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Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site
Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site


Berkeley's Out as UC Chooses Richmond Site for LBNL

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday January 23, 2012 - 12:33:00 PM

The University of California announced today that it has chosen a site in Richmond as the preferred home for a second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which the university manages. 

The Richmond Field Station, which is owned by the university, beat out five other East Bay locations that had been vying to house the second campus, which is expected to create jobs and bring in local revenue. 

The site is located on Seaver Avenue, off of Meade Street, near Interstate Highway 580.  

Most of the Berkeley Lab's 4,200 employees work at the lab's main facility in the Berkeley hills, but about 20 percent of them work at leased facilities scattered around the East Bay. Lab officials have said a second campus would save money by consolidating those facilities. 

More than 20 cities and developers proposed locations for the second campus, and university officials narrowed the proposals down to six finalists last year. 

The finalists were the Richmond site; Alameda Point in Alameda; Aquatic Park West in Berkeley; Brooklyn Basin in Oakland; properties in Emeryville and West Berkeley that are currently occupied by the lab; and Golden Gate Fields. 

University officials say construction of the second campus will take about four years, and that they hope to move researchers into the new site by mid-2016. 

Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos said in a statement, "Each city, community, and their developer partners presented extremely thoughtful and well-formulated proposals for us to consider, for which we are deeply grateful." 

Alivisatos said, "While we can only pick one site, we hope that the new relationships we've made will continue to help us foster excitement in science. The enthusiasm is wonderful affirmation of the desire of the entire East Bay to be part of developing scientific solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our society." 

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay called the announcement a "great bit of news." 

He released a statement thanking the Richmond City Council, city employees, and the Richmond community for "providing the warm welcome mat that was undoubtedly a major factor in their decision." 

Congressman George Miller, D-Martinez, said in a statement this morning he is "thrilled" by the lab's decision. 

"This is the decision we were hoping for, and it is the right decision for the Lab, for Richmond, and for the East Bay," Miller said. 

He said, "The Berkeley Lab's announcement that its second campus will be built in Richmond means new jobs for our community now and in the long term, new educational opportunities for our students, and more innovations and new discoveries for our country."

Flash: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Chooses Richmond!

Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:42:00 AM
Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site
Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site

The Planet received this email this morning, forwarded by Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt:

I received a call this morning from Paul Alivasatos, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, informing me that they have decided to make the Richmond Field Station and the City of Richmond the home for their second campus.

I would like to thank the Richmond City Council for their enthusiastic support for this important economic development project, the many City of Richmond staff members who worked to provide technical support in the decision-making process, and the Richmond community for providing the warm welcome mat that was undoubtedly a major factor in their decision.

I will provide more details as they become available. In the meantime, please enjoy this great bit of news and let's look forward to continued success.

Bill Lindsay

[Richmond] City Manager

Further details will be available later today.

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Press Release: LBNL Announces Choice of Richmond Field Station for Expansion Site

From Jon Wiener, LBNL
Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

The University of California announced today that it has identified the Richmond Field Station as its preferred site for the proposed consolidation of its biosciences programs of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The University of California-owned site presents the best opportunity to solve the Lab’s pressing space problems while allowing for long term growth and maintaining the 80 year tradition of close cooperation with the UC Berkeley Campus. 

With this identification of a preferred site, the University will now move ahead with developing environmental impact studies and with the process of seeking final approval from the US Department of Energy for the project. 

“Each city, community, and their developer partners presented extremely thoughtful and well-formulated proposals for us to consider, for which we are deeply grateful,” says Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos. ”The communities of Albany, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Richmond have been true partners in this process. While we can only pick one site, we hope that the new relationships we’ve made will continue to help us foster excitement in science. The enthusiasm is wonderful affirmation of the desire of the entire East Bay to be part of developing scientific solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our society.” 

The University of California received more than 20 responses when a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was released earlier this year. The number of sites under review was narrowed in May to: 

Alameda Point, in the city of Alameda; 

Berkeley Aquatic Park West, located in West Berkeley; 

Brooklyn Basin, located in Oakland; 

Emeryville/Berkeley, (includes properties currently occupied by the Lab in Emeryville and West Berkeley); 

Golden Gate Fields, spanning the cities of Berkeley and Albany; 

Richmond Field Station, a site currently owned by the University of California. 

# # #

Occupy Cal is Back

By Steven Finacom
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 09:17:00 PM

As rain moved into the Bay Area for the first time since—when, November of last year?—Occupy Cal did in fact re-emerge on the UC Berkeley campus.

January 18, 2012, the second day of classes for the Spring semester, saw two illicit banners hung from campus buildings. The most prominent, a long, colorful streamer apparently painted on plastic and bolstered with wood at top and bottom, hung down the west face of the Sather Campanile. 

It read “Time UC Us Occupy”, but after tangling up in the clock hands and wind, only the top and bottom letters remained readable. University Police soon removed it, but probably not before thousands of pictures were snapped from cell phones as students walked through their mid-day class changes. 

The second banner was hung from the upper arcade of Eshleman Hall, facing north, over Lower Sproul Plaza and overlapping the office windows of the Daily Californian, which quickly and duly reported its message, “F—k You Birgeneau”, a perplexing sentiment if the Occupy movement hopes for conciliation, not confrontation, with the UC Berkeley Chancellor this semester. 

The next day, Thursday the 19th, campus buildings were peppered with flyers advertising a noontime rally and “General Assembly”, as well as a “study-in” at the Anthropology Library where staff and schedule cuts have taken place. 

The rally didn’t draw crowds. I walked past about halfway through the lunch hour. There were signs and speakers, but probably no more than about 50 people participating. About 30 individuals, by my count, sat down for the General Assembly. The few minutes I listened to were fairly brisk and businesslike; announcements about websites, gatherings, planning activities, and what other local protest groups were doing. 

At 3:00 PM demonstrators moved to the Anthropology Library in Kroeber Hall. Various news reports posted on-line indicate about 40 people stayed inside past the scheduled 5:00 p.m. closing. 

On this page are photographs of the January 18 and January 19 events.

New: Richmond Leads in Transportation Choices - Circular Shuttle and Easy Go Richmond

By Councilman Tom Butt, Richmond
Sunday January 22, 2012 - 11:04:00 AM

Two pioneering and largely free transportation programs providing shuttles, electric car rentals, bicycle sharing, van sharing, kid’s cab service and 40% off transit passes are now up and running in Richmond, dramatically increasing access to transportation and transportation choices to persons previously transportation challenged.

The FREE Richmond Circular Shuttle began operation through its service provider- TransMetro, Inc. on July 1, 2011. The service is funded through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and can be accessed within a five mile radius to multiple health facilities and clinics, pharmacies, businesses, recreation, residential communities, and employment centers for those traveling to and from the El Cerrito Del Norte and Richmond Intermodal BART stations. 


In an effort to provide the highest level of quality, dependability, reliability, customer service and a convenient schedule, riders can hop aboard the free “Richmond Circular Shuttle" at any of its 11 stops. Buses will arrive every 15-20 minutes during commute hours from 7:00am - 7:00pm (excluding weekends and holidays). 


The objectives of the service is to ensure mobility and access and to link key regional destinations through reliable public transportation services including bus, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Amtrak for all of Richmond residents to travel to and from San Francisco and other Bay Area destinations. The service uncommon efficiency to meet evolving transportation needs promotes quality service and reliability. 


Click here for Circular Shuttle schedules and maps. 


Stop I: Richmond BART station: 1700 Nevin Avenue, Richmond CA. 

Stop A: Richmond Civic Center/City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza 

Stop B: Transit Stop: W. Macdonald at Garrard Blvd 

(Connection to AC Transit 72M, 607, 673, 681) 

Stop C: Contra Costa County Health Offices, 3rd Street at Chesley Ave. 

Stop D: Local Community Stop: Rumrill Blvd at Sutter Avenue 

Stop E: Contra Costa College/Shopping Ctr., El Portal Dr at Mission Bell Dr 

Stop F: Doctor’s Medical Center, 2000 Vale Road 

Stop G: San Pablo Lytton Casino, 13255 San Pablo Avenue 

Stop H: Retail Center: San Pablo Avenue at Macdonald 

(Service Frequency: 15-20 minutes) 


The City of Richmond held a Ribbon Cutting ceremony on January 10, 2012, to launch its new Greenprint Transportation project, “Easy Go Richmond”. The ceremony unveiled the “Easy Go Richmond” program, along with its electric and hybrid vehicles, charging stations and bicycle sharing.

“Easy Go” is Richmond’s groundbreaking shift towards greener transportation initiatives. Services include a “Kid’s Cab” shuttle service that supports transporting elementary school-aged children to and from after-school activities; carsharing that allows drivers to rent electric and hybrid vehicles and to offer their own vehicles for use; bikesharing, a healthy and convenient service that provides bicycles for use; van services for weekend recreational use; and transit access passes, supplying public transportation users with great deals and benefits. 


The Easy Go program includes five easy transportation options: 

1. KIDS CAB, Online Ridematching/Bike-Buddy >>REGISTER>> 

Kids Cab for eligible participants will pick/drop kids to school and after school activities. We also offer online ridematching and bike-buddy group lists. For reservation and eligibility, please see your on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines or call us to schedule a visit. We are located inside Resident Management Office or give us a call. 

2. Deviated Route Transportation for Grocery runs, Shopping trips, community events and recreation activities >>REGISTER>> 

For reservation, please see your on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines or call us to schedule a visit. We are located inside Resident Management Office. 

3. Transit Assistance Program 

For your free transit access, please see our on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines. 

4. Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Carsharing Program 

For training and reservation, please see our on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines. Vehicles can be reserved through our partner www.getaround.com staring mid-January for as little as $3 per hour. Insurance, voltage, and vehicle rental all included in the hourly fee of as little as $3 per hour. 

5. Bikesharing Program 

For bicycle rental and reservation, please see your on-site transportation coordinators. 

For Easy Go Richmond Information: Richmond Village, 700 South 26th Street, Richmond CA, 94804, Call: (510) 830-5144, Email: info@easygorichmond.com

Press Release: AC Transit Chooses New Bus Rapid Transit Director

From Clarence Johnson AC Transit Media Affairs Manager
Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

AC Transit today announced the hiring of a veteran transit engineering expert to head the agency’s Bus Rapid Transit Program. Arul Edwin, who has successfully managed similar transportation projects from Boston to Seattle, is now the Program Director for a BRT plan that will modernize and improve East Bay bus service.  

“As director, Arul Edwin brings strong credentials and a wealth of experience to our BRT program at a critical time in its development,” said Interim General Manager Mary King. “His leadership skills in public transit-- including mitigating community concerns as well as traffic and environmental issues-- will shepherd the project’s design, engineering, and construction activities, creating much-needed jobs and stimulating local businesses and economic development.”  

Once completed, the BRT system promises to reduce travel times, traffic congestion and ozone emissions, and generally benefit the environment overall. 

Among other things, Edwin served as Area Traffic Manager for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston for the Massachusetts Highway Department. His duties included performing construction staging, Intelligent Transportation System design and implementation, and traffic management during construction for the downtown area. 

In addition, Edwin has been the Project Manager for the I-405 Design Build/ Bus Rapid Transit Project in Seattle, WA; has served as Project Manager for the Santa Clara County Measure A Program-- preparing a Strategic Plan and Capital Project planning; and, as the Design Manager, has prepared environmental documents, and final bid documents for freeway widening and interchange implementation. 

Edwin has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and three master’s degrees, including one from UC Berkeley, specializing in transportation engineering.  

Edwin’s strong 25-year background with large scale transit projects, and his years of local experience and training, makes him “the perfect fit” for AC Transit’s BRT program, King said. 

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to join this program at this critical stage in development,” Edwin said. “It is one of highest rated and most beneficial transit developments in the region and it will soon be ready to put people to work.” 

Construction of the BRT project will create local construction jobs and contribute to the economy by generating additional jobs that will support construction. Construction is expected to begin in 2014, and be fully implemented in 2016. 


About Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) 

AC Transit’s vision is to provide a truly world-class transit service that is convenient, reliable and safe; one that increases mobility, enhances the quality of life, and improves the health of the environment throughout the communities it serves. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will link one of the busiest traffic corridors in the country with a fast, economical and environmentally-friendly means of transportation. BRT will be a high-capacity rapid transit system that reduces passenger travel times. With dedicated lanes and signal priority, and prominent stations with convenient boarding of buses, BRT will offer residents a viable alternative to driving on congested city streets. It will reduce traffic levels, significantly cutting emissions and pollutants. BRT is essentially light rail without the tracks. It combines the express service and capacity of light rail with the convenience and affordability of riding the bus. It can be planned and built at much less expense, and more quickly, than traditional light rail systems. 


Press Release: Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life to Open in Downtown Berkeley

By Kathleen Maclay,UCB Media Relations
Friday January 20, 2012 - 12:51:00 PM

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, the latest addition to the city’s burgeoning downtown arts and culture district, is opening to the public on Sunday, Jan. 22. 

The grand opening, which runs from noon to 4 p.m. and is free, will take place at the collection’s new, 25,000-square-foot facility at 2121 Allston Way, near campus and Downtown Berkeley BART. The celebration will feature music, food and exhibitions of contemporary artists’ projects and highlights from the Magnes permanent collection of precious art, rare books and objects that represent the culture of Jews in the global Diaspora and the American West. 

The new Magnes offers unprecedented on-site access to most of the nearly 15,000-item collection in its new conference and research rooms, auditorium and galleries. In addition, the Magnes’ Western Jewish Americana archives, the world’s largest collection of letters, diaries, photographs and documents relating to the Jewish settlement of the West, are now available at UC Berkeley at The Bancroft Library’s Heller Reading Room. 

The building is a former printing plant that was updated for the Magnes by Peter Pfau (Pfau Long Architecture, San Francisco) and Oblio Jenkins (Pacassa Studio, Oakland) with a blend of vintage and modern design.. The interior glass walls and inventive open storage display provide an intimate and powerful connection to objects from around the world. 

The new facility emerged from a groundbreaking partnership between one of the first Jewish museums in the country – the former Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, Bancroft and several generous donors. Staff and supporters said the partnership gives critically needed new life to the collections, while enhancing Bancroft’s research holdings, elevating Jewish scholarship on campus, making The Magnes collections more accessible to scholars and the community, and providing a new gathering place for cultural and academic events. 

Alla Efimova, who is the Jacques and Esther Reutlinger Director of The Magnes, said the opening marks the transition to a radically new model for identity-based museums and collections. 

“We are no longer required to tell one story,” said Efimova. “Thanks to the partnership with UC Berkeley and Bancroft, we are becoming a ‘library of objects’ serving the next generation of students, researchers, and visitors who can write their own stories based on the treasure trove of resources we are making accessible to them.” 

“The Magnes Collection of Jewish Life and Art is the most varied and comprehensive documentation of a single California community to have joined to the Bancroft family of collections since Hubert Howe Bancroft first assembled his remarkable collection on California and the American West in the 19th century,” said Elaine Tennant, Bancroft director. 

“In the same way that the original Bancroft Collection aimed from the outset at recording the full experience of California and the West in wide-ranging formats and genres, the Magnes Collection is the rich record of Jews in the West and in the global diaspora as told through objects, documents, and images of all kinds,” said Tennant. 

Greeting visitors to The Magnes is a colorful tile mosaic proclaiming: “In remembrance is the secret of redemption.” The mosaic is a fragment of a Holocaust memorial built over a 15-year period by children at the former Camp Swig Jewish summer camp in Saratoga, California. 

Regional Jewish history, a special component of The Magnes, is evident in the facility’s portrait-lined wall that includes such Bay Area Jewish leaders as financier and philanthropist Isaac Glazier (1829-1906); Florence Prag Kahn (1866-1948), the first Jewish woman to serve in the U.S. Congress; and Boris Deutsch (1892-1978), a Lithuanian-born painter and set designer for Hollywood films. 

Special exhibitions will include selections from the permanent collection and site-specific artist projects such as: 

“Dissolving Localities: Berkeley Jerusalem,” an evolving multimedia project by composer and artist Emmanuel Witzthum, a resident fellow at UC Berkeley’s Townsend Center for the Humanities and a visiting artist in the Department of Music. “The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collecting” in the Charles Michael Gallery. It traces The Magnes’ 50-year legacy with art, artifacts and rare books. “Case Study No. 1: Shaken, Not Stirred” in the Warren Hellman Gallery. This exhibit highlights art and artifacts rediscovered by Magnes staff during the move to the new facility, including an 18th century Shofar, a horn used for religious purposes, a 19thcentury wedding dress from Rhodes, Turkey, and a bronze statuette by 20th century sculptor Chana Orloff. “The Spill,” a digital film created for The Magnes launch by Berkeley artist GaleAntokal. It will be projected on the wall of the Koret Foundation/Tad Taube Lobby. 

Throughout the year, The Magnes’ educational and public programs will include tours, lectures, artist talks and scholarly symposia, as well as collaborations with local cultural and performing arts institutions. 

“The Magnes is a wonderful new teaching and research resource to have available to the campus and local communities. Indeed the first UC Berkeley class (on music in Israel) to be taught in Magnes started this week,” said Tennant. “It’s a great beginning.” 


Squeaky Wheels on Telegraph Bring Down the Heat

By Ted Friedman
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 09:02:00 PM
Urban Strider can't wait to eat the store, now that's he's won a month's pig-out in a drawing.
Ted Friedman
Urban Strider can't wait to eat the store, now that's he's won a month's pig-out in a drawing.
"You mean you're not going to sign a letter congratulating the university for cutting down trees in People's Park?" Running Wolf--sworn to protect trees in the park--and Craig Becker, sworn to protect the Med from undesirables, many of whom hang out in the Med.
Ted Friedman
"You mean you're not going to sign a letter congratulating the university for cutting down trees in People's Park?" Running Wolf--sworn to protect trees in the park--and Craig Becker, sworn to protect the Med from undesirables, many of whom hang out in the Med.
Al Geyer, outside his store, Annapurna, 2416 telegraph. "I can put up with a lot from the street, but not when it 'chumps' my store."
Ted Friedman
Al Geyer, outside his store, Annapurna, 2416 telegraph. "I can put up with a lot from the street, but not when it 'chumps' my store."
Clear view from apartment building at West end of People's Park, after university cleared vines and tall bushes that had blocked the view. Good surveillance of drug deals? Selling point renting apartments?
Ted Friedman
Clear view from apartment building at West end of People's Park, after university cleared vines and tall bushes that had blocked the view. Good surveillance of drug deals? Selling point renting apartments?

On the way back from a photo shoot, Friday, at Pepe's pig-out , an all-you-can-eat near campus, I stumbled into a civic meet-on-the-street. The street was Telegraph Avenue, known throughout the world for riots and weird. 

The shoot had been a hoot, and I was in a pretty good mood. Urban Strider, had "commissioned" the shoot to document his winning a month's worth of pig-outs. Perhaps Strider will be able to pay the rent, now that he's eating free. 

I thought I recognized the Berkeley police chief, and a representative from the city manager's office. I could hardly believe my eyes that the chief was in civvies. 

But there he was all right, at 9 p.m. 

Later, I learned the meet was private, even if held so openly. I made a quick decision to joke around with everyone, and get the story later. 

But when Craig Becker, owner of Telegraph's notorious Caffe Mediterraneum, later lobbied the chief outside the Med, I went out to eavesdrop. 

Becker and the Chief eyeballed me warily, so I kept my distance, but I did hear the chief say that the force had to observe the rights of everyone on the street. I had heard this philosophy from various cops. 

Becker has been having his usual problems with street tramps outside his doors. 

Becker, who presides over an association of Telegraph Ave. property owners, thinks he's on a roll after the university trimmed People's Park in ways the owners had requested in a letter to Ed Denton, a Cal vice-chancellor who oversees the park. 

The letter was mainly authored by Becker. 

Two squad cars of BPD—four officers—next evening, conducted their own street meet with a gaggle of self-described street tramps. 

Was this Becker on a roll? Or was it Becker in a hole. 

Perhaps Medheads enjoyed being blinded by a squad car searchlight glaring them down from the curb. Customers at the Dustin Hoffman window-seat table got the brunt of the blinding stare, and the adjoining table was annoyed. 

Asked if this was bad for business, Becker wouldn't comment, because he said he hadn't seen it. 

"I hope you're not one of those "sophomoric solipsists, who believe only what happens to them," I said. 


Joking with the Man at the Street Meet 

At the Friday street-meet, I talked to the chief about my last cops piece, which he had read. The piece was about a beef I got into with university cops in People's Park. "It was a real howler," I said of the piece. The chief agreed that the piece was funny, then gave me the point of view of the cops. 

I think he said the cops were just "gun-shy." The fact that I was talking to a videographer from Copwatch may have gone against me, as well. The chief knew the Copwatcher by name. Who's watching whom? 

We agreed that Berkeley wasn't always gracious with university police, even though the present generation of university cops was too young to remember the war between the people of Berkeley and the university in 1969. 

Recently, I asked a university cop, how old he was in 1969, and he said he was reading comic books at the time of the park riots. 

A policeman who took part in the bloody struggles of 1969 would be sixty-five or seventy—retired. 

The representative of the city manager's office cautioned me to not take too much of the chief's time, because the chief needed to go home to his wife and kids. 

What had been so important to bring him out, I wondered. 

I had walked through an encampment of kids sitting, and sprawling on the walk, the kids not realizing the chief was watching. It's illegal to lie on the walks in Berkeley. 

By this time the meet was breaking up, but Becker seemed not to notice that the chief wanted to go home already. 


Telegraph Head Shop Owner Tells All, Sort Of 

Al Geyer has owned and operated one of the oldest head shops in the world—1969. To walk into his store on Teley is to walk into the bygone era of novelty shops, but with its own light-show, and radio station, an eclectic mix of opera to country, Bartok to Beetles and—what else?—bongs 

I sought him out in his store to get the story of the street-meet. Geyer had written a letter to call the street-meet, sort of. 

He had written the letter to the city manager, and someone in the manager's office had invited the chief. 

"Must have been a helluva letter." I said. 

Geyer would not divulge the letter's contents, but is quite the talker, and talk tells the story. 

Taking photos in the shop is forbidden, because Geyer would rather not give away any secrets of running a novelty-head shop, rather than just-another-pipes store. 

I hope I don't give away his secrets. 

It soon became clear that Geyer had uncorked on the city. The week before, Geyer had taken me on a disgruntled tour of lower Teley, in which he missed no depressing sign of the decline of Telegraph. 

In a contest of show-and-tells, I showed him a possible new surveillance perch for People's Park drug cops to use in their war on drugs in the park. 

The Sequoia Apartments fire, "a death-blow to Teley," was just the tip of the iceberg, Geyer said. Business on the famous street has spiraled downward for years. 

Geyer has told me he can survive lean times, but he doesn't like his store to be "chumped." Chumped turns out to be pissed on. Somehow that was too much. 

I promised to keep my own pissing away from his doorway. Is this the story: that Geyer was pissed on, then pisses on Berkeley? 


Google Ted Friedman, as Steed Dropout, to read his blogs—The Lurid Stories Behind the Lurid Stories. His followup to this story will compare the Haight-Ashbury to Telegraph Avenue.

My Palm Springs Adventure (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Friday January 20, 2012 - 03:45:00 PM

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the wonderful, vibrant Bay Area tend to dismiss, indeed look down on other towns and cities in our Golden State. This is a totally incorrect perception, as I hope to prove in the account of my trip to Palm Springs last week. On January 9th, along with 27 members of the Emeryville Senior Center, we met in the parking lot of the old City Hall, and boarded a bus, with driver Greg and a very efficient tour director, Mary Soo-Hoo. Our destination was Palm Springs -- a ten hour trip given rest stops along the way and lunch in Fresno. Driving through the Mojave Desert we arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on North Canyon Drive, too weary for dinner. Ah, but the next morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and had our first glimpse of this beautiful city with its Spanish Colonial architecture and massive Mount San Jacinto mountains in the background, to say nothing of row after row of soaring palm trees. 

