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We live on the block behind the house that caught fire early this morning on the 2900 block of Lorina Street between Russell Street and Ashby Avenue. It was pretty intense, and from our roof the situation didn't look good because the fire engulfed the back side of the house, making it difficult for the fire fighters to get to it. I could see our neighbors in their back yards, and fire fighters going through the back yard directly behind the fire for a better look. Everyone living on this side were concerned that the huge tree in the fore-ground of these photos would burn as well. We could see smoke billowing out from the front of the house too, so we were concerned that it might get out of control.
                                          You could literally hear hundreds of gallons of water being thrown at the blaze from both sides, and you could see the jets of water shooting into the night, up and over the fire. I could hear fire fighters shouting instructions and information back and forth. Their calm methodical communication was really reassuring.
                                          After being awoken around 2:40 a.m. to see the house in flames and the fire department just arriving; the majority of the fire, at least the towering flames that threatened the neighborhood, were under control before 3 a.m. The Berkeley Fire Department was amazing. We went back to bed feeling relieved that the situation didn't get out of control. We didn't know about the woman who lost her life until we heard about it on the morning news.
We live on the block behind the house that caught fire early this morning on the 2900 block of Lorina Street between Russell Street and Ashby Avenue. It was pretty intense, and from our roof the situation didn't look good because the fire engulfed the back side of the house, making it difficult for the fire fighters to get to it. I could see our neighbors in their back yards, and fire fighters going through the back yard directly behind the fire for a better look. Everyone living on this side were concerned that the huge tree in the fore-ground of these photos would burn as well. We could see smoke billowing out from the front of the house too, so we were concerned that it might get out of control. You could literally hear hundreds of gallons of water being thrown at the blaze from both sides, and you could see the jets of water shooting into the night, up and over the fire. I could hear fire fighters shouting instructions and information back and forth. Their calm methodical communication was really reassuring. After being awoken around 2:40 a.m. to see the house in flames and the fire department just arriving; the majority of the fire, at least the towering flames that threatened the neighborhood, were under control before 3 a.m. The Berkeley Fire Department was amazing. We went back to bed feeling relieved that the situation didn't get out of control. We didn't know about the woman who lost her life until we heard about it on the morning news.


Updated: Berkeley Fire Victim Identified

By Jeff Shuttleworth and Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday June 21, 2012 - 10:58:00 PM

A woman who died in a fire at a multi-unit Berkeley home early this morning has been identified as 26-year-old Meredith Ann Joyce, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau. 

It appears that Joyce lived in Oakland and the home where the fire occurred is where her boyfriend lived, but that information isn't confirmed, a coroner's spokeswoman said.  

The fire was reported at 2:36 a.m. today at a green, three-story Victorian-style home at 2919 Lorina St. Lorina Street is a one-block street that runs between Ashby Avenue and Russell Street and is near the busy intersection of Ashby and Shattuck avenues. 

Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said firefighters who responded found heavy fire blowing out the back of the home. 

Joyce was retrieved from the third floor attic area of the house, but she did not survive her injuries and was pronounced dead there, Dong said. 

Two other people were injured and taken to a hospital by ambulance. One suffered from smoke inhalation and the other had minor burns, Dong said. 

Firefighters were able to control the two-alarm fire within about an hour, and while the house itself is still standing, firefighters are expecting there is heavy interior damage. 

Eight people were inside the home when the fire started, including the woman who died. Five were residents of the home and three were visitors, Dong said. 

The displaced residents were referred to the Red Cross, he said. 

It was unclear if there were smoke detectors in the home, but that could have made a difference, he said. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan, who lives in the 1900 block of Wheeler, which is one block east of Lorina Street, said he was wakened by the fire and it appeared to be "pretty intense." 

Coplan said, "It initially looked like the entire house was in flames but it turned out that it was just the back of the house." 

He said he was afraid a huge tree behind the house at 2919 Lorina St. would catch fire and the blaze would spread to adjacent houses, but firefighters were able to keep it from spreading and were able to contain it quickly. 

"They did an incredible job," Coplan said.

Flash: One Killed, Two Injured in Berkeley Fire on Lorina Street

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday June 21, 2012 - 11:15:00 AM
We live on the block behind the house that caught fire early this morning on the 2900 block of Lorina Street between Russell Street and Ashby Avenue. It was pretty intense, and from our roof the situation didn't look good because the fire engulfed the back side of the house, making it difficult for the fire fighters to get to it. I could see our neighbors in their back yards, and fire fighters going through the back yard directly behind the fire for a better look. Everyone living on this side were concerned that the huge tree in the fore-ground of these photos would burn as well. We could see smoke billowing out from the front of the house too, so we were concerned that it might get out of control.
                                              You could literally hear hundreds of gallons of water being thrown at the blaze from both sides, and you could see the jets of water shooting into the night, up and over the fire. I could hear fire fighters shouting instructions and information back and forth. Their calm methodical communication was really reassuring.
                                              After being awoken around 2:40 a.m. to see the house in flames and the fire department just arriving; the majority of the fire, at least the towering flames that threatened the neighborhood, were under control before 3 a.m. The Berkeley Fire Department was amazing. We went back to bed feeling relieved that the situation didn't get out of control. We didn't know about the woman who lost her life until we heard about it on the morning news.
We live on the block behind the house that caught fire early this morning on the 2900 block of Lorina Street between Russell Street and Ashby Avenue. It was pretty intense, and from our roof the situation didn't look good because the fire engulfed the back side of the house, making it difficult for the fire fighters to get to it. I could see our neighbors in their back yards, and fire fighters going through the back yard directly behind the fire for a better look. Everyone living on this side were concerned that the huge tree in the fore-ground of these photos would burn as well. We could see smoke billowing out from the front of the house too, so we were concerned that it might get out of control. You could literally hear hundreds of gallons of water being thrown at the blaze from both sides, and you could see the jets of water shooting into the night, up and over the fire. I could hear fire fighters shouting instructions and information back and forth. Their calm methodical communication was really reassuring. After being awoken around 2:40 a.m. to see the house in flames and the fire department just arriving; the majority of the fire, at least the towering flames that threatened the neighborhood, were under control before 3 a.m. The Berkeley Fire Department was amazing. We went back to bed feeling relieved that the situation didn't get out of control. We didn't know about the woman who lost her life until we heard about it on the morning news.
Here are two pictures of the house, taken this morning.  (Most of the fire damage is not visible from the street.  It appears much of the back of the house was gutted, and the fire also burned part of the attic (you can see the broken windows in the gable).
                              This house is probably one of the original little Victorian cottages built here in the "Newberry Tract" in the 19th century.   The Newberry Tract was south of Russell, east of Adeline, west of Ellsworth and includes some one-block-long streets like Lornia.   Many of the original houses remain but  most have been substantially altered on the exterior.  This is one of the few that still retains the Victorian 19th century character on the outside.
From Steven Finacom:
Here are two pictures of the house, taken this morning. (Most of the fire damage is not visible from the street. It appears much of the back of the house was gutted, and the fire also burned part of the attic (you can see the broken windows in the gable). This house is probably one of the original little Victorian cottages built here in the "Newberry Tract" in the 19th century. The Newberry Tract was south of Russell, east of Adeline, west of Ellsworth and includes some one-block-long streets like Lornia. Many of the original houses remain but most have been substantially altered on the exterior. This is one of the few that still retains the Victorian 19th century character on the outside.
Steven Finacom
Mark Coplan

A woman was killed and two others were injured in a two-alarm fire at a multi-unit Berkeley residence early this morning, fire officials said.

Firefighters responded to the 2900 block of Lorina Street, a residential street near the intersection of Ashby and Shattuck avenues, at 2:36 a.m. 

Upon arrival, firefighters found heavy fire blowing out the back of the three-story home, Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said. 

A woman was retrieved from the third floor attic area of the house, but did not survive injuries suffered in the fire and was pronounced dead at the scene, Dong said. 

Two other people were injured in the fire and taken to a hospital by ambulance. One suffered from smoke inhalation and the other had minor burns, Dong said. 

Firefighters were able to control the fire within about an hour, and while the house itself is still standing, firefighters are expecting there is heavy interior damage. 

Eight people were inside the home when the fire started, including the woman who died. Five were residents of the home and three were visitors, Dong said. 

The displaced residents would be referred to the Red Cross, he said. 

Dong said it was unclear if there were smoke detectors in the home, but that could have made a difference. "We'd like to remind residents to have working smoke detectors," he said.

Family of Peter Cukor Files Claim Against City of Berkeley

By Julia Cheever (BCN)
Wednesday June 20, 2012 - 10:53:00 PM

In a prelude to a possible wrongful death lawsuit, the widow and two sons of a Berkeley homeowner who was killed by an allegedly mentally ill intruder in February filed a claim against the city of Berkeley today. 

The administrative claim by the family of Peter Cukor, 67, seeks unspecified financial compensation for alleged wrongful death and emotional distress. 

The city has 45 days to respond to the claim. If it rejects the claim, the family will then have six months to file an Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit. 

