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New: Conference on LBNL Plans for Synthetic Biology Tonight at Berkeley's Brower Center

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday March 29, 2012 - 10:39:00 AM

A conference will take place tonight in Berkeley on the the billion-dollar-plus academic/industrial complex planned by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the Richmond shoreline. 

The issues are vital, and the potential consequences are global. 

Here’s the announcement for the public session, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Tamalpais Room of the David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way at Oxford Street: 

The University of California, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the Department of Energy plan to build a high profile, billion-dollar-plus laboratory complex in the East Bay. While public pronouncements tell us the lab will focus on ‘green’ energy research, the truth is more complicated. 

A primary focus of the new lab will be synthetic biology: an extreme form of genetic engineering that creates self-replicating artificial life forms from synthesized DNA. The development of these high-risk genetic technologies is largely driven by the oil, chemical, agribusiness, and pharmaceutical industries, the military, and other federal agencies, in a rapid, high-profit commercial race. But the risks synthetic biology poses to worker safety, public health, social justice, and the environment are poorly understood, and lack adequate oversight, transparency or protections. 

Join us for presentations and public dialogue on the expansion of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the dangers of synthetic biology, and the local and global implications of this controversial industry. 

Presenters include: 

• Nnimmo Bassey, Right Livelihood Award Winner (the Alternative Nobel Prize) (Nigeria) 

• Maria José Guazzelli, Center for Ecological Agriculture (Brazil) 

• Steve Zeltzer, California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day 

• Becky McClain, Injured Workers National Network 

• Jeremy Gruber, President, Council for Responsible Genetics 

• Jim Thomas, ETC Group 

• Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project 

• Dr. Henry Clark, West County Toxics Coalition 

• Eric Hoffman, Friends of the Earth 

Moderated by Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director, International Center for Technology Assessment. 

City of Berkeley Releases Working Draft of Dispatcher's Conversation with Victim of Hills Killing

Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 08:55:00 PM

The city of Berkeley has released a "working draft" of the conversation between Peter Cukor and the Berkeley police dispatcher which was recorded on February 18. The document notes that "this is NOT a verbatim transcript..."  

DISPATCHER: Berkeley Police and Fire 511.  

MR. CUKOR:Yes, there is a gentleman, a young man hanging around my property. I think he's transient. I'm not sure. 

DISPATCHER: What's the address sir?  

MR. CUKOR: 2 Park Gate in Berkeley.  

DISPATCHER: And he is just standing around there?  

MR. CUKOR: Yeah. He says that he lives here. He wants to come in which is very strange. I'd like an officer up right here away.  

DISPATCHER: Sure. What race is he?  

MR. CUKOR: African-American.  

DISPATCHER: He's a black male. How old does he look?  

MR. CUKOR: I'd say he's in his twenties.  

DISPATCHER: How tall is he about?  

MR. CUKOR: About 6'4.  

DISPATCHER: Is he small, medium or heavy build?  

MR. CUKOR: Medium.  

DISPATCHER: What's the color of his shirt or jacket?  

MR. CUKOR: He's wearing a dark color hoodie  

DISPATCHER: And the color of his pants?  

MR. CUKOR: Well they're dark I believe  

DISPATCHER: So he's just standing there stating he lives there? 

MR. CUKOR: He's looking for someone named Zoey. He's pretty spacey.  

DISPATCHER: Oh okay.  

MR. CUKOR: Now Park Gate it is just gate right at the fire station.  


MR. CUKOR: My driveway is just before you get to the fountains.  

DISPATCHER: Okay, may I have –¬ 

MR. CUKOR: It's not on Park Street it's on Shasta just before you get to the fountains (unintelligible) 

DISPATCHER: And may I have your name sir?  

MR. CUKOR: Peter last name spelled C U K 0 R  

DISPATCHER: And your phone number please?  

MR. CUKOR: 841-xxxx  

DISPATCHER: Okay we'll try to get somebody out as soon as we can.  

MR. CUKOR: Thank you.  

DISPATCHER: Thank you. Bye-bye.  

St. Paul AME Church in Berkeley Remembers Trayvon Martin

Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 02:37:00 PM

St. Paul AME Church, on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley near the corner of Shattuck, has posted this video of their "Hoodie Sunday" observance in memory of Trayvon Martin, featuring Pastor Leslie R. White and members of the congregation: 

St Paul AME Church Remembers Trayvon Martin from Ralph Watkins on Vimeo.

Press Release: Center for Investigative Reporting, The Bay Citizen Agree to Merge: Merger Will Create Nation’s Largest Nonprofit Organization Focused on Accountability Journalism

From Business Wire
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:32:00 PM

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and The Bay Area News Project (BANP), which operates The Bay Citizen, today agreed to merge operations, pending a review by the California attorney general. 

“That’s why he started The Bay Citizen. Our family agrees with that point of view. We feel that the merger with CIR offers the opportunity to renew leadership, add strength to the reporting staff, and diversify revenue models and content distribution channels.” 

The merger of the two award-winning news forces will create the nation’s largest nonprofit organization focused on investigative and accountability reporting and one of the largest data and technology teams in journalism. 

“We are bringing together two Bay Area enterprises with very complementary strengths,” said Phil Bronstein, who will serve as executive board chairman of the unified operation. “They are both devoted to protecting justice and democracy through great, engaging journalism.” 

Jeff Ubben, current chairman of The Bay Citizen board of directors, and the family of The Bay Citizen founder Warren Hellman will together commit more than $4 million to the merged entity. 

The expanded Center for Investigative Reporting will be made up of three unique editorial brands: The Bay Citizen (local enterprise and investigative reporting focused on the San Francisco Bay Area), California Watch (investigative reporting on major issues and topics affecting the entire state) and CIR (targeted investigative and explanatory reporting on issues of national and international significance). 

The integrated, multi-platform newsroom will produce high-quality, unique stories that engage and connect communities from the local to the global. Content will be distributed through media partners around the Bay Area, California, nationwide and internationally. The Bay Citizen website, baycitizen.org, will remain a lively source of local daily content. 

“This is a special moment,” said Robert J. Rosenthal, executive director of CIR, who will continue to serve in that capacity. “We’re confident that the merged organization will create energy and innovation around unique storytelling, audience engagement and sustainability. Our goal is to evolve a successful model for ourselves and for journalism.” 

Over the past three years, CIR has undergone substantial growth and change, transforming from a small nonprofit into one of the largest investigative reporting teams in the country. With a staff of reporters, editors, data analysts, engineers, and video, radio and multimedia producers, it is playing an increasing role in filling the gap in in-depth reporting left by the decline of legacy media. CIR recently won the 2012 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, the 2011 George Polk Award and the 2011 Scripps Howard Award for public service. 

The Bay Citizen was founded in 2010 to serve the Bay Area with high-quality, independent civic and cultural journalism that informs and engages residents. It is nationally recognized as a new model for journalism. Recent awards for The Bay Citizen include the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the James Madison Freedom of Information Award. Its strong business infrastructure has enabled The Bay Citizen to raise $17.5 million from diverse sources, including major donors, members, corporations and foundations. The Bay Citizen's reporting can be found on its website and in print in The New York Times Bay Area report on Fridays and Sundays. 

“Warren Hellman founded The Bay Citizen because he believed that quality reporting could foster civic engagement. This merger will allow his vision to thrive, creating a more sustainable public service news organization in one of the most diverse and dynamic areas in the country,” said Ubben, who will join the merged board, along with other Bay Citizen directors. 

“Our dad felt strongly that democracy only works if there is a vibrant press, and that local journalism in particular needed strong community support in order to survive and fulfill its essential mission," said Mick Hellman, Warren's son. “That’s why he started The Bay Citizen. Our family agrees with that point of view. We feel that the merger with CIR offers the opportunity to renew leadership, add strength to the reporting staff, and diversify revenue models and content distribution channels." 

The organization will have a budget of $10.5 million in 2012 and a staff of about 70. Mark Katches will serve as editorial director, Sharon Tiller will lead the digital team, and Chase Davis will oversee the expanded news technology team. A chief strategy officer, in charge of new revenue streams, products and network strategy, will be named soon. Operations of the two organizations will remain independent until the merger is finalized. 

For more information, visit www.cironline.org and www.baycitizen.org. 

About the Center for Investigative Reporting 

Founded in 1977, the Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation's oldest nonprofit investigative news organization, producing unique, high-quality reporting that has impact and is relevant to people's lives. CIR’s newest venture, California Watch, is the largest investigative team in the state. The organization’s stories appear in hundreds of news outlets, including NPR News, PBS Frontline, PBS NewsHour, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Beast, MinnPost and American Public Media’s Marketplace. Its reports have sparked state and federal hearings and legislation, public interest lawsuits, changes in corporate policies and a United Nations resolution. For more information, visit www.cironline.org and www.californiawatch.org. 

About The Bay Citizen 

The Bay Citizen is a nonprofit, nonpartisan member-supported news organization that provides in-depth original reporting on Bay Area issues, including public policy, education, the arts and cultural affairs, health and science, the environment, and more. The Bay Citizen's news can be found online at www.baycitizen.org, as well as in print in The New York Times Bay Area report on Fridays and Sundays. For more information, please visit www.baycitizen.org.

A Vanishing Legacy of the Last Depression in Berkeley

By Gray Brechin
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:22:00 PM

An ancient cherry tree on Sacramento Street just north of the North Berkeley BART station this week is popping into its annual glorious bloom. I once thought it must have been planted by someone in the small Japanese community that left so many private Japanese gardens in the neighborhood, but a box of yellowed newspaper clippings I discovered at the Bancroft Library suggests it is yet another unmarked legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. 

By April of 1939, City Manager Hollis R. Thompson reported that federal stimulus programs had given Berkeley 3,243,668 man hours of work in the previous decade to leverage it out of the Great Depression. Among the tasks undertaken by the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration was the planting of 15,000 flowering fruit trees. 

An article in the Berkeley Gazette from the previous year gives a different — but still impressive — number of tree plantings. On March 3, 1938, Charles W. Cresswell, the city’s assistant superintendant of recreation, reported that approximately 8000 trees planted in parking strips throughout the city were then reaching their peak. “Thousands of visitors from surrounding communities drive through Berkeley streets every spring to enjoy the display of blossoms. A list of streets where the trees are finest has been prepared by the park division. The red flowering peach may be seen at Curtis, Bonar, Woolsey, and Gilman Streets, and Channing Way. Parking strips on Jefferson, Acton, Derby, Browning, Edith and Edwards Streets have a fine show of pink flowering peach.” Cresswell went on to list the many streets on which white plum blossoms could be seen. Thousand Oaks was a good bet to see those trees. 

Berkeley’s Civic Center was then especially notable for its flowering cherry trees. WPA laborers had planted 600 cherry trees there as well as along Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue. The trees were the gift of nurseryman K. Fujii of Berkeley. 

Few of those original fruit trees remain. Perhaps a grove of flowering cherries could be planted in front of the soon-to-be shuttered old City Hall in memory of Mr. Fujii and the forgotten WPA workers who did so much to beautify the city during the last depression that tourists came to enjoy Berkeley’s famed florescence at this time of year. 

Gray Brechin is the project scholar of the Living New Deal based at the UC Berkeley Department of Geography: http://livingnewdeal.berkeley.edu 


Flash: Berkeley High Women's Basketball Team in the 2012 State Championships —the Top 125 Photos

By Mark Coplan
Sunday March 25, 2012 - 08:16:00 PM
BHS Women's Basketball State Championships 2012 Top 125
Mark Coplan
BHS Women's Basketball State Championships 2012 Top 125
The Berkeley High Women played hard and well in the state basketball championships on Saturday, though losing to Mater Dei in the end.
Mark Coplan
The Berkeley High Women played hard and well in the state basketball championships on Saturday, though losing to Mater Dei in the end.

The Berkeley High Women’s Basketball team played Southern California’s Mater Dei for the Division I state championship at the Power Balance Arena (formerly Arco Arena) Saturday night. Unfortunately, there was none of the jubilation we experienced last week when they won the NORCAL Div. I title in the same arena because this time they lost the game, 40 to 57. 

Regardless, it was difficult to see these young women as anything but winners as they took to the center court with their heads held high. The crowning moment for me was when Berkeley #23 Elisha Davis stopped to applaud Mater Dei as they were announced. Arizona State, you signed one class act. 

Berkeley High Basketball slideshow

Judge Says Berkeley Murder Suspect is Incompetent to Stand Trial

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday March 22, 2012 - 09:30:00 PM

A judge ruled today that Daniel Jordan Dewitt is mentally incompetent to stand trial on charges that he murdered Berkeley hills homeowner Peter Cukor last month. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Sandra Bean based her ruling on reports by two doctors who examined Dewitt, 23, saying, "I adopt the findings of the alienists." 