On our first full day we boarded the bus and headed to Indian Canyon Trading Post for an hour-long hike. We then had lunch at the Mizell Senior Center -- a bit fancier than our North Berkeley Senior Center. Lunch was a mere $4.00 and quite tasty. We next boarded the bus where a step on guide took us on a Celebrity Tour of Palm Springs. We were surprised to learn that Sonny Bono was once mayor; there's a life-sized statute of him in the center of town. Another very large house is that of Ann Miller, and Liberace had quite a mansion also. We had to peer through gates to see these residences. Frank Sinatra practically put this city on the map with his generous donations to charitable causes. His house contains seven bathrooms since he didn't want guests to wait! 

One of our more exciting trips was that to the Living Desert, a wildlife adventure through the deserts of the world, which we viewed at close range on an open tram. Here we saw African and North American Gardens, a Village Watutu, giraffes, camels and a Petting Kraai, the latter a great thrill for children. 

Perhaps the most entertaining event of our trip was the famous "Fabulous Palm Spring Follies", a show of gorgeous costumes, great legs, and, believe it or not, ravishing dancers in their 70's and 80's. Following that show we had a hosted dinner at Lulu California Bistro. 

Our final day was a rather exhausting one, driving what seemed like hours through the Coachella Valley where we were rewarded with a superb steak dinner at the famous Harris Ranch Restaurant, where most of us got pleasantly stoned. 

As all good things come to an end, the Sierra Pacific Bus headed back to Emeryville with everyone agreeing that the Palm Springs Adventure had been a huge success.

Johnny Otis, Raised in Berkeley, Dies at 90

Friday January 20, 2012 - 04:35:00 PM

Berkeley's own Johnny Otis died yesterday at the age of 90. His Greek-American family ran a corner grocery store in an African-American Oceanview neighborhood, and young Johnny fell in love with Black culture, especially music, and joined up for the duration. Here's a good obit: from the Chronicle.  

From YouTube: "Johnny Otis performs his monster hit "Willie and the Hand Jive" on his TV show. Late fifties? with Marie Adams, the Three Tons of Joy, and Lionel Hampton." 

Updated: Berkeley Council Considers Redistricting and New Location for Meetings

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 08:33:00 AM

Tonight's Berkeley City Council meeting, the first for 2012, has a few controversial items which might bear watching, either streamed tonight or in video form tomorrow. We’ll try to check out what happens, and if there are any truly dramatic moments we’ll post a video excerpt for your amusement.

First up is a public hearing on neighbors’ appeal to the Zoning Adjustment Board’s approval of the big Parker Place development proposed for the current Berkeley Honda dealership site on South Shattuck.

UPDATE ON WEDNESDAY MORNING: Developers Ali Kashani and Mark Rhoades got their permits after accusing the neighbors of being chronic litigants, for which they the developers were roundly scolded by some councilmembers. 

Then there’s another public hearing on the six qualifying proposals for how and when Berkeley City Council districts should be redrawn to reflect the 2010 census. Two camps have emerged in the discussion. One, led by progressive Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington, urges prompt adoption of one of the plans. 

Worthington issued this statement on his position: 


If Berkeley City Council redistricting is not done in time for the Nov 2012 election Berkeley stands at risk of disenfranchising up to 4,300 residents. These residents deserve the chance to vote in the 2012 City Council elections.  

According to the new U.S Census numbers, the 8 City Council districts have very unequal populations. 

To be true to One Person One Vote, each district needs 14,073 residents. 

District 2 is short by 692 

District 3 is short by 1,049 

District 5 is short by 1.364 

District 6 is short by 1,190 

Total short for 2,3,5,&6= 4,295 

There are 6 viable proposals that have been submitted for where to draw the lines. 

If the City Council adopts one of those proposals, or anything close to the 1986 boundaries then thousands of additional people will be allowed to vote in the November 2012 City Council elections. 

Unfortunately, Councilmember Wozniak has repeatedly proposed to delay redistricting because there is a proposal submitted to create two 80% “student supermajority ” districts. 

It would be illegal for the City Council to vote to adopt that proposal because it conflicts with the City Charter by not coming close to the 1986 boundaries, and by kicking two Council members (Arreguin & Worthington) out of their districts. 

That proposal can be placed on the ballot as a Charter Amendment for the voters to decide. 

If we delay and wait to see what happens with the controversial Charter Amendment, thousands of voters will be denied their chance to vote for City Council in 2012. 



A District 8 resident forwarded to the Planet this statement he received from Councilmember Wozniak: 



If you have received a notice telling you that the legal and democratic process of redistricting is going to “disenfranchise” voters in Berkeley, It’s important for you to know that this is factually incorrect and misleading. There are about 4,000 Berkeleyans who will end up in a different City Council district in order to achieve equal representation. Because City Council elections are “staggered” (that means half are voted on in 2012 and half in 2014), some people who were scheduled to vote for City Council in 2012 will now vote in 2014, and vice versa. This process is known as election deferral.  

This is a routine process, made necessary by the fact that redistricting must ensure equal representation. Please note that this will have no affect [sic] on anyone’s ability to vote for President, Governor, ballot initiatives, Mayor, etc. It only affects voting for City Council for a small fraction of people. 

Some people want you to think that this constitutes disenfranchisement to confuse you. Disenfranchisement is when someone takes away your ability to vote - think literacy tests or “Voter ID” laws. Deferral simply means you now vote for City Council in Presidential years (2012, 2016) instead of gubernatorial years (2014, 2018) or vice versa. Remember, one’s ability to vote for any office other than City Council is unchanged! “Deferral” and “disenfranchisement” are NOT the same thing. Do not let anyone lead you to believe they are! 



Tonight the council could vote to send any of the six proposals to staff for drafting a final redistricting ordinance, or it could vote to postpone redistricting until after the group which wants Berkeley to create two council districts with student majorities has the time to amend the city charter by initiative, which could take at least two years. 



Even if one of the six plans now before council is adopted, the student-district initiative could be proposed and adopted on the same timetable which would be used if redistricting were postponed. If and when it passes, it could replace any plan adopted this year. 

UPDATE: Redistricting stalled. See The Editor's Back Fence for a full rant. 

Wozniak is also floating a proposal which would change some of the quotas for retail businesses in the Elmwood shopping area, located on College between Webster and Russell. If the Council is sympathetic to the concept, it will be sent to the Planning Commission for further study and possible implementation. 

Finally, the council will receive a staff report on new locations for City Council meetings, which recommends that the staff be asked to report back by May 1, 2012 on the cost, schedule, and viability of three new options: Berkeley Community College Auditorium, Longfellow Middle School Auditorium and North Berkeley Senior Center Multi-Purpose Room. The wording of the staff report as submitted is ambiguous, but it appears that the meeting room now being constructed for School Board use on the Berkeley Unified School District’s West Campus is still in the running for council use as well. 

UPDATE: Thumbs down for now on West Campus and Longfellow. BCC and the Senior Center are still in the running. Berkeley High's Little Theater has been added.

Gunpoint Holdup at Berkeley Chevron Station in the Claremont Neighborhood

Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 05:08:00 PM

Berkeley Police have reported that the Chevron service station at the corner of Ashby and Domingo was held up at gun point about two o'clock this afternoon. The gunman, described as a Hispanic male in his teens wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt, black pants and a black mask, fled on foot. 

Multiple police cars and other emergency vehicles sped up Ashby immediately following the hold-up, and police officers were observed combing the neighborhood on foot for a couple of hours later. 

As of 5 p.m. the suspect was still at large.

Bay Bridge Closed Over President's Day Weekend, Starting Night of February 17

By Patricia Decker (BCN)
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 05:01:00 PM

The upper deck of the Bay Bridge will be closed over Presidents Day weekend to make way for construction, bridge officials announced today.  

The weather-dependent closure will allow crews to create a detour that bridge officials say will enable the bridge's new eastern span to open to traffic months ahead of schedule. 

The upper deck, which carries westbound traffic, will be closed from 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, to 5 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, bridge officials announced today. 

On the approach to the span on the Oakland side, the bridge's current westbound lanes stand in the path of where the new eastern span's eastbound lanes will be. 

The detour will shift westbound traffic to the south of its existing path, and will make room for construction crews to demolish sections of the existing roadway that are in the path of the new incline section.  

A video explanation of the new configuration is available online at www.baybridgeinfo.org. 

During the closure, motorists will be encouraged to take alternate routes or transit, which will be beefed up with additional ferries and overnight BART service at some stations. 

Those who drive should allow extra travel time, even if traveling on other bridges, bridge officials said.



Would a Fourth Term for Mayor Bates Make Berkeley "The Best It Can Be?"

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 20, 2012 - 10:57:00 AM

This week I was sorting through the voluminous boxes of paper that came home when we closed the office a couple of years ago and I ran across a handsome glossy brochure headed “MAKING BERKELEY THE BEST IT CAN BE” with subhead “To Do List”. It featured 5 sincerely charming photos of Tom Bates, whose signed statement on the outside describes the document as “my ‘to do’ list for making Berkeley a healthy, vibrant, and green city.”

In fact, it was Bates’ 2008 campaign mailer, sent to every voter in Berkeley, a majority of whom bought his Kool-Aid and re-elected him to a third term.
Since today’s rumor mill reports that Mayor Bates, now almost 73, has decided to run again, in tandem with his wife Loni Hancock’s decision to seek another state senate term, it might be a good time to evaluate his performance using his own checklist. He’s been in office close to a decade now, so he’s had his chance to accomplish something if he’s ever going to. .
Here are his goals (in italics) followed by grades: 

Make Berkeley America's Greenest City. [in extra-large type, on a bright green background.] 

Redouble our environmental efforts with cutting edge policy, expanded parks and playing fields, and a thriving green economy. Lead efforts for local green power, solar-intensive green building requirements, and improved transit. Following the passage of Measure G, launch a community-wide initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Well, everything that’s happened everywhere in the last four years, including in Berkeley, has been furiously green-washed, but we still don’t exactly have “a thriving green economy”. In particular, the mayor’s much-touted Berkeley First program, which induced homeowners to borrow against their home equity to install solar technology, was a dismal failure and has been cancelled. And transit, far from being improved, has gotten steadily worse. Let’s give this one a D. 


Work to revitalize Berkeley's downtown. Continue the resurgence of downtown Berkeley by supporting development of a world-class hotel, museum, arts and entertainment center and public plaza at Center Street.  

The hotel has vanished, the museum has been much scaled down and still not built, the public plaza is nowhere to be seen, nor is the arts and entertainment center in evidence four years later. This would have to be an F


Provide universal quality after school programs. Berkeley was named the "teen healthiest city" in California. Expand efforts to provide all Berkeley children access to after-school and pre-school programs as well as health and social services in schools.  

The after-school and pre-school programs that I’m familiar with have experienced drastic program cuts. This is not exactly Bates’ fault, but then again it was never exactly a function of city government in the first place. Maybe a C? 


Hold Cal accountable. Ensure the University of California lives up to the historic partnership agreement signed in 2005 and stop the University's plan to build a massive new garage and sports training facility on Gayley Road. 

Well, here we have a clear F. U.C. Berkeley is still the two-ton elephant which sleeps anywhere it wants, and the Mayor’s been its best ally. The city refused to join the citizen lawsuit to prevent the building of the massive bunker which is now taking shape on Gayley Road around the remains of U.C.’s steroid-enhanced Memorial Stadium. Providing services to U.C. is still costing the city much more than it receives as reimbursement under the toothless so-called “ historic partnership agreement.” 


Reduce homelessness. Work regionally to develop housing with supportive services for the homeless. .Expand street outreach, mental health, and substance abuse programs. Develop clear and enforceable rules about appropriate street behavior.  

Anyone who still goes downtown in Berkeley can judge how well this one has gone. My guess is that most people would give it a D. Many of these problems, of course, are not soluble at the city level, so it was wrong in the first place to promise that any mayor could fix them. 


Strengthen neighborhood shopping districts by cutting red tape so new businesses ·can open quickly. Fully implement my Telegraph Avenue revitalization plan.  

Restaurant quotas on Solano, for example, were removed, but it hasn’t made a dent in the vacancies on the street—possibly because deregulation encourages landlords to raise their rents. Every week brings more news of Berkeley business closures. Is closing the Andronico’s store part of that Telegraph revitalization plan? If not, what’s the plan, man? Another F. 


Protect neighborhoods from inappropriate development by restricting large buildings to major transit corridors and ensuring great design. Direct staff and the Planning Commission to work with the community to craft "neighborhood conservation zones" that protect the unique character of our low-density residential neighborhoods. 

