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New: Searching for Hate—After His Eviction from People's Park

By Ted Friedman
Monday March 19, 2012 - 10:31:00 PM
This is all that's left of "Camp Hate," a bustling community of thinkers, boozers, and schmoozers, all under the direction of Hate Man. Shoes on the abandoned philosopher's log, Hate Man's roost. Two rakes resting on tree in background were Hates clean-up tools. Wednesday morning.
Ted Friedman
This is all that's left of "Camp Hate," a bustling community of thinkers, boozers, and schmoozers, all under the direction of Hate Man. Shoes on the abandoned philosopher's log, Hate Man's roost. Two rakes resting on tree in background were Hates clean-up tools. Wednesday morning.

Hate Man was, reportedly, ordered by an Alameda County judge Monday to stay away from People's Park for three years.

The world-famous eccentric had been dodging trespassing tickets for years, managing successfully to stay one step ahead of the law, he has told me, but Monday, he misstepped.

Word of the eviction went out late Monday on local activists' Google lists. 

If you think you know Hate as Mark Hawthorne, a former New York Times front page reporter on his way up at NYT in the sixties, you know better than to call him Mark. 

Most of his fellow haters just call him Hate. Don't tell him it's a beautiful morning as I did not too long ago. "It's a fucked morning," he said. "You say it that way." He's always instructing in how he wants you to talk. 

But if you get through all that, he's good people, and very deep. Maybe that's why he is described at Wikipedia as a philosopher. 

Wednesday morning, "Camp Hate," Hate Man's encampment lay deserted at the far South east corner of the park, and appeared to one observer, "de-foliaged." To me the camp seemed a well-groomed ghost-town. 

Hates closest neighbor, a van-gabond. said, "It's not the same; its creepy, and weird, like they took him away to some re-education camp." 

The university's groundskeeper, who has an office in the park, was surprised by the eviction. Hate had been a good park user, according to the groundsman's past comments. The groundskeeper doubles as Park cop, counsellor, and friend. He has told me he likes Hate, but don't tell Hate. 

The old hate-cult gang is breaking-up. 

Hate once told me of his front page Times piece on a sit-in at Barnard College. "They sent me because I was close to the ages of the protesters," he said. "But the protesters didn't like my angle on the protest." 

"I told them, my story…my angle…Fuck you." he was showing early signs of his fuck-you philosophy. 

Only last week, I saw my famous neighbor pushing" someone on my block. One of Hate's protocols involves pushing shoulders for conflict resolution, cigarettes, and other goods. 

"I hate you," I said. You have to say that. "You're leading a world-wide Fuck You Revolution," 

"Fucked Up is competing with us," he riposted. 

Hate's been homeless on the South side for 35 years, although he goes with the more conservative number, 20. His renown these days is for pernicious homelessness while practicing homeless performance art. He refuses to write, although I see him writing in a notebook, occassionly . 

Make no doubt about it, Hate will survive this set-back--now if I can just find him to confirm that he's alive and well-- and looking forward to his next performance venue, now that Camp Hate is gone. 


I set out Wednesday afternoon to get the old reporter's angle on his own story. 

Fred's Market: hadn't seen him. Habib's across the street, where he bought his cigarettes hadn't seen him. He has to have his cigarettes. In fact, earning money from recycling, or from winning a push to get a salable item, is all to finance his incessant smoking. 

Some of his favorite trash-cans, and dumpsters, which put food on the table, hadn't seen him either. 

I checked some known stash sites, and some other possibilities. No Hate 

Russell Bates said he saw Hate earlier in the day, just West of Teley. Bates said he learned of the eviction from Hate himself on Tuesday. 

The Van-gabond thought Hate had a storage locker somewhere. 

i checked the storage space behind a building on my block where I have seen him take things. The space was bare and abandoned, perhaps by Hate, who may have moved his stuff away from the park. 

Funny thing is, all Hate's followers are also gone, even Hate's philosopher side-kick Ace-Backwards, well known underground illustrator and laconic eye on Berkeley, has vanished. 

Earlier, I led a search party of three out of the Med to the Sproul Hall steps to see if Hate had re-established himself where he first emerged as a public character, often tangling with Holy Hubert, over whose world view, Jesus' or Hate's spoke best to the world. 

I always thought Hate won the debate with Holy Hubert. But I am a Jew. 

Hate was Molly Mucous back then, about the time he emerged as a major Berkeley street performer, with a skirt and mismatched clothing. "They don't expect men to wear skirts, that's why I do it." A lot of Berkeley men have taken the cue, but Hate was one of the first.  

Ever think of going back to Sproul, I have asked Hate. "Naw, it's spiritually dead there, now." Because Hubert's gone? "Naw, it's just dead now. It's the students." 

Now if I can just find him to confirm this all. He often has to correct me. I also have a relocation site to recommend--Constitution Square at the downtown Bart. While looking for Hate, Wednesday, I found myself at the center of a public manic-masturbation piece. 

It wasn't me. 

Drayco, who was stabbed by a tree-sitter in the park last year, says that "this stuff only happens in Berkeley," and Drayco has been on the street-tramp circuit for years 

If I find Hate, I have some good-bad news for him. He just got out of camp before a new tree-sit Wednesday night. Isn't this the fourth, after the others ended violently or misfired? Hate really hates the tree-sits in the park, can't ridicule them too often. 

One of the tree-sitters' demands is dropping Hate's court-ordered stay-away order, according to event-producer Running Wolf, who will somehow find a way to tie it to his race for mayor "Vote for me, I sit in trees?" 

The irony would not be lost on Hate; it's not lost on Running Wolf either. 

Ted Friedman usually writes on the Southside.

Occupy Protesters Arraigned, Ordered to Stay Away from Berkeley Campus

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday March 19, 2012 - 10:18:00 PM

Four Occupy Cal protesters were arraigned today on misdemeanor charges for their involvement in a demonstration at Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley campus on Nov. 9. 

At the request of the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, Superior Court Judge Paul Seeman issued orders which require that the protesters stay away 100 yards from all UC property, except for when they go to and from class and work. 

Attorney Ronald Cruz, who represents three Occupy Cal protesters but not the four people who were arraigned today, attended today's hearing and said Seeman made it clear that the stay-away orders apply to all of the dozen people who have been charged in connection with the Nov. 9 protest. 

One protester was arraigned last Friday and the other protesters will be arraigned on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Cruz said he and other defense lawyers for the protesters strongly oppose the stay-away orders because they think the orders suppress speech and are targeted against Occupy Cal leaders. 

He said defense lawyers haven't been allowed to oppose the orders at the arraignments but plan to oppose them at hearings in the near future.

New: Man Found Dead at Berkeley Marina Identified

By Bay City News
Sunday March 18, 2012 - 03:41:00 PM

The Alameda County coroner's bureau has identified a man who washed ashore at the Berkeley Marina on Saturday as 31-year-old Douglas Jones. 

The Berkeley resident was spotted in the water against the rocks at the marina's southernmost point at about 7:45 a.m., police Sgt. David White said. 

Police and firefighters responded, and fire personnel confirmed the man was deceased. 

Jones' body did not show any obvious signs of trauma, police said. 

The case remains under investigation.

Berkeley Hires Law Firm to Conduct Independent Probe of Police Chief's Actions

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:15:00 PM

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said today that the city has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of Police Chief Michael Meehan's decision to send an officer to a reporter's home in the middle of the night to demand a correction to a story. 

Daniel said the city retained the San Francisco-based law firm Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai on Monday and the "process will be conducted to its conclusion." 

Meehan has come under fire for sending police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley at 12:45 a.m. on March 9 to ask him to correct a story he had posted online a short time earlier about a community meeting attended by about 150 people the night of March 8. 

Oakley's story said Meehan had apologized at the meeting for the department's slow response to the Feb. 18 slaying of Berkeley hills homeowner Peter Cukor, who had called police to report that there was an intruder in his garage. 

The story upset Meehan, who had not apologized for a slow response and said his officers responded appropriately to the situation on Feb. 18. 

Instead, Meehan apologized at the meeting for failing to quickly release information to the community about the killing, saying that his department's slowness resulted in the news media spreading information that "was not accurate or true." 

The Oakland Tribune said in an editorial this week that Oakley had misinterpreted Meehan's remarks and it corrected his story. 

But the newspaper also said that Meehan overreacted by sending Kusmiss to Oakley's home in the middle of the night. 

After the incident, Meehan issued a statement apologizing for his actions, saying, "I was frustrated with the department's ability to get out timely information, but that is no excuse." 

Before Daniel's announcement today that the city has hired the law firm to investigate Meehan's actions, the Berkeley Police Association, which represents the city's police officers, issued a statement saying that city officials were engaging in "a double standard" by not conducting a probe of the chief. 

Officer Tim Kaplan, the group's president, said, "If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated." 

Kaplan said, "As law enforcement officers, we don't just get to say 'I'm sorry' and have the whole matter go away." 

He said, "There needs to be full transparency and there can't be a standard that applies to the police force, but not to the chief of police." 

The police union's attorney, Rocky Lucia, said in a letter to Daniel, "There is no doubt that had any sworn member of the department other than the chief ordered a member of the department to contact a reporter under the same conditions that member would not only be investigated but likely be put on administrative leave and be subject to discipline." 

After Kaplan learned later in the day that the city has ordered an outside investigation of Meehan he said he feels "a little better" about the situation. 

"That was what we've been asking for," Kaplan said. 

He said, "If they do the right thing, that ultimately is our goal." 

Kaplan said, "We have no preconceived notions about the outcome" of the investigation. 

Kaplan said as far as he knows Meehan is still working as chief and hasn't been placed on leave. 

City of Berkeley spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said she can't comment on Meehan's status, saying it's a personnel matter.

More than a Dozen Berkeley Occupy Cal Protesters to be Arraigned

By Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:12:00 PM

More than a dozen people charged in connection with Occupy Cal protests are set to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court this week and next.  