Bean said, "It appears that the defendant (Dewitt) is incompetent at this time." 

Dewitt, who didn't appear in court today, is being held at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He's scheduled to come to court on April 13 to be placed in a state mental hospital. 

Dewitt's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Brian Bloom, said Dewitt most likely will be placed at the Napa State Hospital. 

Bloom said the finding that Dewitt is incompetent to stand trial suspends the criminal case against him but doesn't dismiss the charges against him. 

Dewitt could still face a trial at some point in the future if he responds well to treatment and is found to be competent, Bloom said. 

Dewitt, who graduated from Alameda High School in 2007 and is the grandson of former Alameda City Councilman Al Dewitt, is accused of killing 67-year-old Peter Cukor outside Cukor's home at 2 Park Gate Road at about 9 p.m. on Feb. 18. 

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Berkeley police Detective David Marble, after Cukor told Dewitt to leave his property Dewitt "said he was a psychic and he was told to go through the front gate to find Zoey." 

Cukor, who owned a logistics consulting firm, walked across the street to a Berkeley fire station to see if firefighters could help him deal with Dewitt but no one was there because firefighters were out on a call. 

Marble said Dewitt then killed Cukor with a flower pot when Cukor returned to his home. 

Dewitt was arrested nearby and "admitted that he was looking for his fiancee Zoey," Marble wrote. 

But Dewitt's father, Al Dewitt Jr., said Dewitt doesn't have a girlfriend named "Zoey" and that Zoey is only a figment of his imagination. 

After today's hearing, Al Dewitt Jr. said, "I'm not happy but I'm relieved," explaining that he's still concerned about his son but is glad he won't face a trial at this time and will be getting treatment. 

Bloom said Daniel Dewitt "suffers from a real serious medical illness" and will finally get "meaningful treatment" at a state hospital. 

He said Dewitt has refused to take his medication while he's been at Santa Rita but doctors at a mental hospital can force him to take his medication if they deem that it's necessary. 

Bloom said, "It's a horrible shame that he didn't get treatment before" the incident in which Cukor was killed. 

Al Dewitt Jr. and his wife, Candy Dewitt, who is Daniel's mother, said in a statement that, "Our hearts go out to the Cukor family" and, "We cannot find words that say how deeply saddened we are." 

The Dewitts said, "We also grieve for our son Daniel whose life is forever changed by actions he cannot understand and who is so very ill." 

They said, "If you do not have someone in your life with mental illness, it would be hard to imagine what it is like to watch helplessly as your son loses his life to such a devastating disease as paranoid schizophrenia and with little ability to make a difference given our current mental health system and laws." 

The Dewitts said, "In the last months, as Daniel became increasingly ill, he could only whisper to us through his apartment door. He feared people could hear him. He thought people were following him, watching him, poisoning him. He could not sleep." 

They said, "It was horribly painful to watch, to know and to see what he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help." 

The Dewitts said, "This is the same bohat he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help." 

The Dewitts said, "This is the same boy who loved fishing, played endlessly in the fields as a young boy making forts, catching lizards, riding biky who loved fishing, played endlessly in the fields as a young boy making forts, catching lizards, riding bikes and later was an all-league football player, a talented writer and a passionate music lover." 

Saying that their son was in and out of the hospital the last four years, they said, "Unfortunately, the system did not allow Daniel to receive the involuntary treatment that would have helped him because of the qualifications for an involuntary hold, which are being an imminent danger to self, to others or gravely disabled."

Searching for Hate Leads to Sick Scene in Downtown Berkeley

By Ted Friedman
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:40:00 PM
Protecting and serving. Cops ministering to mentally ill man downtown Wednesday. They didn't want me to photograph the man they called "a patient." All you can see is his leg.
Ted Friedman
Protecting and serving. Cops ministering to mentally ill man downtown Wednesday. They didn't want me to photograph the man they called "a patient." All you can see is his leg.
Cop-Op in distance. Two cop cars, a cop motorcycle, fire engine, and ambulance to assist a mentally ill man. This happens a lot.
Ted Friedman
Cop-Op in distance. Two cop cars, a cop motorcycle, fire engine, and ambulance to assist a mentally ill man. This happens a lot.

While searching for Hate Man downtown, I stopped off to reminisce with Drayco, who was stabbed last year in a tree in People's Park. The stabber said it was more like some pokes, but Drayco left a lot of blood in the park. I know. I was there for five hours watching the cops label every drop. Drayco agrees he lost a lot of blood, even though he refused emergency room treatment until the next day when cops picked him up. He didn't want to upset the pitbull puppy that now looks like a mule. 

Drayco tells a blood-curdling tale of being invited up a tree by the treesitter where Drayco inadvertently broke off a tree branch and the treesitter "went off his nut," and tried to slash Drayco's throat with a paring knife--just as the police always said, but the treesitter felt so strongly about his own poking version he kept the matter alive in subsequent court actions. 

The guy sitting next to us, in Constitution Square at the downtown Bart station, was eyeball to eyeball with me. His eyes read psycho, and within minutes he had flopped on his back in the street, blocking traffic. 

The man then crossed the street and began masturbating, according to witnesses. I couldn't see it from across the street. A group of fifteen female Berkeley High students crossed the street to taunt and chortle over the man, admonishing him for his evil deed. Eventually two BPD squad cars, and a motorcycle showed up. Then, a fire engine and paramedic van. 

i was told by the cops to cease photographing the mentally ill man, and to leave them alone as they did their jobs. The accompanying photo hides what they called "the patient’s" face. I think the cops were right and deserve our respect for protecting the mentally ill from our curiosity--and hilarity. 

I have received reports that Constitution Square is fast becoming a major crime scene. 

According to Drayco, the whole scene is sick. "You can't see this shit anywhere, but Berkeley," he says, and Drayco, an elder street tramp has seen it all in his travels.

Gunshots Heard in South Berkeley

Monday March 26, 2012 - 01:45:00 PM

Callers to the Planet who live and work in the area near Russell and Sacramento in Berkeley have reported hearing gunshots and seeing many police officers and cars in the area about 1:35 today. The Berkeley Police Department dispatch operator says that there were "loud reports" heard, but no shooting victim has been located.

Doe Library Begins a Second Century

By Steven Finacom
Thursday March 22, 2012 - 11:26:00 PM
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom

Doe Library at the UC Berkeley campus greeted its second official century on March 21, 2012, with music, cupcakes, speakers, exhibits and—most important—evidence that it is still the vital heart of the academic campus envisioned in the early 20th century when it was designed and constructed.  

Throughout the Library, as events went on, one could see hundreds of Cal students and other others going through their daily routines of research and studying in the stately halls designed by Supervising Architect John Galen Howard to resemble a Parthenon for the modern “Athens of the Pacific”. The first completed part of the building had opened in 1911, but was officially dedicated on Charter Day, March 23, 1912. 

The Centennial festivities began with performances by campus musical groups stationed throughout the building. The Golden Overtones raised the roof of the North Reading Room, followed by the Men’s Octet holding forth in the Brown Gallery—the main entrance corridor—and the University Chamber Chorus singing Debussy and Languedoc folk songs in the Heyns Room, below the benevolent gaze of the University’s portrait of campus namesake, philosopher George Berkeley. 

Although mainly composed of UC students, the audiences included a leavening of alumni, faculty, staff, Library donors, and children. In most locations faces aged perhaps eight to eighty could be seen.  

The music concluded with multiple renditions of “Happy Birthday” by the Octet in Room 190 where University Librarian Tom Leonard wielded a silver server to cut the symbolic first slice from a birthday cake, and hundreds picked up a celebratory cupcake. By the end of the event at least 1,700 cupcakes had reportedly been consumed. 

After a rousing concert by a contingent of the California Marching Band on the grand north terrace of the building, many of the attendees retired to the Morrison Library for remarks by Library leaders, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and literary luminaries including Maxine Hong Kingston and Annie Barrows. 

Balloons and jewel toned banners designed by Library graphics staffer Aisha Hamilton brought bright splashes of color to the granite façade and marble corridors of the building. Blow-ups of historic photographs of the building were posted on easels to show how the spaces had changed over time. The Newspaper Room displayed large facsimiles of newspaper pages from 1912 reporting on the library dedication. 

Here are some pictures from the festivities. An exhibit, “Heart of the University” on the early history of Doe, organized by Library staffer Steve Mendoza, can be viewed in the Brown Gallery (the main north entrance corridor) of the building, and portions can be found on line at http://doe100.berkeley.edu/exhibit/index.html 

A permanent website http://doe100.berkeley.edu/ also presents more details of the events and history of the Library, including excerpts from the “Doe Library Wall”, an interactive display conceived by Chemistry Library staffer Jeff Loo. At several times during the past year Library users and visitors were asked to write comments on white boards set up in the building, prompted by questions such as “Library, How Do I Love Thee?” on Valentine’s Day and “Of all that the library offers, what are you most grateful for?” around Thanksgiving.  

(Steven Finacom writes on local historical topics for the Planet. A UC staffer, he was a part of the committee that planned the Doe Centennial events.) 


It's Shake, Rattle, and Roll at BPD in Wake of Sex-Scandal Gossip

By Ted Friedman
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:29:00 PM
Displayed at BPD headquarters.
Ted Friedman
Displayed at BPD headquarters.

As the whole world watched Berkeley police last week, I was scrambling for my piece of the media pie that had gone viral after the chief sent his info officer in the wee hours to a local reporter's home, seeking changes in the reporter's story. 

The reporter was not me. 

But after receiving unsubstantiated charges of sexual scandal within the department, I saw visions of a possible BPD sex scandal, based on hearsay. 

Perhaps if I dropped in on the BPD public info officer….On the way into police headquarters, I chatted with one of those models who work as T.V. reporters. 

The model, and two other journalists on her crew, was in a van with one of those sky-high curly antennas. 

A passing Berkeleyan interrupted us with gibberish about getting his own feed from the antenna. I didn't say, "yeah them suckers are powerful." 

The model's producer said to the nut, "I don't know what you're talking about." 

After 42 years in Berkeley, I know what the nut was talking about. 

The model said the police public information officer was stonewalling her on the chief story. 

Welcome to BPD, kiddo, out of which our chief at the Planet has said no reporter can pry info. Reporters "young, old, experienced, naïve, stern, charming—the whole gamut, have failed over the years," she wrote recently. 

I'm either charming or the whole gamut. Charm to follow. 

The model was told by the pistol-packing PIO Sgt. that "we have nothing to add to the information we've previously released." 

"I'll see what I can get," I grandiosely told the model. I wanted her to think that local reporters had the edge. In fact we don't. It's the opposite. Most of our officials would rather talk to the majors. 

"Good luck," the model said. I've heard good luck from hundreds of models over the years. I'm too short to date models. And I'm old. 

At the end of a 50 minute wait, I left a charming handwritten note for the PIO sergeant. 

The note: "I'm here to offer my support [which will be taken as bullshit] for the department. And by the way, you can come up to my apartment anytime. Be sure to bring the gun." 

I might have said worse, like, "be sure to bring the gun…THAT'S SO HOT!" 

By evening, I received an e-mail from a lieutenant (I was expecting to be arrested for taking liberties with an officer) who sent a compendium of the department's official statements. In a subsequent e-mail, the lieutenant noted that both the sergeant and he had gotten the humor. 



Emboldened by my good fortune of having the lieutenant e-mail me, I forwarded him the unsubstantiated e-mail, which had allegations about the department. It's hardly shocking that sex would take place in a Berkeley police headquarters office. 

Berkeley is a home of the free love movement, as well as the free speech movement. 

Why shouldn't our police get some free sex? 

His only response was to note that BPD does not discuss personnel matters with the press. He neither affirmed nor denied the gossip. 

At the core of the scuttlebutt was hanky-panky on a desk top at police headquarters. The email said that the rank-and-file were upset that the chief had been overly lenient about the affair. 

You know the bromide about not watching sausage made? I can't use that in writing about hanky-panky. 

And now a source more reliable than the unidentified e-mailer has corroborated both the hanky and the panky. 

But the source said that no one in the department faulted the chief for his handling of the affair, as the e-mail said. "They both confessed," said the source. 

Cops love confessions. It makes life easy. 

What's eating the officers, whose "union" condemned their chief last week, is that the chief rides the troops constantly; his recent misstep, only hours after he'd tamed the angry North side mob, was "an embarrassment," said the source. 