Huh? What “neighborhood conservation zones” has he “crafted”? Ask the neighbors of the big and ugly Parker Place development, approved by the city council this week with Bates leading the cheers, whether they think that the “unique character” of their “low-density residential neighborhood” has been protected. Again, F


Pass a strong Sunshine Ordinance that ensures an open and accountable government from top to bottom.  

Does passing an ordinance that’s weak as water count as a plus or a minus? No strong Sunshine Ordinance has been proposed or passed, just a pale imitation of one, which is why a citizen initiative has put another one on the ballot instead. Maybe D minus? 


Build new sports fields. Construct five new sports fields on Gilman Street near 1-80. Work with the school district and neighbors to build the "curvy Derby" plan for a baseball field at Derby and martin Luther King without closing the street. Locate and build a new warm water pool.  

Well, the former Cal football player finally scored on this one. Not only did he get his sports fields near the freeway, he got them named after himself. Way to go, Tom! “Curvy Derby” and the warm water pool, however, are still verses in my favorite protest song: “There’ll be Pie in the Sky By and By.” Another D.  


Expand the arts, crafts, and environmental business in West Berkeley by supporting new efforts to provide permanent arts space and create a hub for innovative and environmental businesses.  

What’s happened instead is that the zoning protections for local industrial businesses and arts and crafts spaces in West Berkeley have been weakened, and opportunities for big multinationals and UC spinoffs have increased. Since the ultimate outcome is still unknown, we’ll let this one squeeze by with a D+. 


All in all, judging by the Bates’ organization’s own criteria as presented here in their 2008 campaign brochure, Tom Bates seems to have done a poor job in the last four years. It’s almost impossible to defeat an incumbent, but does he really deserve four more years? 

He’ll be 77 by the time the next term ends—and as someone who’s almost as old as he is, and who frequently watches his inept council performances, I’m not sure that’s a plus. Of course, he could follow the custom established by the local political pros—he could pull a Loni and quit before his term ends in favor of a hand-picked unelected successor. 

Is there no one out there who really wants to “make Berkeley the best it can be” and is able to deliver on these promises? 

Councilmembers Worthington, Anderson and Arreguin are conscientious, intelligent and hard-working—could any of them be drafted? How about City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, an elected official respected by citizens with all points of view on city finances? 

If we can’t quite make Berkeley the best it can be, surely we can at least do better. We could start by actually trying to implement Bates' 2008 campaign promises. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Want to Run for Mayor of Berkeley? MoveOn Wants You!

Monday January 23, 2012 - 12:20:00 PM

Yes, yes, I know the email from MoveOn reprinted below is just a fill-in-the-blanks template, and not a comment on the state of the city here in Berkeley, but it makes you think, doesn't it? Anyone up for the challenge? Just click on the links below and see what happens!

The part about making "sure city employees don't lose their pensions" might not resonate the same way with all of us, of course.....

From Kat Barr, MoveOn.org Political Action
If you were mayor of Berkeley, what would be the first thing you'd do? Make sure city employees don't lose their pensions? Support green business startups? Or maybe fight back against cuts to crucial local services?

This isn't just a hypothetical scenario—it's exactly what more than 4,000 MoveOn members just like you have been thinking about since taking the first step to run for elective office. And they're not just running for mayor. They're exploring running for offices including school board, town council, and state legislature in cities and towns across the country.

If you've ever thought, "I've got some ideas for doing things differently in Berkeley," or seen a local politician and thought, "If that were me, things would be different," then it's time to join thousands of other progressives across the country and run for office.  

And if you decide to run, you won't be alone. You'll be part of a nationwide progressive strategy to take back local offices in 2012 and beyond. To help give you the resources you need to run a competitive campaign, we've partnered with the New Organizing Institute to provide you with online training and strategic advice. Trust me—running for office is easier than you think. So what do you say? 

Yes, I'd consider running for office. 

Back in 2010, tea party candidates, backed by national tea party groups, were elected to hundreds of local offices. That's exactly what we're going to do in 2012—but with a wave of candidates who will stand up for the 99% in communities across the country.  

If you decide to run, you'll gain access to the New Organizing Institute's great online training programs. And to help progressive candidates in 2012, they've created a comprehensive set of candidate guides. Here are some examples of what you'll have access to: 


  • Expert online courses on how to run your own campaign and how to get started
  • Help finding the elected position that's right for you
  • An online community so that you can ask questions and share advice with other progressive candidates around the nation
  • A database of time-tested strategic campaign tips, and more
So if you've ever wanted to change things in California, or imagined yourself running for office in Berkeley, now's the time. 


What do you think? Are you in? 

Yes, I'd consider running for office.  

Thanks for all you do. 

–Kat, Elena, Tate, Garlin, and the rest of the team

Updated: Berkeley City Council Cancels Redistricting Despite Receiving Six Viable Plans from Citizens

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 11:18:00 PM

Well, folks, I just wanted to tell you that I've now watched what must rank as the single most disgusting display of hypocrisy in the close to 40 years I've been watching the Berkeley City Council in action. The council majority, comprised of former-Progs and former-Mods now allied to deceive the citizens as often as possible, employed specious semantics to claim that keeping a couple of thousand citizens from voting for city council in the upcoming election was not really "disenfranchising" them.

I suggest that when Wikipedia comes back up all of these self-righteous pseudo-pedants should check out the meaning and usage of the term.Until then, plain old Merriam Webster will have to suffice:

"to disenfranchise: to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity; especially : to deprive of the right to vote." Seems clear to me.

The worst among them was Councilmember Darryl Moore, who defiled the sacred memory of the civil rights movement (Yes, Darryl, I was there—where were you in 1962?) to suggest that it's really okay to deprive some people of their vote for some kinds of offices some of the time.

No, it's not.

Residents were asked to submit plans, and six good plans, any of which would meet the requirements of the Berkeley City Charter, were submitted. But the council majority seized on the excuse provided by a proposal supported by a subset of student pols to postpone redistricting until a charter amendment changing the rules can be devised and passed.

Surely this will happen sometime soon. As Woody used to sing, there'll be pie in the sky by and by.

And while they wait for this blessed day, some number of thousands of voters, including a couple of thousand students, will be deprived of the right to vote for the councilmember who will represent them. But that's not disenfranchisement? Give me a break.

Anyone who has kept their eyes on the prize knows that the real purpose of this delay is to give the council majority time to figure out a way to shove most campus-area students into a single district, thus knocking off the two remaining genuine progressives on the council. Worthington and Arreguin depend on student votes to retain their seats, and their homes could even be cut out of the districts they now represent if lines are redrawn as Councilmember Wozniak proposes.

Wozniak clearly hopes to be left with an all-homeowner District 8, making an even safer seat than he now enjoys. But even homeowners, even comfortable Elmwood homeowners, might eventually get tired of this kind of naked gerrymandering. As might the constituents of the hypocritical Councilmember Moore, who is up for election this November.

This is one council performance that anyone who cares about good government, whether Prog, Mod, Radical, Liberal or just plain old Democrat, should watch. Here it is:

Get Microsoft Silverlight


Odd Bodkins: The Giraffe Suit (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 05:11:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: That Ship Has Sailed (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 05:18:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

OAKLANDERS BEWARE: Mini-lot Development Coming to Neighbor's Yard or Vacant Lot Next to You

By Bob Brokl
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:30:00 PM

Our MacCall St. neighbors group lost the $1400 appeal over a mini-lot subdivision, a vacant lot at 5919 MacCall where formerly there was a single family home. Two 1,452 sq. ft., two story buildings on the substandard 4,140 sq. ft. lot where 5,000 sq. ft. would be required were approved at the Residential Appeal Committee Jan. 11. Two of the 3 commissions, Jonelyn Whales, a City of Richmond planner recently appointed by Quan, and Blake Huntsman, a SEIU rep and Dellums appointee, heard the appeal. Both followed the staff recommendation, made no modifications, and peremptorily voted us down. (We're assuming the proposed project at 4812 Lawton in Temescal—check out http://www.savelawton.org/ is also a mini-lot development.) 

In a nutshell, the zoning we thought we had achieved during the recent rezoning is simply non-existent if a developer wants to build the maximum number of structures on a vacant lot, back, front or side yard. Conditional use permits (c.u.p.s) and variances are being routinely granted for these mini-lot projects. In our case, variances were awarded the developer, the Market Hall Wilson clan, for the violation of setback requirements. Testimony by the Wilsons, the Dogtown developer completing another mini-lot subdivision project at 721-723 60th St., the commissioners, and Zoning Manager Scott Miller himself all indicated condo financing is hard to come by for developers, and mini-lot, multi-unit structures on substandard parcels, packaged as "in-fill," is the way to go in a difficult development climate. Miller repeatedly cited the "flexibility" these mini-lot developments afford developers. He also mentioned "marketability" as a factor for approving such projects. It should be noted here that planning staff are paid primarily through developer fees and permits. 

We actively participated in the multi-million dollar, years in the making citywide rezoning process, attending most of the meetings. "Mini-lot developments," which pre-empt zoning, was never even put on the table. The old bait-and-switch game—a "loophole" big enough to drive a truck through. 

Nine different households contributed toward the astronomical appeal fee, and we had support from more, including elderly and ill neighbors who will be most impacted and who didn't attend the hearing. But Huntsman went so far as to use the dismissive and condescending term "nimby" to describe us. Huntsman is perhaps best known for his sincere observation during the condomania speculative bubble (most of the projects he voted for were never built) that the large number of condos coming on the market would drive down prices. That's what happened, of course, just not in the way he expected...And speaking of condomania, the strategy of resorting to a mini-lot development exemption is eerily similar to the "CEQA in-fill exemption" which was used to justify the high-rise condominium behemoths, where variances were used as necessary, usually plentifully. 

As evidence the House always wins and the cards are stacked against you: the project was basically pre-approved before the neighbors even found out about it. According to the staff report, the developers were meeting with city staff to present and revise their plans beginning on Feb. 28, 2011; the neighbors were given notice on June 10, 2011 for the project the city had already signed off on. No wonder the planner assigned to the project never returned phone calls—he was just being honest. 

The City of Oakland's "Guide to Mini-Lot Developments" (Chapter 17.102.320) states: "Mini-lot Development is defined by Section 17.09 of the Oakland Planning Code as 'a comprehensively designed development containing lots which do not meet the minimum size of other requirements applying to individual lots in the zone where it is located'." According to the staff report, the MacCall St. project neatly avoided all the normal requirements for setbacks and minimum square footage provided for under the zoning. Miller said that the state allowances for in-law and secondary units were specifically excluded on this project, but could we take that to the bank, since state law trumps local rules? Two units become four! 

Mini-lot developments are allowed in all but a few areas of the hills—ranchettes along Skyline Blvd., where the minimum lot size is 4 acres. Rockridge, Temescal, and North Oakland are especially rich targets for such shoehorned projects, because of keen developer interest in areas that are weathering the Great Recession better, and because the relatively restrictive RM-1 and RM-2 zoning we thought protected us is about as safe as 50 year old condoms. 

Get used to the newest neighbors in your neighbors' back, side, or front yard. Or—Is there a lawyer in the house? 

Will Berkeley City Council Consider Real Alternatives to West Campus Council Chamber Site?

By Katherine Harr
Monday January 16, 2012 - 09:35:00 PM

Tonight, Tuesday January 17, the Berkeley City Council will review the staff report on “alternate” locations for City Council meetings. Alternate to what? The corner of Browning and Addison – the residential side of BUSD’s West Campus property.

As the DP wrote, "West Campus is relatively far from the action, and would probably impede rather than facilitate citizen attendance at meetings—but perhaps that’s the rationale behind what appears to be the current plan."

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t provide much in the way of facts or details, and two of the three leading locations identified in the report have many of the same problems that West Campus does: The Longfellow School and NB Senior Center are both in residential areas not well served by late-night transit.

Yet so far the only opposition has been from those of us likely to be dismissed as NIMBY ROBOTS, the neighbors. 

Staff analysis was lacking in so many ways, I hardly know where to start. Main concerns are technical – many of the locations considered don’t have all the infrastructure needed to support TV and Web broadcast or close captioning. Yet the report gives no information about costs for adding those capacities. Even when the report addresses transit, it doesn’t spell out that West Campus is served within half a mile by only 3 buses at night, while locations like Berkeley Community College have at least seven buses coming right by. 

