design has captured the fashionable sterility of the upper-middle-class domicile; it is as if the inhabitants are recreating a temple wherein purification rites are done to bleach out the lurking impurities of life. Her set has an inner-below of Doric columns and marble floors to invoke the culture that spawned drama and its catharsis. Placed at an angle to the audience, Ms. Ball’s set has allowed Director Riordan to make good use of the upstage vertex exits to the rest of the dark house. The actors show the silent desperation and enmity pulsing through the house with their hesitant exits/entrances in the labyrinth. One extraordinary moment was the use of shadows to show Paulie drinking a glass of water in the kitchen: it metaphorically reflected the long shadow he threw over Catherine and the others and gave a nod to Plato’s shadows on the cave wall. 

Maybe I remember too much about Greek theatre and am reading into things, but Valerie Coble’s choice of costumes on Ms. Castellanos were reminiscent of the draping of the chiton and himation we see on statues. Even the skirts worn by Ms. Im seemed peplos-like. Though it is now in fashion to wear boots, the fact that both women are shod in them made me think of the buskins that all the Greeks actors wore; these kothornoi were the grape-pickers boots that were worn to pay further homage to the Wine God. The costumes are all fashionable and pleasing to the eye while furthering character. 

Paulie is our sacrifice, our pharmakos, the innocent (getting clean and sober) who is thrust into the fray and destroyed without having a direct part in the wrongdoing. Bock gives him a diminutive name for a man diminished by his urges and the looming shadow of his father. Lanky, good-looking Patrick Alparone captures the lost boy who is trying to do right, has done his inventory, and is trying to make amends. You can feel his panic and the walls closing in on him in the desperation in his eyes and voice when assaulted and accused from all sides. We can feel his conflict in his body language and his halting speech as he strives to walk the path while every urge moves him to flee. 

Cindy Im, hot off her success in “Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven,” brings an erotically charged wryness in the character of Taylor who was in rehab with Paulie and throws herself at him every time they are alone. She is as manipulative as a labor lawyer’s daughter, as strong-willed as Catherine, and sees through the pretense. It’s rewarding to see a talented actress work her way from great basement productions at Impact Theatre up to higher profile parts. 

Keith Burkland plays the Theseus character Antonio as a looming, bigoted, round-shouldered know-it-all (I find the name tellingly ironic since Bock gives him the profession of being a Judge, while he seems not to have a trace of Italian—is this a shot at Anton Scalia and Samuel Anthony Alito?) All business, all opinion a la Fox News, always with a decanted Scotch in his hand, he makes us hate him, then we rue his destruction in the wake of his impulsive lashing-out. 

Here is the most telling and high compliment from E’s daughter who accompanied us. She is from a little place near Biloxi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and doesn’t get to much theatre; she said, “I could see it from everybody’s point of view.” That is always a touchstone of extraordinary theatre. 

Adam Bock’s PHAEDRA is another jewel in the ever-burgeoning crown of this little theatre company near the Ashby BART, and you will rue it if you miss it for there will be much talk in time to come about this play and this production. 

PHAEDRA by Adam Bock 

At SHOTGUN PLAYERS through October 23. 

1901 Ashby Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr, Way, Berkeley, CA  


510-841-6500 x 303 

John A. McMullen II is a member of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Associations, and Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and holds and MA in drama from SFSU and an MFA from Carnegie Mellon  

EJ Dunne edits. 


BAY AREA CHILDREN’S THEATRE brings MAGIC SCHOOL BUS to life at Freight and Salvage thru Oct 23

By John A. McMullen
Sunday October 02, 2011 - 10:53:00 AM
Kyle Payne, Matt Ono, Jacqueline Goalwin, Brian Conway, Calia Johnson, Catherine Gloria, Jessica Payne
Joshua Posamentier
Kyle Payne, Matt Ono, Jacqueline Goalwin, Brian Conway, Calia Johnson, Catherine Gloria, Jessica Payne

Hop aboard The Magic School Bus Live as they explore “The Climate Challenge” with Ms. Frizzle and her curious class.

Based on the latest book in the popular Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen, this energetic new musical follows the adventures of everyone’s favorite Magic School Bus characters—endearingly awkward Arnold, petite powerhouse Wanda, spunky Keesha, and their classmates—as they travel with their exuberant teacher from the polar ice to the tropics and from the ocean to the upper atmosphere to investigate why the world is getting warmer, why we should care, and what to do about it.  

Catch this Bay Area premiere now to see Ms. Frizzle and her students sing up a storm and dance along with their beloved resident reptile, Liz (the Lizard), before their bus takes off for a national tour to more than 20 states, in association with Maximum Entertainment Productions (MEP). 