Many in the department believe the chief is using his Berkeley years just to build up his CV so he can return to Seattle to become chief there. 


And the men are jealous of the chief's Berkeley home, purchased by the city. 

And to think I've been saying "the chief looks like a young Clint Eastwood, but he's no Dirty Harry." Yet I did raise the Dirty Harry issue on my blog, hinting that he could be a Dirty Harry, for all that I knew--not much. 

While to his public, he's a charmer, to his men he's Dirty Harry. 

There's no way a Clint Eastwood look-alike could fail to make our punk-ass day. 


Ted Friedman reports for the Planet from the scintillating South side.



Berkeley Councilmembers Pat Themselves on Backs as They Pass Downtown Area Plan

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday March 22, 2012 - 09:08:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council in its infinite wisdom passed, on an 8-1 vote, a new Downtown Area Plan with attendant zoning changes which are supposed to facilitate its execution. Eight of the councilmembers voted for it, with Kriss Worthington, who's been around the block all too many times, the only no vote.

Arreguin and Anderson, who should know better, spoke enthusiastically of the "community benefits" the plan is supposed to provide, though Anderson, perhaps older and wiser, expressed some apprehension that they might get forgotten in the end. Since five skyscrapers downtown are the big ticket item, it might be appropriate to dub it the “pie in the sky” plan, in honor of Woody Guthrie ’s Joe Hill's famous ditty, invoked in this space more than once: “There’ll be pie in the sky bye and bye.” The modern refrain would be a sarcastic “oh sure.” 

John King, the Chronicle’s all too naïve planning and architecture critic, was wringing his hands on Monday about the loss of amenities originally touted for the possibly upcoming Transbay Terminal building in San Francisco. One of the first stories I ever wrote for print, in the late 1970s for the Bay Guardian, was about promises in that era for a rebuilt Transbay Terminal which never materialized. In the intervening years it’s become crystal clear to me that just about none of that good stuff, the icing on the development cake, so to speak, ever materializes as promised. Now the existing terminal has finally been torn down, but what exactly will fill the big hole it left behind is still, so to speak, up in the air. 

The Chron’s headline writer, almost certainly not King, got it right: 

“Transbay Tower revision downsizes public frills.” 

That’s all “community benefits” usually turn out to be: public frills, usually downsized in the end. 

They are seldom couched in enforceable language. Most often the provision of amenities is expressed as conditions on use permits, and almost always, such conditions are left to city governments, specifically planning departments, to monitor. 

In Berkeley the Planning Department is funded by development permit fees, so staff have little incentive to bite the hand that feeds them. And also, as documented here ad nauseam, the revolving door premise means that today’s planner is likely to be tomorrow’s developer. 

There are those who say that decisions under the California Environmental Quality Act, especially if there’s an Environmental Impact Report, are more likely to be enforced, because mitigations under CEQA can be enforced by members of the public, while conditions on city use permits are only enforceable by a city government which could care less about them. But enforcement in the courts, as required by CEQA, is so costly that citizens are seldom able to afford it. 

Berkeley’s shrinking coterie of planning mavens are indulging in a bit of handwringing themselves over the new downtown plan, which gives a lot away and gets few “public frills” in exchange, even theoretically. They could take comfort from the pronouncement I heard from the professor in my local government class in law school years ago: “Don’t worry too much about plans, because no one ever follows them anyhow.” 

At the time, still naïve myself, I was righteously indignant about her cynicism, but in the intervening years I’ve realized that she was right. I’ve followed with more or less interest one general plan, two downtown plans and two southside plans, some of which were passed and some not. They cheerfully contradicted each other, but as it happens it doesn’t matter because much of whatever they specified was soon forgotten by planners and elected officials. 

EIRs aren’t much better. It turns out that a few years later in most cities, probably including Berkeley, copies of EIRs aren’t even archived, so that if citizens wanted to check and see what was promised before a project was permitted, they’d have a hard time doing so. 

Now the focus of civic concern is what’s called “The West Berkeley Project”, which is actually thinly disguised wholesale revisions to the existing West Berkeley Plan for the benefit of big developers and major landowners. The Planning Commission, which is now dominated by people who work in the building industry, passed the draft at its last meeting on Wednesday. A sizable contingent of area residents and small businesspersons protested vigorously, but to no avail. Some of their concerns: it allows 75 foot building in the sensitive bay-side area, even 100 foot for some kinds of industrial buildings, on nine huge sites, with dire consequences. 

One particularly bad example: Urban Ore, Berkeley’s pathbreaking recycling and re-use business located at Ashby and Seventh, has been hoping to go completely solar. But one of the nine tall building sites would cast a large shadow on Urban Ore’s property, making it dark for the whole winter—so goodbye solar. 

Some observers speculate that if the Berkeley City Council ratifies the West Berkeley proposal as it comes from the Planning Commission, there will be a referendum spearheaded by outraged citizens. As far as the new DAP is concerned, that probably won’t happen, since it's been so successfully green-washed thanks, in part, to an odd collusion between the Sierra Club and Sam Zell’s Equity Residential, a major downtown landlord, which resulted in the passage of Measure R, the enabling initiative which launched the whole thing. The West Berkeley Project can’t boast of a similar blessing from confused voters, so it might be more vulnerable to citizen challenge. 

If you’d like to see the sausage being stuffed, take a look at how some of the councilmembers justified their vote on Tuesday, but parental discretion is advised: It ain’t purty. 

Get Microsoft Silverlight  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the last man standing to vote against the DAP, told me he was “mystified” by Jesse Arreguin’s turnaround support for it. In his opinion, not only are its “public frills” unlikely to materialize, but despite the lavish greenwashing the plan will actually increase the city’s carbon footprint. He said that although sponsors touted it as “transit-oriented development” it was 99.5% development and less than .5% transit, and the public benefits would be of dubious value even if they all happened. 

Backers are anxious to get the West Berkeley Project approved by the City Council, so it will probably come up for a vote sometime this spring, certainly before the councilmembers take off on their long summer vacation. Anyone who thinks it would be a shame to shadow this thriving and successful mixed-use bayside district with skyscrapers should keep their eyes on the council agenda and express their opinion to their councilpersons, for all the good it might do. 

But since most councilmembers are elected with big buck contributions from developers, don’t expect them to pay much attention to you. There is supposed to be an election in November, but incumbents almost always win because of public ignorance or apathy. Money can't buy love, perhaps, but it sure can buy elections. Oh well... 

Thanks to reader Chris Darling for the correction about who wrote the song. I love to get corrections so I know someone is reading carefully.  




Odd Bodkins: The Dulcet Tones (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 11:29:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: This Land (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 11:33:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Healthcare Jujitsu

By Robert Reich
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 03:29:00 PM

Not surprisingly, today’s debut Supreme Court argument over the so-called “individual mandate” requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a “tax,” and the question of whether the issue is ripe for review. 

Behind this judicial foreplay is the brute political fact that if the Court decides the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the entire law starts unraveling. 

But with a bit of political jujitsu, the President could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system – Medicare for all. 

Here’s how. 

The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising. 

Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with pre-existing health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs. 

This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You’ll remember the Administration couldn’t get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it. 

But don’t expect the Supreme Court to address this dilemma. It lies buried under an avalanche of constitutional argument. 

Those who are defending the law in Court say the federal government has authority to compel Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Washington the power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue our sprawling health insurance system surely extends beyond an individual state. 

Those who are opposing the law say a requirement that individuals contract with private insurance companies isn’t regulation of interstate commerce. It’s coercion of individuals. 

Unhappily for Obama and the Democrats, most Americans don’t seem to like the individual mandate very much anyway. Many on the political right believe it a threat to individual liberty. Many on the left object to being required to buy something from a private company. 

The President and the Democrats could have avoided this dilemma in the first place if they’d insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public option. 

After all, Social Security and Medicare require every working American to “buy” them. The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from everyone’s paychecks. But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs financed by payroll taxes they don’t feel like mandatory purchases. 

Americans don’t mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even conservative Republicans were heard to shout “don’t take away my Medicare!” at rallies opposed to the new health care law. 

There’s no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there’s no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren’t directly accountable to the public. They’re accountable to their owners and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? (Some already seem to be doing this.) 

Even if private health insurers are organized as not-for-profits, there’s still a problem of public accountability. What’s to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? (In more than a few cases this is already happening.) 

Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare’s costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare. 

So why not Medicare for all? 

Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and seek to privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan’s plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government’s authority. 

Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions. 

When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they’re willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes. 

If they did this the public will be behind them — as will the Supreme Court. 

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and is a resident of Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his latest book, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future" is available in paperback. He blogs at robertreich.org.

Zoning Laws and Property Rights

By Steve Randy Waldman
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:17:00 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and read Matt Yglesias’ The Rent Is Too Damned High and Ryan Avent’s The Gated City back to back. Both were a pleasure to read, for their content, and for the opportunity to kick a couple of bucks to two of my fave bloggers behind an ennobling veil of commerce. As an avid reader of both authors’ online work, there were no huge surprises, but reading the ebooks took me deeper and inspired some more considered thought on their ideas. Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias (and Ed Glaeser too!) are separate humans with their own identities and ideas. But these “econourbanists” share a core view, and I hope they will forgive me if I consider their work together. Although they arrive at a similar place, the two books take very different roads: Avent’s book is a bit wonkier and more economistic, focusing on the macro role of cities in enhancing productivity through economies of scale and agglomeration; Yglesias treats the same set of issues more polemically and with an emphasis on the personal, thinking about how individuals should expect to make a living in an increasingly service-oriented economy, the importance of accessible cities to the kind of prosperity he envisions, and the perils of any obstacle that makes urban life inaccessible (“the rent is too damned high!”). Read both! 

In a nutshell, the econourbanists’ case is pretty simple: Cities are really important, as engines of the broad economy via industrial clustering, as enablers of efficiency-enhancing specialization and trade, as sources of customers to whom each of us might sell services. Contrary to many predictions, technological change seems to be making human density more rather than less important to prosperity in the developed world. Commerce intermediated at a distance via material goods has become the province of cheap workers in distant lands, and will very soon be delegated to robots. The value of human work is increasingly in collaborative information production and direct personal services, all of which benefit from the proximity of diverse multitudes. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, actual patterns of demographic change have involved people moving away from high density, high productivity cities and towards the suburbanized sunbelt, where the weather is nice and the housing is cheap. This “moving to stagnation”, in Avent’s memorable phrase, constitutes a macroeconomic problem whose microeconomic cause can be found in regulatory barriers that keep dense and productive cities prohibitively expensive for most people to live in. It is not that people are “voting with their feet” because they dislike New York living. If people didn’t want to live in New York, housing would be cheap there. It isn’t cheap. Housing costs are stratospheric, despite the chilly winters. People are voting with their pocketbooks when they flee to the sun. (“The rent is too damned high!”) Exurban refugees would rush back, and our general prosperity would increase, if the clear demand for high-density urban living could be met with an inexpensive supply of housing and transportation. The technology to provide inexpensive, high quality urban housing is readily available. If “the market” were not frustrated by regulatory barriers and “NIMBY” politics, profit-seeking housing developers would build to sell into expensive markets, and this problem would solve itself. 

Before going on, I should confess that I am not neutral. I was on-board with the econourbanists’ project before I’d read a word they’d written. I have always loved cities, and the problem at the center of Yglesias’ book has been a pressing problem in my own life. (I enjoy very dense and cosmopolitan cities, but am too risk averse to accept the steady burden of a high rent given the uncertain and irregular clumps by which I’ve earned my living.) Ultimately, I think that Avent and Yglesias and Glaeser have the right vision of the world that we need to move towards. 

I’m skeptical, however, of the path that they’ve outlined to get us there. The econourbanists’ deregulatory ideas might win some victories at the margin, and might lead to important and useful reforms of regulatory “best practices”, for example regarding parking. But as a political matter, I don’t think it will be possible to diminish neighborly veto power over new development enough to put a dent in housing undersupply. As a matter of fairness, I think they underestimate the degree to which what they are after amounts to a “taking” from incumbent homeowners, not all of whom are unsympathetic rich bastards. And even if they could “win”, though it is clear that untrammeled developers would deliver housing supply, I don’t think they’ve made the case that a deregulated market would deliver high quality density. The econourbanists make a good case that density may be necessary to their vision of prosperity, but density is obviously not sufficient. The world has its Manhattans and San Franciscos, but it also has plenty of dense slums in poor cities. I’d like to see more attention to the circumstances that actually conjured the places we now recognize as dense, prosperous, and desirable. Was it the sort of libertarianism they prescribe? 