Supposedly, the Browning/Addison chambers will have everything the Council needs, and more. According to the October 24 DP article, BUSD’s $2.1 million cost for that facility would be shared with the city. So how is it, with no location decision yet made by Council, that BUSD is constructing that meeting facility right now? 

Could it be that Council moving to West Campus is a done deal, as the Mayor indicated to speakers on November 8th – the FIRST public meeting on the subject - when he said, “I should point out, we’ve looked everyplace.” 

I may be paranoid, but what if West Campus and Longfellow are the lead contenders because they are in quiet, residential areas? What if public comment will be limited so meetings can end early enough to satisfy neighbors? If you care about public discourse, weigh in January 17 on Council item #33.

How Do We Handle Industrial Evil?

by Gar Smith
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 05:54:00 PM

"What does it matter to us? Look away if it makes you sick"

— Heinrich Himmler in response to complaints about Auschwitz

They conspired to murder millions with lethal gases. They plotted to seek out and kill children. When challenged about what they had done, they lied, they covered up, they tried to silence their critics. They ranked among the country's wealthiest executives. They are the officers of the US tobacco industry. 

In the aftermath of the Philip Morris disclosures and the Liggett Group confessions, the victims of the tobacco industry are demanding justice. 

A proposed $368 billion settlement would shield the tobacco industry from future lawsuits in exchange for halting advertising, financing anti-smoking programs and underwriting healthcare for children. 

The trade-off is uncomfortably reminiscent of Latin American "amnesty" agreements. In Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Peru, military leaders who plotted the political assassinations of thousands of civilians have escaped punishment entirely under the cover of such deals. 

If a particular make of car is shown to roll over, lose control or explode, that auto is recalled. If pesticide residues in food send people to the hospital, those products are taken off the shelves. Toys that choke children and eat little girls' hair are banned. 

Now that the cigarette makers have admitted that their products kill, why should they be allowed to remain in business? 

Nicotine and Nuremberg 

When individuals and corporations commit crimes of demonstrable evil, by what standard should they be judged? 

The world first confronted this question in Nuremberg, Germany, on November 20, 1946, when an International Military Tribunal of distinguished jurists tried 23 Nazi officials for war crimes. 

On May 3, 1947, a second Nuremberg tribunal was convened. This court charged 24 officials of a powerful German chemical corporation — I.G. Farben — with committing crimes of "slavery and mass murder" at the company's sprawling Auschwitz chemical plant. 

I.G. Farben officials initially claimed that they had no idea what was happening at Auschwitz. When that failed, they fell back on the excuse that, had they tried to prevent the extermination of their Jewish workforce, they could have been sent to jail for "undermining the fighting spirit" of the German nation — a capital offense. 

US tobacco companies do not have this excuse. They did not kill and conspire to save their skins — they did it simply to line their pockets. 

In The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben (The Free Press, Macmillian Publishing, 1978), Joseph Borkin reports that the judges were moved by defense lawyers' attempts "to equate the I.G. defendants with their industrial counterparts in the US and other countries as God-fearing, decent and vigorously opposed to communism." 

As the lawyer for Farben executive Carl Krauch told the court: "Replace I.G. by ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] for England, or Du Pont for America, or Montecatini for Italy and at once the similarity will become clear to you." 

On July 29, 1948, the court sentenced 12 of the 24 Farben officials to prison terms ranging from 18 months to eight years. 

A Corporate Crimes Tribunal? 

The next question became: What was to become of I.G. Farben itself? 

US Gen. Dwight Eisenhower concluded that a peaceful Germany could be assured only by fracturing Farben's strategic role in the German economy. To this end, Eisenhower proposed the following actions: 

* Seize I.G. plants and assets and use them to make reparations to the victims. 

* Destroy I.G. plants used exclusively for war production. 

* Break up I.G.'s monopoly by dispersing ownership of the remaining plants. 

* End I.G.'s interests in global cartels. 

* Take over I.G.'s research programs and facilities. 

"The same day Eisenhower's recommendations were released to the papers," Borkin writes, "the United States Army announced plans to dynamite three I.G. plants in the American zone... [declaring that] these factories would be `the first of many hundreds... designated for actual destruction.'" 

The American military government promulgated a sweeping antitrust law. Companies found to maintain an "excessive concentration of economic power... were to be reorganized and broken up." On June 17, 1947, decartelization began as Farben's holdings in the American zone were broken into 47 independent units. 

But Eisenhower's plan was sabotaged in 1947 by a team of 14 US businessmen who objected that the anti-monopoly drive might interfere with the "possible recovery of the economic life of a starving people." 

The dismantling of I.G. Farben was halted. The firm's assets were consolidated into three holding companies — Bayer, BASF and Hoechst. In December 1951, when these companies announced their new officers, the names included many former Farben executives. 

In September 1955, Friedrich Jaehne, a former war criminal, emerged as the new chairman of Hoechst. In 1956, Fritz ter Meer, a war criminal convicted of both plunder and slavery, became the chair of Bayer's supervisory board. 

As Borkin notes: "In 1977, Hoechst, BASF; and Bayer were among the 30 largest industrial companies in the world.... Each one is bigger than I.G. at its zenith." 

What's To Be Done? 

The late author/activist Richard Grossman has explained how to put law-breaking corporations permanently out of business by seizing their charters of incorporation ["Seize their Charters," Spring '93 EIJ]. The giant tobacco companies are a good place to start. 

The tobacco giants should be boycotted. In the case of Philip Morris, this means shunning scores of products including Duracell batteries, Miller beer, Sanka, Yuban, Shake In' Bake, Post cereals, Kool-Aid, Jello-O, Miracle Whip, Cheez Whiz and Velveeta. 

Tobacco farmers should be encouraged to grow "substitution crops" — e.g., kenaf for tree-free paper and food for the poor. (The US finances similar anti-drug substitution crop programs for opium farmers in Thailand and cocoa farmers in Peru.) 

Genocidal exports of cigarettes targeting kids in Asia and Africa should be banned. 

Finally, corporate reparations should be offered to the victims in terms of lifetime medical treatment for tobacco-linked diseases. Seized corporate assets also could finance drug-treatment programs to help people break their addictions to nicotine. 

(c) 1997 Earth Island Institute. This article originally appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of Earth Island Journal. Reprinted by permission of the author. 

Mic Check! Occupy the Courts Jan 20: beginning 8:00 AM in Oakland; noon in SF.

By Christina Tuccillo and Phoebe Anne Sorgen
Wednesday January 18, 2012 - 12:18:00 AM

For excellent reasons, dozens of organizations and hundreds of thousands of people support the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling of Jan. 21, 2010 and prior anti-democratic SCOTUS rulings that a corporation is a person and that money is speech. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80% of Americans oppose the Citizens United ruling, and a Harris poll found that 87% think big companies have too much influence in Washington.

The Occupy Berkeley General Assembly reached consensus twice to support two local Jan. 20, 2012 "Occupy the Courts" actions organized by members of Move to Amend, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy SF. These are outdoor, permitted protests: 

Starting at 8:00 AM - Oakland Federal Courthouse on Clay St., between 13th/14th Streets - http://occupyoaklandcourts.org

Starting at Noon - San Francisco 9th District Court of Appeals, 7th Street at Mission - http://www.occupywallstwest.org/wordpress/?cat=12  

Over 100 Occupy the Courts actions will occur nationwide, including at the Supreme Court. http://movetoamend.org/occupythecourts 

If we want the voice of a teacher to be able to get through the din of attack ads financed by for-profit transnational corporations and billionaires, we need change, or the megaphone of the 1% will continue drowning out We the People's free speech. With the goal of creating a truly democratic society, limiting corporate influence over elections is necessary. With increased regulation of electoral expenditures, maybe we'd get real debates rather than factually incorrect hit-pieces!  

While local and state governments can still regulate campaign spending minimally, because of Citizens United Congress can no longer regulate what comes through Political Action Committees, or PACs. That's a LOT of money. (PACs are private groups that are organized to elect political candidates or advance the outcome of legislation. While they are not run by specific candidates, they may still openly support candidates and be run by former employees of those candidates.) 

Money is not free speech -- it's spending. A corporation is not a person – it’s an artificial entity set up to maximize profits. 

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, “The historic election of 2008 re-confirmed one truism about American democracy: Money wins elections. From the top of the ticket, where Barack Obama declined public financing for the first time since the system's creation and went on to amass a nearly two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain, to congressional races throughout the nation, the candidate with the most money going into Election Day emerged victorious in nearly every contest. In 93% of House of Representatives races and 94% of Senate races..., the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning." The findings were based on candidates' spending, and didn't even factor in corporate spending on hit pieces such as Citizens United. 

Money does win elections, which is a huge problem. Big money buying our democracy is one of THE root causes of many of the problems of our era: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/11/money-wins-white-house-and.html 

A subscriber to the Occupy Berkeley listserv, who has rarely come to OB in person, recently published in the Daily Planet a critique of the OB General Assembly decision to support Occupy the Courts. We wrote this in response to what we consider to be his distorted commentary entitled "Mic Check?! State Run Political Campaigns." In the unlikely event that the U.S. government were able to forbid all campaign contributions, the outcome would be preferable to having corporations, super rich candidates, and their backers put million$ into elections that support their profits when many of us can't even cough up $100.  

We continue to be active members of Occupy Berkeley. We are on the facilitation team for the General Assemblies and on the OB Peace Working Group. We invite you to join us in our efforts to create a democracy that responds to the needs of the 99% and is not for sale to the highest bidder. http://occupyberkeley.org/ 



“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” - Rosa Luxemburg  


ECLECTIC RANT: Precedent-Setting Human Trafficking Case

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 20, 2012 - 03:38:00 PM

When most people think of human trafficking, they envision victims trafficked into the international sex trade. But consider the complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the class action case of Mairi Nunag-Tañedo, et al. v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, et al. , filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. §1589, et seq.

The Plaintiffs in this case are 350 Filipino teachers who were recruited by Universal Placement International, Inc. located in Los Angeles and PARS International Placement Agency located in Quezon City, Philippines, to work in Louisiana public schools.

From 2006 to the filing of the lawsuit in 2010, the defendants recruited experienced Filipino teachers to work in Louisiana public schools under the H-1B guestworker visa program. Most of the teachers had to borrow money to pay the recruiting fees, which ranged from $5,000 to $5,500. This is about one and half times the average annual income in the Philippines. The teachers were not told until after the first fee had been paid that they would be required to pay the first three months of their projected salary before they could leave for the United States. The first two months was collected in advance. The third month's salary was to be collected after the first year of employment. If the teachers resisted paying the third month's salary, they were threatened with being sent back to the Philippines and losing the thousands they had already paid.  

Thus, initially the Plaintiffs believed they would have to pay only an upfront fee of $5,000 to $5,500. But once that was paid, they were then told that they had to pay another amount equal to three months projected salary, and had to pay their airfare. They paid upward of $16,000 for their teaching positions.  

Most of the teachers had to borrow the money to pay the recruiting fees. The recruiters referred the teachers to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent per month. At this point, the teachers had no choice but to pay these exorbitant fees as they had already paid a substantial amount that would not be returned. The recruiters kept their visas and passports until all the money was paid. 

In May 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford set a historic precedent by granting class action status to a human trafficking lawsuit involving these 350 Filipino teachers In reaching his decision, the Court concluded that it is sufficient that a defendant’s misconduct has created a situation where ceasing labor would cause a plaintiff serious harm. Further, human trafficking also involves violations of other laws, including labor and immigration codes and laws against kidnaping, slavery, false imprisonment, assault, battery, pandering, fraud, and extortion. In other words, the TVPA not only protects victims from the most heinous human trafficking crimes, but also various additional types of fraud and extortion leading to forced labor. And in this case, the complaint alleges that psychological coercion such as seizing immigrants’ passports to restrict their ability to flee, threats to fire Plaintiffs, sue them, allow their visas to expire, or deport them over various issues that generally concerned complaints about living conditions and pay.  

The trial is set to begin in July 2012.