The show is directed by Tracy Ward and written by Doug Cooney and Scott Elmegreen, with music and lyrics by Scott Elmegreen. 

Co-produced by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT) and Oregon Children’s Theatre at 

Freight & Salvage 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley  

Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., October 1 - 23 

http://www.bactheatre.org/ (510) 296-4433 

Tracy Ward (director) focuses on new works for the American theater. Ward worked with BACT on its two national tours of Strega Nona, in association with MEP (2009 and 2010). Recent productions include: The Horses by Brian Thorstenson at AlterTheatre, The Shaker Chair by Adam Bock at Shotgun Players/Encore Theater, JUANA, a new opera by Carla Lucero at Theatre Artaud, and the critically acclaimed, award-winning production of Hunter Gatherers by Peter Nachtrieb.  

Doug Cooney (playwright) In 2009, NOBODY'S PERFECT, his youth musical based on the novel co-written with actress Marlee Matlin, received a national tour through the Kennedy Center. IMAGINE ME, a musical, was produced at South Coast Rep in 2008. His play, THE FINAL TOUR, was developed at the Sundance Theatre Labs 2003 with director Moises Kaufmann. His musicals, THE VERY PERSISTENT GAPPERS OF FRIP and THE LEGEND OF ALEX, premiered at the Mark Taper Forum’s P.L.A.Y. and toured Los Angeles County. THE BELOVED DEARLY was produced by Lincoln Center Institute in a production directed by Elizabeth Swados. 

Scott Elmegreen (playwright, composer, and lyricist) is a playwright, composer, lyricist, and novelist whose work has premiered on Broadway, television, and in film, as well as off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally. Recent projects include the Emmy Award-nominated COLIN QUINN LONG STORY SHORT, directed by Jerry Seinfeld (original compositions; Helen Hayes Theatre, HBO special, national tour), AWESOME ALLIE: FIRST KID ASTRONAUT, COLLEGE THE MUSICAL (NYMF Award for Excellence in Writing, pub. Dramatic Publishing), VOTE FOR ME: A MUSICAL DEBATE (New York Musical Theatre Festival, commissioned by Aged in Wood productions), STRAIGHT (developed by Tony Award-winning producer Andy Sandberg), and THUCYDIDES (Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival Winner, pub. Samuel French). Elmegreen’s original music is featured in PILED HIGHER AND DEEPER THE MOVIE, based on the popular webcomic, PhD Comics. He has scored and orchestrated numerous plays, including WHAT I TOOK IN MY HAND (Ontological-Hysteric Incubator, Brick Theatre), DAGUERREOTYPE (Abingdon Theatre), WE CAN'T REACH YOU, HARTFORD (Fringe First Nomination), Joyce Carol Oates' TONE CLUSTERS (Fringe Report Award - Best Play), and 'S WONDERFUL: THE NEW GERSHWIN MUSICAL (orchestrations; national tour). 

Nina Meehan’s BAY AREA CHILDREN’S THEATRE strives to encourage young people to explore literature, language, and the arts by producing stage adaptations of great children’s books, create touring productions for young audiences nationwide and to reach out to children who might not otherwise experience live theatre with free tickets and touring productions at local schools, libraries and community centers. 


Don't Miss This in October

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Saturday October 01, 2011 - 09:08:00 AM

I believe it's safe to state that October is everyone's favorite month of the year, with red leaves falling from liquid amber trees and glorious sunsets. You my not know, however, that October derived its name from the Latin "Octo", meaning 10th month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Having provided readers with this fascinating information, we now list some of the unique cultural and educational events taking place this month.  

5th Annual Armenian Bazaar and Food Festival, Friday, Oct. 7th, 5:30 - Midnight; Saturday, Oct. 8th, 7 p.m. - midnight. Authentic Armenian food, dance, music and culture. St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church, 650 Spruce St., Oakland. http://www.stvartanoakland.org/.

Greek Food Festival, Oct. 7, 8 & 9. Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church of Castro Valley, 20104 Center St., Castro Valley. Come dance and feed with us. Free admission. www.Greek Festival.me

"Chess", the musical, Oct. 3 - 30th. The Bay Area's Musical Event of the Year; "one of the best rock scores ever" (Time Magazine). Willows Theatre, 1 975 Diamond Blvd. Concord. Tickets (95) 798-1300. www.willowstheatre.org.

Northern California Renaissance Faire, through Oct. 16. Casa de Fruta, Pacheco Pass, Hollister. Find your fantasy; Bacchanal, Masquerade, etc. www.norcalenfare.com.