One should always be careful of claims that problems could be solved if only we “let the market do its work”. I don’t mean to go all PoMo, but to the degree that there exists an institution we might refer to as “the market”, it is doing its work and it is not doing the work Ygesias and Avent ask of it. There is the market as it is, and then there is an infinite range of markets that might exist if the institutional arrangements and property rights that govern market transactions were different. Given the political obeisance still compelled in the United States by “market outcomes”, it is a common trick to claim that outcomes one would prefer are the outcomes that would occur if only institutions and property rights were redefined “appropriately”. That may be useful rhetorically, but it is always a bit disingenuous. In reality, what Yglesias and Avent propose is a redefinition of the rights surrounding urban property. If you redefine the institution of property, you reshape market outcomes. But persuading people to liberalize zoning restrictions in the name of “free markets” will be hard. Because the reform that Avent and Yglesias want — along with the developers who would love to build in expensive cities, and the people like me who would love to live in expensive cities but can’t afford to — amounts to an expropriation, a confiscation of property rights, from one of the best organized and most politically enfranchised groups in the United States. 

A property right is first and foremost a right to exclude uses other than those desired by its owner. My car is mine because you can only do with it what I want, or else you can’t use it at all. When a person purchases “real estate”, they are buying a bundle of rights to exclude. You cannot trespass on my land without my permission, you can not be sheltered by my roof without my permission. But dirt and roofs are commodity items. If exclusive use of some dirt and a roof are all I am after, then, well, they are cheap in the sunbelt. If I purchase a home in an expensive city, in a “nice, stable neighborhood with good schools”, I’m paying for a lot more than dirt. Yes, I am paying for proximity to my prosperous city’s opportunities and amenities, but that is not all. I am also paying for the fact that not only my home, but my neighbor’s home, is being put to a use that pleases me and to which I would consent. I am paying for the fact that my neighbors themselves are the kind of people I would be pleased to live next door to. I’m paying for the fact that, as parents, the people whom I am moving in with send well-raised children to the local public school and devote some fraction of their attention to the management of that school. I’m paying for the fact that the streets, the architecture, the trees and public parks, are arranged in a way that pleases me. These are all reasons why, if I had the kind of money I do not have, I might pay up to live in a “nice neighborhood” located near the heart of a thriving city. 

You might say this is idiotic. Narrowly, my deed to a certain property doesn’t entitle me to exclude bad parents from moving in next door or to prevent a high rise from replacing charming brownstones across my street. If the weather is nice on the day I purchase my home, does that grant me a legal right to perpetual sunshine? 

But property rights arise in practice before they are written on paper. Even if they are never codified, the law, whether through courts or through legislatures, is loathe to disturb customary rights (unless the holders of evolved property belong to politically marginal classes). When people spend small fortunes on a “charming brownstone”, they do so with the understanding that the neighborhood is in fact “stable”. At some level, these affluent, educated buyers know that with their deed to the property comes an ability to exclude alternative uses of the neighborhood. That is part of what they are purchasing, a substantial part of the value for which they are laying out hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The mechanism by which that right is enforced is the thicket of zoning laws and permitting requirements that allow activist property owners exclude uses of the neighborhood to which they do not consent. It is this mechanism that invites the framing adopted by Avent, Yglesias, and Glaeser. Since the right to exclude is enforced by the operation of regulatory bureaucracies rather than by the criminal law of theft and trespass, we can claim that it is “government” that is enforcing policies whose outcomes we dislike in opposition to the “rights” of individual sellers, potential new residents, and property developers, to do as they please. But in substance, the enforcement mechanism is secondary.  

Purchasers of properties in “nice, stable” neighborhoods paid up for a right to exclude uses of their neighbors’ property to which they would not consent, and potential sellers who might enjoy a windfall if they could sell out to a high-rise developer understood when they purchased their properties that neighbors would likely prevent them from exploiting this sort of opportunity. Ex ante, most property owners are glad to cede the right to sell to a developer in exchange for the right to prevent their neighbors from doing the same. Retaining that right would create a prisoner’s dilemma whereby the threat of a neighbor’s defection (she sells to a developer at an attractive price for a use that impairs my property’s value) would leave each owner in a poor bargaining position, and guarantee that the character of the neighborhood could not be preserved. The value of neighborhood properties could not be justified or sustained without protection from this dynamic. 

The private-property-like quality of zoning law is evident in the fact that where municipal regulations don’t enforce the right to exclude alternative uses of a neighborhood, property owners invent contractual means of doing the same. Developers, whether of high-rise condominiums or sprawled out “golf communities”, cobble together with a mix of contract and corporation law obligatory “community associations” that control and restrict the use of privately-owned properties (along with managing common spaces and other purposes). Developers don’t abridge the rights of their customers out of some inexplicable, cruel perversion. They form these associations, and grant them restrictive powers, because customers demand it, because doing so maximizes the market value of the properties they wish to sell. As buyers, developers hate zoning law, but as sellers they promulgate it. It is “the market” that demands some mechanism of overcoming potential coordination problems among neighbors, not the acommercial mix of identity politics, misplaced environmentalism, and “NIMBY”-ism that Yglesias and Avent emphasize. The only reason city neighborhoods don’t have restrictive covenants and powerful community associations is because they have city governments that serve the same function. 

The definition of and proper scope of property rights is always contestable. As a matter of sheer interest politics — both my interest in finding an affordable home in a great city, and my interest in a productive and vibrant macroeconomy — I want to be on-board with Avent and Yglesias, and simply argue that the historical ability of urban property owners to exclude undesired development should not be construed as a property right. There are lots of purported property rights that I consider illegitimate and am perfectly willing to contest. For example, I agree enthusiastically with Yglesias that we have overextended rights to exclude on a variety of issues: so-called “intellectual property”, immigration law, and occupational licensing. All of these controversies pit the short-to-medium term interests of organized incumbents against those of unseen and less organized new entrants, and arguably against the long-term interests of the polity as a whole. But I am a bit more hesitant on the zoning question. 

If we reform away urban zoning restrictions, are we going to invalidate the restrictive covenants of suburban developments? Affluent urban property owners would have almost certainly evolved institutions that perform the functions of community associations if they were not able to rely upon the good offices of municipal government for the same. If restrictions on higher-density development are illegitimate, then should the state refuse to enforce such restrictions when they are embedded in private contracts? 

Perhaps the answer is an enthuastic “Yes!” After all, over the last 60 years, the state intervened very nobly to eliminate a “property right” enshrined in restrictive covenants and designed to exclude people of certain races from their neighborhoods. Three-thousand cheers for that! But state refusal to enforce previously legal contracts sounds a lot less like “letting the market work” and a lot more like deliberate government action. It would be short-sighted to reform away municipal residents’ ability to exclude commercial and high-density development while leaving contractual restrictions negotiated between property owners enforceable. That would create a window for some high-density development against the wishes of affluent incumbents, but over time the result would be the privatization of affluent neighborhoods. Property owners would form restrictive community associations and purchase potential development sites as common property.  

There is already a de facto stratification of tacit property rights within cities. Very affluent communities have nearly automatic veto power over unwanted development while poorer homeowners sometime fight very hard to preserve the status quo. A regime that liberalized zoning restrictions without invalidating contractual restrictions would increase this block-level stratification, and perhaps move us from “gated cities” to a brave new world of gated neighborhoods. 

I feel like a sourpuss in all of this, or at best a devil’s advocate. I like Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent very much. I’m an ardent fan of their work, and I’m likely to be on their side in most actual controversies. I’ll enthusiastically support public or private action that promotes dense urban growth and transit-oriented development. But I think that’s going to require deliberate action, public and private, not just “getting government out of the way” and letting markets work. Dense cities exist to generate economies of scale. But markets cannot be relied upon to discover and exploit economies of scale “on their own”.  

Capturing economies of scale requires a leap across a chasm, the allocation of resources away from uses that are plainly productive towards uses that seem at first to be less valuable. The eventual benefits start off uncertain and hypothetical, so capturing economies of scale requires that someone bear very large risks of failure. Usually this requires coordination among many actors to divide costs and benefits. The econourbanists’ deregulatory scheme amounts to funding the initial costs of densification with value expropriated from incumbent homeowners, who are asked to cede the status quo pleasantness and exclusivity of their neighborhoods in the service of a hypothetical long-term abundance. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly fair way to finance what I agree is a very worthy project. Given the disproportionate political power of incumbent homeowners, it doesn’t strike me as a tactic very likely to succeed.

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:38:00 PM

It's all about politics. 

It's all about politics. Republicans, throughout the country, are running on one issue and one issue only, repeal Obamacare. What else have Republicans got to run on; three years of "do nothing" obstructionism? 

Republicans are running against health care reform, the two year old Affordable Care Act; and have put all their eggs in one basket. 

Paul Ryan's Republican budget fix calls for the "Full repeal of Obamacare." Next week Clarence Thomas and the conservative Supreme Court takes up the legality of the Affordable Care Act. Still not sold on Republican's one issue campaign for 2012. 

Mitt Romney, in an OP-ED piece says he will repeal Obamacare as president. Do you see the irony of this? Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee (Republicans will get get creamed if Santorum or Gingrich are at the top of the ticket) and he will be campaigning against his own health care creation. Obamacare is a copy of Romneycare right down to the "individual mandate." 

Ron Lowe 

Reasonable Political Respect Please 

I seemed to have gotten on my high political horse today but I have a good excuse. We live four blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, arguably the 5th best university in the world. That's according to a recent academic study. Accordingly, we also live in one of the most diverse world populations. Rannah, my wife, bought an re-elect Obama poster for her fence two years ago. Some neo-conservative, probably a spoiled rich republican's kid, torn it down, broke it and threw it into the street. I repaired it, put it back and placed an order for a dozen more. And to whoever it was that did it...you're a BITCH! 

Dea Robertson-Gutierrez

Walking While Black

By Marian Wright Edelman, Reader Supported News
Friday March 23, 2012 - 07:42:00 AM

Every parent raising black sons knows the dilemma: deciding how soon to have the talk. Choosing the words to explain to your beautiful child that there are some people who will never like or trust him just because of who he is - including some who should be there to protect him, but will instead have the power to hurt him. Training him how to walk, what to say, and how to act so he won't seem like a threat. Teaching him that the burden of deflating stereotypes and reassuring other people's ignorance will always fall on him, and while that isn't fair, in some cases it may be the only way to keep him safe and alive. 

But sometimes it isn't enough. It wasn't enough to protect Trayvon Martin. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon's English teacher said he was "an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness." Trayvon loved building models and taking things apart, his favorite subject was math, and he dreamed of becoming a pilot and an engineer. Instead, he was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain vigilante who profiled him, followed him, and shot him in the chest. His killer, George Zimmerman, saw the teenager on the street and called the police to report he looked "like he's up to no good." At the time Trayvon was walking home from the nearby 7-11 carrying a bottle of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his younger stepbrother, leaving many people to guess that the main thing he was doing that made him look "no good" was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain and walking while black. George Zimmerman's decisions made that suspicious enough to be a death sentence. 

Now there is widespread outrage over the senseless killing of a young black man who was doing nothing wrong and the fact that the man who killed him has not been arrested. People are trying to make sense of the series of gun laws that allowed George Zimmerman to act as he did - starting with the Florida laws that allowed someone like Zimmerman, who had previously been charged for resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer, to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the first place. Many more questions are being raised about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which also has been described as the "shoot first, ask questions later" law, and gives the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman and others claiming "self-defense" by allowing people who say they are in imminent danger to defend themselves. Some states limit this defense to people's own homes, but others, like Florida, allow it anywhere. 

As Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says, this law "has turned common law - and common sense - on its head by enabling vigilantes to provoke conflicts, resolve them with deadly force, and avoid ever having to set foot in a courtroom." The fear in Trayvon's death is that this is exactly what has happened so far: that the story told by witnesses, phone records, and Zimmerman's violent past and earlier complaints during his neighborhood patrols shows an overzealous armed aggressor who followed Trayvon even after police told him to stop, chased Trayvon down when the frightened boy tried to walk away from the stranger following him, and then shot the unarmed, 100-pounds-lighter teenager while neighbors said they heard a child crying for help. The prospect now that Zimmerman might never set foot in a courtroom for the shooting has caused widespread frustration and fury. 