THE PUBLIC EYE: America’s Mobility Problem

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 20, 2012 - 12:38:00 PM

2012’s dominant political will be jobs and income inequality. Recent studies suggest that we add social mobility to the list: an American born into poverty is increasingly unlikely to be able to move up and out. 

In his classic essay, “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative,” Robert Reich examined four core American myths. One concerned mobility: the “Triumphant Individual …who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor.” “The story is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that ‘the value of life is to improve one's condition.’ The theme was captured in Horatio Alger's hundred or so novellas, whose heroes all rise promptly and predictably from rags to riches” “The moral: With enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in the United States.” 

The Triumphant Individual myth feeds the notion of the US as a land of unbounded opportunity; a country where anyone, no matter how impoverished his or her initial surroundings, can carve out a decent life by hard work. That promise motivated my great grandfather to come to Pennsylvania from Scotland. The same belief caused his children to move to Southern California. And that bright promise motivated me to work in the Silicon Valley. My family believed that hard work would bring success. But for millions of Americans that dream has evaporated. 

A recent New York Times article reported, “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The explanation is the circumstances of your family of origin – if you are born into poverty you tend to stay there whereas if you are born into affluence you tend to continue to live in affluence. “About 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths… Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.” 

While income inequality and lack of social mobility has long been intellectual fodder for the left, the “mobility deficit” has only recently come to the attention of the right. Conservative stalwarts, such as Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum, have observed that mobility in the US is less than it is in Canada and Europe. Conservatives don’t link lack of mobility to economic inequality, but they recognize there is a problem. 

It’s not a big mystery why poor kids don’t have a chance to move up and out. Many of them are raised by single moms in struggling households and don’t get attention, in general, let alone help with their homework or encouragement to achieve. The perplexing question is why a nation that has long cherished the myth of the triumphant individual doesn’t link this to the golden rule. Before he became President, Barack Obama observed, “It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.” Why don’t more of us believe it is our mutual responsibility to ensure there is a level playing field where everyone has a decent chance of success? 

The truth is we’ve become a nation of narcissists. For many Americans – particularly Republicans – the core value is not “E pluribus unum” but rather, “What’s in it for me.” As a consequence, we’ve shredded the safety net. Poor kids aren’t as likely to get small class sizes, pre- and after-school care, food, healthcare, and decent housing. And we pay our blue-collar workers less than they do in Canada and Europe. 

If the mobility deficit makes it onto the list of issues discussed in the Presidential debates it will be interesting to hear what Candidates Obama and Romney have to say. Obama is an example of the Triumphant Individual: abandoned by his father, raised by his grandparents and a working mom, working his way into Harvard Law School, becoming head of the Law Review… In contrast, Romney was raised in privilege – his father, George, was an automobile executive who resigned his CEO position to run for governor of Michigan. 

Romney will likely pattern his response to the mobility deficit as he’s dealt with global climate change: there’s a problem; we don’t know what causes it; here are a set of policy proposals that will benefit the 1 percent. “Let’s fight for the America we love.” Romney will toe the conservative line; he will push for lower taxes for the one percent on the grounds that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” 

America’s lack of social mobility is a national disgrace. President Obama would do well to directly address it during the presidential campaign. In 2008 he promised to bring hope but now many citizens are discouraged. It’s still possible to rebuild the American promise, to make the myth of the Triumphant Individual a reality for millions of impoverished Americans. But some politician has to carry the torch. Why not Barack Obama? 

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

WILD NEIGHBORS: Careful, the Snake Might Hear You

By Joe Eaton
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:00:00 PM
A little cello music for the ball python?
Holger Krisp, via Wikimedia Commons
A little cello music for the ball python?

I’ve lived with a ball python named Shep for something like eight years, and all that time I’ve assumed he was effectively deaf, as snakes were supposed to be. He has never seemed to respond to music, even to bass lines (in contrast to Matt the cat, who leaves the room when fiddle music is in progress.) We all know that the Indian snake-charmer routine works because the cobra responds to the flute-player’s movements, not the sound of the flute. 

This is apparently not quite the case. A Danish biologist named Christian Christensen has demonstrated that ball pythons, at least, can detect airborne sounds. The ball python is not native to Denmark; Christensen probably chose to work with them because they’re small (for constrictors), easy-going, and available in the pet trade. 

“You can’t train snakes to respond to sounds with certain behaviors, like you might be able to do with mice,” Christensen told a reporter. In fact, it’s hard to train a snake to do anything. He and his colleagues attached electrodes to the pythons’ heads to monitor neurons that connected their inner ears with their brains. 

(Yes, pythons have inner ears, although they’re rudimentary compared with ours; instead of the human malleus, incus, and stapes, they have only one inner-ear bone, the columella auris.) 

The snakes were exposed to sound from a speaker suspended above their cage, eliminating the possibility that they would pick up groundborne vibrations. They made no overt response to the sounds, but the nerves fired at some frequencies. The strongest pulses occurred at frequencies between 80 and 160 hertz, comparable to the lowest notes of a cello. The biologists then attached tiny sensors—vibrometers--to the pythons’ skulls and found that the airborne sounds made the bone vibrate. 

Ball pythons rarely encounter cellos in their native West African savannas. It’s not clear how the snakes benefit from their limited hearing ability, or whether the cranial reception of sound waves is more than a vestigial function. It’s also undetermined whether other snakes have similar abilities, although some, including rattlesnakes, pick up sonic vibrations through their jawbones. 

Snakes are highly specialized lizards, in the same sense that butterflies are highly specialized moths. And many lizards, particularly geckos, are highly vocal. They call to attract mates and warn off rivals. One South African gecko species performs in choruses, like a frog. Although some lizards, such as the North American earless lizard, lack external ear openings, they’re still be able to detect sounds. 

So what happened to the ancestral snakes’ ears? Some herpetologists argue that snakes went through a burrowing phase during which their limbs, eyes, and ears degenerated. (Others support an aquatic ancestry; I believe the jury is still out on that one. It’s true that a number of sand-burrowing lizards have reduced or lost their limbs.) The idea is that sound travels well enough through sandy soil that fully functional ears became an evolutionary luxury. Mutant protosnakes with reduced hearing were able to survive and reproduce as well as their predecessors. 

An interesting sidebar: when ancient snakes lost their eyes, they apparently had to re-evolve them from scratch when they returned to the surface and needed a better way to detect prey or predators. Ivan Schwab, the UC Davis ophthalmologist who won the first (and I believe only) IgNobel prize in ornithology for his study on why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, points out that the eye of a typical snake is more like that of a fish in structure than that of a lizard, alligator, or turtle. Snake optical specializations include a large spherical lens, fused eyelids, and blood vessels that feed nutrients and oxygen to the inner retina. (Schwab’s new book, Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved, is a wonderful exploration of the many ways of making an eye—a good follow-up if you’ve read Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable.) 

Yes, I’ve found myself lowering my voice around the python. But I haven’t played any cello concertos for him yet.

SENIOR POWER: Food as metaphor

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:13:00 PM

When my parents separated in 1931, my mother moved to a suburban apartment. Some of the furniture and I accompanied her. Shanin the landlord was busy with his principal business— collecting and shipping boatloads of scrap metal to Japan. On the first of each month, his agent, an amiable woman with a withered arm, knocked on his buildings’ apartment doors to collect the rents and to chat. 

Most of the tenants were newly-wed couples who moved on after the first baby. From them, I learned go schlofin. Mrs. Berman kept a kosher kitchen in the next-door apartment. Mr. B was the Fuller Brush man. Whenever I was sick, she would ask my mother for a bowl in which she’d share some of her chicken soup. But later on, Mrs. B. and my mother got into loud fights. One had something to do with her putting Marvin and his tricycle out into the first floor hall to play. 

Respite months in the city hospital provided me with memorable experiences of security and consistency having to do with people and food. I was encouraged to eat, and most of the food was novel. At first I hadn’t wanted to eat. A blue-and-white sat by the bed and coaxed me to eat food from a child’s dish heated with hot water inside. Later, in the ward, I ate from regular dishes, sitting up. I was familiar with hot cereal but not yellow cornmeal. It was probably donated, Depression Era stuff. With the cereal, hot cocoa was likely. And toast with margarine already on it. Occasional bacon, even scrambled eggs. (I still prefer scrambled eggs made with powdered-eggs.) Mid-morning juice was accompanied by a small glass of fish oil. Dinner was mid-day, Sunday especially special included mashed potatoes and a scoop of ice cream. A glass of milk with everything. Following visiting hours, temperature-taking and a snack, early supper was milk-toast –- warm milk over pieces of toasted, thrifty stale bread. Or macaroni and cheese. And fruit. I no longer needed coaxing or help to eat. 

My mother still had her high school cooking class notebook, and there were several dishes that I especially liked and asked for, but they were infrequent: smoked pork butt cooked in pea soup, baked scalloped potatoes, custard with nutmeg on top, beef stew with gravy. She could make tasty foods and meals, but they became fewer and fewer. She was angry and depressed. If the apartment “we” were renting at the time had a refrigerator, I knew not to open it. She listened to the radio and followed Doctor Gaylord Hauser’s vegetable soup recipe. Not a physician, he was said to be Greta Garbo’s latest swain. And there were grimacing exercises advocated by cosmetician Rose Laird to deal with middle-age chins. 

The five K-6 grade schools fed into an old building down town where a creaky second floor housed all of grade seven. Junior high school was our introduction to men teachers, individual subjects taught separately, and smelly toilets. Miss Vivian Wells, an acknowledged absolute darling, introduced eighth grade girls to cooking. Our class was the last period in the afternoon, and we had time to eat what we made — including cream of tomato soup and chocolate pudding made from scratchwhile the boys got mechanical drawing. (Later, after December 1941, they were taught to rivet aluminum in industrial arts classes and were able to get summer jobs building Navy planes.) 

It was my good fortune to have Miss Mabel Skinner for three years of high school Spanish and a year of homeroom. She was middle-aged, and some students took advantage of her slight hearing problem. One Saturday she took two other students and me to Manhattan to the Spanish movie theater, the Belmont, near Times Square. Admission 30 cents until noon. She wore a black Persian lamb coat and her Mexican silver jewelry. We saw Un Ave Sin Nido -– A Bird Without a Nest — a weepy black and white film from Mexico. When we returned and got off the train, she invited us to have dinner with her at an eatery near the station. We failed to realize that she was lonely and not eager to return to her apartment. She ordered steaks and ice cream sundaes for everyone and ate slowly. I’d never had condiments, dressings or seasoned foods. The steak came with French fries and pickled beets and was my introduction to these delectables. 


“Personal Health: Lifelines for People with Hearing Loss” by Jane E. Brody. New York Times, January 17, 2012. 


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

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 


Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Bring items with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 


Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book into Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Free. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a You Tube Video. Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to You Tube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series. 

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital.
Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Gogol's The Overcoat. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. The Occupiers: Why We Demonstrate. Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Ruth Maguire of the Gray Panthers, and activist photographer Anna Graves will tell about their experiences with the Occupations of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and why this movement is so important in changing today's political dialogue. 

Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+. Taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required); $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only, to AARP. 510-747-7510 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15, 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 7 P.M. Behind the Music of Bustan & Ben Goldberg. Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut, Berkeley. Come hear two of the movers and shakers behind the world-class music to be heard at this year’s Jewish Music Festival. Free. 510-848-0237. Also March 22.  

Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 

Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler immigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 

Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 

Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. www.usoac.org 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043. 


Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 


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

By Dorothy Bryant
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:06:00 PM

Spiritualists believe in personal immortality as far as any mortal can believe in such an unimaginable horror.

— George Bernard Shaw(probably from the preface to Back to Methuselah or another of his late, long, never-performed plays) 

There was a time (before “My Fair Lady” and other sugar-coated variants diluted his sharp messages) when some theater company in every major town—and most college drama departments—were sure to be doing one of Shaw’s plays, challenging common beliefs of the comfortable classes while making them laugh. And doing it all with words, no special effects, no sexy innuendos, no sentimental happily-ever-after, just social, political, and philosophical reality dropped into the laps of audiences for them to face and deal with. 

This line shows Shaw at his best, asking us to look steadily at the accepted cliché that we would all want to be ourselves, in this life, forever. He invites us to seriously consider such a reality, and, if you are neither a monster nor an idiot, experience a sense of dread and horror creeping over you, perhaps worse than the instinctive fear of death. 