University of California at Berkeley Professor Celeste Langan pleaded not guilty today to charges connected to a Nov. 9, 2011 clash between police and protestors, according to attorneys for By Any Means Necessary, a group working with protestors. 

Langan is charged with one count of resisting arrest and one count of blocking the sidewalk, both misdemeanors, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. She is scheduled to return to court April 5.  

Twelve other people are scheduled to appear for arraignment next week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on similar charges in connection with the protests, district attorney's office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said.  

At least four of those being prosecuted are also involved in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in November alleging that police used excessive force during the protest.  

Attorneys for By Any Means Necessary, the group filing the lawsuit, say that they expect to add allegations of retaliatory prosecution to the lawsuit in light of the criminal charges, which were filed after the lawsuit.  

They noted that some of those being prosecuted were not among the more than three dozen people arrested during the actual protest but were among those reporting injuries and taking part in the lawsuit.  

Yvette Felarca, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and a leader in organizing the protest, for example, was not arrested during the event but can be seen on a video being struck by police, according to attorney Ronald Cruz. She now faces four misdemeanor charges and is scheduled to be arraigned on March 20.  

"The prosecutions show what we've been saying from the beginning, that this is a conscious effort to quell free speech and to target people," said attorney Ronald Cruz.  

The clash at UC Berkeley occurred when university police moved to remove tents erected by Occupy Cal protestors at Sproul Plaza. The protest sparked controversy over police tactics after videos circulated showing officers using batons on protestors -- controversy that increased a week later when UC Davis police were shown pepper-spraying protestors.  

The police response at UC Berkeley and in Davis was condemned by UC President Mark Yudof, as well as by the Council of UC Faculty Associations.  

A report from UC Berkeley's police review board is pending, following two public forums in February and a hearing in early March, university spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said. Campus police have also brought in someone from the UC Los Angeles police department to conduct an internal review of police actions.  

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau on Wednesday forwarded a petition signed by 395 faculty members to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley urging that all charges against student and faculty in connection with the protest be dropped.  

Birgeneau's letter did not take a position on the appropriateness of individual charges, but noted that the university had offered amnesty from the student conduct process for those charged with misdemeanors on Nov. 9.  

"We urge you to be sensitive to the context of the campus environment and to the strong feelings this has raised on campus, as reflected in the petition," the letter read. 


CONTACT: BAMN, Monica Smith (313) 585-3637 or Ronald Cruz (510) 384-8859 District Attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick (510) 272-6222 UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore (510) 642-5685 


Copyright © 2012 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


Berkeley Library Branch Van Vanishes

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 16, 2012 - 04:37:00 PM

Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't. Mark Twain

It’s Friday morning, March 16, 2012. The Berkeley Public Library branch van is scheduled for 3 hours at the Live Oak curb on this cold and rainy day. Nothing on my BPL website account advises differently, so I plan to proceed uphill to pick up my requested books and other media and to return others, all with deadlines. 

Rumor reaches me that the branch van is not operating! Indefinitely. I call the BPL Questions phone number and get a recorded voice. I dial around and ultimately someone reports “it broke down…”. I check the Library home website: 

“The Branch Van is out for maintenance until further notice - Branch Van holds can be picked up at the Central Library beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14th. We apologize for the inconvenience. Questions - call 981-6174.”  

I won’t need to hike up hill to Live Oak this afternoon. And Ms. Vivian and her colleague won’t have to spend 3+ hours in the cold, unheated van. I drew this oversight to the attention of library administration ages ago; receipt acknowledged. I normally used the North BPL branch, where there were more than 3 hours in the library week, and it was possible to request/get more ‘holds.’ I also relied on South branch, mainly for the variety of its “New Books.”  

I make it in the cold rain and slippery sidewalks to downtown Berkeley. The branch van is indeed not in its designated parking spot. Is it being serviced by a local merchant? Wasn’t something said during North BPL’s closure celebration about its origins being VW in Germany?  

A recent Library’s Director’s report to the board focuses on the annual meeting of the American Library Association in Anaheim in June. (This is not the Public Library Association’s annual conference, which is presently meeting in Philadelphia.) There will be a placement center. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler, M.S. (Libary Science) writes the Planet's Senior Power column when she's not chasing down the library. 


Press Release: Police Union Calls for a Formal Investigation of Chief Meehan “Error in Judgment” in 12:45 a.m. Visit to Reporter’s Home

From Officer Tim Kaplan, Rocky Lucia, Mary Jo Rossi
Friday March 16, 2012 - 08:40:00 AM

Citing the lack of review of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan’s self-subscribed error in judgment as a double standard and serious disregard for Department policy, the Berkeley Police Association (BPA) today called for a formal investigation of the incidents that culminated in Meehan’s order to have a police sergeant make a 12:45 a.m. visit to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley to demand that he change a newspaper story. 

On behalf of the BPA, attorney Rocky Lucia of Rains Lucia Stern, PC delivered a letter today to Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel requesting a full outside independent investigation of the events that occurred on March 9 when Meehan ordered Sergeant Mary Kusmiss to the newspaper reporter’s home at 12:45 a.m. to request that a story on a recent Berkeley homicide be altered. 

Meehan has been quoted in numerous press articles stating: “It was a significant error of judgment on my part.” (Berkeleyside, March 11, 2012) “My actions do not reflect the values of the Berkeley Police Department.” (Chief Meehan Official Statement, Berkeleyside, March 10, 2012) 

“If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates Department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated,” said Officer Tim Kaplan, President of the 160-member BPA. “As law enforcement officers, we don’t just get to say ‘I’m sorry’ and have the whole matter go away.” 

The three page letter (attached) sent to the City on behalf of the BPA reads: “The Berkeley Police Department, through its Chief of Police, has been eager to investigate and discipline officers while espousing zero tolerance at many levels for violations of policy and procedures. “Moreover, the Chief of Police has demanded that the members of the Police Department perform at the highest levels and constantly insists that accountability be a necessary component to the delivery of police services to the citizens of Berkeley.” 

“There needs to be full transparency and there can’t be a standard that applies to the police force, but not to the Chief of Police,” Kaplan added. 

The letter further states: “The media accounts and the Chief’s own admissions and apologies to various members of the Police Department seem to confirm that the order to Sergeant Kusmiss was not only inappropriate, but in violation of professional standards.” “It is appalling that the City of Berkeley has seen fit to simply allow this incident to slide into a media graveyard without further examination or review.” 

The letter demands an outside independent investigation into the following possible departmental policy violations: (1) misconduct/supervisory and command officer responsibility; (2) reporting misconduct; (3) general responsibilities of officers and employees; (4) courtesy; (5) acts – statements by employees; and, (6) function of the Chief of Police. 

“The citizens of Berkeley rightfully demand at every level complete transparency and full accountability of its police officers and should expect nothing less from their Chief of Police,” Kaplan said. “The City can’t just sweep this or any other potential policy violation under the rug.”

Press Release: Statement from Berkeley Interim City Manager Christine Daniel

From Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, City of Berkeley Public Information Officer
Thursday March 15, 2012 - 09:34:00 PM

“On Monday of this week, the City retained the firm of Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai to conduct an investigation into the events of March 8th and 9th involving Chief of Police Michael K. Meehan. That process will be conducted to its conclusion.” 

There is no additional information or comment to provide at this time. 

Press Release: Berkeley Patients Group to Remain Open -- Medical Cannabis Dispensary Plans to Relocate in Berkeley

From Sean Luse, Chief Operating Officer, Berkeley Patients' Group
Thursday March 15, 2012 - 09:25:00 PM

[Editor's note: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." – Mark Twain]

Recent media reports have erroneously stated that Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest and well-respected medical cannabis dispensaries in California, is closing its doors. The following statement provides accurate information on BPG’s status:

Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees. BPG is not closing. We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon. We are grateful for the level of support we have received from the Berkeley community over the years. 

BPG is committed both to providing safe access – and to protecting it. We strive to operate a dispensary that is a model of compassion and legal integrity. BPG operates in strict compliance with the letter and the spirit of California's medical cannabis laws.

New: Body Found at Berkeley Marina

By Bay Area News Service
Saturday March 17, 2012 - 03:47:00 PM

The Alameda County coroner's bureau is working to identify the body of a man that washed ashore at the Berkeley Marina this morning, a police sergeant said. 

At approximately 7:45 a.m., police received a report of a body in the water against the rocks at the marina's southernmost point, Berkeley police Sgt. David White said. 

Police and firefighters responded, and fire personnel confirmed the man was deceased. The coroner's bureau took custody of the body, which White said did not show any obvious signs of trauma. 

The man's identity has not yet been determined.

AC Transit Will Buy New Buses in Hayward

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday March 16, 2012 - 08:33:00 AM

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District directors have agreed to spend $16.4 million to buy up to 40 new buses from a bus manufacturing firm in Hayward, the Gillig Corp. 

The purchase, approved in a 6-1 vote Wednesday night, is the bus agency's first major vehicle order since it adopted a "Buy American Goods" policy in 2009. 

The lone vote against the purchase was cast by Director Jeff Davis. 

AC Transit, which carries about 200,000 passengers a day in 13 cities and unincorporated areas in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties, had been buying many of its buses from the Van Hool company in Belgium. 

AC Transit will spend $8.2 million of its own funds on the new buses and the other $8.2 million will come from the State-Local Partnership Program.  

Board President Elsa Ortiz, who authored the "Buy American Goods" policy, said in a statement, "I am happy that we are not only buying American, but we are buying buses made in this district." 

Ortiz said, "We don't need to go overseas to buy buses when we have people right in our backyard who need work and are capable of making a high-quality product at a competitive price." 

A prototype of the new bus is expected to be delivered to the agency by the end of the year and several of the buses are expected to be in service early next year.  