Just as sadly, Trayvon's death was not unique. In 2008 and 2009, 2,582 black children and teens were killed by gunfire. Black children and teens were only 15 percent of the child population, but 45 percent of the 5,740 child and teen gun deaths in those two years. Black males 15 to 19 years-old were eight times as likely as white males to be gun homicide victims. The outcry over Trayvon's death is absolutely right and just. We need the same sense of outrage over every one of these child deaths. Above all, we need a nation where these senseless deaths no longer happen. But we won't get it until we have common-sense gun laws that protect children instead of guns and don't allow people like George Zimmerman to take the law into their own hands. We won't get it until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and "no good" because of the color of their skin or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain. And we won't get it until enough of us - parents and grandparents - stand up and tell our political leaders that the National Rifle Association should not be in charge of our neighborhoods, streets, gun laws, and values. In Trayvon's case, his father Tracy speaks for what his family needs: "The family is calling for justice. We don't want our son's death to be in vain." I hope that enough voices will ensure that it is not. 

Marion Wright Edelman is the founder of Children's Defense Fund. This article was reprinted from Reader Supported News.

Decade-Long Decline in Math and English Proficiency at Berkeley High Reported; Decline in College Readiness

By Priscilla Myrick
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:21:00 PM

Did you know Berkeley High students as a whole are less ready for college math and college English than other students in Alameda or California? This is one of the many alarming facts contained in the report prepared by Berkeley High in anticipation of a school visit by the WASC accrediting team on March 19-21. The full report is available at: http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/information/wasc/ 

Berkeley High is undergoing its first accreditation review by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 2005. The required self-study progress report presents a disappointing picture of Berkeley High academic achievement. Despite years of investment in high school reform, overall academic performance has declined at Berkeley High over the past decade.
With resources far surpassing most school districts, one might expect that Berkeley High School, serving 35% of district enrollment with over 3,400 students, would be an example of high academic achievement and a narrowing achievement gap. A strikingly different picture emerges from the WASC report “Areas of Need” (p. 60-62): 

• Overall BHS proficiency in math dropped over the past ten years, while during that same period county and state proficiency rates rose according to California Standards Tests (CST). 

All racial subgroups have seen drops in proficiency in math compared with seven years ago. (CST) 

• Overall BHS proficiency in English declined from 2003 to 2011. (CST) 

• After the elimination of extra periods for science labs, chemistry test results showed an increase in students “below basic” and “far below basic,” from 35% in 2009, to 46% in 2011. (CST) 

Additionally, the achievement gap has worsened particularly for African-American students: 

• Only 1% of BHS African-American students scored proficient in Algebra 1 test and 0% scored proficient in Algebra 2. (CST) (successful completion of Algebra by 9th grade is a 2020 Vision Indicator

• Only 11% of BHS African-American 11th graders are proficient in English compared with 31% of African-American 11th graders statewide. (CST) 

Berkeley Unified School District is one of the richest school districts in the state. With more than $12,951 per student, compared with the average $8,717 per student, BUSD should be one of the top performing districts (Ed-Data website, Fiscal, Demographic and Performance Data on California’s K-12 Schools). Resources are not predictive of student achievement in Berkeley. 

Unlike many communities, Berkeley has invested heavily in our schools for over 25 years. Local parcel taxes for school enrichment, class size reduction, and school maintenance boost average revenue per student by 48% above the statewide average, and doesn’t include additional resources from local charitable foundations, PTAs and the city of Berkeley’s education initiatives. 

What’s happened at Berkeley High? Ten years ago Berkeley High was a comprehensive high school with a broad curriculum, a seven-period school day, double-period science and an honors math program. Following Oakland USD’s lead, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation money and subsequent federal support for small learning communities, Berkeley High was broken up into small schools and “redesigned”. The instructional day was reduced from seven to six periods; extra periods for science labs were eliminated; the honors math track reduced; “advisories” replaced instructional time in academic subjects. None of the reforms were data driven.  

The Gates Foundation dropped “small schools reform” years ago when an independent evaluation of the data revealed that such reforms had no positive impact on student achievement. On the other hand, in BUSD hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid to consultants to provide professional development to district staff on small school redesign and equity initiatives. Despite these resources, the achievement gap has worsened and ALL subgroups at Berkeley High show declines in academic achievement. Since 2010 Oakland USD has found small school reform to be economically unsustainable and is in the process of reconsolidating small schools into the previous comprehensive high schools.  

The District needs to reverse the downward trend of student achievement and worsening achievement gap at Berkeley High. Reforms have not increased student proficiency in math, English and science. The trends show things are getting worse, not better. Resources should be systematically realigned toward strengthening curriculum and instruction in core academic subjects. BUSD has the resources; they need to be targeted effectively. BUSD needs educational leadership that is not afraid to address the current data trends and correct the weaknesses in the high school program. Unfortunately, the WASC action plan doesn't adequately address the issues raised by the data. Despite accreditation, Berkeley High is graduating far too many students who are not proficient in math, science, reading comprehension and writing skills. Without these skills, Berkeley High students face increasingly limited career and educational options in a competitive global economy.  


Labor on the Millionaires Tax

By Harry Brill
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:53:00 PM

Many of us are traumatized by the decision by labor to abandon the Millionaires Tax. Let us consider just how this came about. First, The two largest unions in California, SEIU with 700,000 members and CTA with 325,000 immediately jumped on the Brown bandwagon. And even the California Nurses Association (CNA), which rhetorically supported the millionaires tax refused to donate even one penny to the campaign, and its leadership did absolutely nothing to galvanize a signature campaign. Many other unions and labor councils throughout California gave it only luke warm support. 

Even the CFT attempted as early as November 2011 to negotiate a compromise with the Governor, but he refused. There were other attempts in which State Senate leaders became involved with the cooperation of the CFT, but he still refused. Later on he changed his mind because every poll showed the Millionaires Tax was the most popular. So negotiating for a modified proposal with the Governor was from the very beginning always the position of CFT. The historical record shows that CFT's recent decision to work with the governor because it lacked sufficient fund to continue is clearly bogus. 

Frankly, what we learned from this experience is that the strong ties of labor to the Democratic Party sabotaged what could have been an effective campaign on the millionaires tax. Those ties developed during the 1930s depression, and it was, then, a very good thing. But to a considerable extent the current mainstream leaders of the Party have moved from a New Deal ideology to Raw Deal politics for working people. Labor should be acting independently while still working to elect New Deal Democrats. 

The proposed tax on millionaires would not have made things fair, but fairer. They would still be under-taxed. Had we won that tax it would not have affected their standard of living one iota. Also, this tax aside from equity issues is neither good for small business nor the economy because to some extent it further discourages spending. 

What lessons should we learn from this experience? The Labor Movement must find a way to maintain independence from the Democratic Party while supporting progressive candidates who represent the best interests of the 99 percent. It must distance itself from those Democrats, including Governor Brown, who mainly represent corporate interests and the one percent! And wherever and whenever possible, we should do what we can, perhaps by aligning with dissatisfied members of some of these unions, to persuade the organized labor leadership to better represent the interests of their members and working people generally. 

Berkeley Housing Authority agrees to force families from their public housing

By Lynda Carson
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:13:00 PM

Recently released documents (dated March 8) reveal that in total violation of Berkeley's just cause eviction protections, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) has agreed to force Berkeley's low-income public housing families out of their long-time public housing units, prior to the transfer of Berkeley's public housing properties to billionaires Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross, of The Related Companies of California, LLC, (a.k.a. Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

Terry Pete is a long-time public housing tenant in Berkeley since 1988, and said, "It is not fair that they are selling Berkeley's public housing, and I am very concerned about what is going on. I have lived in Berkeley all of my life, and I do not fully understand what is happening to my housing at this time." 

Public housing tenant Rhonda Rodgers said, "We have received notices lately stating that the BHA wants us to move. There were 2 meetings last week to tell us about the plan to sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units and how they want us to move, but hardly anyone showed up at the meetings. It's really crazy what they are trying to do to us, and we can not believe what they are telling us anymore. They want us to move out of our homes by next August. I have been a resident here for 13 years, and I do not want to move. I am a fighter and want to stay where I am at." 

Hidden and shrouded in the fog of what are called closed sessions or special meetings, delayed minutes of meetings by months at a time, on-line oral reports that never reveal what was said at the meetings, and on-line PDF documents that intentionally lack the minutes of the meetings and the attachments needed to read the full details of the meetings and the negotiations taking place in the proposed sale of Berkeley's 75 public housing units, are common practice by the corrupt activities of a housing agency that may be once again on the verge of being listed as a "troubled agency," because it has been sitting on too many Section 8 vouchers during the past year that should have been distributed to the low-income families of Berkeley, to assist them in their housing needs. 

As it is, in a BHA memo dated March 8, it was announced that the BHA has received official notice that its public housing program is designated as "troubled" for FY 2012, and that it has 30 days to appeal the troubled status. 

The up till now, secret deals and negotiations to privatize and sell Berkeley's 75 public housing town-homes that are taking place between the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) and The Related Companies of California, LLC, and its billionaire owners have remained secret, but are currently revealed in documents from the BHA, dated March 8, 2012. Documents that apparently have not been released or made available to the public, on the BHA's website. 

On March 8, 2012, there were two BHA meetings including a special meeting, and a closed meeting of the BHA board of directors. During one of those meetings, the board members of the BHA voted to authorize the executive director, Tia Ingram, to execute the Disposition Development and Loan Agreement (DDLA), as part of the on-going process to sell Berkeley's 75 occupied public housing units to billionaire's Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross, of The Related Companies of California, LLC, (a.k.a. Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

According to the DDLA, the BHA has agreed to pay for the permanent relocation of Berkeley's public housing families (28 families or more) prior to the transfer of the public housing units to Related (billionaires Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross), and that Related will not submit funding applications for the project until all residents have executed relocation agreements, and 75% of the residents who will permanently relocate have done so. As of February 1, 2012, the BHA had 63 occupied public housing units, out of 75 units. 

It should be noted that under Berkeley's just cause eviction protections that landlords are not allowed to evict or displace tenants in residential buildings just because a residential building is being sold, and that this corrupt BHA deal with Related that is forcing the low-income renters to relocate from their long-time public housing prior to transfer of the property, is against the law and the spirit of the just cause eviction protections in Berkeley. 

This deal is totally dependent on the ability of the BHA and its relocation agent Overland, Pacific and Cutler, to frighten and terrorize the long-time public housing residents into giving up their rights as public housing tenants, and to force them into signing documents giving up their existing housing. 

During July of 2009, against the best interest's of Berkeley's existing long-time public housing families, the BHA adopted the recommendation of its consultant, EJP Consultant Group, to embark on a project to privatize and sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units. 

In September, 2011, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) announced that it was planning to sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units to The Related Companies of California, LLC (Owned by billionaires, Stephen M. Ross and Jorge M. Perez), and announced that the BHA has entered into an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with The Related Companies of California, LLC, that will last 90 days, with a possible 30 day extension to negotiate the full terms of the deal. 

On March 8, 2012, the board members of the BHA voted to authorize the executive director, Tia Ingram, to execute the Disposition Development and Loan Agreement, as part of the on-going process to sell the BHA's 75 public housing units to billionaire's Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross, of The Related Companies (a.k.a. Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

James E. Vann who was the architect for Berkeley's public housing units back in the early to mid 80s is shocked by the plan to sell its valuable public housing and said, "The city and BHA promised to keep its public housing permanent (in perpetuity) to receive a special "Title 1 Grant" of funding from HUD to build that housing for the poor, and now they are breaking their promise to current and future generations of the poor, who desperately need low-income housing to remain in their communities." 

The DDLA provides that the developer (Related) will acquire a leasehold interest in the land that Berkeley's 75 public housing units are located on, to rehabilitate the 75 housing units and to own the building improvements, while preserving the units as affordable housing to households earning 50% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI), for a period of 99 years. Current City and BUSD ground leases are to be amended and assigned directly to the Related ownership entity (Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

Among the details of the agreement, the BHA is to provide 75 project-based vouchers (one for each housing unit) with a 15 year HAP contract with an option to renew for another 15 years. However, currently the Obama Administration is seeking major funding cuts to the project-based voucher program which may negatively affect the deal and screw up the plans of the BHA to provide project-based vouchers to the project. 

Once the deal takes place and Related is renting out the privatized former public housing units, the BHA will receive 60% of residual cash flow (kick backs) coming into the project after a number of fee payments, and a residual cash flow after 4 years to the BHA is estimated at $171,915. 

The cost of rehabilitating the 75 units according to the DDLA is $8,310,774, or $110,810 per unit. The appraised value of the improvements to the units is $15,546,000, and Related will make an acquisition payment for the building improvements of $4,100,000 or $5,543,000. 

As a result of the DDLA that was voted on March 8, Related has also agreed to make an initial payment to the BHA of $100,000, and as negotiated, the funds will be held in escrow until the initial relocation interviews to relocate Berkeley's low-income public housing families from their long-time homes are completed. The BHA also continues to pressure the City of Berkeley to release $400,000 in housing trust funds to The Related Companies of California, LLC, for predevelopment costs of the project. 