California law requires that people seeking to sue a state or local government entity must first file a claim.  

The claim alleges police dispatchers were grossly negligent in failing to assign an emergency priority when Cukor called at about 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 18 to ask for an officer to respond to a suspicious intruder who was acting strangely.  

It also alleges a dispatcher falsely promised that an officer would arrive soon at the home shared by Cukor and his wife, Andrea, on Park Gate Road near Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. 

"The Cukors were lulled to a false sense of security and did not take necessary action to protect themselves" because they believed an officer was on the way, according to the claim.  

Instead, "the police dispatcher did not request any assistance on behalf of the Cukors from the police officers on duty. When a police officer volunteered to respond to the emergency, the police dispatcher told the officer do not go," the claim alleges. 

Several minutes later, according to the claim, the Cukors saw the intruder leave their property, and a few minutes after that, Peter Cukor walked to the bottom of the driveway to help the expected officer find it. 

At 9:01 p.m., as his wife watched from an upstairs window, Cukor was hit on the head by the stranger with a ceramic flowerpot. Cukor, who owned a transportation logistics consulting company, died at a nearby hospital. 

Daniel Dewitt, 23, of Alameda, whose parents have said he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia five years ago, has been charged with murdering Cukor.  

His criminal case has been suspended by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Sandra Bean while he is treated at Napa State Hospital for mental illness. Dewitt is due back in court for a progress report July 13. 

The claim alleges the city and the Police Department were grossly negligent in failing to train and supervise emergency dispatchers properly. 

City spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said, "The claim has been received and will be reviewed," but said she could not comment further. 

The claim was filed by Andrea Cukor and the couple's adult sons, Christopher Cukor, 37, and Alexander Cukor, 34.  

Their attorney, R. Lewis Van Blois of Oakland, said, "I think the family wanted to let the public know what actually occurred. There have been a lot of inaccurate statements. 

"Most importantly," Van Blois said, "they want to see changes made in the whole system, so that police respond to emergency calls and dispatchers do not mislead people who call." 

Although a police detective suggested in a court document filed in Dewitt's case that the reason Cukor left his house was probably to seek help at a fire station across the street, the claim alleges that Cukor walked down his driveway because he thought the expected officer was having trouble finding it.  

The fire station was empty because firefighters were responding to a call.  

Van Blois said the family believes Cukor's purpose was to help police locate his driveway because the entrance was difficult to find in the dark and because he never told his wife he was going to the fire station.  

At a community forum in March, Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan said Cukor's initial call at 8:45 p.m. was to a non-emergency number. Meehan said police had no way of knowing the intruder would attack Cukor. 

The claim alleges, however, that Cukor made that call to an area code (510) telephone number advertised on the Police Department website and in literature given to Berkeley residents as "the emergency number for immediate threats to life and property." It says he "emphatically and firmly requested an officer to come right away."  

Fifteen minutes later, Andrea Cukor called a different number, the 911 emergency number, as she watched the intruder attack her husband, and police responded to this second call. 

Both the claim and the police filing say that when Cukor encountered the intruder in the garage of his house, the intruder claimed he lived there, was looking for Zoey and was told by a psychic if he went through the front gate he would find Zoey. 

After Cukor told the intruder to leave, the stranger walked down the driveway and left the property, and Cukor made the first emergency call. A few minutes later, Cukor traversed the driveway, "expecting to meet a police officer trying to locate his home," the claim says.

Updated: Berkeley Judge Arraigned on Elder Theft and Perjury Charges

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Saturday June 16, 2012 - 09:23:00 AM

An Alameda County Superior Court judge was arraigned today on charges that he stole at least $1.6 million from a 97-year-old neighbor in the Berkeley hills over the course of more than a decade. 

Judge Paul Seeman, 57, who was accompanied by Walnut Creek defense attorney Michael Markowitz, declined to comment to reporters after his brief hearing in Wiley Manuel Court. 

Seeman, who is charged with one count of elder theft and 11 counts of perjury, was arrested in his courtroom in the same courthouse on Thursday and spent the night at the Glenn Dyer Jail, which is next door. 

He was released earlier today after he posted $525,000 bail. 

Dressed in a brown suit, Seeman nervously held a roll of papers in his hands as he sat in the second row of the courtroom of Judge Eric Labowitz, a visiting judge from Mendocino County, while he waited for his case to be called. 

He is scheduled to return to court on July 3 to enter a plea. 

When he left the courthouse, Seeman was heckled by Occupy Oakland protesters who were having a rally in front of the building. 

The protesters said they recognized Seeman because on March 20, he issued an order requiring four Occupy Cal demonstrators to stay at least 100 yards away from all University of California at Berkeley property except when they go to and from work. 

According to a probable cause declaration filed in court by Berkeley police officers, who investigated Seeman for more than two years, Seeman stole thousands of dollars from his neighbor, Anne Nutting, after her husband, Lee Nutting, died in 1999 at age 90. 

The declaration says Seeman sold off Anne Nutting's art collection and other possessions, tried to bar her from her own home and used her garage to store his 1958 Ford Thunderbird. 

Seeman initially befriended Nutting in December 1998 after her husband suffered a fall at the couple's home on Santa Barbara Road in Berkeley and police deemed the home to be uninhabitable due to hoarding, according to the declaration. The Nuttings then moved into the Radisson Hotel at the Berkeley Marina. 

Seeman offered to help the Nuttings because they were all alone and had no one to rely on because they had no family, no children and no friends, the statement says. 

In January 1999, Seeman obtained a durable power of attorney for the Nuttings after finding $1 million worth of stock certificates and uncashed dividend checks in their house, according to the statement. 

Lee Nutting died on Dec. 29, 1999, and between April and June 2000, Seeman arranged the sale of two properties the Nuttings owned in Santa Cruz, according to Berkeley police. 

By August 2004, Seeman had taken over almost all of Anne Nutting's financial affairs, putting his name on her bank accounts as joint tenant and on her investment accounts as a transferee on death, the statement says. There was more than $2.2 million in the accounts at that time, according to the statement. 

Nutting lived at the Radisson Hotel for nine years because Seeman did not want her to return to her home and tried to get her to move into senior housing, Berkeley police said. 

Nutting finally moved back to her home in 2007 and obtained the help of an attorney who revoked Seeman's durable power of attorney and asked that Seeman remove his name from all of her bank accounts and stop handling her financial affairs, according to the statement. 

However, Seeman didn't remove his name from any of Nutting's accounts and continued to maintain control over her taxes and safe deposit boxes, according to the declaration. 

In March 2010, Nutting's attorney went to Berkeley police and reported that Nutting, who was 97 at the time, was a victim of financial elder abuse at the hands of Seeman, the statement said. 

Nutting died the following month on April 17, 2010. 

According to the probable cause statement, all Superior Court judges must file statements of economic interests, signed under penalty of perjury, declaring all sources of income and personal loans, but Seeman failed to disclose a $250,000 personal loan from Nutting. 

The statement says Seeman also failed to report investments totaling more than $1.4 million in 40 local properties between March 2003 and June 2009. 

Seeman earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and his bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. 

Seeman, who is a Democrat, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in March 2009. 

He served as a court commissioner for Alameda County Superior Court from 2004 to 2009 and served as a referee pro tem for the county's Juvenile Court from 1991 to 2004. 

Prior to working as a Juvenile Court referee and a court commissioner, he worked as a deputy county counsel for the Alameda County Counsel's Office and for many years as a sole practitioner.

New: Berkeley Congresswoman Lee and Colleagues Hail Move by Obama to Defer Deportation for Some Undocumented Immigrants

By Bay City News
Friday June 15, 2012 - 07:20:00 PM

Bay Area officials today hailed a move by President Barack Obama to provide temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Among those voicing their support for the new policy today were elected officials from San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.  

"Brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents who came from their home countries without legal documentation, the people helped by this new policy call America their home," Speier said. "They have grown up here, yet they are not citizens like their college roommates, basketball teammates or next door neighbors and they could be deported at any time to a country whose language they may not even know." 

The policy involves the use of "prosecutorial discretion" to defer deportation orders for two years, said Eshoo, who called it a "landmark change" in immigration policy. It does not change immigration status or provide a pathway to citizenship, but it could allow those who qualify to work in the United States legally. 

Obama's announcement included a call on national legislators to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people brought to the country as a child.  

Obama's action could affect nearly 800,000 young immigrants, said Lee. 

"While President Obama's announcement is a step in the right direction, this is not a permanent solution or a substitution for a Congressional action," said Lee. "I will continue to fight for, and urge my colleagues to pass, the DREAM Act so that we can provide these young people who came to America and excelled the full range of opportunities they have earned."  

"The President's bold and courageous act brings a generation of young hardworking immigrants out of the shadows," said Gascon in a statement. "It gives affirmation to this younger generation that they are valued and deserving of a better life."  

"This change is not only the right moral decisions; it is also good for America culturally and economically," said state Sen. Leland Yee.  

The decision was also praised by groups that work with immigrants.  