The Gillig Corp., which was founded in San Francisco in 1890, has more than 500 employees in the East Bay. 

Doug Bloch, political coordinator for the Teamsters Union, which represents employees at Gillig, said, "This is great news for our workers." 


Copyright © 2012 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 




Who's After Berkeley Police Chief's Scalp, and Why?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 16, 2012 - 10:40:00 AM

The subject lines on friends’ email forwards of the original Bay Area News Group article about PoliceChiefGate told the story. “OMG!” “Unbelievable!” and more. And who could argue with their reaction? Everyone in Berkeley and beyond, it seemed, even people who have never agreed on anything else before, agreed on this one:. “How could he? What could he have been thinking?”

And so did I. I’ve been a First Amendment absolutist for all of my adult life. I joined the ACLU before I was old enough to vote. I’ve many times quoted Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the constitutional ban on abridging freedom of speech: “When it says ‘no law’ it means NO LAW!”

After working for a number of years as a political agitator for civil rights and in the anti-war movement, I took up journalism. These experiences fueled my outrage at the report of the Berkeley Police Chief’s midnight messenger sent to press a reporter to correct an online story. I imagined myself hearing that ominous knock, reliving that fearsome confrontation with an armed officer on my doorstep.

There’s no question in my mind that what used to be called The Standard Liberal Position is that this should never have happened. We all have the right to be safe and secure in our homes, don’t we? And we shouldn’t have to be afraid when someone comes knocking after midnight, especially the police. I absolutely agree—or at least I do when I’m wearing my journalist’s hat.

But when the Berkeley Police Officers’ Association issued their first statement criticizing Meehan, I started to wonder. The BPOA is technically not a union, since they can’t strike under the law—but it’s a professional association which does collective bargaining on behalf of its members . And as luck would have it, collective bargaining is underway right now—and Chief Meehan is the boss with whom they’re negotiating. It occurred to me that there might be more than one reason the Association is looking askance at him.

When Berkeley attorney Jim Chanin, a veteran ACLU officer, a former chair of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission and a litigator who has brought and won many police misconduct lawsuits in many jurisdictions in his 40 year career, was quoted in the Chronicle as thinking that Meehan showed “a serious lapse in judgment”, but should not have to resign, I wondered more. So I called Jim to get his take at first hand. 

He pointed out that in Berkeley alone he’d won at least 25 lawsuits against the police for wrongful death, not just scaring someone, and not once had his clients received an apology. Not once had the BPOA called for an apology in any case he’d handled, no matter how bad. Meehan, by contrast, has apologized, profusely. Chanin suggested that there might be “ulterior motives” at work here. 

And today the BPOA has put out another even stronger denunciation of Meehan—this one co-signed by Rocky Lucia, an attorney with the Walnut Creek labor law firm that represents the union. The plot thickens. 

Opinions differ on whether Berkeley’s elected officials can or should express an opinion on what the consequences to Meehan should be in this situation. During public comment at Monday’s special city council meeting, former mayoral candidate (and Planet contributor) Zelda Bronstein asked why Mayor Bates hadn’t made a statement about the incident. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington came to Bates’ defense, explaining in elaborate detail legal advice the council had received, that only Interim City Manager Chris Daniel could fire a department head like the police chief, and that if councilmembers expressed an opinion it might be used against the city in a wrongful termination lawsuit later on. 

But Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, normally a Worthington ally and someone I respect, wasn’t present when Worthington spoke during the public comment period. On Wednesday he issued a statement saying that “it is a hard lesson learned for Chief Meehan, but in light of his sincere apology and self-recognition of his error, it is time to move on and move forward as a community. Acknowledging that press intimidation –intended or not- is unacceptable and anathema to Berkeley’s values, I offer my continued support of Chief Meehan to serve and protect our City.” 

This seems to violate the legal opinion that Worthington cited, but Arreguin could conceivably argue that if Meehan’s not fired there’s no risk of a wrongful termination suit. The reporter in question, Doug Oakley of the Oakland Tribune et al, has said he accepts Meehan’s apology and doesn’t plan to sue either. 

Arreguin’s not the only person who thinks that, overall, Meehan has been doing a good job. He’s been shaking up a department long criticized for excessive overtime and bloated pensions, with occasional serious lapses like the officer who was taking confiscated drugs from the evidence room. 

Meehan has been trying to change that culture. Some suggest that the union was so quick to denounce him because he was hanging tough in the negotiations now in progress. 

It’s been very hard, verging on impossible, for reporters to pry information out of the BPD in the 10 years I’ve been watching them regularly. Former Planet ace reporter Richard Brenneman, who has covered police in many cities including Las Vegas, has always said that Berkeley is the hardest place to find out what the police are up to that he’s ever worked. We tried many different kinds of people on the police beat in the 8 years the Planet was in print with paid staff—young, old, experienced, naïve, stern, charming—the whole gamut. Nothing ever really worked, and no other publication has done much better. 

Public information officers have come and gone, but they’ve all seemed to view their job as withholding information, not providing it. The current incumbent, Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, is courteous and responsible, better than most, but she’s only on duty for four (ten hour) days a week and often seems to be the last to find out what’s going on. 

She’s not intimidating in any way. People like her. 

And that brings us to the crux of the Oakley story. Reports differ as to whether Sgt. Kusmiss was carrying a gun when she rang his doorbell, but it’s generally conceded that she was in plain clothes. Her persona is mild, almost retiring, often apologetic when she can’t provide you with the news you’re looking for. She’s been quoted as telling Oakley she was “mortified” to be carrying out the chief’s orders for her late night call. 

I can’t speak to Doug Oakley’s state of mind, so I don’t know why he said he was afraid of her, why he reported a panic attack after she rang his bell at 12:45. I can’t imagine myself being scared of Mary Kusmiss at any time of the day or night. 

Angry, hell yes. Like most of us, I don’t like to be disturbed by anyone ringing my doorbell after about ten at night. With modern communication technology available, many think it’s no longer okay to drop by someone’s home without calling first, at any time of the day. Especially, of course, if you’re a police person. 

(Ironic sidebar: when word leaked out that Christine Daniel would be the new city manager, and that she was probably the first openly gay person to hold that job, I called her on her cell phone about nine at night to confirm the rumors for a little feel-good feature. I was told emphatically that I had no business calling her at home—to call back at the office the next day.) 

But the point, of course, is that Kusmiss was and is a police officer. As a matter of principle, police officers shouldn’t make unannounced late night house calls unless it’s a dire emergency, especially on reporters, whose obvious assumption is that the intent is to shape the news. They really shouldn’t make house calls on reporters at all, because it’s bound to look bad no matter what the intent. 

In fact, in this instance Chief Meehan was not trying to warp the reporting of the news, by all accounts. He wasn’t threatening to abridge anyone’s rights under the First Amendment. He sincerely wanted a justifiable correction of a factual error, and BANG later agreed he deserved it. It’s just that his timing stank. 

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that Oakley and BANG decided not to sue is because they couldn’t make a credible allegation that the reporter been injured enough for damages to be awarded. The kind of clients Jim Chanin represents have the kind of injuries which are more easily proven in court, mostly physical ones. 

Did Meehan do something stupid? You bet. But as Jim Chanin pointed out to me, Meehan’s shown no “pattern and practice” of dumb mistakes, and he’s apologized for this one. In Jim’s opinion he should be given a second chance. Just one, of course. 

Can you even fire someone for just for acting stupid? As a former employer, I’m here to tell you it’s hard, verging on impossible. 

Did the BPD set Meehan up for a fall? That doesn’t seem possible, but their eagerness to kick him when he is down sure looks a lot like crocodile tears. 

Putting on my GooGoo (Good Government) hat, I tend to agree with Chanin, Arreguin and the other attorneys, city officials and even experienced journalists I sounded out on the question of whether Meehan should be asked to leave at this point. As a Berkeley citizen and taxpayer, I’d like to see if anyone can really get the BPD under control for once, and Meehan was well on his way to succeeding before this incident. I’d like to see him keep trying for a while longer, if he doesn’t make any more mistakes like this one.

The Editor's Back Fence

Today is Bonnie Hughes Day in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday March 20, 2012 - 11:54:00 AM

Happy Bonnie Hughes Day! Rumor has it that the Mayor and/or the City Council will issue a proclamation honoring arts impresario and civic gadfly Bonnie Hughes, and it couldn't happen to a nicer person. When I heard that this was in the works, I asked Bonnie if she might be suffering from a terminal illness, which is why sometimes people in Berkeley get proclamations, but no, she's fine. Whew!

Bonnie has put in an incredible amount of service to the people of Berkeley and the world in the 20 years or so I've known her and before. She's managed to combine two particular passions, the arts and civil liberties, in an amazing way which could only have worked as well as it has because her personal charm overwhelms any potential adversaries. 

I first heard about Bonnie's efforts when she organized Artists Against the War to create graphic protests at the time of the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. I met her for the first time when there was a proposal in 1994 to make it illegal for poor people to ask for money in downtown Berkeley. 

Bonnie is one of the few long term residents of Downtown, and has always made friends with many of the down and out who live on the streets in her neighborhood. She long ago abandoned her car and now walks everywhere and chats with those she meets along the way. 

She's also been a dedicated believer that arts belong where people are. She's been the proprietor over the years in a whole series of galleries where she's presented eclectic music and graphic arts in vacant storefronts lent to her by landlords who recognized that a lively arts scene is much better than an empty space. 

When the Berkeley City Council decided to put Measures N and O, which among other things banned panhandling downtown, on the November 1994 ballot, Bonnie sprang into action, in the process awakening somnolent civil libertarians like me from their slumbers Her then-current space was the Berkeley Store Gallery on the corner of Bancroft and Shattuck, and it became the organizing focus for a series of actions designed to draw attention to the unconstitutional nature of attempting to control the speech of spare-changers as well as the dubious social policy of punishing homelessness. 