In addition, the BHA has authorized Overland, Pacific and Cutler, to begin engaging families that are to be displaced from their public housing, and as a further means of intimidation, the BHA plans to embark on recertifying all current households in Berkeley's public housing to verify their income and assets, and to verify which families are eligible for continued rental assistance and Section 8 vouchers, that could be used to force the families from their public housing units, before their homes are sold to the out of state billionaires of Related. 

Additionally, as of March 8, the BHA will immediately suspend processing all applications for low-income tenants in the Section 8 wait lists that have applied for Section 8 housing vouchers, until September of 2012, to avoid increasing competition for Section 8 vouchers that are needed by the many families that are being displaced from their public housing units, prior to the public housing units being sold to billionaires Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross. 

Berkeley's poor and low-income families needing assistance through the Section 8 housing program have unfairly become hostage in the scheme to privatize and sell Berkeley's public housing units, and are being unfairly bumped out line for Section 8 housing vouchers, as part of the corrupt deal to sell Berkeley's public housing units to billionaires Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross. 

Overall, these unscrupulous, corrupt and incompetent activities by the BHA and its executive director, Tia Ingram, are in plain sight in documents dated March 8, that were not made available on-line to the public. Some of these activities have been part of an on-going effort to keep the public ignorant and in the dark about the housing authorities activities, and the details of the proposed sale of Berkeley's 75 public housing units to The Related Companies of California, LLC, and its billionaire owners. 

Documents and information that should be readily available to the public at large and easy to find on-line, are no longer available because the BHA has lost sight of its mission. It has become a corrupt and inept agency through the years while listed as a troubled agency over and over again under its executive director, Tia Ingram, and has become an agency that has lost its respect for the public at large needing housing assistance in the Section 8 program, including the low-income tenants and families that are being forced out of their long-time public housing. 

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Post-Traumatic Stress

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 02:41:00 PM

Post traumatic stress seems to exist when someone is trying to incorporate, assimilate or digest the memory of a horrible incident into their system. 

When we live our daily lives, we process what happens to us with knowledge that we have gained from our past up to the present point. We are able to assess, understand and respond to a given situation based on the wisdom gained from our past experiences. When something noteworthy happens to us, we will probably incorporate some interpretation of this into our system for future use. People seem to receive lasting psychological damage when something occurs that is horrible and that we can't understand. One question that can come up is, "What does this mean?" Another is, "Why did this happen to me?" And we may ask, "Will this happen again? ...Will I be ready for it?" 

PTSD can happen when a good person has an outrageously bad experience. It is probably an experience that the individual was not prepared for in his or her upbringing. 

In my past I have experienced a few incidents that left me traumatized, but that were less difficult than serving a tour of duty in which there is combat. I was locked in a supermarket overnight with armed robbers. I had been employed as a janitor, cleaning and polishing floors at the Flair supermarkets that once existed. The robbers had hidden in the back of the store on the same night that I was working, and came out of hiding too late; the management had already left. Had I been able to open the safe for the robbers, I might very well not be alive today. Instead, the store was robbed the next morning upon arrival of the morning crew, with me assisting at gunpoint. 

Whenever my wife and I go grocery shopping at night, the memory comes back, and I become frightened that the store will be robbed. 

Post traumatic stress is an emotional and spiritual scar that doesn't go away. I am skeptical of the claims of military officials who say PTSD can be treated to the extent that a soldier who suffers from it can be returned to active duty. If one night of terror left me permanently scarred on an emotional level, imagine exchanging gunfire over a period of months or years, being treated with medication and therapy for the trauma, and then being forcibly returned to the same horrible situation. That sounds like the epitome of abuse. 

I haven't studied the recent shooting in Afghanistan. However, keep in mind that the military teaches people to fight using firearms. This fact along with PTSD is enough to create a shooting. If we were dealing with a nonviolent individual, you could claim that PTSD alone is not enough to make someone shoot innocent people. However, in order to make a soldier, this person has been taught to kill in the name of protecting his country. Since he has been given training to kill by the military, his self protection reflexes will probably not be nonviolent. This is different than someone who has never touched a gun and who never had to shoot to defend their life. Someone like that would likely not shoot people from PTSD, because it is not taught to that person as a reflex. 

If someone has gone on multiple tours of duty and has been made to kill people day in and day out, then an "improper" shooting is not that much of a stretch. The government is saying to that soldier that killing some people is ok and is required, while killing against instructions is murder. Do you see the hypocrisy in our system? 

I believe the system we have created is the true perpetrator, not the soldier who pulled the trigger. That soldier is an additional victim whose life has been ruined by his decision to join the military and serve his country.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Reversing the Sixties: The 2012 Republican Agenda

By Bob Burnett
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:44:00 PM

One of the most surprising aspects of contemporary Republican politics has been their across-the-board attack on women’s health services and women’s rights. Rather than an isolated misogynistic program, these attacks should be viewed as one part of a conservative agenda to roll back gains made in the sixties.

Recently, MoveOn reported Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP’s War on Women ranging from changing the definition of rape to denying abortions in all circumstances to limiting access to contraception to defunding preschool programs and family planning agencies. It’s not only the women’s movement that’s being attacked, but also the civil-rights movement, the consumer movement, the environmental movement, and the gay-rights movement. All the accomplishments of the sixties are under attack by Republicans. They’ve returned to the conservative ideological framework that worked for them up until the McCain-Palin campaign, 

Beginning in the Reagan Administration, Republicans attacked a so-called “liberal culture of permissiveness” they claimed had been unleashed by the social events of the sixties. They accused Democrats of espousing “sixties values”: “if it feels good, do it.” Republicans declared that a mythical liberal attack on traditional values produced many of America’s problems such as poverty, promiscuity, and drug use. In 1993, conservative scholar Myron Magnet produced the seminal expression of this philosophy, ”The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties Legacy to the Underclass”. Magnet argued that liberal ideology promoted a “culture of victimization” that held "the poor back from advancement by robbing them of responsibility for their fate and thus further squelching their initiative and energy." “The Dream and the Nightmare” influenced George W. Bush , “who told the Wall Street Journal that it was the most important book he’d ever read, after the Bible.” 

The Republican belief that liberalism fostered a culture of victimization strongly influenced the Bush Administration’s domestic and foreign policy. Combined with faith that the free market would inevitably solve most social problems, Bush’s conservatism produced a potpourri of aberrant social policies: Don’t give poor children free lunches or special tutoring because that will enhance their sense of being victims. Don’t provide women with birth control because that will cause them to become promiscuous. Don’t provide clean needles for drug users because that will legitimize their behavior. And so forth. 

In response to every American social problem, the Bush Administration relied upon a simple conservative maxim: individual behavior equates to individual responsibility. They argued that Government programs are unnecessary because behavior change requires only willpower; all an individual needs to do is to ”just say no” and pull themselves up by the bootstraps. They believed the free market provided unlimited opportunity for those who choose to take advantage of it. 

Since the Reagan era, Republicans have been adept at mobilizing resentment based upon the notion of the “culture of victimization.” In campaign after campaign Republicans have fueled the anger of lower and middle-class whites and redirected it to imaginary groups: liberal elites who promote “sixties values,” black welfare “queens,” promiscuous women who want abortion on demand, aggressive homosexuals who seek to convert others to their “lifestyle,” and most recently illegal aliens who steal American jobs and benefits. Tom Frank described this process in What’s the Matter with Kansas: within the Republican Party, economic conservatives distract social conservatives with inflammatory social issues in order to get their votes and keep them from noticing the life-threatening problems caused by conservative economic policies. 

What we’re seeing from the 2012 Republican Party is more than a strategy. It cannot be explained as a shared belief the liberalism has fostered a culture of victimization. As University of California Professor George Lakoff explains: there is now an overriding “conservative moral logic.” This is inherently patriarchal: “The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father.” Family values are the values established by the strict father. By extension, they are set by a Republican candidate such as Romney or Santorum. 

Lakoff observes that conservatives project the “strict father” model onto all societal institutions. A proper church is governed by a strict father God, the Christian Old Testament God. The marketplace is controlled by a mythical strict father, whose invisible hand ensures that business transactions ultimately benefit society. The military is run by a strict father without interference from civilians. And so forth. 

To incite their conservative base, the Romney and Santorum campaigns have turned away from the economy to family values. And they have focused on women’s rights and health services. From their perspective men – the strict fathers – control reproduction. From the Republican point-of-view, unmarried women who have sex are immoral, and providing them with birth control supports immoral behavior. 

Republicans have a consistent conservative philosophy that they dogmatically promulgate. Their objective is not merely to elect a true believer such as Santorum or (perhaps) Romney. The GOP objective is reverse the gains made in the sixties – gains they link to “sixties values.” Republicans plan to destroy the civil-rights movement, the consumer movement, the environmental movement, the gay-rights movement, and the women’s movement. 

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

MY COMMONPLACE BOOK(a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:28:00 PM

Writers are forever eight, over aware, and indignant.

—Adam Gopnik New Yorker, 3/17/08 in an article categorizing types of artists by mental/temperamental age. 

This comment made me laugh, then shrug and agree that ever-fresh, childlike indignation probably drives a writer’s best work. 

Of course, we need the skillful writers of escapist slop, that, like literary aspirin, tides us over an especially rough, weary patch. But such relief is best taken only in small doses. (Unless your personal reality is so hard, so threatening, that frequent escape from it into pure fantasy is your only source of relief, hope, and sanity. Example: Sepulveda’s Old Man Who Read Love Stories, a brilliant, intelligent novella that reminds us of our own privileged comfort.) 

Our models of undiluted reality need not always be the most vividly polemic, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or 1984. 

Very effective (and more re-readable as time passes) are Turgenev and Chekhov, quietly itemizing routine exploitation of the weak by the strong; Wharton and James, exposing the psychological violence at the heart of their rich, polite society; Willa Cather, mourning the cast-offs from Europe, our celebrated “pioneers,” thrown into soul- destroying drudgery on raw, unforgiving land. 

I think it was James Baldwin who once wrote that “all novels are protest novels.” Those of us lucky enough to have time to read and books to read should be grateful for writers whose inner eight-year-old never grows less indignant about the suffering of most human lives—as none of us ever should. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: People with Schizophrenia Lack Impulse Control, and How to Deal with This

By Jack Bragen
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:11:00 PM

Medical scientists believe that the brain structure is abnormal for persons with a major mental illness such as schizophrenia. Some persons with schizophrenia, perhaps a third, have enlarged ventricles, or empty spaces within the brain, which translates into less overall ability to function, reason, and experience the environment. Other brains of persons with schizophrenia are closer to normal, with structural problems that are more subtle, and more localized to within only some areas. Because of this theory, it makes sense to believe that a person with schizophrenia will still have problems even while medicated. A lack of control of impulses is frequently one of those problems. 

It is important to note that many persons with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses still exhibit brilliant levels of intelligence without being "idiot savants." What you might get is someone with a lot of intellect, but with problems in other areas. Parts of the person's brain are healthy and produce the brilliance, while other, smaller parts that may be responsible for regulating mood or maintaining mental equilibrium could be improperly developed. You then get a person whose higher functions could be intact, but who may have trouble with some basic tasks. 

As a man with schizophrenia, I have experienced a deficit in impulse control, and have observed that this is not uncommon for people treated in the mental health system. It is an issue that has harmed my progress in life, and one that I continue to grapple with. Thinking through the possible results of my actions usually works to keep my behavior appropriate. If the results of a problematic behavior appear dire enough, it can help create enough "voltage" in the mind that a specific behavior won't continue. 

When dealing with a person with schizophrenia, sometimes you are dealing with someone with good intentions but with behavior beyond their conscious control. A more recovered person with schizophrenia can learn to regulate their behavior most of the time. 

This discussion invites the issue of competence. The idea that we have behavior beyond our conscious control implies incompetence, and this brings legal issues. Persons with mental illness should be taken on an individual basis. Some should be taken as responsible for our actions, while others are too severely ill to be considered responsible. You can't say that, across the board, persons with mental illness are either competent or incompetent. This is sort of a gray area. 

The tendency to behave impulsively and furthermore to have actions that are based upon delusional thoughts can be countered and combated with deliberate training. In order to do this, you need to start with someone whose intellect is intact and functioning. This retraining may not solve one hundred percent of the problem, but it will help. By remembering that the illness is the cause of some of the behavior of some persons with schizophrenia, you can stop blaming the individual for actions that were caused by a deficit in brain functioning. It is fine to condemn the actions but don't condemn the person.