"In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to working with DREAMers and their families to ensure that they receive the full benefits of this historic opportunity and encourage them to reach out to our organizations for support," said Hyeon-Ju Rho, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus.  

"This executive order will provide at least some relief for those whose sole wish is to live freely and openly in the only country they know," said officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.

Disputed Berkeley Ban on Street Sitting to Go to Voters as Fur Flies, Temperatures Rise, and Rhetoric Rolls Through City Hall

By Ted Friedman
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 02:06:00 PM
Outside old City Hall before City Council, Tuesday.
Ted Friedman
Outside old City Hall before City Council, Tuesday.
Ten at a time at 10 p.m. ascend to council chambers to protest anti-sit measure.
Ted Friedman
Ten at a time at 10 p.m. ascend to council chambers to protest anti-sit measure.
The Mayor presides over the council on Tuesday in front of the Romare Bearden mural, a relic of Berkeley's progressive past.
Ted Friedman
The Mayor presides over the council on Tuesday in front of the Romare Bearden mural, a relic of Berkeley's progressive past.
Waiting to oppose no-sitting at Tuesday's council.
Ted Friedman
Waiting to oppose no-sitting at Tuesday's council.
Two men in blue--after late night vote. Worthington, left, Bates, center, under hat.
Ted Friedman
Two men in blue--after late night vote. Worthington, left, Bates, center, under hat.

Tuesday's Berkeley City Council six-hour donnybrook turned ugly, the most rowdy in years, according to council watchers. 

Not everyone who packed the sweltering council chamber on the second floor of old City Hall was there to stop an anti-sitting measure; it just looked that way. The mayor had recently published his proposed ban—carefully worded, but a ban nevertheless—on sitting on Berkeley sidewalks. That was June 1—two weeks before, and too fast, according to some council-members, to deliberate its merits. 

The mayor suggested last year that demonstrations against the measure were premature. Now he seemed to Councilmembers Anderson, Worthington, and Arreguin to be rushing the measure onto the ballot before the public and the city's own commissions, and city agencies assisting the homeless could have input. 

Many showed up to oppose the hotly disputed Westside development plan, which is now slated to go before voters in November with special exclusions for parcels abutting Aquatic Park. 

Opponents speaking against the Westside proposal consider it environmentally unsound, and a threat to the health of the residents of the Westside. Westsiders voiced their disapproval of the plan with folk songs, poetry, and the appeal for clean air from a rabbit named Slingshot Hip-hop. 

Meanwhile, more than fifty anti-sit protesters boiled over in the first floor lobby, awaiting their turn at the seats occupied in chambers. They didn't like being excluded from the council chamber, which has only 124 seats, and attorney Osha Neumann came down to advocate with City Hall security on their behalf—but to no avail. 

When the anti-sitting measure, now bound for the November ballot after a 6-3 late night vote Tuesday, was published in the council’s agenda on June 1, some Berkeleyans had expected a community forum or hearing before voters had their say, but they didn't expect to have the measure "ramrodded" on to the ballot without, as one councilman said, getting some basic facts. 

"What's wrong with getting some facts?" joked Kriss Worthington Dist. 7, as the temperature in chambers hovered around 70 F. 

And what's wrong with just letting the voters decide the issue, as a minority of speakers urged? Max Anderson, councilmember for District 3, echoing the sentiments of many speakers, noted that voters had historically denied fellow citizens their rights. "Voters in the South would have voted in the 50's to extend slavery," Anderson observed. 

Besides, Anderson argued, sitting and lying down are basic rights that should not be voted on. “What's next, breathing?" he said. 

Anderson worried that Berkeley would become a laughingstock for banning sitting: "People just don't see us that way. They'll stop coming here. The city will lose money." 

"Is this how we want to look to the world," Anderson intoned. 

Past movements have "expanded" our rights, Anderson said, but the mayor's proposal "contracts" our rights. "This is no profile in courage; a profile in courage would be to resist this," the fiery councilman roared. 

"When this [proposal] snuck up on us two weeks ago, I thought Karl Rove had snuck into town," Anderson said to the delight of the audience. 

Both Anderson and Worthington quarreled bitterly with Bates all night, mostly over procedural matters. But at one point, Anderson snapped, "I'm not one of your punks," after Bates had tried to stop Anderson from talking. 

The mayor had his hands full trying to preside over the spirited street-people from downtown, who claim they're "organized." Many times, the mayor challenged extending a speaker's time allotments, losing most times, but being repeatedly booed and called a "fascist." 

Last week opposition to the measure (familiarly known as Sit/Lie although lying down on the sidewalk is already illegal) grew among street kids downtown, who say they are routinely being rousted by Berkeley Police. A former city commissioner said there had been 20 citations so far this month. One of the kids is being represented by Osha Neumann, who says his client was roughed up by police who didn't follow the law. Berkeley Police replies that they have no record of the incident and that no citations were issued. 

The kids, some of whom are in their thirties, showed up in a defiant mood before they even got into the chambers. An hour before the council convened, a crowd of more than 100 showed up outside Old City Hall to celebrate its opposition to the mayor's proposed ordinance, opposition that arose in several protests last year, when Sit/Lie was just a gleam in Mayor Bates' eye. 

Those who stayed for a showdown with the mayor simmered in the lobby, often roaring disapproval to words they were hearing from the council video-stream on a screen above them. 

The council chamber was still swelteringly hot at 10:20 when the first ten protestors hurtled up the magnificent city hall spiral staircase. They were allowed up in groups of ten as Westenders came down. 

In the chamber, Worthington complained that some Westenders were losing their seats unfairly. As the speaking list was extended into the wee hours, seating was plentiful. 


The number of peakers lining up to comment in chamber never dropped below twenty-five, as new speakers stocked the line, through hours of mayor-baiting. 

Pattie Wall, Executive, Director of Berkeley's Homeless Action Center, led the audience of mostly opponents of the Anti-Sit ordinance in a call and response in which "this is not what democracy looks like," was repeated. Wall has repeatedly charged, in the Planet and elsewhere, that Sit/Lie citations will prevent applicants from receiving benefits that might ease their difficulties. 

More than one protester questioned the mayor's sanity, and many his competency. Osha Neumann questioned the mayor's sincerity: "Just don't tell us we will benefit from this [the proposal]...your carrot is really a stick." 

Cal students, who have long been aligned with local opponents of the sitting ban, complained that the mayor was trying to push through his proposal while many student were gone for the summer. A Cal student senator said that ASUC had recently voted 18-1 against the ban. 

Carol Denney, a local activist, poet, and singer [and Planet contributor] said that discriminating against any group was a great shame. Buildings emptied by high rents, not homeless youth were behind merchants' complaints, she said. 

Sistah, a South side activist, brought 100 South side signatures against the mayor's proposal. 

A teacher who works with homeless youth reminded the mayor that Berkeley has 731 homeless youth, who might be swept up in the no-sitting ban. 

The board of directors of YEAH, a Berkeley youth advocacy and housing group condemned the mayor's proposal, suggesting that the estimated $25,000 cost of putting the mayor's proposal on the ballot go to Berkeley's homeless youth. 

According to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, Dist. 4, at least four Berkeley commissions oppose the mayor's measure. 

Several past and present members of Berkeley's Mental Health and Homeless commissions spoke out against the measure. 

Local activist Russell ("the good") Bates, as usual cut to the quick, calling the measure "a load of crap." 

Representing a group of youths downtown, who are directly in the headlights of the mayor's measure, J.C. Romero, founder of Coalition for homeless Teens, and himself homeless, claimed "police are beating us up in the streets." 

Romero angrily flung a toy bear to the floor along with a scatter of dollar bills, both of which he later retrieved. "We'll sit when we want," the emotional leader vowed. "We don't have any money, so you can fine us all you want. "I'll get three hots [meals] and a cot [in jail]," he said. 

Worthington noted that enforcing the mayor's plan would be costly, as those cited would have to be transported, at great expense, to jail. 

Michael Diehl, organizer of many anti-sit protests, asked whether exposing homeless youth to jail made any sense. 

As midnight approached the mayor was showing signs of short temper. He clashed with Worthington repeatedly over protocol. Finally, he angrily told Worthington that if Worthington had no proposal of his own, he should stop stalling the mayor's. 

But Worthington was ready, laying out a four-step plan to get facts that would support or challenge the mayor's plan. He asked for: (1) sales figures that would show whether kids outside stores decreased revenues (Worthington claims there is little correlation); 

(2) reports from police on the effectiveness of new street patrols, which might make the mayor's plan unnecessary: 

(3) more input from a charette conducted by a group of architects and concerned Southsiders, who have discussed positive changes on Telegraph; 

and (4) an evaluation of the new Downtown Ambassadors’ protocols to see if they go to problem spots, thus lessening merchants' complaints. 

Wouldn't it be better to pass a law against strewing the streets with up to twenty possessions, Worthington wondered, than to ban sitting? 

Worthington's plan was voted down by the same 6-3 majority that then voted to refer the mayor's proposal to Berkeley voters in November. 