A series of forums on the proposed laws took place in the gallery, and also the "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" music festival, an artistic and critical triumph. Despite all of our best efforts, N and O passed, but as predicted the speech prohibitions were subsequently overturned in court on constitutional grounds. 

Since then, Bonnie has founded and managed a whole series of Store Galleries which have contributed immeasurably both to the arts and to strengthening the urban fabric in downtown Berkeley. She always seems to pull off the biblical tricks of turning water into wine, of producing loaves and fishes from thin air. 

At some point the galleries morphed into the Berkeley Arts Festival, a moveable feast which seizes storefront opportunities as they arise and turns them into arts venues. Her tastes run to the unusual, the avant-garde, but she also has presented plenty of traditional classical musicians and folkies, as well as graphic artists of all kinds. 

Oh, and in her copious free time she's a craftswoman too. She's always been a very fine knitter, long before the recent retro knitting fad took hold among the young. She's made much more ambitious objects than cozies for parking meters--a great series of stuffed dolls is particularly fine. 

I think she's told me that she's 80 this year, though I can hardly believe that's right. I expect the proclamation will be for some form of lifetime achievement, but she's by no means finished. Her current gallery is on University at Shattuck, and it will be there for a while. They used to say in vaudeville, "you ain't seen nothin' yet"— and if it's Bonnie Hughes, you can count on it. 

If you'd like to join the festivities, the Berkeley City Council will be attending to ceremonial matters like proclamations tonight at 7, in the council chambers at old City Hall (the Maudelle Shirek Building). Bonnie's friends and admirers are invited to come and cheer.

Hiring and Firing Department Heads in Berkeley's City Government: A Legal Sidebar

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:07:00 AM

A legal point, often misunderstood, is that under Berkeley’s charter the city council can vote whether or not to accept the manager’s hiring recommendations, but after a department head is hired only the manager can fire him or her.

If the councilmembers, including the mayor, wanted to get rid of such an employee and the manager declined to do so, they’d have to fire the manager first. So the mayor and his fellow council members can’t just fire the embattled police chief, even if they want to.

Right now there’s another good current illustration of what this entails. The department head position of Director of Planning is vacant. It was mistakenly reported in a local news outlet that one Eric Angstadt of Oakland had the job, but the mayor and council took great pains at the Monday meeting to say that he had NOT been hired, that the council was just receiving the recommendation and the approval vote wouldn’t be until April 3.

But if you were in any doubt that Angstadt’s got the job nailed, two little slips of the often-loose Mayoral tongue offer further proof. On Monday Mayor Tom Bates let slip that he’d met Angstadt, though only for “a couple of minutes’. Then at the Tuesday special council meeting the mayor spoke approvingly of “our new planning director. ” And it’s not a done deal? 

No one who’s familiar with the revolving door which exists between planning jobs and the development industry should be surprised by this insider information. The erroneous story which reported Angstadt’s selection quoted one of the biggest Oakland developers and a prominent Hayward smart growth proponent as favoring Berkeley’s choice.  

And there are other clues to how the deal went down: Marc Rhoades, Berkeley’s former Director of Current Planning is now a would-be developer married to smart growth lobbyist Erin Rhoades. Marc and his business partner Ali Kashani once thought they were in on the ground floor in the nascent marijuana dispensary market, with pot-ready properties in Albany and elsewhere, especially because Rhoades had snagged an appointment to Berkeley’s marijuana commission. But now the federal government seems, temporarily at least, to have put the kibosh on the marijuana business—a big Berkeley outlet is reported to be closing or at least moving because of federal pressure, and others are on indefinite hold., 

So Rhoades seems to have taken a day job as Benicia’s “interim” planning director—a position which was formerly filled by none other than Eric Angstadt. Did Rhoades promote Angstadt’s appointment to his old department in Berkeley? How would we even know? 

Is your head spinning yet?  

Another wrinkle is that Interim City Manager Christine Daniel herself will be up for review in May, and if the council were to decide to let her go and look further, they’d have to pay her a year’s salary, about a quarter of a million dollars in round numbers.  

The moral in all this, if there is one, is that given the current problems with the head of Berkeley’s police department, the council really ought to take a harder look at who’s being hired to head the city’s planning department, because they’ll be stuck with him for a long time 

Check Out This Link: UC's Edifice Complex

Friday March 16, 2012 - 08:35:00 AM

Here's a terrific story from Berkeley-based California Watch which shows how the University of California has been cheerfully constructing away, with no real plan for how to pay for staffing the many new buildings named after donors.


Odd Bodkins: Focus (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday March 19, 2012 - 11:46:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 16, 2012 - 12:43:00 PM


As someone who has spent my entire life laboring under the burden of a waterfall of uncorrected SLAPP-suit-related slander, I am amused by the implication that the police chief’s version of the truth somehow must, by right, be printed. 

But the second assertion is more disturbing; in a closed, secretive system, how would anyone know whether there is a “pattern and practice” of misconduct? 

My letter did not call for anyone’s resignation. But I would suggest that no one affirm, just because they are blindfolded, that there is nothing to see. 

Carol Denney

A Crisis of Legitimacy in Berkeley

By Steve Martinot
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:42:00 AM

Police action in Berkeley has been the subject of much discussion of late. There were problematic police responses to phonecalls (directly impacting Peter Cukor's murder in the Berkeley hills Feb. 18), two different apologies by the police chief, a degree of outrage or at least concern by Berkeleyans, a special community meeting to vet the issues, direct police pressure on a reporter at that meeting to report only what would be agreeable to the police chief, a further apology by the chief for that pressure, and a public statement made by some Berkeley police officers dissociating themselves from the chief's action with respect to the reporter (SFChron, March 12, 2012), claiming it could damage their relation of trust with the community. 

The Occupy movement was mentioned in all this, because police expressed concern that an Occupy march might possibly appear, which would upstage Cukor's call for help. This invokes a broader context, and gives a different meaning to the above events. 

The police have been the subject of discussions in Berkeley City Council lately because of their involvement in the suppression of Occupy Oakland. Berkeley police had been requested to assist the Oakland police on Oct. 23 and 24, under a mutual aid agreement, and participated in the demolition of the Oakland encampment, as well as in subsequent encounters with protesters. Berkeley police officers were videoed in Oakland, engaged in actions against political expression, actions that the city of Berkeley does not condone. Some Berkeley officers were videoed with their badge numbers and names taped over, in violation of the law. This led to proposals in City Council that police mutual aid agreements be revised, and weakened so that Berkeley police officers could not step beyond Berkeley ethical standards. 

But Berkeley police had been involved in clearing out the Occupy Berkeley encampment on Martin Luther King Park at roughly that same time, much to the chagrin of some city councilmembers, who understood the encampments as valid political expression, as protected speech, as it were. The encampment offered in reality no threat to the city that could not be dealt with by the encampment itself through its internal processes. These demolitions of the Oakland and Berkeley encampments should have been given broad community discussion before the fact. They are relevant to the Cukor case insofar as the police have engendered for themselves an antagonistic relation. 

It is noteworthy that SF's police chief is acting similarly. He has recently demanded (March 13, 2012) that SF Mayor Lee veto a measure giving the city greater power over agreements between SF police officers and the FBI. 

Politically speaking, the Occupy encampments present an interesting phenomenon because of their populist character. In Oakland, for instance, before being crushed on October 23, the encampment had constructed itself as a village. It had a kitchen, a library, a café, a restaurant, and a first aid tent. It was self-determining and self-governing, a source of community and engagement for the activists that populated it, on top of its becaming a site where many homeless people, who could get recognition and care nowhere else, found a community and a sense of belonging for themselves.The village aspect of the encampments provided services and comfort to individuals that the city either neglected or refused to provide. (There were some inevitable but not irresolvable problems; in the name of these problems, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater in a questionable act of arbitrary violence.) 

What has gotten lost in the focus on violence and counterviolence is the political recognition in both cities that Occupy was a political expression which political leaders needed to address, to dialogue with, and perhaps even honor as a demographic and democratic phenomenon, especially in light of the initial general support that the encampments got. Shutting them down, throwing them in the trash barrel with mass arrests, were not within the ethical purview of city councils. Indeed, there was some embarassment when the police departments of Oakland and Berkeley demolished the encampments without explicit city council decisions to do so, and using flimsy excuses about public safety, sanitation, etc. The embarassment stemmed from the fact that the police acted autonomously – suspiciously in concert with assaults on encampments occurring across the nation, which smacked of federal coordination, and thus unconstitutional intervention into local affairs (read the 10th Amendment). 

What all this implies is a crisis of legitimacy in civilian government in our cities. Does the political structure command the police, or have the police become a political power obeying a different authority than local political bodies? Are the police exercising and demanding a legitimacy that is not given them by local political bodies? When Berkeley's police chief first apologized in the Cukor murder event, it was not for not responding to Cukor's first call, but for not informing the community sufficiently. That is, information is being substituted for performance. (Shades of Reagan who, when the government was caught redhanded, projected changing the perception of the government rather than its actions.) This then directly extends to the police chief telling a reporter what to write. 

If the police assume control over political or journalistic expression, then authentic political leadership has been marginalized, divested of authority, and thus of legitimacy. If that is the case, and police actions have demonstrated that the political legitimacy of the city has been eroded, then we the people have only ourselves to turn to, to reconstruct a political legitimacy for ourselves. 

Perhaps that is what the Occupy movement has wanted us to do all along.

Building a School-Based Local Food System

By Hannah Kopp-Yates
Friday March 16, 2012 - 01:58:00 PM

I used to live in a food desert, in the Temescal district of Oakland. I remember wandering the aisles of our local liquor-grocery store when I was young, searching for something I considered edible—something whose earthly origin I could at least recognize. I was always shocked to find that among the Corn Nuts, Doritos and Hostess Cakes, there was nothing resembling the beautiful vegetables that my Mom always brought back from her weekly trip to the Berkeley farmer’s market. Today, our gentrified neighborhood has abundant options for purchasing fresh food, like the weekly farmers’ market and the organic produce store on our corner. But I remember what it was like before, and I know that 23.5 million Americans continue to live without this kind of choice. 8% of the US lives in a food desert: a low-income area where a source of fresh foods is not available. 