Now Shaw is out of fashion—“too talky, too cerebral, too reform-minded, too political”—too everything that sees the fun in witty jousting with eternally important ideas.  

I miss him. 

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

Arts & Events

Stagebridge Mounts New Play by Joan Holden at Berkeley's Ashby Stage, Opening Feb. 3

By John A. McMullen III
Friday January 20, 2012 - 05:10:00 PM

The year Reagan was elected, I saw my first SF Mime Troupe show, which was written by Joan Holden:Americans, or Last Tango In Huahuatenango, a musical comedy of tropical and topical intrigue. Little did we know what evil would lurk in the next 8 years in Central America.

A decade later—though I saw many more by Joan Holden in between—I saw Back To Normal, in which a mother does not cheer when her son comes home from the two week bombing raid we called the Gulf War. In retrospect that work augured more war evil to come in the decade to follow.

Whether or not she has a touch of the Sybil or can just read the writing on the wall a decade in advance, Joan Holden, whose latest play opens in Berkeley at the Ashby Stage on February 3, has been a force in the theater and, as principal playwright, was a significant reason why the Mime Troupe garnered a Tony for Best Regional Theater. 

Lately, Ms. Holden has focused on domestic injustice and the world of work. 

She adapted a play called “Nickel and Dimed,” based on Barbara Ehrenrich’s book about the wage-slavery of the working class, which played to exceptional reviews. 

Now Holden takes up another book, “Counter Culture” by Candacy Taylor, and makes it personal with a story about a diner waitress of retirement age. 

A significant hook in this new play, titled COUNTER ATTACK, is that it is being produced by Stagebridge, the Oakland-based theater and training ground for senior actors and artists. 

The second hook of COUNTER ATTACK is that Holden joins with lifelong colleagues now in their seniority to shout out against societal ills in a most amusing and convincing theatrical way. 

Sharon Lockwood directs, Joan Mankin plays the lead, Arthur Holden plays a supporting role, and Dan Chumley does the sets. All these veteran professionals were part of the early SF Mime Troupe for whom Joan Holden wrote and who seem to be extended family, e. g., Joan Holden was married to Arthur Holden who is now married to Sharon Lockwood, etc. 

The acting troupe and students at Stagebridge provide the rest of the 12-member ensemble playing over 50 unique characters and customers. 

COUNTER ATTACK will be performed at the Ashby Stage theater, where Shotgun also plays, right across from Ashby BART, Feb 3-Mar 4. Scrumbly Koldewyn has composed a musical underscore for the piece. 

Holden recalled the beginnings of her play writing career with the Mime Troupe:“I was a troupe groupie. Ronnie Davis was hiring writers to adapt classics for a Commedia, and Arthur said, ‘Joan can write,’ so I wrote a take-off on a Goldoni piece that had Peter Coyote in the lead. The first time I saw people doing a scene I had written, and other people laughing, I was hooked and I knew what I wanted to be.” 

She’s a Berkeley local who was born at Alta Bates and went to Berkeley High. She’s had some real-life local waitress experience. “I worked at a café at 5th & Folsom in the early 60’s and was a banquet waitress at the Claremont Hotel. I could call up a lot of nightmare waitress scenes in my memory. And I’ve met some really great waitresses.” 

Holden has been has been honored with awards from the Bay Area Critics' Circle, Dramalogue, and Los Angeles Critics' Circle; playwriting grants from the Rockefeller and Gerbode Foundations; the San Francisco Working Women's Festival Working Woman of the Year award, and, with the Troupe, the San Francisco Media Alliance Golden Gadfly Award. 

In an interview with Holden, we learned that though the Taylor book is a series of monologue-like interviews in the format of “Working” by Studs Terkel; she saw it as a full-on theatrical piece. 

“The characters seemed to me to be all one woman…It takes a certain personality to be a diner waitress. So I made it about two waitresses in conflict. The new one wants to work the counter where there are more tips because of the quick turnover and the older waitress has her regulars.” 

She was in contact with the book’s author through the creation process: “When I was writing the play, it leapt into my mind that it required our heroine play a trick on the rival so I asked Candacy about it and she came up with the trick.” 

From the “artist’s statement” on the Stagebridge website: “ ‘Why another waitress play?’ my waitress daughter asked. If I hadn’t gotten my chance as a writer I would have stayed a waitress myself, and Candacy Taylor’s book shows why. 

“Barbara Ehrenreich honors the women slaving in chain restaurants, whose lives no one would envy; Candacy shows the other side of waitressing. She celebrates the stars of mom-and- pop diners, the waitresses whose blandishments and wisecracks customers line up for, women who love their work and make good money at it. Her book challenges the middle-class assumption that mental work is better work…It shows a blue-collar job that takes more brains and offers more fulfillment, more chance to use one’s whole self, than many higher-status occupations. This play would show why some women, even some with college degrees, would rather run 8 miles around a restaurant floor than sit for 8 hours in a cubicle, or trade slings and arrows with cooks and managers than file reports to Management on a computer. I would hope to influence a few career choices. 

“Finally, this is a chance to write about and for my age group: 65-plus and not dead yet.” 

Read the “artist’s statement” it in its entirety

Counter Attack, by Joan Holden 

Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave, Berkeley 

February 3rd-March 4th (dark on February 15) 

www.stagebridge.org / (510) 444-4755 x114

Around & About Chamber Music: The Israeli Chamber Project at the Berkeley City Club, Tuesday January 24

By Ken Bullock
Sunday January 22, 2012 - 03:47:00 PM

The Israeli Chamber Project--Tibi Cziger, clarinet; Michael Korman, cello; Sivan Magen, harp; Assaff Weisman, piano; Itamar Zorman, violin--will play Bartok's 'Contrasts'; Brahms' Clarinet Trio in A minor, Opus 114; Paul Ben Haim's 3 Songs Without Words for Harp & Clarinet; Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor; and Sebastian Courier, Night Time for Harp & Violin, at 8 pm, Tuesday, January 24, Berkeley City Club, 2135 Durant. $12.50 (post-high school students), $25 general, students high school & below, free. 525-5211; berkeleychamberperformances.org

Around & About: The Edwardian Ball

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday January 18, 2012 - 10:20:00 AM

Long a San Francisco and Bay Area tradition, costume balls and masquerades have often been an integral part of theatrical events, like the SF Opera's Black & White Ball. 

The Edwardian Ball rolls out the carpet this weekend at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom, which opened in 1909. The Regency's a Beaux Arts Scottish Rite hall, often cited as the greatest example of that style in America. The Avalon Ballroom's part of the complex, a Swing Era landmark--and home to the Family Dog for rock dances during the Haight-Ashbury. 

Rosin Coven and Vau De Vire Society bring an Edward Gorey tale to the stage, with the blessings of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. This year's show is 'The Iron Tonic--or, A Lonely Afternoon in Lonely Valley.' 

(Gorey, the Tony-winning designer for the 1977 Broadway revival of 'Dracula,' was also a great book designer and illustrator, wrote scores of droll, macabre parodies of Victoriana from the early 1950s, and ran his own theater company, Le Theatricule Stoique, on Cape Cod. Locally, his friend and director, C. J. Verburg, has directed stage plays for the Fellowship Theater Guild at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, Dr. Howard Thurman's integrated church the first of its type.) 

Special events spin off around the two days of the Ball and its Edwardian World's Faire, with "parlour games, steam machinery, aerial performers, sideshow acts, contortionists, sideshow acts, fire performers, thespians and beautiful circus freaks," plus "obscure artifacts, a bicycle-powered Ferris Wheel, period technology and thematic couture venues." The three levels of the Regency will house a Museum of Wonders, an Edwardian Odditorium, a portrait studio and a tea parlour. "Humor and darkness" are promised in plenty. 

Friday & Saturday, January 20 & 21, Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness at Sutter, San Francisco (& in Los Angeles, February 4). Tickets: $29-$85, limited special discounts, VIP and two-day passes available. edwardianball.com or facebook.com/edwardianball

Clerestory 'Resolutions'--Choral Music for the New Year

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 11:18:00 PM

Clerestory, men's choral group--the name comes from "clear cathedral windows that let in sunlight" (Middle English, clear + story)--opens its New Year Bay Area concerts with 'Resolutions,' "A kaleidoscope of favorites" of the group's first five years, from early Renaissance through English choral music to modern American composers (including Eric Banks, Paul Crabtree and Steven Sametz), this Saturday evening at 8 at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Other Bay Area concerts follow, concluding with a Sunday matinee on the 29th in San Francisco, presented by the Noe Valley Chamber Music series.  

Founded by Berkeley resident Jesse Antin, the ten-man chorus ranges from countertenor to bass, with singers of experience, all former members of choirs like Chanticleer, the Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, American Bach Soloists and the Schola Cantorum. They've been featured on NPR and locally on KDFC-fm. Their records are available for listening and downloading at the website. 

From madrigals to elegies, Josquin to Vaughan Williams, Clerestory promises to deliver "the clear story."  

Tickets: $10-$20. clerestory.org

Theater Review: Ghost Light at the Berkeley Rep

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 05:55:00 PM

"What kind of son internalizes that curse? If we solve the ghost, we solve the play."

A 14 year old boy watches color TV onstage ... sitcoms of the 70s: Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show ... An interruption, and close-up of a young Dianne Feinstein, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announcing Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot—and that the suspect is Supervisor Dan White

The boy leaps up. He's Moscone's son Jonathan, the dead mayor's youngest child.

The date is November 27, 1978. 

Decades later—a moment onstage—stage director Jon addresses the audience as if its members are his acting students, fishing for ideas from them for a production of 'Hamlet'—in particular, ideas for Hamlet's father's ghost. Running through the house at the Rep's Thrust Stage, Jon is a hysterical caricature of Jonathan Moscone, who has said of the sharp, frequent comedic bits of the play that laughter is a way to confront death.  

The ghost of the father is Jon's obsession, setting the "time out of joint," exhuming other images of obsession and loss. 

Jon, alone, hears phantom sounds—knocking, voices calling ... Apparitions appear: a uniformed man, asking if he's the Mayor's son; a provocative prison guard, brandishing a revolver; a gay hunk surfacing in his bed ... 

The play is 'Ghost Light,' playing at the Berkeley Rep, after premiering last summer as a commissioned piece at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, written by The Rep's artistic director, Tony Taccone—and directed by Jonathan Moscone, himself the artistic director of CalShakes. (Some at opening night still seemed to think Moscone wrote the play and Taccone directed.)  

Over 2 1/2 hours long, 'Ghost Light,' is a welter of vignettes which probe the relationship of a son with his father, famous but absent, absent by assassination, a darker consequence of fame. The show is set before the entrance to San Francisco City Hall, where a good cast plays out scenes of loaded imagery, some dreamlike, others coldly real.  

One scene has Jon confront the watchcapped director of a film about Harvey Milk, Moscone's presence having been progressively elided, shot by shot . Another has him railing against Milk's enshrined memory, wryly noting that he's the only gay man who would deride the martyred supervisor, America's first elected openly gay official.  

"Ghost light" refers to the light kept lit onstage when the rest of the theater is dark. At a press conference the day of the show's opening, Moscone and Taccone mentioned the old theater superstition that the light's on so both the living and spirits of the dead won't stumble. 

It's also said to light the stage when the ghosts of actors play. And having it lit prevents a theater from ever going "dark," or showless. 

When the prison guard brings up the assassination to grown-up Jon, then brutally rehearses it, using Jon like a target dummy, 'Ghost Light' achieves the tension that stalks its themes, as it does in the tender denouement, when young Jon's father mutely straightens his formal clothes, and shows him in personal silence, but to music, how to lead by dancing with him. Such moments reveal the possibilities of the material, how close to the bone it can be. 

But with scene after scene of constant exposition replacing dialogue, 'Ghost Light' is overcome by "the kitchen sink" effect of too much repetition, and the effect of quickly switching TV channels with a remote control, staggering the time sequence of events real and imagined. In the 'Pensees,' Pascal said the cosmos was an infinite sphere, the center everywhere, circumference nowhere—maybe an allegory conceived in advance of the theory of the expanding universe. 'Ghost Light' sprawls, overreaches, coming back to reenter its own events, but without a center.  