As Roland Peterson and Craig Becker of Telegraph property owners group left the meeting, they observed, "Same votes we've had all along." The two predicted last year the measure would go to voters, who despite all the moral doubts of the evening will have to decide whether you can sit in Berkeley streets. 

The mayor was followed to his car across from City Hall by a band of angry protesters, who rained down epithets of scorn. "Some day”, one said, “you'll be down and out like us, and I won't help you the way you aren't helping me." 

A manned police squad car stood a block away. 

Worthington summed up, suggesting that Berkeley's wealthier districts were dictating to the parts of the city that would be more directly affected by the mayor's plan. 

Another all-nighter for our Southside reporter, as his attention turns to downtown hot spots. 






Oakland: Report Says Police were Poorly Prepared for Occupy Protest

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday June 15, 2012 - 09:02:00 AM

An independent report released today said the Oakland Police Department was poorly prepared and used outdated crowd control tactics in responding to an Occupy Oakland protest last Oct. 25. 

City leaders asked for the report from the Frazier Group last December after receiving widespread criticism for the way in which police cleared an encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza the morning of Oct. 25 and then responded to protesters who returned to the plaza that night to retake it. 

The group is headed by former San Jose Deputy Police Chief Thomas Frazier, who also served as Baltimore Police Commissioner and as executive director of the Major Police Chiefs Association. 

The 82-page report compared the actions of the Oakland Police Department on Oct. 25 to airplane crashes that "are caused by a series of cascading events, not a singular problem." 

It said, "Years of diminishing resources, increasing workload and failure to keep pace with national current standards and preferred practices led to cascading elements resulting in flawed responses during the events of October 25." 

The report said the department's executive leadership team "has been unstable for years" because the city has had four different police chiefs in the past nine years. It also said the department has been "seriously weakened" by a 23 percent drop in officers due to "substantial and cumulative budget cuts." 

The report said city leaders had "legitimate concerns" about the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of city hall because trash and debris were excessive, there was human and animal waste and "attitudes graduated toward aggression and violence." 

But it said the police raid on the encampment of about 150 tents that was carried out at about 5 a.m. on Oct. 25 "should have been postponed until adequate planning, key command personnel, intelligence updates and sufficient resources could be obtained." 

There also was "a failure" of the morning and evening incident commanders to confer and coordinate a balanced police staffing and leadership plan throughout the day, the report concluded. 

In addition, the crowd control tactics used by Oakland police as well as mutual aid officers from outside law enforcement agencies "were not well-planned, were not well-coordinated, were confrontational and were poorly executed," the report said. 

The crowd control tactics were "outdated, dangerous and ineffective," according to the report. 

The report made 68 recommendations. Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan told reporters at a news conference at police headquarters that his department has completed 21 percent of the recommendations and work on another 53 percent of them is underway but 26 percent are still pending. 

Jordan said, "Oct. 25 was a very difficult day for the Police Department and the community and it was clear to me that our response to the events that followed was flawed." 

He said his department didn't wait for the report to be completed to institute important policy changes and he thinks those changes led to a better police response to a major protest on May 1. 

"I'm fully committed to making all necessary changes and I ask that people not only judge us by our mistakes but by how we correct them," Jordan said. 

Mayor Jean Quan said, "This is not an easy report to release, but we are committed to confronting the truth and implementing meaningful reforms." 

She said, "We knew we could do better and we had to do better." 

Jordan said that among the changes that already have been made are revising his department's crowd management policy to be consistent with new state guidelines, training every officer in crowd management and enhanced planning and staffing for future protests. 

Stephanie Demos of Occupy Oakland said, "There's nothing new in this report" and she thinks it's "not unbiased" because it was written by former police officials. 

"It's ridiculous to have police doing an investigation of the police," she said. 

Demos also said she doesn't think the Police Department has made any noticeable improvements in its tactics since Oct. 25, alleging that police used similar aggressive actions in dealing with demonstrators during the May 1 protest. 

She said, "They're still using tear gas and hitting unarmed people with sticks."

Press Release: Berkeley Residents Urge Police Reforms

From George Lippman
Monday June 18, 2012 - 11:07:00 PM

The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley will ask the City Council on this Tuesday, June 19, to bring police practices in line with constitutional standards. The Council will hold an historic workshop on protecting civil rights and civil liberties in local law enforcement. Following the workshop, the Council will vote on changes proposed by community groups. 

Five organizations will address the Council on police department inter-agency agreements and internal policies:  

Coalition for a Safe Berkeley American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Berkeley Police Review Commission (PRC) Berkeley Police Department (BPD) Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) 

According to George Lippman, member of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, “This dialogue between Council and community is historic. The community calls for police resources to focus on crime-fighting, not gathering and sharing intelligence on civil disobedience and political and religious dissent. Berkeley residents will also speak against BPD collaboration with the ICE mass-deportation program, ‘Secure Communities.’ Council members must then take a moral stand on whether to uphold Berkeley’s values of civil rights and civil liberties in policing.” 

The Coalition’s mutual aid proposal would prevent recurrence of last fall’s multi-agency crackdown on Occupy encampments around Northern California. The Coalition also urges first-in-the-nation regulation of local police sharing non-criminal “suspicious activity reports” with national law enforcement networks. ABC TV News and the Bay Guardian have each covered these proposals favorably. 

“Berkeley Police attempted to get an armored tank, without letting the elected City government know. The BPD proposal stated it needs this tank for public events like the Solano Stroll. I keep picturing a tank at the Solano Stroll, and wonder: Who does BPD imagine is on the other side of the gun sights?” says Sharon Adams, a member of the National Lawyers Guild-SF Bay Area Executive Board. 


Date: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 

Time: 5 p.m. 

Place: City Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, Old City Hall 

2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way 

Berkeley, CA 94703

Press Release: Rally for A Nuclear-Free Berkeley at Old City Hall, Tuesday at 6

From Bob Meola, Commissioner, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission
Monday June 18, 2012 - 11:06:00 PM

Rally for a Nuclear-Free California will take place on Tuesday, June 18th, 2012, at 6:00 PM on the steps of Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, in Berkeley, prior to the Special 7:00 PM Berkeley City Council Meeting. The rally, sponsored by the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, will include Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, Dan Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, Jacqueline Cabasso of Western States Legal Foundation, and Bob Meola of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. 

The rally is in support of the anti-nuclear resolution in front of the Berkeley City Council meeting immediately following it. The resolution to “Decommission California Nuclear Power Plants and Transition to Green Non-Nuclear Power Generation Sources” was passed by the Peace and Justice Commission prior to the shutting down of San Onofre, due to safety concerns stemming from the malfunctioning of the plant’s steam generator tubing in January. It calls on Governor Jerry Brown to exercise his powers to direct the California Public Utilities Commission to call for replacing aging reactors with clean and renewable energy generation by the end of the current licenses of California’s nuclear power plants at Diablo Canyon and at San Onofre , thereby sending a clear signal to Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison that the State of California intends to use its jurisdiction to protect its economy and the reliability of its energy sources. The direction of the resolution toward state agencies is premised on the economic and reliability issues posed by these plants as the safety issues are in the jurisdiction of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  

The resolution also urges President Obama and the NRC to reverse their support of nuclear power, stop loan guarantees to the nuclear energy industry, shut down nuclear facilities operating in seismically active areas of the United States, establish a moratorium on building new nuclear reactors, and invest in clean, renewable energy. It insists that the NRC withhold license renewal for Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nuclear Power plants until seismic issues and offsite permanent storage are resolved.  

The resolution comes at a time when San Onofre is still shut down due to its malfunctioning and a U.S. Appeals Court in New York has said that the NRC cannot license or re-license any nuclear power plant until it examines the dangers and consequences of long term on-site storage of nuclear waste. According to Peace and Justice Commissioner, Bob Meola, 

“Europe is de-commissioning 150 nuclear power plants. Former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan recently said that he wants Japan to discard Nuclear Power and that the Fukushima incident had pushed Japan to the brink of ‘national collapse.’ We have seen over the last few decades that many plants have had design flaws, and construction flaws and errors. Seismic studies have purposely not been done when the utility companies knew there was reason to do them. There have never been responsible and realistic evacuation plans because they are impossible to implement. The nuclear industry is built on fraud, lies, deception, ineptness, greed, and a lack of concern for human and other life on this planet. It is time to permanently scrap nuclear power. In light of all this, the Berkeley City Council should urge Governor Brown to not let San Onofre ever start up again and to shut Diablo Canyon as soon as possible. It is too risky to let it run until its license expires.” 


Press Release: Ecology Center Farmers' Market Brings Fresh, Local Foods to New South Berkeley Location

From Ben Feldman, Ecology Center
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 03:34:00 PM

This summer, the Ecology Center's Farmers' Markets will increase access to fresh, healthy foods by moving its South Berkeley market to the historic Lorin District. The farmers' market will debut at the new location - in the parking bay at Adeline and 63rd Street - on Tuesday, July 10th, from 2:00pm to 7:00pm. 