"Little Shop of Horrors," Oct. l4 -Nov. 13, Contra Costa Musical Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. "You'll be screaming with laughter." (925) 943-SHOW.

El Campanile Theatre, Laurence Juber, Two-time Grammy Winner, Sat. Oct. 8th, 8 p.m. and "Hotel California: A Salute to the Eagles" Sat. Oct. 22, 8 p.m. 602 West Second Street, Antioch, Ca. www.ElCampaniTheatre.com.

Berkeley Shot Gun Players, "Phaedra", Adam Bock's red hot adaptation. Through Oct. 23, at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. (510) 841-6500 or www.shotgunplayers.org.

"Hanging Georgia," a new play about Georgia O'Keefe's emergence as a star in the art world and her romance and marriage to Albert Stieglitz. Oct. 7th at the Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F. (510) 436-5085 or www.theatrefirst.com.

"Full of Words", premiere of Marc Brew's new play about disabled dancers performing in a wheelchair. Brew's international dance career ended when a car crash left him paralyzed. Oct. 7 -9, Malonga Casequelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice Street, Oak. (510) 652-0110 o www.brownpapertickets.com.

"There's No Business Like Show Business," ("God Bless America: A Salute to Irving Berlin") Bankhead Theatre, Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, 2400 First Street, Livermore, Sun. Oct. 9th, 2 p.m. (925-373-800, or www.livermoreperformingarts.org.

So never say that October is dull, uneventful month -- certainly not with all of the above enticing events!

Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

Film review by Gar Smith
Friday September 30, 2011 - 09:46:00 AM

Opens Friday at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco and in Berkeley at the Elmwood.

If you don't have $25 to spend on Joe McGinniss' new book, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, you might want to get a quick-read in the form of the new British documentary, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! But, fair warning, you just might find yourself wishing the movie screen came equipped with a fast-forward button. 

This 91-minute film from Britain's Channel 4 TV follows reporter Nick Broomfield (decked out in a costume of full-Alaska hunter's garb) as he stomps through the snows of Wassila in a fruitless, three-month attempt to gain an interview with the former beauty queen, former mayor and former vice-presidential candidate. 

It's pretty slow going for the first half of this gossip-fueled film. (Broomfield's efforts will remind viewers why Michael Moore is so much more effective and persuasive as a filmmaker.) Initially, the documentary tells us more about Wasilla than about its former half-term mayor. Wasilla, with a population of 8,000 has 77 churches, 2,800 gun-owning members of the NRA and is the "meth capital of Alaska." 

After failing to secure an interview with Palin, Broomfield knocks on the doors of some of her old Wasilla high school classmates and the following dialogue ensues: 

Local resident, pointing out the window of a moving car: "She grew up in that house." 

Broomfield: "Wow! She grew up in that house?" 

Broomfield to a former classmate: "Was she really Sarah Baracuda?" 

Answer: "No." 

Broomfield to another classmate; "Was Palin was a good basketball player?" 

The camera zooms in for the dramatic pay-off: "She was… average." 

Broomfield manages an interview with Palin's parents who reveal that "she was very competitive" and "her faith was very important to her." And he finds "a friend" who recalls how Palin expressed her belief that "Jesus would return to Earth." (Not exactly an Earth-shaking revelation, given Palin's membership in the Assembly of God. Church.) 

Broomfield complains that people in the small town of Wasilla are "afraid to talk." So he travels all the way to Alexandria, Egypt to interview one former classmate who is not afraid to speak out. But her major contribution to "unmasking the Palin Mystery" is to observe that, if you were a member of The Assembly of God, "To go against Sarah would be to go against your church." 

This is pretty thin gruel, journalistically. Because Broomfield was able to score only a few, really good interviews, the first half of You Betcha! is padded with rehashes of Palin's early days. We get videos of Palin playing high school basketball with the Wasilla Warriors. We get Palin parading in a bathing suit as part of the Miss Wasilla Beauty Pageant (she placed third but won "Miss Congeniality"). And there is the famous video of the "witchcraft" service where Sarah stands on stage with her head bowed as an African preacher "exorcizes" her and prays to God to "bring finances her way in the name of Jesus." 

And we get to watch the YouTube Trove of Palin's Greatest Gaffes -- from Katie Couric's "gothca" questions (e.g., "What newspapers do you read?") to Charlie Gibson's unanswered invitation to explain "the Bush Doctrine." 

Things start to get interesting when Former Friends (a large and ever-growing cohort, both in Wasilla and beyond) recall Palin's depression after Obama's election. 