There are fine performances by Peter Macon as the uniformed figure called Mister, Bill Geisslinger as the Prison Guard and Christopher Liam Moore as Jon. The only substantive female role of Louise, Jon's collaborator and best friend, proves to be a pitch-&-catch part, interlocutor for Jon's motor-mouth declarations and confidences, fleshed out by Robinn Rodriguez, but nonetheless a thankless task. 

Taccone's script, supposedly cut down from its original length for the Ashland performances, still needs to find a stylization for its wild shifts and swings of subject, mood, and treatment of the aftereffects of an event that has lived on subliminally in the margins of Bay Area life for almost 35 years. Practically everyone living here then remembers where they were, what they were doing, when interrupted by the news of the double assassination that awful day. . 

In the house opening night were Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and ex-Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown.  

Tuesdays through Sundays, through February 19, Berkeley Repertory Theatre Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. $14.50-$73. (510) 647-2949; berkeleyrep.org 

Addiction Incorporated: The Other Insider
Opens January 20 at the Shattuck Cinemas

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday January 17, 2012 - 05:50:00 PM
Director Chris Evans, Jr. and whistle-blower Victor DeNoble
Director Chris Evans, Jr. and whistle-blower Victor DeNoble
Big Tobacco blows smoke and makes a killing. Still from Addition Incorporated.
Big Tobacco blows smoke and makes a killing. Still from Addition Incorporated.

In the 1999 movie, The Insider, Russell Crowe starred as Jeff Wigand, a former tobacco industry researcher for Brown & Williams, who dares to reveal the dangers of nicotine to Berkeley-based 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman.

This week, Berkeley-grad Charles Evans Jr.,'s Addiction Incorporated hits the Big Screen to tell a parallel story of Philip Morris researcher Victor DeNoble, the whistleblower whose revelations triggered the Congressional hearings and class action lawsuits that forever tarred the reputation of Big Tobacco. 

Addiction Incorporated is a prodigious historical documentary bursting with brilliant interviews with key players from every level of the scientific-media-political-corporate playing field. Addition Inc., reveals the nearly untouchable power of large immoral corporations and demonstrates the ability of committed individuals to insist on justice, even when confronted with the most daunting of odds. Archival footage of historic Congressional hearings is expertly edited into the flowing storyline and, where archival footage is nonexistent or inadequate, the filmmakers have invested generously in "recreations" — including an astonishing scene in a commercial passenger plane when passengers were still allowed to cloud the cabin with billows of cigarette smoke. 

In this beautifully polished documentary (Evans' directorial debut), DeNoble comes across as an incredibly engaging guy with the natural charisma of a movie star. DeNoble also turns out to be a very smart fellow, indeed. Fresh out of college, Phillip Morris sought him out. With all the intrigue of the CIA recruiting a potential double-agent, DeNoble was picked up in a limousine, flown to an expensive hotel and treated to an expensive meal by a mysterious corporate agent who began the conversation with: "First let me tell you about yourself." He then rattled off the names more than 20 members of DeNoble's family and provided detailed information on the personal background of each individual. "I had no idea how he discovered all that information," DeNoble recalls. But he was impressed. 

Philip Morris (PM) was looking for a bright young scientist to head a covert research project. Despite repeated public denials that nicotine was addictive, PM knew the chemical was not only habit-forming but that it was causing smokers to die prematurely from lung and heart disease. 

DeNoble's assignment was to find a replacement for nicotine — a chemical that was just as addictive but without nicotine's lethal side effects. It was never a humanitarian decision. PM was simply facing the fact that addicted smokers would buy more cigarettes if they lived longer. There was profit in extending the customers' longevity. 

DeNoble was hired to conduct animal experiments in a secret lab hidden even from fellow PM staff. Working with rats, DeNoble discovered how to administer nicotine at the same levels that human smokers were subjected to. (In its first half, Addiction Incorporated features several long patches of beautifully rendered — and somewhat creepy — animations of rats that slowly evolve into images of humans dragging rat-like tales behind them.) 

DeNoble initially undertook his research in the spirit of altruism. He saw his role as producing a product that, while addictive, was healthier and would save lives. 

DeNoble proved that rats (whose brains are remarkable similar to humans in this regard) could be trained to push a trigger that released pleasurable doses of nicotine. Once addicted, the rats would push the lever up to 90 times a day! But when DeNoble asked to publish these findings in a scientific journal, PM refused. 

Then DeNoble had an insight that would transform the cigarette industry — at least as far as PM was concerned. What if, DeNoble wondered, there were other chemicals in tobacco that also contributed to the addictive response in smokers? He began to experiment with the scores of chemicals lurking in the leaves until he hit upon one called acetaldehyde. 

When he introduced acetaldehyde to his rats, he discovered that the chemical was twice as addictive as nicotine — and it did not have the harmful side effects. 

This was the Holy Grail and it should have been the crowning achievement of DeNoble's work. But DeNoble tried one more experiment. When he fed his rats a mixture of nicotine and acetaldehyde he observed that the combo turned the rats from "lazy addicts" into "active addicts" whose craving for a cigarette high more than doubled! 

Faced with this discovery, PM's top ranks had a moral dilemma: (1) Swap acetaldehyde for nicotine to produce a mildly addictive product that wouldn't kill smokers or (2) Promote a new product that would be just as deadly but twice as addictive. Being tobacco company officials, they quickly chose profits over body counts and DeNoble's secret discovery gave PM a decisive competitive edge over the rest of the industry. 

While PM's advertizing promoted its cigarettes as a "lifestyle" choice identified with cowboys and the great outdoors, PM's executives clearly understood that their business model had devolved into a simple matter of selling an addictive drug. 

Eventually, when a series of New Jersey lawsuits threaten to put PM's research center under the spotlight, company lawyers recommended that DeNoble's research not even be acknowledged. Of particular concern was a research paper entitled "Nicotine as a Positive Reinforcer in Rats" that was to have been presented at a session of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1983. 

"They told me I had to withdraw the paper," DeNoble recalls with disbelief. "What do you mean? I said. I grew up in the 60s. We protested everything and I'm used to resisting authority." If he challenged his bosses at PM, DeNoble realized, "they could ruin my career. But, if I didn't resist them, what's my career worth?" 

So DeNoble showed up at the APA meeting's poster session and stood defiantly before a blank poster. Since the title of the paper had already been published in the program, people looked at the blank poster and were able "to put two-and-two together." 

PM President Shep Pollack soon dropped by DeNoble's lab and, in the presence of an attorney, demanded to see the rats desperately pawing the nicotine lever. "Does this mean nicotine is addictive?" Pollack asked. Before DeNoble could respond, Pollack's lawyer lunged forward and shouted: "Don't answer the question!" 

DeNoble and his research team were "called upstairs" and told their research was no longer needed — "Go downstairs and kill your rats. These studies will stop. Turn over your keys. This lab is closed." 

It would be many years before the story reached the desks of the ABC investigative reporters looking into the nicotine question. But, after years of research, the reporters were dumbfounded to be suddenly told their investigation would never air. "No one is interested in this story," the higher-ups informed them. 

That all changed when FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler announced an investigation into the health issues of tobacco smoking. "Smoke Screen," ABC's Day One exposé, aired on February 24, 1994. 

Addiction Inc. offers revealing interviews with 20 of the key players in the extended drama — researchers, politicians, lawyers and even some former tobacco company executives. Recalling the ABC broadcast, PM General Counsel and Senior VP Steve Parrish tells the camera: "It was devastating. Our stock took a huge hit…. Regulators were calling for hearings." 

Rep. Henry Waxman, the relentless chair of the subcommittee hearings on tobacco safety, recalls how, at the time, no one had a clue that PM was intentionally manipulating nicotine levels to increase addiction. The industry had insisted nicotine was included only for "flavor and taste." Looking back, Waxman has high praise for DeNoble: "Victor DeNoble was the first whistleblower…. he was the first one." 

The revelation that the industry knew nicotine was addictive — and had relied on that knowledge to stoke sales — changed the debate on tobacco. It was no longer just a health question: cigarette companies were now revealed as having the same moral standards as back-alley drug dealers. 

PM responded to the ABC expose by filing a $10 billion "libel" lawsuit against the network. Eventually — to the chagrin of the network's investigative reporting team — ABC offered a public "apology" to Philip Morris for airing the program. 

But it was too late. Congressional hearings were underway and, under the glare of publicity, PM was forced to agree to let DeNoble testify about what he knew. 

ABC reporters would subsequently get a call from a source who delivered "the Rosetta Stone of the tobacco industry" — internal documents going back to the 1940s proving the companies knew about nicotine's addictive properties. Their euphoria was short-lived, however. ABC lawyers showed up to confiscate the documents and order the reporters to destroy their notes. Pulitzer-Prizewinning reporter Walt Bogdanich bitterly recalls being told: "There is no news organization in this world that will touch these documents, report on them, put them in the paper or put them on the air." 

The ABC reporters then did something extraordinary (and professionally very difficult): they put their source in contact with a competing news organization — the New York Times. The Times went on to produce a blockbuster series that began with a story headlined: "Cigarette Makers Debated the Risks They Denied." 

Soon, all seven industry officials who had sworn under oath that nicotine was not addictive, had resigned, retired or quietly vanished from the scene. 

Up until that point, the tobacco industry had taken smug pride in the fact that it had never lost a lawsuit. A class-action lawyer named Wendell Gauthier changed that when Victor DeNoble became his expert witness. 

Gauthier's Castano et al. v. American Tobacco lawsuit for compensatory damages was filed in nearly every state in the Union. On the ropes, Big Tobacco decided to cut its losses by "reaching out" to the State Attorneys General. The final settlement of the Castano lawsuit involved huge financial payments by Big Tobacco but no federal regulation of the industry. 

DeNoble saw through the smoke and bluntly told the Washington press corps that he was personally opposed to the settlement. 

Shortly after that outburst, DeNoble recalls, a tobacco industry rep offered him a job: "$5,000 a day for the next six months." Recalling the conversation before Evans' camera, DeNoble gleefully repeats his reply: "You pricks can't buy me!" 

In 1996, US Attorney General Janet Reno prosecuted the tobacco industry for "fraud and deceit" using the government's RICO statutes and won the biggest lawsuit in the history of the Justice Department. The DOJ's withering condemnation of the industry was upheld by the Supreme Court, officially putting Big Tobacco in the ranks of organized crime's most notorious drug peddlers. 

On June 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation giving the government the power to act against tobacco companies that endanger the public health and giving the FDA the power to demand non-addictive products. 

After 30 years of work, DeNoble now says he no longer believes it is possible to make "a safe cigarette." Today he is constantly on the road, crisscrossing the country to talk to students about the dangers of tobacco addiction. The closing scenes of Addition Incorporated are filled with close-ups of children's faces as they listen to DeNoble's warnings. Is heart-wrenching. You will pray for these children and curse the well-paid executives who profit from their addition. It is both ironic and fitting that DeNoble's work is funded by money from the tobacco company settlement, which requires funding anti-tobacco health education in all 50 states. 

Every day 3,000 kids become smokers and 1,000 will eventually die from the effects of tobacco smoke. DeNoble claims that he takes his message to about 300,000 kids each year. Thanks to Addiction Incorporated, he will now reach many more. 


Around & About Theater: Community Theater Openings—Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, Masquers Playhouse, Altarena Playhouse

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday January 18, 2012 - 10:16:00 AM

A big weekend for local community theaters--three will open new shows on the 20th: 

—Actors Ensemble of Berkeley is staging Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia,' directed by Robert Estes, who also directed a good production of Shaw's 'Heartbreak House' for AE, and is known for his Grove Talks at CalShakes ... Fridays and Saturdays at 8 through February 18, with a Sunday matinee at 2, February 12. Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck at Berryman. $12-$15. 649-5969; aeofberkeley.org 

—Masquers Playhouse presents Neil Simon's 'Broadway Bound,' directed by Phoebe Moyer, whose production of 'Shadowbox' for the Masquers is memorable. Friday-Saturday at 8 through February 25, with Sunday matinees at 2, January 29 & February 5. Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Pt. Richmond. $20. 323-4031; masquers.org 

—And Altarena Playhouse in Alameda opens August Wilson's 'Fences,' directed by Gene Kahane, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 through February 19. Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High Street, Alameda. $19-$22. 523-1553; altarena.org