Living in a food desert doesn’t necessarily mean starvation—on the contrary, higher rates of obesity are found in these areas. That’s because fast food chains and the junk-food industry serve up highly palatable, energy-dense, low-cost foods to those who cannot afford or access anything better. But these are calories devoid of true nutrition. Nourishing, nutrient-rich fruits and veggies are nowhere to be found. 

Access to fresh and healthy foods should not be restricted higher-class neighborhoods. If we really care about making more sustainable and healthful food choices as a nation, then we need to not only look at where our food comes from, but also where it gets to. 

We can look to an Oakland Initiative for a simple and effective way to improve eating habits in low-income areas and offer education and exposure to healthy foods. Thanks to the Oakland Fresh program, twenty-two Oakland schools now have a volunteer-run produce stand where parents and children can buy locally grown vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, honey and whole grains at below-supermarket prices. 

In a city like Oakland, where up to 40% of residents are forced to travel outside of their neighborhood to find fresh food, this makes a huge difference. The produce stands make it convenient for parents to feed both themselves and their children better. And this can even break even: during its first year of operation, Oakland Fresh distributed 2,000 pounds of food per week and grossed more than $100,000 in sales. Does the Berkeley School District have a program like this? Even if you don’t live in a food desert, chances are that children and their families could be eating fresher and more wholesome foods than they do now. Bring it to a PTA meeting. Express your concern about the fact that 32% of San Francisco’s children are obese, tell them about Oakland’s success, and explore whether your school could do something similar. If there is a farmer’s market near your children’s school, buy from them as much as you possibly can! Talk to vendors and encourage them to engage with local schools. We can plant seeds of change in America’s food deserts. Will you join us? 

Hannah Kopp-Yates is a member of the Stanford University Class of 2012 and a B.A. Candidate in Human Biology.


FIRST DRAFT: The Trashing of the Public University

By Ruth Rosen
Tuesday March 20, 2012 - 12:51:00 PM

Editor's Note: Twenty years ago, journalist and historians Ruth Rosen, then a professor at U.C Davis and a columnist on the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times, anticipated the public and state's unwillingness to stop the decline of the University of California. We reprint this to remind our readers that the gradual free fall of education in California has a long history.

Californians can no longer assume that their children can aspire to attend one of our public universities. In the next few weeks, legislators and administrators, faced with the state's whopping budget crisis, plan to raise student fees, chop departments, slice budgets and fire hundreds of faculty. Before long, access to California’s public universities will be sharply limited and higher education will become a privilege for the few. 

In the last decade we have watched the dismantling of the public sector. Public schools, police departments, health clinics and libraries—to name just a few public services we once took for granted—have been starved. Meanwhile, the wealthy move their children into private schools, hire private guards, pay for private physicians and buy their own books. Now add to this the dismembering of California's public universities. 

Like many Americans, I grew up regarding public education as the route for escaping poverty and finding meaningful work. My parents left behind the world of tenement houses and rats through state supported universities. New York state paid most of my tuition at a private university. That's how much states once invested in the futures of their young. 

But it was California that became synonymous with public education after World War II. Here was the world's greatest university system, the means by which the poor and Immigrants could climb into the middle class. California paid for my graduate education, and I was proud to repay the debt by teaching in this premier system. 

Now I watch as legislators and administrators secretly make up their hit lists, while we—the faculty, staff, students and the public—are neither consulted nor privy to the process. Last year's fee hikes are already limiting access for low-income students. Further fee hikes will close the door on many bright young people. One hundred tenured faculty will be laid off at the San Diego campus of the California State University. Entire departments—including anthropology. aerospace engineering and religious studies—have been placed on the endangered list. 

Hundreds more faculty will shortly be laid off throughout the Cal State system. Faculty tenure has been broken without the benefit of public debate, setting a precedent that could destroy the reputations of the CSU and UC systems. Irresistible "golden handshakes" are prematurely retiring an entire generation of distinguished senior faculty. These professors won't be replaced. Salary cuts and the loss of merit increases will make it difficult to retain young faculty who can't afford California housing. Meanwhile. other universities raid California campuses and pick off distinguished faculty. 

This is not, of course, how legislators or administrators view the problem. For them, it is as though universities were selling just a bunch of goods and services. But a university is engaged in a complicated array of activities: the education of the young, research that benefits business ·and the public and the promotion of intellectual life. A university cannot be treated like a business. The education of young minds or the research that cures diseases cannot be measured in terms of profit or loss. 

Deep budget cuts in public universities are a shortsighted pseudo-solution to the state's economic woes. The United States is globally competitive in education. It is to our universities that students from around the world seek admission. We can't compete with the cheap labor or other nations, but we can provide the stellar education that will keep us more than competitive with Japan and the European Community. 

California’s public university system is also vital to the economic future of the state. The universities educate most of the state's physicians, dentists, veterinarians, educators, lawyers and agricultural scientists. They also encourage a critical mass of young people to question received wisdom and to carve out new visions for the future. 

No one disputes that California’s universities can sustain cuts. But students, faculty and staff, who are making major sacrifices, are outraged at a bloated administration that targets cuts for everyone but itself. That is why the exorbitant retirement packages for UC President David Gardner and other administrators produced an outpouring of rage. Both the Berkeley and Davis academic senates recently passed resolutions that would cap the salaries of administrators. Let the first layoffs and deepest cuts hit the administration. Students should not have to work three jobs to support the inflated salaries of those who administer—with questionable competence—California's public universities. 

The way to fix California's economic crisis is not by crippling the state's higher education system. Nor should we be forced to choose among the community colleges, CSU and UC. The state must raise revenues through fair taxation, particularly of property. Meanwhile. those who care about public education must demand deep cuts In the absurdly swollen U.S. military budget. Only a peace dividend, ultimately, will rescue America's public sector. 

No one voted to decimate California's public universities. Yet without public debate, the burden of higher education is shifting from the state to the beleaguered family. 

In the midst of a serious budgetary crisis, I make no special plea for faculty. but rather for the future quality of public higher education. This is no more a luxury than a good fire department. Without a distinguished faculty, a university Is nothing. Without an accessible education, young people’s dreams are doomed and public life is impoverished. Without an educated public, democracy is but a nine-letter word. 

Ruth Rosen, a professor of history at UC Davis [at the time this was first written] writes regularly on political culture.


By Joe Eaton
Monday March 19, 2012 - 10:20:00 PM
Tomato hornworm today, sphinx moth tomorrow.
Mike Nowak (Wikimedia Commons)
Tomato hornworm today, sphinx moth tomorrow.

Insect metamorphosis is a strange and stirring phenomenon. Complex metamorphosis, that is, the process as it occurs in beetles, butterflies, bees, and flies. Whereas grasshoppers, say, just get larger at each successive molt, a moth completely reorganizes itself at every life stage. Gross anatomy, internal organs, physiological processes—everything changes when it transforms from larva to pupa, and again from pupa to adult. 

Some years back a third-grader posed me an impossible question. I was trying to explain that the crane fly we were looking at wouldn’t bite, even if it did resemble a mosquito on steroids; that the adults didn’t even eat. They did all their eating as larvae, then (via the pupa stage) became adults without functional mouthparts. 

“Why do they do that?” the kid asked. He had me there. I couldn’t even really tell him how they did that. 

Now I could at least give him a partial version of how, thanks to Ian and Dianne Duncan of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The Duncans and their colleagues just published a paper entitled “Control of Target Gene Specificity During Metamorphosis by the Steroid Response Gene E93” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that provides at least a key to the mystery, using (of course) fruit flies, the lab rats of the insect world. 

The researchers knew going in that the bodies of both larval and adult fruit flies developed through signaling systems, chains of molecules that transfer a signal from receptors on the surface of cells to target genes inside the cells’ nuclei. Their main finding was that the flies have a steroid hormone that triggers a gene that in turn redirects the signal systems so that they switch on a different set of genes. Think of it as extreme puberty. 

At each stage—larva to pupa, pupa to adult—the master gene tweaks the performance of almost 900 target genes. That breaks down to 200 in the larva stage, another 400 in the prepupa, and 350 in the pupa. “…the genes controlled at each stage were almost completely different,” Ian Duncan told a reporter. “So they realized there were global changes of rules from each stage to the next.” 

Dianne Duncan came up with a wonderful analogy for the process: “It’s as if two teams were playing soccer, and at halftime the referee comes out and hands out a new set of rules. Now you’ve got the same players, the same field, the same goals, but the teams are playing hockey not soccer. The rules are different, so the game is different.” I’ll bet people would pay to see that. 

The exemplary gene in their study was one dubbed E93, which is switched on by the hormone when the larva becomes a pupa. E93, in conjunction with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway, in turn activates the Distal-less gene, which is responsible for forming spots near the fly’s leg bristles. E93 determines the timing of the change; EGFR species the location. 

Leg spots are not that big a deal. But the Duncans say E93 also affects the remodeling of the pupal brain. Ian Duncan: “Presumably E93 is doing the same thing in the nervous system that it is doing in the leg; it’s affecting the responsiveness of genes.” 

Lest you think this is only about fruit flies, Dianne Duncan points out that human frontal lobes are remodeled during puberty: “There’s so much cell death and rewiring during this period, it’s astonishing that we get through it as well as we do.” 