The Ecology Center has managed the Berkeley Farmers' Markets for 25 years. "Moving the South Berkeley Farmers' Market to an area that is highly visible, yet lacks major grocery stores, is an extension and evolution of our work," says Farmers' Market Program Director Ben Feldman. "We're cultivating the intersection between innovative, regional small farms and shoppers who want and need access to fresh, healthy, sustainably produced foods." 

On June 4th, the Adeline Merchants' Association voted unanimously in support of the farmers' market arrival. Jennifer Millar, owner of Sweet Adeline Bakeshop, says, "Adeline Street is getting the Tuesday Farmers' Market! We will be able to step out of the Bakeshop doors and choose the best fruit and vegetables that the Bay Area has to offer. It is so exciting that this section of South Berkeley will have fresh, healthy produce every Tuesday afternoon! We welcome this great new addition to our neighborhood." 

HuNia Bradley, Manager of the Ecology Center's Farm Fresh Choice program, says, "We want to provide the same easy access to fresh, organic produce that other areas of Berkeley enjoy. We are delighted to become members of this historic yet sometimes overlooked business district." 

The South Berkeley Farmers' Market on Adeline and 63rd Street will feature the same farmers and vendors that make the current Tuesday farmers' market on Derby Street a popular destination.

Tom Bates and the Secret Government of Berkeley- Excerpt 1

By John Curl
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 05:39:00 PM

Copyright © 2012 by John Curl. All rights reserved.

This is the first in a series of excerpts from John Curl’s long article about Mayor Bates and his effects on the city. The bulk of the article follows Bates and the progressive movement in city government from the beginning of his career up to the present, based on extensive quotes from Bates’ own oral history and interviews with other players in the political events. This excerpt consists of the beginning and the end of the article.

You can also download a Full PDF. of the entire article.

If you meet with mayor Tom Bates in his office at Berkeley city hall, you’ll see an old photo on the wall behind him of Emiliano Zapata, hero of the Mexican revolution, champion of the downtrodden. I have been in his office only two times in Bates’ decade in power, and on both occasions I was stopped short by the jaw-dropping contrast. What can Bates be thinking? Can he really be comparing himself with Zapata, can he really think of himself as a visionary champion of social justice? If Zapata were alive and saw this career politician using his image, I wonder what would he do.

If all you knew about Mr. Bates was his official resume, you might be bewildered by my saying that. Before his decade as mayor, he was a liberal standard bearer for twenty years in the California State Assembly for his East Bay district, and during that time was considered one of the legislature's most progressive members. Yet despite being in the public eye for over forty years and currently running for yet another mayoral term, Tom Bates is a public figure hiding in plain sight, with a long shadowy history not widely known. 

A lot of things are said about Bates. “Tom is not a listener.” “He’s in bed with the right kinds of developers.” “Never saw a developer he didn’t like.” “Motivated by ego.” “Got an Edifice complex.” “He wants to leave a giant downtown and a West Berkeley wall as his legacy.” “The Bates machine.” “A shill for the University.” “Godfather of the Democratic Party.” “Loves to be the power broker.” “Back-room dealer.” “Dangles Democratic Party endorsements to control locally.” 

As Councilmember Jesse Arreguin put it, “We are being run by a political machine based on personal and political loyalty, not by certain core values. Decisions are being made behind closed doors, and there isn’t real public engagement. Corporations and special interests have great influence over decisions that the city makes… There is a growing disconnect between the public and city government. Our meetings are sometimes really just to rubber stamp things. They have the perception that the public are an obstacle, and public input just pro-forma.” 

Has the People’s Republic of Berkeley really became a developers’ playground? If so, how did it happen, and why? 

I set out to do some investigative reporting, to try to dig out the truth about Bates. In the process I did a series of oral history interviews with people who had been players in many of the incidents I will be describing. Some of these people agreed to speak under an agreement of confidentiality, so I will be providing information from some of these interviews, but unfortunately I cannot reveal all of the sources. 

I hope what I have written here will not be taken as unduly critical of Loni Hancock, currently state senator, former mayor of Berkeley, and Tom’s wife. But it’s hard to say anything critical of Tom without people thinking you’re also criticizing Loni. In fact, I had to consider long and hard before I decided to write this, from worry of hurting her, a person I worked with politically and for whom I have high regard. But in the process of writing this, I will have to look back at the years that she was mayor of Berkeley, compare her administration with Tom’s, and touch on his influence over her. 

In the process of this exploration, I discovered that in 2000 and 2001 Mr. Bates did an extensive oral history of his career for the California State Archives. Although in it he attempts to relate his accomplishments in a favorable light, as one might expect, interspersed in the 577 pages of transcript are numerous revealing statements and accounts. When he recorded the interviews, after he left the state assembly and before he became Berkeley’s mayor, he apparently thought his political career was over. Perhaps that is why he let down his guard and revealed much about himself that he previously kept under careful wraps. Unless otherwise stated, all the quotes from Bates in this article are from those transcripts. Much of what I will be revealing here is generally unknown about Bates. Here it is, in his own words, from an official state document that has been tucked away unnoticed in a musty archive in Sacramento for over a decade. 

I wish to make clear at the outset that this evidence does not expose the level of corruption that, for example, could send him to prison for breach of public trust. However, I believe it will expose enough about his character so that others may think twice before boasting of his endorsement. Berkeley deserves a lot better. 

Bates once said, “Usually, people who are appointed to the Regents were people who were heavy contributors to political campaigns. The grand payoff is to be appointed to the Regents.” As far as I can tell, Bates does not appear to be a wealthy man today, to have greatly enriched himself through his political career. He receives a generous pension from his years in the assembly, but that’s really not a big payoff by American standards. After many politicos leave office, they become lobbyists. That is one of the usual deferred payoffs for services rendered. However, Mr. Bates did not go into lobbying, as far as I can tell. He did dabble in real estate development somewhat while he was out of office, but that apparently did not result in any extraordinary payoffs, at least not at that time. Then why has Bates done all that he’s done? Is it all just ego and power? Or has he simply been a dedicated public servant pursuing the people’s interest and his vision? The buzz coming down the grapevine today is that Bates wants to be on the UC Board of Regents, and his wife, State Senator Loni Hancock, is currently lobbying Jerry Brown to appoint him. A UC Regent gets appointed for a twelve-year term to a post of enormous power, secret dealings with all the power players, and no outside control. Could that be Bates’ plan for dancing off into the sunset, the grand payoff for his years of service to the powers-that-be? 

* * * 

Bates has worked to move land use decisions into regional planning, removing power as much as possible away from local governance and any direct public oversight... 

He has a lot in common with New York City’s Robert Moses, who in the mid 20th century situated himself in a powerful fortress of quasi-public “authorities,” from which he dictated city planning projects almost unchecked by any democratic processes. To fulfill his vision of a wonderful world dominated by cars, Moses leveled numerous neighborhoods to build freeways, and for many years the abused people seemed to have no recourse. Until he overstepped. The people rose up and brought him down. 

* * * 


Yes, a sort of political machine does exist in Berkeley, coming out of the deterioration of progressive politics of the past 30 to 40 years. Once it was a movement based on certain goals, ideas, and core values. Now it is a machine based primarily on loyalty to Tom Bates. If you’re not going to do what he wants, then you’re an enemy. In terms of progressive issues, Bates has always taken the easy way out, promoted a lite version of social justice that was primarily in the window for show. Underneath it all, he was always a career politician ego-identified with the university, whose greatest skill set was always the backroom deal. A gray eminence, the guy that nobody really took very seriously, Bates positioned himself little by little to become the local power broker, undermining progressive politics in Berkeley in the process. One particularly sad aspect to it is that many do not speak truth to him because of Loni. 

In doing investigative research for this article, I asked many people who know him, What makes Bates tick? What’s his motivation? What gets him up in the morning? The portrait that emerges is a man driven by ego. His agenda seems to be to transform Berkeley so that he will leave his physical mark on it, an edifice to himself. Several people I spoke with thought it pathetic how he pushed to get the Gilman sports field renamed after himself. But that’s just an obscure footnote to his agenda, which appears to be on a very much grander scale. He apparently wants a new shining Berkeley to emerge, ever more dominated by the university, a town-gown grand alliance with himself at its center, symbolized by massive University-oriented high-rises dominating downtown and the West Berkeley skyline. From anywhere you look at the town, from the hills or from across the bay, you’ll see the mark of Bates. 

In my mind I see that old photo of Emiliano Zapata on the wall behind Bates in his office, and in Zapata’s deep sorrowful eyes I see the pain of the suffering of the world and his unquenchable thirst for social justice. Then I look at Bates, then back at the picture. In place of Zapata I now see the withered face of Robert Moses, the New York Power Broker, in a 1940s Fedora hat, the corners of his mouth twisted down as if he has something very sour in his mouth, and in his glazed eyes I see nothing. Berkeley can do better. 


John Curl is the author of For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, with a foreword by Ishmael Reed. 


Full PDF.