SENIOR POWER… “plum silly”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

In 1976 Margaret Elliot Murdock was interviewed about her father and her San Francisco and UC, B early days. I gleaned herstory from her responses. Part 1 was mainly about her San Francisco childhood. Part 2 (last week’s column) took her to Berkeley and the University, and this week, Part 3 to the Sather Tower bells. 

Part 3  

People studying in the library didn’t like to be interrupted. Well, I suppose the bells have wanted to please their public and if the public doesn’t comment they don’t know how many people don’t like being interrupted. 

Somebody said they would like to have Icelandic music because Iceland got its independence from Denmark in the 900s. So a little Icelandic girl brought a book of Icelandic music and I started copying it. I found that I was copying something that sounded familiar and discovered it was The Last Rose of Summer. As with other folk books, they add other music to it after they’ve finished their native pieces. When I lived at the Women’s Faculty Club, two of the physical education people went abroad for meetings and Miss Marshall brought me Swedish folk music and Miss Czarnowski brought me Norwegian.  

[A student] thought it a bright idea to play on Easter morning, not knowing that we had done it for years in connection with the Berkeley Council of Churches. They’d write in that they were having an Easter service at Cragmont and would we wake up the populace at 6:30 and then be around, after playing half an hour, till they closed the services about 8:00, and play again. So, many early morning Easters I’d go up into the tower because that was one that the chimes master was always willing to turn over to an assistant. It was all right with me because I liked the hymns. I was playing vigorously at about quarter of seven one morning and the phone rang. A very sleepy voice said, When do those damn bells stop. I was sure it was some one at the [Men’s] Faculty Club who couldn’t like being disturbed.  

The music department has never thought much of the bells. A few of the people composed for it but I don’t think they ever took much interest in the tower. I think that if they’ve been in England they have a sentimental feeling about change music and probably they think that bells are not appropriate for other than change music, which is true of the British bells in general.  

There were several faculty people who composed. Sir Arthur Bliss was more interested in the bells than other staff members. He was a visiting professor one year and had his graduate students compose for the bells. Roger Nixon and several others were in that class. So we have a little collection of Roger Nixon, Margaret Bean, and Leon Kirchner, who later taught at Mills, and several of Professor Bliss’s students. 

It’s easy enough from the mathematical scheme just to change it into the sort of music that we’re more accustomed to read. You could perfectly well do it from running down or up the scale but it’s easier, I think, from the way we usually ring to have it in notation rather than numbers. I don’t think of myself as a composer.  

One evening four people, two couples, came up. I thought they must be Scandinavian so in the elevator I said, What would you like? Norwegian or Danish or Swedish? They wanted Finnish. Luckily I had some. The two men went outside because one of them wanted to show his friend the women’s gym, where he had worked for years. The two wives stayed inside and sang every song, which was a help because I didn’t know the tempo. With their assistance, I knew which was a lullaby or a march.  

We played for Charter Day and Commencement and for Baccalaureate. One of the occasions I especially remember is when the United Nations delegates had a special meeting in the Greek Theater. I remember we were ready to play something for each delegate. Most of them were there, except Russia. 

You played before the Baccalaureate exercises in the glade and then a recessional. You’d wait between and hope for a signal that you could recognize, It was always hard to catch the signal. In the early days, somebody was supposed to wave a handkerchief, but some people left early so you couldn’t always tell. Eventually they had the telephone signal from the Greek Theater or the stadium but, it was sometimes just by guess as to whether they were really through. 

If we followed student requests we might be playing Happy Birthday every day, so we would save it for the University birthday and make it traditional. When the new president was to be inaugurated, we tried to play his college song. I remember hunting up Swarthmore. I discovered it was the same old favorite that they have at Cornell and Missouri. Kind of a typical university hymn. I remember having quite a hunt for the Ecuadorian national hymn because it wasn’t available in any books. Luckily, right there in the tower there was a little book of bugle calls for a marine band, and there was the national anthem for Ecuador and one which, surprisingly enough, was in our range. For quite a while I used to serenade one of the professors who was British and had an eight o clock. He loved to hear the good, old English marching songs and such. So, I’d serenade him, knowing that he was walking down to the campus. 

Of course when the Berkeley Fire came they tried to summon the students. 

We didn’t have the bells every Friday in the good old days, but we did have them on Saturday night if the team won, and on the days for meetings or rallies. [The first time the bells were played, in 1917, was for the Stanford-UC game] 

When we could participate in University memorial services or other occasions, we did. Mr. Noyse and I had a lot of fun at the end of World War II, when we celebrated the armistice. Those were the days when we were the only two ringers and we took turns for a couple of hours, playing everything that we could find that seemed to be patriotic or gave us a chance to exercise our own pleasure at the armistice. 

One morning I played a group of Italian folk songs. When I got to the foot of the tower, there was a freshman with his paper bag of lunch and flashing dark eyes. You played the Fascisti Hymn. I was summoned to the president’s office as to how I could have done anything so unpatriotic. Where did I get the book? Well, at the Co-op student store, in a little book that was done for language classes.  

The current generation of students doesn’t know Danny Deever from Yankee Doodle; I think it’s only the faculty and some alumni who really get the proper trembling sensation when they hear Danny Deever, one of Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads and very gloomy about hanging Danny Deever in the morning. At that time, it was done by some of the singers you heard in concert and the people recognized it.  


I remember that incident [about the union strike] when the gardeners and other employees on campus were on strike. It was shortly after the movie Snow White so that you could play Hi, Ho, Off to Work We Go and Work, For the Night is Coming, and other things that seemed appropriate for non-strikers. They didn’t take it too seriously. 

They were tuning them and wanted me to test the tension. I started the Doxology and somebody phoned the president’s office and said, Did the legislature pass the budget? 

The louder you play, the louder children scream. As the sound increases their own sound volume and it can be a little noisy, outside and in, but they like hearing Three Blind Mice and such little ditties. A little boy stuck his head out and his ears caught. [The glass was put up in ‘61, after a suicide.] I think it’s changed the sound a bit in some ways. But it certainly was a necessary protection. 

One of our Hindu students wanted some Indian music. We didn’t have any at that time so I said, Bring us what you’d like to hear. She got her friend to copy down things that she sang. We played them quite often and then I thought that we had overdone it and set them aside for a year or so. But one night I didn’t know what to play and got out my Indian music, just for my own enjoyment. When I got to the foot of the tower there was a breathless Hindu young man. He’d run all the way down from International House when he heard and he said, all out of breath, I knew every number, in his very British voice.  

[A full carillon] would be nice, but I think we could get along perfectly well with a set of bells. I think sometimes a carillon encourages you to be too ambitious and it wouldn’t fit too well with the campus repertoire to try to do all of those elaborate things that they can do at the Bok Tower. I suppose any traditionalists have a sentiment for the way they have been operated, and with a fair degree of success. I think it’s surprising how many tunes we can play with our twelve bells. 

[Herb Caen wrote to and about her. Interviewer: In recent years the great amount of publicity given you has been notable…] 

I think that’s plum silly, but I suppose the first fifty years they take for granted and after that they’re a little surprised that anybody has the health and energy. A lot of people think it’s mechanical, that there isn’t anybody there. That’s the only heart-warming part of this publicity, to hear from former students who got teaching credentials, or people who just get interested in the bells, or remember that they heard them when they were getting married, and on a honeymoon. My latest from Texas-- this woman wrote that she and several other Navy wives came out to bid farewell to their husbands who were going overseas, and came over to Berkeley and were sitting on the campus… That was an occasion in which they took it very personally.  

[Fifty years on campus] It’s been a real privilege. I think that most of us who have done it would be happy to do it just for the fun of it rather than counting it as a University job. This letter came from somebody who worked over at the nursery school. She remembers: One of the little children who was a very alert small boy, somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half years old, whose father delivered him each morning at nine and collected him a very few minutes after twelve noon while the chimes were playing. Very soon the child recognized the playing of the chimes as the signal that his father would be arriving. He always stopped whatever he was doing and got by the gate, ready for his dad. One morning, very soon after his arrival, the chimes began to peel out in a most joyful manner. The small boy recognized the signal for his father’s arrival and got to the gate. The playing went on and on, and we were powerless to explain to him what had happened.  

It reminds me a little of the time when the Prytaneans [Women’s Honor Society, the oldest collegiate women's honor society in the United States, founded in Berkeley in 1900] were having an initiation in Stephens Union. We always played for them at six o clock their hymn and that time, quite obviously they were going to get through before six. So, one of the members was stationed at the window to wave to me when it was time to do the hymn. I did it at about quarter to six and all the men over at the Faculty Club dropped their billiard cues, or their cards, and stormed the dining room fifteen minutes before the doors opened. So, it was like the little boy, somewhat.  

Whether they like it or not, there they are. Some of them very much take it for granted and others, I think, really do stop to listen and wonder. 


The final time I saw Margaret was in Lucky’s supermarket parking lot (where the North Berkeley CVS is presently located), small and frail but still perky as she managed her grocery cart and bundles. Later, I heard that she had had pneumonia. 

The regular Sather Tower Carillon performance schedule during Fall and Spring semesters: Sunday 2:00 - 2:45 P.M. Monday through Friday 7:50 - 8:00 A.M. 12:00 noon - 12:10 P.M., 6:00 - 6:10 P. M. Saturday 12:00 noon - 12:15 P.M., 6:00 - 6:10 P.M.  



March 19, 2012 New York Times included an article on the large gender gap between men and women on the cost of health insurance. The gap exists in most states. In 2014, gender rating will be prohibited through provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) According to recent research from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC,) a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Chicago per month charges for a woman are 31% more than what men the same age pay for the same coverage. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR. 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.  

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.  

Wednesday, April 4. 10 A.M. – Noon. North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council. 1901 Hearst. Be sure to confirm. 510-981-5190  

Wednesday, April 4. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert, UC,B Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. Faculty Recital featuring new pieces by Berkeley composer and pianist Cindy Cox, with violinist Hrabba Atladottir, pianist Karen Rosenak, and the Alexander String Quartet. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 4. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Advance registration is required. Sign up in person at the Reference desk, Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. . Or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours.  

Wednesday, April 4. 6:30-8 P.M. Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Writing Workshop with Christina Hutchins, Albany poet and author of The Stranger Dissolves, facilitates this writing workshop. Free. No registration required. Drop in and work on your poetry with a group of supportive writers. Contact: Dan Hess(510) 526-3720 x17 dhess@aclibrary.org 

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch, 1170 The Alameda at Hopkins. Grand Reopening Event. A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned with local and state officials, music and refreshments will be provided. Everyone is invited. Library services will begin at 2 p.m. (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, matzh 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 

Tuesday, April 10. 7-9 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Night. Featured Poet is Barry Goldensohn. Followed by Open Mic. Contact: Dan Hess dhess@aclibrary.org 

Wednesday, April 11. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. New Music by UC Berkeley graduate student composers, featuring Eco Ensemble, our resident professional new music ensemble directed by David Milnes. Lily Chen: Soundscape for violin, percussion, and piano. Andrés Cremisini: (control) for violin, cello, and snare drum. Ilya Y. Rostovtsev: Understatements for stereo fixed media.Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

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. Sponsored by the Friends of the El Cerrito Library. 510-526-7512. 

Friday, April 13. 12:15-1 P.M. UCB Music Dept. Noon concert. Department of Music students perform chamber music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Saturday, April 14. 2-3 P.M. Be an expert: Genealogy. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Free introduction to online genealogy tools and Ancestry.com, a database that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos and more. In the Electronic Classroom. 510-981-6100 

Monday, April 16. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: Richard Schwartz discusses "The Amazing Volunteer Relief Effort in the East Bay After the 1906 Earthquake." Go to www.richardschwartz.info for more information. The forum is co-sponsored by the Albany YMCA and the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av..
Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16. 

Tuesday, April 17. 6:30 P.M. Oakland Public Library, Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. Vegan Outreach presents Jack Norris, author of Vegan for Life, speaking about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. This program is part of Oakland Veg Week, April 15-21. Linda Jolivet 510/597-5017  

Wednesday, April 18. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert: Highlights: Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall. Songs of Persephone. Soprano Alana Mailes performs 17th-century Italian and French opera arias and cantatas by Caccini, Peri, Monteverdi, Rossi, Lully, Charpentier. Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 18. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street. 510-981-5178 Be sure to confirm. 

Wednesday, April 18. 7-8 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult Evening Book Group: Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16  

Saturday April 21. 1-5 P.M. Oakland Public Library Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. California Writers' Club, a workshop open to all writers. Contact: Anne Fox 510-420-8775. 