Now that I think of it, I still wouldn’t be prepared to attempt to explain puberty to a third-grader. But I expect he would have appreciated the soccer/hockey image. 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Limits of Medication

By Jack Bragen
Monday March 19, 2012 - 10:20:00 PM

Antipsychotic and other types of medications, when used to help people get well, are moderately good things. Before these medications existed, countless mentally ill persons spent a lifetime literally being chained up, and had nothing added to them to hold their horrific disease in check. If not chained up in an asylum, persons with severe mental illness often became the “town idiot” or the “town drunkard.” It isn’t accurate to claim that mental illnesses didn’t exist prior to the invention of the medications. They did exist, and they who suffered from them had a very sorry lot in life.  

When doctors accidentally discovered Thorazine, it caused a revolution in the treatment of persons who suffered from psychosis. Prior to the discovery of antipsychotic medications, doctors had only very primitive tools such as electroshock, and lobotomies. In addition to these crude and inhumane methods, doctors also tried insulin shock (injection of a massive amount of insulin in order to temporarily change brain chemistry) and the usage of a small amount of cyanide (also good only for short periods of time.) Doctors would also submerge a patient in a bathtub of ice water as a treatment to calm the person down. 

Psychoanalysis was never considered a cure for schizophrenia. The late psychologist Sigmund Freud said he was unable to work with psychotic patients. Psychoanalysis was and is only helpful to those who are fundamentally “normal,” or to people who are made normal through medication. Singer Billy Joel, in one of his 1970’s rock songs said, “You should never argue with a crazy man…” The point I’m making is that you can’t reason your way out of psychosis, and no one can reason with a psychotic person to “cure” them. Changing the brain chemistry is the only way out.  

These are all reasons why the discovery of medications to help psychotic people was really a big deal.  

Medications do not automatically make someone have “sound reasoning.” What they do is to put the brain in the “ballpark” of proper functioning. Beyond that, if a psychotic episode was of a short duration, a person’s reasoning might return to where it was before the onset of their illness. While medicated, a person with mental illness can often be trained or can train one’s self to have accurate thought processes.  

The help that medication provides comes at great cost. I have described in past columns what medication does to a person aside from helping control psychosis, and I won’t repeat myself here. You haven’t and never will hear about someone taking antipsychotic medication other than those who need it. It doesn’t turn you into a happy person and it won’t make your biceps bigger or your abdomen more flat. No one takes these drugs except those who absolutely must.  

Medication alone will not make you functional in society. It will not wash the dishes in your sink, and it will not brush your teeth for you. It will not pay your rent. All of these things require the same or more effort than was needed before being medicated. Medication doesn’t insulate a person from the hardships of life, on the contrary. It allows a mentally ill person to face reality; something you, the reader of this manuscript, knows can sometimes be very unpleasant. However, it is much easier to solve a problem when you can acknowledge that the problem exists.  

Compliant persons with mental illness often get in the habit of seeking help from their psychiatrist for problems that are not addressable with medication. If a person with schizophrenia occasionally gets depressed or anxious, the psychiatrist must determine if these emotions are within normal limits, or constitute some type of disorder for which another medication is applicable. Medication doesn’t fix the problems in life. However, some of the time it restores normal thought processes which enable the person to attempt to fix those problems. This may require effort as well. And medication doesn’t produce effort, either—you do. Antipsychotic medication, when it works, supports the attempt at normal thought processes. The person with mental illness, through their will and with any additional tools, must accomplish the remainder.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Ireland’s Debt & the Heart of St. O’Toole

By Conn Hallinan
Friday March 16, 2012 - 08:40:00 AM

Someone has pinched the heart of St. Lawrence O’Toole, and thereby hangs a typical Irish tale filled with metaphors, parallels, and some pretty serious weirdness. 

Who done it? The suspects are many and varied. 

Could the heist from Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral have been engineered by the infamous “troika” of the European Commission, the European Bank, and the International Monetary Fund? Seems like a stretch, but consider the following: O’Toole—patron saint of Dublin—was, according to the Catholic Church, famous for practicing “the greatest austerity.” Lawrence liked to wear a hair shirt underneath his Episcopal gowns and spent 40 days in a cave each year. 

That is a point of view the troika can respect. They have overseen a massive austerity program in Ireland that has strangled the economy, cut wages 22 percent, slashed education, health care, and public transport, raised taxes and fees, and driven the jobless rate up to 15percent—30% if you are young. At this rate many Irish will soon be living in caves, and while hair shirts may be uncomfortable, they are warm. 

There are other suspects as well. For instance, St. O’Toole was friendly with the Norman/English King Henry II, who conquered the island in 1171. The Irish are not enamored of Henry II, indeed most of them did their level best to drive the bastard into the sea. Not Lawrence. He welcomed Henry to Dublin and, according to the Church, “Paid him due deference.” 

So “deference” establishes yet another suspect: the current Fine Gael/Labor ruling coalition. Fine Gael leader and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny has already signed the new European Treaty, but was forced to put it up for a public referendum at home (no other EU county is being allowed to vote “yea” or “nay”). Kenny is pressing for a “yes” vote, and Labor’s Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore argues that a “yes” vote would be a “vote for economic stability and a vote for economic recovery.” 

The Treaty will not only continue the austerity program, it will move decision-making to EU headquarters in Brussels. This means that governments will be powerless when it comes to the economy. Think “Model United Nations” and lots of earnest high school students. 

Who will make these decisions? Good question. Well, it turns out that a committee of the German Bundestag debated the Irish austerity proposals before the Dublin government even got a chance to look at them. How did that happen? Again, good question, but no answer yet. 

Maybe German Chancellor Andrea Merkel lifted O’Toole’s heart. She certainly has a motive: Merkel is leading the “austerity is good for you” charge, a stance that has battered economies from Spain to Greece. In any case, the Irish are already suspicious of the German chancellor. An anti-austerity demonstration outside the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, featured a poster calling government ministers “Angela’s Asses.” 

Much of the economic crisis in Europe—and virtually all of it in Ireland— is due to the out-of-control speculation by German banks, along with the Dutch, Austrian, and French financial institutions. “Yet it is the working people of Ireland and Europe who are being asked to pay the price,” argues Des Dalton of Sinn Fein. It appears that the Germans have discovered that one does not need Panzer divisions to conquer Europe, just bankers and compliant governments. 

“Compliant,” however, has run into some difficulties in Ireland, a place where “difficulty” is a very common noun. On Mar. 2, Sinn Fein President Jerry Adams trekked out to Castlebar in the west of Ireland to resurrect the ghost of Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League and leader of the 1878 Land War (there was an earlier one from 1761 to 1784, but more on that later). Adams told the Mayo County crowd “The Irish people cannot afford this treaty.” 

The Castlebar symbolism was about as heavy as you can get. Davitt, along with the great Irish Parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell, launched the land war from that city, calling up the words of the great revolutionary, James Fintan Lalor: “I hold and maintain that the entire soil of a country belongs by right to the entire people of that country.” 

These days that is not a popular sentiment in most European capitals, where governments are shedding public ownership in everything from airlines to energy production. The Irish government is trying to sell off several lucrative holdings, including Aer Lingus, Ireland’s natural gas company, and parts of its Electricity Supply Board. The state’s forestry will be sold as well. “It is the depth of treachery to sell billions of Euros worth of State assets to pay bad gambling debts,” Socialist Party member Joe Higgins said in the Dail. 

The land wars were a reaction to efforts by the English to apply to Ireland the Enclosure Acts, a policy that sold “common land” to private landowners and forced the rural population of England, Scotland and Wales into the hellishness of industrial Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool. 

As Laura Nader and Ugo Mattei maintain in their book “Plunder: When the rule of law is illegal,” what is currently happening in Ireland (and all over Europe) is a 21st century version of the Enclosure Acts. The last vestiges of public ownership are being systematically auctioned to the highest bidder, and the concept of “the common good” is fading like the ghost of providence. 

But not without a fight. 

While Adams was resurrecting the spirit of Michael Davitt, demonstrators were besieging Parliaments in Greece, Spain and Romania. 

Ireland rejected two previous European treaties, only to pass them in a second round of voting. However, under the new rules, it no longer has veto power. If 12 out of the 17 Euro Zone countries endorse—pretty much considered a slam-dunk—then the new treaty goes into effect. 

A number of commentators are saying that the 12 country threshold makes the Irish referendum irrelevant, but a “no” vote will be a blow to the Euro currency, and it might eventually encourage similar “no” votes in other countries. In that sense, the Irish tail could end up wagging the European dog. 

Since Irish stories always include parallels, there is certainly one to be made between the first land war and the current debt crisis. The 1761 effort by English landlords to apply the Enclosure Acts to Ireland ignited resistance, first in Limerick, then spreading to Munster, Connacht and Leinster. Crowds of Irish tenants dressed in linen masks and coats—hence their generic name, the” Whiteboys”— burned hayricks, knocked down enclosure walls, and hamstrung cattle. On occasion they pitched land agents into the local bog. 

The Irish resistance to the Enclosure Acts was not unique, but a very odd thing happened in Ireland: they won. A combination of population growth and war had driven up the price of food, so even the small-scale agriculture practiced by the Irish was profitable. Plus the rent capital skimmed off the Irish peasantry was playing an important role in helping to capitalize the English industrial revolution. Add to this the resistance, and the English decided that it was in their best interests to back off. 

The average Irish tenant knew nothing about international finance or capital accumulation, but they got the idea that if you dug in your heels and went toe-to-toe with the buggers, you could beat them. It was a momentous experience, and a collective memory that would help fuel more than 150 years of rebellion. 

Can the current Irish resistance movement turn the tide against the austerity madness that has gripped the European continent? Well, the Left is on the rise (in some places, so is the Right). Sinn Fein’s support in the most recent opinion polls shows a 25 percent approval ratting, up 4 percent. In comparison, Fianna Fail—the party that ushered in the current crisis—has dropped from 20 percent to 16 percent. Labor has fallen to 10 percent, and Fine Gael is at 32 percent. Other Left parties are also doing well. 