Lester Allan Radke (1936-2012)

Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:31:00 PM
Lester Allan Radke (1936-2012)
Lester Allan Radke (1936-2012)

Les Radke died suddenly on the evening of Saturday, April 21st. Les’s interests and involvements spanned the world. He had a strong belief in the power of friendship and solidarity exemplified by his unusual ability to bring people together. Les was a small town kid from Sheboygan, Wisconsin who stepped out to engage the world in all its complexity and diversity. He was passionate about justice and equality. His lifelong commitment to a socially just world, and his generosity are well known to anyone who ever came in contact with him. 

Les was a teacher at Richmond High for 25 years. He retired in the late 90s. He had a long relationship with Russia, as a frequent visitor, tour guide and teacher. That is where he met his wife Yulia. 

As a member of Californians for Electoral Reform, Les fought to institute a system of proportional representational to replace the winner-take-all election method we currently utilize in the U.S. In 2001 he helped write the revised bylaws for The Pacifica Foundation, with particular emphasis on the section concerning Local Station Board elections. He was a Local Election Supervisor at KPFA in 2003, and National Election Supervisor for Pacifica in 2006 and 2009. 

Les is survived by his wife Yulia Solovieva, who teaches at a middle school in Richmond, two step-sons, Greg Strom of El Cerrito, and John Sims of San Diego, two grandchildren, Simone Lynn and Soraya Jazmin Sims, two step-sisters, Jan Riordan of Kansas and Joan Gerhart of South Carolina, and his step-brother Steve Brick of Wisconsin, as well as many friends around the country and around the world. 

Family and friends have planned a memorial on June 23rd, from 3-6 pm, at the Berkeley Adult School, 1701 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, C. 

Another memorial will be held for his greater Wisconsin family on July 29th and a third memorial will be held in Moscow, for his Russian friends and family. 

Donations can be sent to: 

1) Coalition for a democratic Pacifica (CDP) – A KPFA listener activist group that Les helped to create 13 years ago. Box 9094, Berkeley, CA 94709 

2) The EdFund - A fund that provides grants for educators. The Ed Fund West 217C W. Richmond Ave., Richmond, CA 94801 www.edfundwest.org 

n lieu of cut flowers, please bring potted fruit trees, birch trees, lavender or other perennial plants. Les’ wife, Yulia plans to create a memorial garden in Les’ memory on a vacant lot near their home in El Sobrante. 

Please visit the website for Les Radke, to share your memories of Les, and to read what others have said about him. Website address is: www.lesradke.com 

For more information about the June memorial please contact Chandra Hauptman: chcats@lmi.net 



Lois Swirsky Gold, expert on toxins and carcinogens, dies at 70

By Robert Sanders, UC Media Relations
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 03:58:00 PM
Lois Swirsky Gold, who directed the Carcinogenic Potency Project at UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, died in May at the age of 70.
Lois Swirsky Gold, who directed the Carcinogenic Potency Project at UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab, died in May at the age of 70.

Lois Swirsky Gold, a political scientist who became a self-taught expert on the toxic and carcinogenic effects of chemicals, died May 16 at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Calif., after a brief battle with cancer. Gold, a resident of Oakland, was 70. 

Gold teamed up with UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames in 1978 to create a publicly accessible database of all the studies conducted around the world on how animals, primarily rats and mice, respond to chemicals. Such animal tests are required before most chemicals can be used in drugs, cosmetics or products to which humans are exposed. 

“It wasn’t long before she was running the project and has until now,” Ames wrote in remarks for Gold’s funeral. “The database is used by every regulatory agency in the world and is consulted by the toxicology community all of the time. Lois became known as the world’s expert on the potency of rodent carcinogens.” 

Gold directed the Carcinogenic Potency Project for more than 30 years from its base at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She published more than 100 papers with Ames and others and two books addressing analyses of animal cancer tests, the methodology of cancer risk assessment and implications for cancer prevention and regulatory policy. Her 2002 book, “Misconceptions About the Causes of Cancer,” written with Ames, provided a broad perspective on possible cancer hazards from human exposures to chemicals that cause cancer in rodent tests. 

Debate over pesticide residues on food

One of her and Ames’ main arguments was that animal cancer tests have been misinterpreted by the public and many scientists, who have vilified manmade chemicals and downplayed the toxicity of many naturally occurring chemicals. Ames often defended the small quantities of pesticide residue allowed on crops, because tests have shown that they are less carcinogenic in small doses than some of the chemicals in the food. 

“By targeting pesticide residues as a major problem, we risk making fruits and vegetables more expensive and indirectly increasing cancer risks, especially among the poor,” Gold said in 1997. 

“In trying to put risk in perspective, we got involved in a large number of controversies with chemical companies, regulators, environmentalists and scientists who draw wrong conclusions by giving huge levels of chemicals daily to rodents,” Ames noted. “I think we won the scientific battles, but judging by the popularity of organic food and fear of trivial amounts of pesticides and synthetic chemicals, we lost the PR wars.” 

“I like to remember Lois as that bundle of energy ready to tackle some new controversy and determined to get the scholarship right,” he added. “Science and the public have lost an extraordinary scientist who instilled sanity in the controversy about trace chemical exposures.” 

Gold was particularly vocal about the dangers of some chemicals found in dietary supplements, and testified on the subject before the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. 

When Ames retired from UC Berkeley and moved to the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Center (CHORI), Gold moved with him, and retired from CHORI in 2008. 

“She really continued to work for free since then,” said her daughter, Jenny Gold. “She believed wholeheartedly in her scientific endeavors, and wanted to continue her database for as long as possible.” 

From political science to toxicology

Lois Swirsky was born on Nov. 21, 1941, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in Maplewood, N.J. She earned her undergraduate degree from Goucher College in Maryland and a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University, where she met her husband, Dr. Stuart M. Gold, who at the time was a resident in psychiatry. 

She and Stuart married in 1968 and moved to Berkeley, where he worked in UC Berkeley’s Student Health Center. Gold lectured for five years in the Department of Political Science and the Graduate School of Public Policy, then worked as a senior fellow with retired UC President Clark Kerr on the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Higher Education. 

In 1977, sparked by an article she saw in the paper about Ames’s work on the flame retardant TRIS, she walked into Ames’s office to discuss his research. 

“After about an hour of grilling from Lois about every aspect of flame retardants, flammability regulations, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, skin absorption and dose calculations, I was exhausted,” Ames wrote. “I did have enough energy left, however, to hire her on the spot.” 

For her work on the Carcinogenic Potency Project, Gold received awards from the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and from the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy. 

Gold also served on numerous national and local toxicology panels and boards. 

She is survived by daughters Alissa Gold of Albuquerque, N.M., and Jenny Gold of Washington, D.C. 

Related information:



Berkeley's Anti-Sitting Initiative
is Nothing But a Ruse

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 15, 2012 - 08:19:00 AM

In almost every culture gangs of street thieves work this scam:

One gang member approaches the victim and picks a fight with him over some trivial matter. While the victim is busy dealing with this assailant, another gang member sneaks up from behind and lifts his wallet from his back pocket. Happens all the time, all over the world.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting it suddenly occurred to me that this is what’s going on in Berkeley right now.

There’s an election in November. A number of citizens are incensed about a variety of topics—the list is long and getting longer:

  • the push to rezone West Berkeley for the benefit of big landowners;
  • a chronic shortage of affordable housing
  • the University of California’s increasing colonization of the city’s downtown;
  • diversion of public funds from infrastructure maintenance (pools, streets, sidewalks, sewers) toward extravagant pensions for executives in the city bureaucracy;
  • lack of sunshine in city government;
  • use of bond funds for purposes not revealed in the ballot measures which authorized them;
  • a “downtown plan” which breaches CEQA and makes it easier to destroy historic buildings;
  • and that’s just for starters….

Could there be a better time for Tom Bates and his cronies to pick a fight with civil libertarians and homeless service providers and their clients over sitting on the sidewalk? Those in charge have been picking the public pocket in a variety of ways, but if they raise enough of a ruckus over the annoying behavior of hapless homeless and wayward youth perhaps we citizens won’t notice. 

The “Civil Sidewalks” ploy is a perfect distraction from the cracked and filthy sidewalks all over town which are a visible reminder of misuse of money which was supposed to be allocated to public works. 

Berkeley has a plethora of laws which could be used to control undesired behavior which happens on sidewalks, but they’re irregularly enforced. It’s already illegal to lie down on sidewalks; to block sidewalks in any manner, including sitting; to aggressively demand money or anything else in public places including sidewalks; to smoke on the sidewalk in most outside areas, etc. etc.  

Selective enforcement is the rule of the day—if you make the police mad, they have ways of getting you, but mostly they don’t bother. Adding the act of sitting per se to the list of banned behaviors won’t make a dime’s worth of difference, but the fight over doing it creates a smokescreen which hides the city’s real problems.  

It’s been generally conceded that with the right opponents Mayor Bates and Councilmembers Capitelli and Moore, all incumbents up for re-election, could be defeated in November, because public dissatisfaction with the state of the city has been great. But if the issue focus is shifted to whether or not the voter enjoys being accosted by unseemly street-sitters, these three might have a better chance of winning their races.  