Tuesday, April 24. 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100 See also May 22. 

Wednesday, April 25. 1:20-2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: William Butler Yeats’ poem, Lapis Luzuli. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16 

Wednesday, April 25. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept. Gamelan Music of Java and Bali is performed by classes directed by Midiyanto and I Dewa Putu Berata with Ben Brinner and Lisa Gold. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, May 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept.: Renaissance Music, A Cappella. PERFECT FIFTH, Mark Sumner, director, is an a cappella choir in UC Choral Ensembles specializing in medieval and Renaissance music—sacred and secular, as well as contemporary art music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

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.  

Thursday, May 10. 7-8:45 P.M. Cafe Literario at West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Ave. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. May title: La Casa de Dostoievsky by Jorge Edwards. Free. 510-981-6270 

Sunday, May 13. | 12-4:30 P.M. Hertz Concert Hall. Music Commencement Ceremony: Concert and Ceremony. Afternoon concert. Sponsor: Department of Music. Noon-1 P.M.: Concert featuring award winners in the performing arts; 1:30 - 2:45pm: Commencement ceremony. Open to all audiences. Event Contact: concerts@berkeley.edu, 510-642-4864 

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. 

Tuesday, May 22. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

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 Lorenz 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: RED at the Rep—weighed in the balance and found outstanding!

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 05:08:00 PM
David Chandler at Mark Rothko
David Chandler at Mark Rothko

An argument between two actors in poetic dialogue was the original basis of theatre. Whether Aeschlyus or Plato’s Dialogues, we revel in the deep ideas while we rejoice in the crafting of the argument and the fervor and wit with which it is delivered. 

RED at Berkeley Rep—about artist Mark Rothko, and more, much more—is that kind of fulfilling theatre chock full of ideas that resonate late in the night, about fighting despair and demise with creativity, about loving your art perhaps more than people, about the danger of descending into a solipsistic state in which reality is composed predominantly of one’s creations. 

Two men, one old, one young, the master and the servant, the maestro and the upstart: Marcus Rothkowitz a/k/a Mark Rothko, the pedantic Jewish curmudgeon and legendary abstract painter, with roots in the old world and the New Deal vs. the aspiring artist WASP kid of the late 1950’s named, ironically, Ken. 

Two arcs are beautifully developed with these two characters. Clashing, then in harmony, showing us that conflict is a way to synthesis and revelation, sometimes in the Rabbinical tradition of questioning and arguing intensely, then having a drink together afterwards. David Chandler as Rothko looks enough like the real Rothko and overwhelms us with his portrayal of this self-centered lion of an artist. John Brummer plays Ken, whose subtle progress from willing lackey to articulate combatant is a joy to watch. 

The dialogue is transcendent and poetic—though in simple prose—but never pompous.  

Playwright John Logan has the characters take us through a fugue of color words, a litany of reds, from Satan to Santa, from blood-in-the-sink to persimmon.  

In the midst of this tidal wave of words and ideas, there is an extended pause. To the music of Mozart, the artist and the assistant prepare a canvas by painting its basecoat red. It is a competition and a furious pas de deux to keep up with the tempo, and to keep up with and perhaps outdo the other. It is a perfect interlude to the tidal wave of words, and an apt metaphor for the play.  

Logan is also perhaps the preeminent screenwriter of the day with an amazing range. He wrote the screenplays for “Hugo,” “Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai,” “Star Trek Nemesis,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Rango,” “Any Given Sunday” and more films that you would readily recognize. 

RED won all the Tony awards for drama in 2011 except for best actor (Alfred Molina lost out to Denzel Washington). 

Les Waters’ flawless direction is his Berkeley Rep swan-song—he departs to head the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Louisa Thompson’s scenic design is functional and artistic; the upstage is filled with a battery of lights which gives a soft illumination and is a visual metaphor for Rothko’s need to show his works in just the right light. 

The Given Circumstance is the pending creation of the four murals that Rothko has been commissioned to create for the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram’s Building for a record payment of $35,000. His “children” would be displayed amid the clatter of dishes and the chatter of the ultra rich. There has always been tension between the artist and the patron. Michelangelo had little choice in acceding to the Pope’s commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Diego Rivera’s mural for Rockefeller Center was removed when he portrayed Lenin favorably in that Capitalist Shrine.  

Will Rothko be “weighed in the balance and found wanting” like the handwriting on the wall that he invokes from Rembrandt ‘s “Belshazzar's Feast”? He alludes to many paintings that bring quick images to those who know the visual artistic canon: Matisse’s “Red Studio” is recalled as his inspiration (thanks here to the astute young woman sitting next to me who recounted the name of painting for me when I misheard the reference).  

After all this existential angst, there is resolution and hope. We live and learn through watching the kind of sacrifice and servitude and ethical gestures that puts an artist in the art history books. 

RED by John Logan 

Directed by Les Waters 

BERKELEY REP thrust stage 

2025 Addison St, Berkeley 

Through April 29, 2012  

More info, tickets: 510 647–2949 


Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission 

Louisa Thompson, Scenic Design; Anna Oliver, Costume Design; Alexander V. Nichols, Lighting Design; Bray Poor, Sound Design; Julie McCormick, Dramaturg; Michael Suenkel, Stage Manager; Amy Potozkin and Stephanie Klapper,, Casting. 

WITH: John Brummer and David Chandler 

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

AROUND & ABOUT OPERA: Erling Wold's new 'Certitude & Joy' at Bindlestiff Studio

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 05:08:00 PM

Erling Wold's new opera, 'Certitude & Joy' (title from Pascal), blends the stories from Chapter 22 of Genesis, Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, with Lashaun Harris' s (of Oakland) 2005 drowning of her young sons at the Embarcadero in San Francisco from what she thought to be God's command. Staged by the ubiquitous Jim Cave (who also teaches at Laney), with six performers—singers, actors, dancers—'Certitude & Joy' plays with identity ... Lashaun, Abarham, God, Jesus—and Wold himself—all speak from various lips onstage.  

Laura Bohn and Jo Vincent Parks are the major singers, Talya Patrick portrays Lashaun, Kerry Mehling choreographed and dances, Blake Street Hawkeyes founder Bob Ernst and Travis Santell Rowland also perform—and Wold appears ... on the pier, Mikiko Usugi's set. The Zofo Duet, Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann, render the score on two pianos. Wold wrote both score and libretto and has remarked it's like a contemporary Passion Play, the original which featured a divine parent sacrificing his child. Thursday through Sunday, April 1, at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth Street (near Mission), San Francisco. $25-$35. (800) 838-3006; brownpapertickets.com/event/224679 or certitudeandjoy.org

Don't Miss This on April Fool's Day

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 09:13:00 PM

So you're of the belief that April Fools Day is a modern, 20th Century celebration? Think again. April Fools Day can be traced back to the 1500's under the reign of Charles IX and the change in the Gregorian Calendar. On this day in 1700 English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools Day by playing practical jokes on each other. April Fools Day of this year offers embarrassment of riches -- art, drama, music, etc. You'll be hard pressed to make choices given the attractive events out there. 

Let's start with the Walt Disney Galleries, featuring early drawings and animation, movies, music, spectacular model of Disneyland and much more -- such as the special program, "Cinderella Style: The Evolution of Disney Animation." Sunday, April 15, 3 p.m., Scienic Presidio, S.F. (415) 345-6800. 

"Sunset Boulevard" by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Lesher Center for the Arts, Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, through April 15 (925-943-7469). 

"Faure: Requiem, Poulenc: Quartre motets pour un temps de penitence", Palm Sunday, April 1, 4 p.m., St. John's Episcopal Church, 1707 Gouldin Road, off Thornhill, Oakland, (510-339-2200). 

Voci Women's Vocal Ensemble, with two performances of a concert titled "The River Has Many Voices", next Saturday at Lake Merritt Methodist Church, 1330 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, and next Sunday at All Soul's Episcopal Parish, 3330 Cedar St., Berkeley, (510) 531-8714. 

"The Caretaker", by Harold Pinter, starring Jonathan Pryce, Curran Theatre, S.F., Wednesday through April 22. (888) 746-1799. 

"The 1968 Exhibit" , Helicopter veterans of the Vietnam War assemble a Huey helicopter; also, Michael Rossman's social justice posters about the Free Speech Movement (all 23,500 of them!) Saturday through August 19, Oakland Museum of California, (510) 318-8400. 

"Maple and Vine", ACT's West Coast Premiere of Jordan Harrison's provocative New York hit about an interracial couple trading their stressful, successful urban lives for the retro world reenacting American Life in the 1950's. April 4-22, ACT Theatre, S.F. (415) 749-2228. 

"Any Given Day," U.S. premiere of Linda McLean's drama about two couples in Glasgow. Opens April 11, Fort Mason Center, (415) 441-8822. 

S.F. Silent Film Festival presents "Napoleon", a special screening of the restored silent film. Paramount Theatre, 1:30 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday. (510) 465-6400. 

"Selected Shorts: Delicious Fictions,", with Jill Eikenberry, Sunday, April 1, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Berkeley Repertory Theatre, (510) 647-2949. 

S.F. Library Spring Book Sale, 400,000 books, DVD's, CD's and more. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. next Sunday, Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, (415-626-7500.) 

Chanticleer's First Film Score, contemporary personal musical reflections, First Congregational Church, Berkeley, April 3, 8 p.m. (415) 392-4400. 

San Francisco Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Weiser-Most, Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 and Shostakovich, Symphony No. 6, Sun. April 15, 7 p.m. (415)-864-6000. 

"Othello, the Moor of Venice," Shakespeare's tale of jealousy and villainy, opens April 3 - 22. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley . (415) 388-5208. 

Hopefully you'll find one or more of the above offerings a great way to observe your own personal April Fools Day.

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER AND MUSIC: Theater & Music Classes at Northbrae Community Church

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:08:00 PM

Marion Fay, whose classes in theater and music have garnered a wide reputation, will be leading groups again this spring at Berkeley's Northbrae Community Church, near the tunnel from Berkeley to Solano Avenue. Theater Explorations, a three section class, and Music Appreciation, which meets Thursday mornings, will be offered. Theater Explorations participants will hear actors and directors speak, and see such productions as Arthur Schnitzler's 'Anatol' at Aurora Theatre, plus plays at the Berkeley Rep and Ashby Stage at discounted prices. Music Appreciation features meetings with composers, conductors and musicians from Berkeley and San Francisco Symphonies, who will discuss their work and perform, as well as trips to musical performances. No background in music is required. Both sponsored by Albany Adult Education. For information and to register online: adulted.ausdk12.org/

Book Review: 'A Coward's Guide to Self-Defense--Combat Tactics for the Thinking Person,' by David I. Marshall

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 23, 2012 - 01:08:00 PM

"Intensive martial arts training had gradually led me to a point of deep and painful recognition, pulling me toward the unexpected but undeniable: All the styles, systems, concepts, techniques, mindsets, myths, opinions, raging debates, and dear God, let's not forget secrets, don't necessarily work. At least not the way they've been advertised." 


Bay Area martial arts instructor and Pilates student David Marshall, in an easy-going, often witty, conversational little book (about 70 pages), considers self-defense ... but not the set-ups seen in movies, video games--and, yes, martial arts competitions. He's talking about the street, about what goes on--or could happen--day to day, anywhere and everywhere, outside the studio or the ring. And he's speaking to the self-confessedly unskilled as well as to students of the art. 

With true geniality and wit, Marshall muses out loud on any number of situations, the good and bad calls (which, depending on circumstance, can almost be interchangeable), the tactics both learned and improvised, and the vigilence and aplomb that maybe will render all of the rest unnecessary. 

"Most people are simply not fighters, which is both good and bad depending on the circumstances." From the "typical street confrontation," to being accosted by armed attackers, crazies and other not-so-typical situations, Marshall offers a series of reflections and some advice, not so much a how-to guide. "Choosing your Battles," "Signals; Reading People," "Hands On--Unconventional Tactics," "Ethics," how to use what you've got, including your voice--and your mind ... these are the subheads in what amounts to a conversation with the reader on something unpredictable, almost imponderable. 

It's a refreshing approach--and it's only let-down is, when finishing, like any good book, the reader wants more of what's been given. Hopefully, there will be more--the very nature of 'A Coward's Guide ... ' begs for a column, a talk show, something even more personable by an engaging writer on a difficult, seldom broached subject--at least, seldom broached in the humane, admirable way Marshall chooses to discuss it. 


'A Coward's Guide to Self-Defense' (Left To Write Books) available for $12.99 from lulu.com/spotlight/acowardsguide