"She really thought she was going to win," one Wasillan recalls. Palin wasn't planning on having to return to Wasilla to work as a mere governor. She was reportedly so depressed that, instead of paying attention to energy policy and health issues, Palin started spending her afternoons watching daytime soaps while scarfing down Taco Bell crunch-wraps. As a result, Broomfield claims, when winter came, "some people froze to death in their homes." 

There is a nasty overtone to the film's narration that is exacerbated by an excess of gratuitous imagery (a string of still photos selected to make Palin look angry, tired, miffed, rattled; a clip of the green-skinned witch from "The Wizard of Oz"). One almost starts to feel some sympathy for Palin. 

Broomfield digs up charges of Palin's plastic surgery and tries to gain "a fresh perspective" by setting up an interview with daughter Brsitol Palin's "baby daddy," Levi Johnston. It doesn't pan out because Johnston's "manager" wants more that a mere $500 to deliver "new grizzly, unrevealed secrets about Sarah" including details on drug use and "boyfriends and girlfriends of Sarah and Todd." (In this exchange, as in others, Broomfield is forced to relay the interviews via subtitles because he only managed to catch the dialogue over a phone.) 

Just past the midway mark, the documentary starts to serve up the best it has to offer—a set of interviews with a half-dozen former Palin intimates. 

Palin's Deputy Mayor recalls how "she uses people and then throws them under the bus." 

A member of Palin's council remembers how the mayor would conduct hearings "chewing gum like a 12-year-old" and would cut off the comments of anyone she didn't like. 

Palin's former campaign manager describes his disappointment upon discovering that "once she won," Palin had no real interest in the mayor's job: she was frequently oblivious during city meetings, transfixed by her two Blackberries. Worse, he now sees Palin as a sociopath, someone with "no loyalty, no compassion." 

The McCain staffer responsible for nominating Palin to fill the VP slot on the GOP presidential campaign ticket, now says (via yet another subtitled phone conversation) that he regrets the decision. Calling Palin uneducated, dishonest and "extremely divisive," he says his finds the possibility that someone like Palin could wind up as president, "spine-chilling." 

Like McGinniss' book, You Betcha! prowls the outer limits of rumor and innuendo but still makes a strong case that, to many of those closest to her, Palin is someone who is controlling, suspicious, and vengeful. She "blames others for her own failures." She has a "dysfunctional psyche" and attacks "perceived enemies." She used the mayor's office to fire enemies and conduct vendettas, including the Troopergate scandal, in which she attempted to force the firing of a former relative from his state job. When the "top cop" she hired (to replace the police chief she previously fired) refused to reopen the case, she fired him. 

Broomfield reveals the existence of an informal team of pro-Palin Wasilla enforcers called the "Flying Monkeys" (another reference to "The Wizard of Oz") who would track down and threaten Palin's detractors. He interviews several residents who claim they were targeted for abuse, including one who says he was slandered on Facebook and subjected to death threats. 

One of Broomfield's first really good questions goes to the pastor of a church that was run out of Sarah Palin's Wasilla after he was deemed too tolerant of homosexuals. "What makes her scary?" Broomfield asks. The pastor replies: "She has no hesitancy about using violence against evil," so she would have no qualms about "triggering a nuclear war. She believes she is the Anointed One." 

Like Michael Moore's Roger and Me, You Betcha! ends in a fruitless pursuit of an interview. The only two "one-on-one" interviews Broomfield captures occur during brief encounters at various Palin's book-signing appearances. The documentary ultimately concludes with Palin's appearance before a large crowd in Oklahoma. Broomfield's footage is filmed from a great distance and the sound-quality is poor. The "audience questions" are all pre-selected and numbered for Palin's convenience but Broomfield can't resist one last stunt. He stands up to shout out an unscripted question — knowing that this act will get him tossed from the hall (as backup cameras capture his expulsion). 

Unless you're already a fan of Broomfield's nerdy UK on-air schtick, You Betcha! may leave you hungry for a big slab of Michael Moore. But, after a good deal of initial wheel-spinning in the snows of Wasilla, the film eventually does manage to capture a compelling portrait of the woman behind the wink, the ego behind the smirk. And it's pretty damn scary. 

Eye From the Aisle: Lucrezia Borgia at SF Opera—Star Vehicle for a Celestial Soprano

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday September 29, 2011 - 08:53:00 AM
Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) and Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia)
Cory Weaver
Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) and Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia)

Donizetti, one of the big three Bel Canto composers, liked to write about technicolor, edgy, and dangerous women: Anne Boleyn, Walter Scott’s tragic Bride of Lammermoor, and that purveyor of poison and daughter of a Pope, Lucretia Borgia.  