Indeed, the Left seems to be resurging in other countries as well. A center-left party in Slovakia ousted a right-wing government, and France seems poised to vote socialist. The Greek Left is fractious, but its various stripes now make up a majority. 

Weirdness. Remember weirdness? For starters, an 832-year-old heart is pretty strange. And it wasn’t just the heart that was snatched. Someone also stole a splinter of the “true cross” (if one added up all the splinters in all the Cathedrals of Europe you end up with a fair size forest). And then there is the matter of the cheekbone of St. Brigid that just missed getting lifted from a church in North Dublin. 

In the end, saints will not preserve Ireland from an invasion of the austerity snakes. The Irish people will have to do that. But they sport an impressive track record of overturning imperial designs, and they have long memories: put enough people into the streets of Castlebar (Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway, Limerick, etc) and the bastards will back off. 

As Adams said in Castlebar, “Stand together, stand united, and there is nothing we cannot achieve.” 

Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com. 

THE PUBLIC EYE: Sarah Palin and the Republican Identity Crisis

By Bob Burnett
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:40:00 AM

HBO’s splendid movie, Game Change tells the story of Sarah Palin’s rise and fall as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential contest. It provides insight into the GOP’s identity crisis that’s produced this year’s demolition derby in the Republican primaries. 

Game Change asserts that Palin was a desperate choice by the McCain campaign. Because they needed a dynamic vice-presidential candidate to stop Barack Obama’s momentum, McCain and his advisers rushed the process and did not adequately vet Palin. Then they discovered Palin had little knowledge of current events, much less foreign and domestic policy. At first they kept her isolated from the press and attempted to tutor her. When that didn’t work, and she gave several disastrous interviews, they had her memorize a script and emphasized Palin’s singular talent: “She’s the best actress in American politics.” 

None of this is particularly new information to the political cognoscenti – although the story is amplified by Julianne Moore’s unerring portrayal of Palin. It illustrates the GOP has a fundamental flaw – an identity crisis – and the only way they can cover it up is to have an actor be their Presidential candidate. 

Consider the Republican candidates of the last thirty years: Ronald Regan – an actor and two-term president; George H.W. Bush – not an actor and a one-term president who lost his reelection bid to actor Bill Clinton; Bob Dole – not an actor and an unsuccessful candidate; George W. Bush – an actor and two-term president; and John McCain – not an actor. 

Republicans must recruit an actor to be their Presidential candidate because, at the national level, they have a near impossible task: unifying their diverse base and appealing to Independents. Republicans must nominate a candidate who is an actor, who projects different images to different voting blocs. That was true of Reagan – voters didn’t particularly like his policies but they loved the man. That was true of George W. Bush – conservatives believed he was one of them, while Independents believed that he was outside the political mainstream: “a uniter, not a divider.” 

“Game Change” reminds us that McCain started his presidential campaign with two enormous problems: Republican social conservatives didn’t trust him and he wasn’t an actor – he didn’t have the ability to enthrall diverse groups. The selection of Palin as his VP running mate made sense because she immediately captured the hearts of social conservatives and she was an actor – for an instant she appeared to capture the hearts of Independents.  

NEW YORKER correspondent Ryan Lizza recently pointed out the obvious, the Republican base has become more conservative. The good news for the GOP is that their “intense policy demanders” are energized; the bad news is that their involvement means Republicans have moved farther away from the American mainstream. To win at the national level, the GOP needs an actor to both unify their base and bring in Independents. At the moment, they don’t have one. 

A Pew Research poll allocated likely 2012 voters to three groups: “Mostly Republican,” 25 percent, “Mostly Independent,” 35 percent, and “Mostly Democratic,” 40 percent. The “Mostly Republican” group includes “Staunch Conservatives” (11 percent) and “Main Street Republicans” (14 percent). Staunch Conservatives are older white voters who “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns.“ Their favored candidate is Rick Santorum. Main Street Republicans are not as conservative, less concerned about social issues. Their favored candidate is Mitt Romney. Just outside the “Mostly Republican” group is a bloc of Independents, “Libertarians” (10 percent), that typically vote for the Republican presidential candidate. Their favored candidate is Ron Paul. 

Romney is favored to win the Republican nomination but he’s not an actor. He’s unlikely to unify the GOP and also attract Independents. That’s the political reality that Republican Party leaders will struggle with. They have four alternatives: 

One is to abandon hope they will win the Presidency and focus, instead, on Congress. That’s the strategy advocated by conservative columnist George Will

A second alternative would be to plan for a deadlocked convention and convince someone, an actor, to rise from the Republican ashes and become the nominee. In this context, Jeb Bush is frequently mentioned. 

A third alternative would be for the GOP to accept Romney as the nominee and force him to accept a social-conservative VP running mate who is also an actor – this season’s Sarah Palin. That might be Michele Bachmann. 

A fourth alternative would for Republicans to muddle through their convention, nominate a ticket such as Romney and Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, and plan to defeat President Obama by suppressing the Democratic vote. Republicans would try to throw the election into the Electoral College and win the presidency by subverting the vote in swing states. 

Because of their ideological identity crisis, Republicans have rough road ahead. 

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

SENIOR POWER: Bells are Ringing…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:56:00 AM

In 1976 Margaret Elliot Murdock was interviewed about her father, printer Charles Albert Murdock (1841-1928), and early San Francisco and UC, B days for the Bancroft Library oral history program. From her responses, I have gleaned herstory. Part 1 (last week’s column) was mainly about her San Francisco childhood. Part 2 takes her to Berkeley and the University, and Part 3 (next week’s column) to the Sather Tower bells. 

Part 2  

I had gone to the normal school to earn money and taught about a year and a half before I came to college. I took the San Francisco Civil Service examinations as needed to be a permanent teacher there. After I graduated, I decided I preferred working on the campus. So I returned to the campus and have been here ever since, one way or another. 

Lucy Stebbins invited me to be in the Dean’s office. That was something that was kind of in the family tradition to be connected with the Stebbins family. I certainly enjoyed it. While I enjoyed teaching, I think I’ve been very lucky to be on the campus all these years. 

The dean of women’s office, in California Hall, handled for women: housing, and employment, and scholarships, and loans, and academic advice, and a little of everything that s now scattered all over the campus. There were just three people: Miss Stebbins, the Dean, and Mary Davidson, the Assistant Dean, and the office girl who handled the window and the correspondence, and a little of everything, so it was quite a responsibility. Next door were the dean of men’s office and across the hall, the registrar s office, and at the end of the hall was the president’s office and the comptroller’s office. Practically the whole university was handled from the second floor of California Hall.  

I stayed in Cal Hall for quite a while because I was moved into the president’s office as Assistant to the University Representative in Educational Relations, concerned with relations with junior colleges. That was centralized at that time in the president‘s office. Then we were moved over into the education department because we were mostly handling junior college staff to be sure that the University helped them get the best-trained people, whether they happened to be University of California graduates or not. So, that moved into a form of college placement office… from that I moved over into counseling and advising students, one thing sort of led to another. 

It was an interesting time to be in touch with the junior college movement and development. First of all from the job aspect and then later, the preparation for service in the California schools, because the state credentials seemed complicated to people who didn’t try to keep track of them. It was much easier to have the advice centralized so that people from other states who would ask about teaching in California, whether in elementary or college, or somewhere between, would come over to be told what the state requirements were. And the University students who wanted to go into teaching were sent over by their own departments. They knew what they wanted to major in but, for the getting ready for the certificate, the sequence of education courses, or the appropriate minors to go with their particular major was something else it was much easier for people to say, Go see Miss Murdock than to try to remember credential regulations. Or a student who had thought he wanted to go into medicine and weakened, needed to re-cycle his courses to be a science teacher with math on the side. 

I worked at the Women’s Faculty Club. I lived at the Women’s Faculty Club from [19]23 to 40 and was active on different boards and committees. So, I knew the Club, of course first through Miss Stebbins and Jessica Peixotto and the other founders. I was Miss Stebbins’ secretary when it was established. It gives me a real interest in the Women’s Faculty Club and pride in what the women have accomplished. Miss Patterson and Miss Hope Gladding both did a good deal in the early days on the furnishing and the general equipment of the Club. Many of those people collected oriental things that the Club naturally inherited. 

I think that while universities were never very cordial to women, the University of California reluctantly accepted a few more than others did, and they were fortunate in having some very fine people like Jessica Peixotto who certainly had plenty of brains established herself in the economics department and Miss Stebbins herself, and Dr. Agnes Fay Morgan and some of the other women who got the Club started were also people that the University had reason to be very proud of. 

The hospital services were much earlier than the Women’s Faculty Club. The Prytanean Society, back in the early 1900s, in fact, Dr. Mary Ritter and other women who were connected with student health. But I think Miss Stebbins and the dean of women’s office were concerned with women’s housing. There weren’t any dormitories at the time that I first worked in the dean of women’s office. It was something that was needed and they did a great deal for that. 

[The Prytanean Club invited Margaret to be an honorary member.] Yes, and that was, I guess, because I was working in the dean of women’s office and knew the people of that generation pretty well. It’s been a wonderful organization as far as service to the University goes.  

[In the summer of 1923, Margaret suddenly found herself a bell player of the Sather Tower] I never expected to find myself a bell player but I think that any of us who were on the campus in [19]17 and 18 were excited to be around when the tower was being built, when the bells were being installed, when we first heard them. So, before I took over from my friend, Edith Frisbee, I really had some interest but I never expected to be connected with them such a long time. I played more than three times a week. When I lived here at the Club, I’d chase over to play in the morning and right at noon. 

1923 was quite a year. I was living here at the Club and playing duets with my friend Edith Frisbee, who had been successful in a try-out for the bell ringer. So I didn’t try out; I just inherited her job and started in that summer.  