With this in mind, it might be wise for those of us who favor humane treatment of the down-and-out (not to mention supporting our own right to sit down when we need to) to simply ignore the Anti-Sit initiative. It’s clear that the Bates gang has the votes to put the measure on the November ballot, so there’s not much use expending further time and energy to stop them. 

The campaign for Measure R, the essentially meaningless initiative designed to greenwash downtown development, showed that Bates is adept at corralling corporate capital for his own purposes. In that fight he managed to arrange for a big nasty corporation controlled by capitalist thug Sam Zell to pay for a handsome and effective mailer purportedly sponsored by the Sierra Club, no trivial accomplishment.  

Even if opponents of Anti-Sitting put up a credible fight, they’ll probably lose in a November election to the boys with the big bucks. And the more effective the opposition looks, the easier it will be for the Bates candidates to get corporate money, both for their own races, where some restrictions apply, and for the ballot measures, where no holds are barred and there’s a halo effect from the propaganda which spills over onto the council candidates. 

The most effective strategy might just be to flat-out ignore Anti-Sitting: no more public comment at council meetings, no more demonstrations, no mailings. There is still a core constituency of intelligent progressives in Berkeley who can figure out on their own that laws like this violate civil liberties and create more problems than they solve. These people will vote against this one without being prompted. 

As far as the rest of the November electorate is concerned, in presidential elections a lot of people who might be characterized as amateurs show up at the polls. With any luck these infrequent and poorly informed voters won’t find their way down to the bottom of the ballot where the local measures hide out.  

And when voters don’t understand a ballot measure, they most often vote no.  

We can count on the Berkeley city attorney, who has done a brilliant job of hiding the meaning of the Sunshine Ordinance in his proposed ballot language for that initiative, to obfuscate this one too.  

Meanwhile, the temptation to penalize the benighted businesspersons who ostensibly are behind the push for Anti-Sit is strong.  

I’ve been going to the Caffe Mediterraneum for some 40 or more years, though much less often in recent years. It was disappointing to see its current owner plugging Anti-Sit at the council, so I probably will avoid it myself in the future.  

We thought hard about dropping reviews of the productions at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, whose manager spoke in favor of the proposal at the council meeting. Our theater critics successfully argued that we’d be penalizing the writers and actors who depend on publicity for their livelihood, so we won’t do that—but Rep patrons do have the option of telling the company what they think, and they should do so.  

Boycotting all the members of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the DBA (it’s the Downtown Berkeley Association, not the Business Association as you might think) doesn’t seem quite fair. When the Daily Planet was a commercial enterprise, we belonged to both, but seldom agreed with their political postures, which were frequent and usually retrograde. (The Chamber even had an illegal PAC for a while, until they got caught.)  

A few downtown businesses were at the council meeting to support putting it on the ballot, and, yes, I’ll probably remember which ones they were and take my own business elsewhere. On the other hand, several owner-operated downtown businesses, notably Alko Stationery, were great advertisers and supporters of the commercial Planet, so we’d never desert them. 

I’d like to find out which Berkeley businesses oppose Anti-Sit so I could patronize them. 

But what we should all remember, in the end, is that businesses aren’t really the main force in this endeavor. This ballot initiative, shoved onto the council agenda at the last minute in the guise of a phony “emergency,” is a fake fight, shamelessly fabricated just as petty thieves do on city streets everywhere, to distract us from what’s really wrong with Berkeley. We shouldn’t expend all our time and energy trying to defeat it and miss all the other questionable activities now in progress. 

Hang on to your wallets, folks, they’re coming up behind you. As they say in New York City, ya gotta watch yer’back.  







Odd Bodkins: Three per cent (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 06:30:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

On June 19 Will Berkeley City Council Renew Unconstitutional/Unlawful Police Department Agreements?

By Gene Bernardi M.A., UC Berkeley, and member of SuperBOLD
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:22:00 PM

A Berkeley City Council Worksession on Police Department agreements is scheduled for 5pm-7pm, June 19, 2012 at Old City Hall, followed by a Special Meeting at which the Police Department agreements will be considered for action by the Council.

One of the recommendations is from the Berkeley Police Review Commission which calls for the Council’s approval of the Police Department agreements with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). NCRIC is coordinated with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. 

NCRIC’s core program is the dispatching of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to its data fusion center, where active duty military personnel, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, are employed (ACLU, What’s wrong with Fusion Centers, 2007). The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) has two sworn Terrorism Liaison Officers (TLOs) in conjunction with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) who “facilitate information sharing and investigative collaboration”. (Item 3.12, Berkeley City Council Review [BCCR]/Approval Binder). The one page on NCRIC in the Council’s Review Binder makes no mention of SARs or what information the TLOs are sharing or what constitutes “investigative collaboration”. 

SARs, according to the latest Attorney General Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations, may be issued “without suspicion of criminal activity” (S.F. City and Co. Board of Supervisors [SF], File # 120046 p.4). The Coalition to Stop LAPD Spying reports there are sixteen non-criminal behaviors considered suspicious, such as; taking a photo of a building or a bridge; writing in a notebook; buying fertilizer; changing your appearance. The FBI Investigation Guidelines “authorize activities such as searching people’s trash without suspicion of wrong doing and infiltrating up to five meetings of a lawful organization before rules governing this so-called ‘undisclosed participation’ would apply”. (SF, Ibid.) 

The California Constitution, establishes privacy as an inalienable right providing “greater protection than federal law against unwarranted intelligence gathering. The California Attorney General’s Model Standards and Procedures for Maintaining Criminal Intelligence Files… [2007] warns local law enforcement that gathering intelligence without a factual criminal predicate based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity violates California’s inalienable right to privacy”. (SF, Cit Op.. p.5) 

Would you feel your privacy rights were violated if you were reported as “suspicious” because you took a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, or if you learned a TLO had “investigated” your trash? 

Berkeley Area Commanders are now meeting in neighborhoods with community members to teach them how to report Suspicious Activities. A new effort was reported in 2004 “to identify potential extremists inside the United States….[I]nformation has indicated that potential attackers might not be young Arab men, but religious extremists from other countries, possibly in Africa.” FBI agents are “starting to conduct interviews in communities where potential terrorists might seek to blend in with local populations.” (N.Y.Times 7/5/2004) emphasis added 

UASI under which Urban Shield holds urban warfare exercises with local police departments is a Homeland Security funded program. UASI is also involved in investigation activities and is said to work in conjunction with NCRIC. The half page on UASI in the BCCR (Item 3.6) makes no reference to urban warfare exercises conducted under UASI auspices. Police Magazine credited the “effectiveness” of the raid on Occupy Oakland to the urban warfare exercises that had been held, not long before, on the U.C. Berkeley campus. 

The NCRIC and UASI programs violate the Berkeley Municipal Code Sections 2.04.170 through 2.04.190 which require that BPD agreements be “reduced to writing”. The mere outlines of the programs in the BCCR are not inclusive of all aspects of the programs, e.g. Suspicious Activity Reports and Urban Warfare exercises. These and all other aspects of the programs must be comprehensively described and terms such as “suspicious” be defined. Otherwise these programs remain mere verbal agreements. 

San Francisco discovered, by virtue of an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, that its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the FBI regarding the JTTF, “places SFPD members under the control of the FBI and holds them accountable only to federal policies”. The MOU further clarifies “that SFPD members may obtain guidance on investigative activities only from the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice and expressly prohibits discussing these activities with their own SFPD supervisors without the specific approval of a FBI supervisor”. (SF, Op cit. p.3-4) 

The BPD has not supplied the Police Review Commission with an FBI MOU governing NCRIC and its coordination by the FBI’s JTTF. The unrevealed MOU with BPD may well be similar to that in San Francisco. 

As long as documents governing these programs are covert, we cannot exercise civilian oversight to determine whether there is compliance with our inalienable State Constitutional right to privacy, whether residents’ First Amendment activities are protected, and whether racial and religious profiling are not taking place. 

Please attend the June 19, 2012, 5pm to 7pm Worksession on Police Department agreements and speak there or at the Special Meeting at 7pm. Both meetings will take place at the Old City Hall, 2134 M.L. King Jr. Way, between Allston Way and Center Street.

No Sit Ordinance Would Be A Violation Of Our Freedom of Assembly

By Mahendra Ramanna Prasad
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:20:00 PM

I was born and raised in Memphis. One of the stigmatizing aspects of growing up in the American South and especially Memphis was knowing that its place in civil rights history was that MLK was killed there. On the other hand, as a kid, I was consistently given the impression that Berkeley was a bastion of freedom given its involvement in the Free Speech Movement to allow college students the right to advocate against segregation.

However, as a Berkeley graduate student these days, I find myself more and more convinced that perhaps Memphis today is a better friend of free speech and civil rights than Berkeley. Memphis still has an ongoing Occupy encampment. Berkeley does not. Memphis has a thriving Tea Party community that invited Occupiers to debate with them. I don't see that many debates like that today in Berkeley.