Bel Cantos are the old-timey operas where plot and acting are secondary to the virtuosity of the singer, and they were tradionally written as star vehicles. 

Reneé Fleming is a name people recognize even if they don’t go to opera, and San Francisco Opera has the incredible fortune to present this star in Lucrezia Borgiaplaying for five more dates through October 11. 

Ms. Fleming’s trills, runs, dazzling control, and effortless precision left my mouth agape.  

Add to this the sensuous presence of a young hunk with a tenor that washes over you and makes you glow. Michael Fabiano makes a stunning SF Opera debut as Gennaro with a shock of blond hair dressed as Phoebus Apollo with a bare chest and sculpted pectorals. 

Gennaro has an instant connection with Lucrezia of the Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore variety, but after a few more lines about his mother abandoning him and the look on her face, we all recognize she’s his long-lost mom; if, of course, she just tells him, the opera is over. So her husband the Duke swears jealous revenge on him, he pines for her then curses her toying with his affections, his friends inveigh against her, all the while she’s running around furiously trying to protect him while withholding this secret.  

There are many great voices including the basso Duke played by Vitali Kowaljow and Daniel Montenegro as Rustighello. East Bay favorite Igor Viera plays Lucrezia’s loyal henchman Gubetta, and is featured in a duet with Ms. Fleming. Viera recently appeared in Berkeley West Edge Opera’s Don Giovanni, and played Mercutio under this critic’s direction in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet for that company a few seasons ago. 

The sets are fantastico as always at the SFO, and take us to Renaissance Venice. A muscular bull statue over the Borgia name plaque gives a priapic energy to the setting, and provides a plot foil via an act of vandalism and a pun. Light shines through the bricks of the structures; steam and up-light from a trapdoor with lots of side and back-light peek between the buildings like a De Chirico painting but with much nighttime chiaroscuro. Coupled with the looming pallazzi, they set the mood and paint an artistic scenic picture, but one which has the drawback of lulling us when paired with the sweet melodies. Oddly the music seems often at odds with the text and situation, being lighthearted when the moment is tense, etc. For about ten minutes late in the first act, even the snoring of the guy next to me didn’t wake me up. 

Director and production designer John Pascoe displays his artistry in the initial scene with masterful sweeping stage movement of the multitude, but then seems to abandon the staging of duets and smaller scenes to a “park and bark” stand-over-there-and-sing fashion. Often the chorus was late in entrances and exits on opening night. His costume designs are lovely and appropriate, but not particularly innovative, except for the provocative costumes lavished on Gennaro. I wondered if the grand orchestra’s gorgeous sound, coaxed by the baton of Ricardo Frizza, had rehearsed much with the singers for they seemed to sometimes drown out their pianissimo, and once a duo lost their place.  

Outstanding ovations were heard for lovely, cherubic-faced Elizabeth DeShong in the breeches role of Maffio Orsini, bosom buddy of Gennaro. She is believable as a diminutive, scrappy young man, and her mezzo is powerful and compelling with great access to the lower notes (the part is generally sung by a contralto). Her acting is superb in her scenes with Fabiano who is also an excellent actor, and they throw in a little gender-back-bending-switcheroo that had the audience gasping. 

This is the first time I’ve seen Ms. Fleming sing; she seems to be of the old school as first a singer and very secondarily an actress, or maybe that’s just the tradition of bel canto where the energy is put into the ornamentation rather than the histrionics. Sometimes it was as if June Cleaver was playing Lucrezia, but she cuts loose in the bloody finale and sends the audience home moved.  

Noteworthy: Ms. Fleming was a Fulbright Scholar, trained at Eastman School of Music and Juillard, and had to choose between being a big band jazz singer or opera, singing jazz at night to pay for school. 

It’s a chance to see one of the Celestial Lyric Sopranos of Opera, and revel in the joy that is the San Francisco Opera. So if you have the price of admission, it’s one you’ll thank yourself for the memory. 

Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti 

Directed and designed by John Pascoe, conducted by Ricardo Frizza 

San Francisco Opera 

Sep 29, Oct 2, 5, 8, 11 

www.sfopera.com (415) 864-3330 

Editor's Note: Standing room tickets are available the day of the performance for $10, and sometimes there are also student ($25) and senior($30) rush tickets at the box office after 11 a.m. if the performance is not sold out. Call 415- 864-3330 to check, the earlier the better. 



John A. McMullen II is a member of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Associations, and Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. EJ Dunne edits.