I was just finishing up her summer appointment under Dr. King but I think he found it handy to have a ringer who was living here, on the campus, and able to fill in for him on short notice if something happened in the morning he cut himself shaving, or his car wouldn’t start or … he’d ring here to the Club and I’d hurry up to the tower and do his morning assignment even if it wasn’t my regular day. That was the year that we played for President Harding, who died in San Francisco; we tolled the bell. That was the same year, of course, as the Berkeley fire for which we summoned the students…to get them to come and help. 

… a little later, in 1933 Harmon Gymnasium took fire. It was being torn down anyway. It was just a kind of a wreck. I was up in the tower and there were quite obviously some flames starting down there. So, Scotland’s Burning seemed an appropriate thing to play. A few years later Lindbergh flew west and President Campbell, being an astronomer and liking the skies, wanted people to be able to come and watch and see when he appeared. So I spent most of one Saturday morning up in the tower watching to see just when his plane appeared over Berkeley.  

It’s always been a kind of Box and Cox existence; if one’s there, the other isn’t. But Mr. King would make out the programs and I’d try to find in the miscellaneous music, just what he wanted me to play because it came out in the University Calendar. He loved to give me a hymn done by a composer [named] Redhead because I was a redhead and he thought that was very funny, to ask me to play some thing by a Redhead. 




On March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day, the President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and the Secretary-General of the UN H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon jointly proposed the convening of a United Nations Fifth World Conference on Women in 2015, 20 years after the last women’s summit in Beijing. They hope that the international community in general would welcome this joint initiative and that the Member-States who have the final authority to convene the proposed conference would take the necessary steps during the on-going 66th session of the General Assembly. For entire Joint Statement: see http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=5904 

Chicago Tribune’s John Hilkevitch reports that, in response to public outrage over "granny pat-downs," the Transportation Security Administration will ease screening procedures for airline passengers age 75+ at O'Hare International Airport. The new screening will also be tested at Denver, Orlando, and Portland International Airports. Individuals may still be required to remove their shoes and undergo a pat-down if anomalies are detected during security screening that cannot be resolved through other procedures. 

Prior to Super Tuesday, 15 national organizations representing the interests of senior citizens and individuals with disabilities and including the National Council on Aging (NCOA), invited presidential candidates to answer 5 questions about their views on long-term services and supports. The questionnaire was distributed to all major candidates for the Office of President of the United States, regardless of political party affiliation. Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did not respond. Barack Obama and New Gingrich responded. See NCOA and candidates’ websites. 

This month, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders)'s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging released its first comprehensive guide for aging service professionals and agencies, offering a range of tools and tips on creating affirming services for LGBT older adults. Titled Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Creating Welcoming Agencies, this guide can help agencies foster a welcoming environment for many diverse populations, including LGBT older adults. Download a PDF of the guide, or request print copies.  


MARK YOUR CALENDAR returns next week. 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.  


Sunday, March 18. 2 – 3:15 P.M. San Francisco Shakespeare presents Macbeth. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. The touring company presents a 55 minute production of the "Scottish play" with costumes, props, sets and recorded music. Stay for a Q&A session with the actors. 510-981-6100. 

Tuesday, March 20. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers general meeting. “Let's Talk about Taxes: Tax the 1%!” Location: Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. (at Geary). 415-552-8800. 

Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, March 21. 7:00- 8:00 P.M. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult 

Evening Book Group: Pat Barker's Regeneration. When poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon writes a letter critical of England's efforts in World War I, he is sent to a mental hospital where Dr. W. H. R. Rivers tries to help patients express their war memories as a means of healing their "nerves." Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Saturday, March 24. Berkeley Public Library North Branch final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park. See April 7. 

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Tuesday, March 27. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.,  

Tea and Cookies at the Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 28-April 1. ASA Aging in America Conference, Washington, DC. 15% off registration fees through March 21. Use discount code DCNCoa15 when you register. You also can save by signing up to volunteer at the conference. Go to NCOA website. 

Wednesday, March 28. 1:30 - 2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

 Wednesday, March 28.  1:30 P.M.  Berkeley East Bay Gray Panthers.  North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK.  Free.  510-548-9696. 
Wednesday, March 28. 2-3 P.M. Moraga Library. 1500 St. Mary’s Road. Join a Berkeley Rep Theatre-trained docent to talk about the latest production, John Logan's Tony Award-winning two-character bio-drama about abstract impressionist, Mark Rothko, that's been called a "master class of questions and answers." Free. 925-376-6852. 925- 254-2184 

Monday, April 2. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch, 1170 The Alameda. Grand Reopening Event. The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012. Details at www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzoh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: samy@jcceastbay.org 

Thursday, April 12. 7:00 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Folk singer Tim Holt performs and discusses our heritage of traditional songs and sea chanteys. Some favorites he will sing are "Shenandoah,? "The Erie Canal,? and Woody Guthrie?s "Talkin' Columbia" and "Roll On Columbia." Holt will include a song with his own original lyrics, "Sailing Down My Mountain Stream," adapted from a Pete Seeger song about cleaning up the Hudson River. His version focuses on a more recent effort to restore wild salmon to the upper reaches of the Sacramento River. Sponsored by the Friends of the El Cerrito Library. 510-526-7512. 

Saturday, April 14. Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch’s final open day for BranchVan Service at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.  

Monday, May 7. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Monday, May 14. 7:00 P.M. Identity Theft Program. Barbara Jue, an Associate with Legal Shield, will offer information and advice on how to prevent Identity theft and how to deal with it if it should happen. She will also talk about children and computer use and cyber bullying. A DVD will be shown; Q&A will follow. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday May 21. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: Color of the Sea by John Hamamura. 61 Arlington Av. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday, June 4. 6:30 P.M. "Castoffs" - Knitting Group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday, June 18. 7 P.M. Art historian Michael Stehr will discuss Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was the Michelangelo of the Baroque. He will also present a slide show. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday June 25. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.

Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Octopus’s Garden in SF—A Tale of Two Mommies—great acting, lesser writing.

BY John A. McMullen II
Monday March 19, 2012 - 10:27:00 PM
Gabrielle Patacsil, Nandi Drayton and Leah Shesky.
Andy Strong
Gabrielle Patacsil, Nandi Drayton and Leah Shesky.

Produced by PianoFight, OCTOPUS’S GARDEN by Scott Herman premiered Saturday at 414 Mason Street near Geary.

It is a domestic drama of the conflicts of a lesbian couple in choosing the sperm donor for their planned pregnancy. Told in reverse chronology, it has some very talented actors. However, the writing is mundane; it contains a few amusing moments of situational tension that evoke laughter, but it is the actors who carry the show by the easy believability of their performance and the emotional connections between them. 

It has the added awkwardness of having serial scenes in different locales. Director Devon McNulty has chosen to have the actors change the set in blackouts which often last for over a minute. When a drama with this format is chosen to be performed on an open stage, part of the concept should be how not to keep the audience waiting. It is inadvisable to allow the energy and story-flow to drop while the actors scurry about in the dark collecting props and dressing the next scene. In jarring contrast to the explicit realism of props, drinks, furniture, and décor is a pantomimed fourth-wall door. 

Another drawback is the seating itself: very comfortable wide chairs, but the audience is on the flat and the stage is on an un-raked two foot dais, which obscures the view from many seats; a set of risers might have been considered. 

Notable is Andrew Hanson-Strong, who is handsome and whose acting is strong (who could resist that applicable pun?). In the role of Grant, a gay guitar player, he is always connected to the moment and gently reveals his character’s sexual-orientation, expressing it more when on his second vodka. He is inventive in his expression, and he alters both his emotional burden and physical appearance to lend credence to his character’s arc. His connection with his former roommate Lilly, who plans to play momma and get pregnant, is buoyed up by the same realism and inventiveness by Gabrielle Patacsil; Ms. Patacsil has the same exceptional acting chops. 

Playing their eight year old daughter is Nandi Drayton, a 2011 Critics Circle nominee, in one of her first dramatic roles—she has played many musical leads with Berkeley Playhouse. Though older than eight, she plays young convincingly. She modulates her responses to the conflict between the adults around the dinner table with a triggered expression of concern alternated with the sort of “tune-you-out” ability that children have. Ms. Drayton is joyful and playful in her connection with her parents, Lilly and Claire (played by Leah Shesky, the foil of the nervous, jealous academic second mommy). In her cautious dance of getting to know Grant, Ms. Drayton is always in control of the situation as children can be when an adult is trying to make a connection with them. She alternately directs his coloring as a teacher would, then switches seamlessly to her child persona, running to fetch her toys to display for him. (Disclaimer: I was Ms. Drayton’s tutor for a couple of months; whatever direction Director McNulty imparted to her was deftly conceived and employed.) 

There are inconsistencies in the script (what’s the chance of getting pregnant from a one-time try? Maybe 1 in 25?), and I am still pondering the significance of the title which is usually a key to interpreting the drama. It is plodding in the plotting, leaving little revelation in the unraveling, since it is told in reverse with no surprises. There is neither sufficient change of rhythms within the scenes to jump start the action nor between the scenes to contrast one scene from another: these are both writing and directing concerns. It is devoid of physical passion, save one semi-clunky jump-your-bones moment after a semi-charming drunk scene filled with revelations of past heterosexual indiscretions between lesbian and gay friends. While the actors save the play with their invention and realistic, quirky spins, sometimes their milking of the moments in that fashion slows it down even more. 

PianoFight is a relatively new company committed to new drama. It has embarked on transforming the closed Original Joe’s restaurant at Turk and Mason into a theatre-restaurant. 

Octopus’s Garden plays Saturday nights March 17 - April 7 at the Alcove Theater, 414 Mason Street; 

and April 14 – 28 at Stage Werx, 446 Valencia Street, SF. 

More info/tickets at www.pianofight.com 

John A. McMullen II is a member of SFBATCC, ATCA, and SDC. EJ Dunne edits.