In any case, what really is convincing me that Memphis is freer than Berkeley these days is the possibility of a no sit no lie ordinance. While sitting public officials may contend this ordinance is not intended to block free assemblies such as sit-ins and sleep-ins, who knows what future government officials will do. This is a clear violation of our first amendment right to freely assemble. 

Some may say, "we need this ordinance to protect the public from the homeless, because several homeless people are either (1) violence threatening or (2) public health hazards due to a lack of hygiene." But this argument for the ordinance is unwarranted. First off, there are plenty of non-homeless people that fit those descriptions, especially Berkeley graduate students when it comes to hygiene. Second, there already exist laws on the books that allow law enforcement to act if someone is publicly threatening people or relieving themselves in public spaces.  

Others might say that this ordinance is designed to protect Berkeley shop owners that believe they are losing business due the unkempt appearance of the homeless in front of their businesses. I have nothing against shop owners. They are just people, most of them good, trying to make a living. But while we remember that business owners and customers are people, we also must remember that the homeless are people too. The first amendment was designed to protect people, not just business owners and their customers. 

The logic of such a pro-ordinance Berkeley business owner's argument might be: "I have nothing against homeless people. I try to help them out the best I can. But when they are at my shop, customers don't come and I lose business." Perhaps. But how is that any different from a mid-20th century pro-segregation business owner in Memphis who might have argued: "I have nothing against Black people. I try to help them out the best I can. But when they are at my shop, customers don't come and I lose business"?

New: Sandusky is Not Mentally Ill

By Jack Bragen
Saturday June 16, 2012 - 03:25:00 PM

It has become fashionable in recent times for criminals to claim that they have a disorder that made them do the crime for which they are charged. Doing this is a temptation for a person who has committed a crime and who hopes to avoid their due punishment. 

Jerry Sandusky is a retired university football coach accused of child molestation by at least eight victims. He is attempting to use the "disorder defense" to escape blame for his alleged crimes. 

I have seen no evidence that Mr. Sandusky has a mental illness such as bipolar, schizophrenia, or even some type of mood disorder. Most persons with a mental illness would not be able to function in a career of the caliber of Sandusky's. He has no history of being hospitalized for a mental breakdown of any kind. There is no evidence that there is a problem in his perception of reality. 

Mental illness, such as the type I have dealt with, is not synonymous with pedophile. You could claim that anyone who commits a crime is doing it because they are a sick person. However, this is not the same thing as someone who has a neurobiological brain disorder such as the schizophrenia that I am stuck with. 

From a biological or anthropological perspective, you can challenge whether or not human beings are responsible for their behavior at all. However, if you accept the notion that people are usually responsible for what they do, Sandusky appears responsible. 

We have people like Mel Gibson and others going to rehab in order to avoid culpability for racist remarks and continue working in Hollywood. And now Mr. Sandusky hopes to conveniently get out of blame for his actions because "it wasn't really him, it was his illness." Criminality is a distinct category from having a neurobiological-based psychiatric disorder. Sandusky, if guilty, should be punished.

Benefit of Sit-Lie? Lack of Leadership?

By Redwood Mary
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:27:00 PM

It is apparent that The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and other Private interests have some huge funding to
spend on a very costly ballot initiative that will not solve the core problems of: 

  • a) Homelessness
  • b) mental health care for individuals on the streets
It is well understood and documented —as has been done in San Francisco—that the Sit /Lie ordinances costs the City more in dollars without achieving positive outcomes and the repetitiveness of violations have not stopped. The problem moves on within city boundaries to other areas.

I am highly disappointed in the Mayor and City Council of Berkeley for not properly tackling the roots of this issue as described. 

Leadership calls for engaging all of Berkeley in creating a public-private sector solution that can work in a small city such as ours.

The money spent on this ballot initiative, subsequent enactment, enforcement and other related costs are wasted taxpayer funds that could instead be matched with private grants and corporate sponsorship (i.e., Bayer , or Real Estate associations, Developer & investment LLC's, and community and faith based groups, etc.) to contribute toward a (for example) re-habbing and opening part of the now shuttered Andronico's on Telegraph Ave. as a multi-service Homeless Shelter ( for youth?) . 

This could happen with the exact same effort, $'s and pushing that is being put into an ordinance and all this could instead be channeled into mobilizing the community obtaining private grants and utilizing government stimulus funds for a real positive public benefit outcome. 

Note these stimulus funds were available years ago— and The City of Berkeley could have chosen to turn abandoned buildings into service centers, day shelters and rehabbing existing abandoned homes (Habitat for Humanity, etc.). 

Instead the Mayor and City Council have chosen to focus on issues that divide – such as whether or not the number of City Commissions or Commissioners should be cut back or eliminated and on other distracting and polarizing issues that do not take care of problems facing us as a community. 

If the Berkeley City Council approves this ballot initiative, they are in fact washing their hands of the problem and caving into special well-funded interests that are further criminalizing poverty and the mental health conditions of a few people on the streets. This is discriminatory.

This Sit Not Lie Ordinance is not at all in the interest of the public, is not a public benefit and is not wise use of tax dollars or of policing nor does it take care of the problem. It is not a humane approach.

Here is a solution that is working in Sydney Australia. Berkeley is smaller than Sydney so no reason this cannot happen here. Otherwise your suburb or neighborhood may be next in having to contend with this issue . 

Turning around lives of the homeless 


By Duncan Kennedy BBC News, Sydney June 11, 2012 

A project helping homeless in a Sydney suburb is claiming impressive results, by challenging the notion that people living on the streets need to find the help themselves.  

Beginning in 2007, The Michael Project was a three-year Mission Australia initiative that aimed to help homeless men in Sydney to improve their lives. This integrated model, generously funded by a private donor, linked housing with care and support to help the men work on their overall wellbeing. 

Putting a roof over someone’s head is not enough to break the cycle of homelessness, so The Michael Project provided intensive “wrap-around” support services tailored to the individual’s needs – be they dental, psychological, medical, social or vocational. 

Importantly, this support was provided immediately, as and when it was needed. 

The Michael Project included a longitudinal research component carried out by collaborative team, led by Dr Paul Flatau. Over the years, the team built an evidence base that we hope will change the way homelessness services are delivered. 

The results, published in The Michael Project, 2007-2010: New perspectives and possibilities for homeless men, show that with appropriate and timely support, some of the most marginalised people in our community can dramatically improve their lives. 

For an overview, watch our infographic download the infographic or download the results


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Greed & the Pain in Spain

By Conn Hallinan
Friday June 15, 2012 - 08:54:00 AM

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz characterizes the Spanish bank bailout as “voodoo economics” that is certain “to “fail.” New York Times economic analyst Andrew Ross Sorkin agrees: “By now it should be apparent that the bailout has failed—or at least on its way to failing.” And columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman bemoans that Europe (and the U.S.) “are repeating ancient mistakes” and asks, “why does no one learn from them?” 

Indeed, at first glance, the European Union’s response to the economic chaos gripping the continent does seem a combination of profound delusion, and what British a reporter called “sado-monetarism”—endless cutbacks, savage austerity, and widespread layoffs. 

But whether something “works” or not depends on what you do for a living. 

If you work at a regular job, you are in deep trouble. Spanish unemployment is at 25 percent—much higher in the country’s southern regions—and 50 percent among young people. In one way or other, those figures—albeit not quite as high—are replicated across the Euro Zone, particularly in those countries that have sipped from Circe’s bailout cup: Ireland, Portugal, and Greece. 

But if you are Josef Ackermann heading up the Deutsche Bank, you earned an 8 million Euro bonus in 2012, because you successfully manipulated the past four years of economic meltdown to make the bank bigger and more powerful than it was before the 2008 crash. In 2009, when people were losing their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, Deutsche Bank’s profits soared 67 percent, eventually raking in almost 8 billion Euros for 2011. The bank took a hit in 2012, but the Spanish bailout will help recoup Deutsche Bank’s losses from its gambling spree in Spanish real estate. 

And, just in case you thought irony was dead, it was the Spanish housing bubble that tanked that country’s economy—at the time Madrid’s debt was among the lowest in the Euro Zone—and German banks (as well as Dutch, French, British and Austrian) financed that bubble. German Banks also financed the real estate bubble that crashed Ireland’s economy. Some 60 percent of Deutsche Bank’s income is foreign based. 

Consider this figure: in 1997 real estate loans in Ireland were 5 billion Euros. By 2007 they were 96.2 billion Euros, a jump of 1730 percent. Real estate prices rose 500 percent, the same amount that Spanish housing prices increased. The banks didn’t know they were pumping up a bubble? Of course they knew, but they were making money hand over fist. 

When the American financial industry self-destructed in 2008, the Irish and Spanish bubbles popped, and who got the bill? Irish taxpayers shelled out $30 billion to bail out the Anglo-Irish Bank—essentially the country’s total tax revenues for 2009—and in return got a 15 percent unemployment rate, huge cuts in the minimum wage, pension reductions, and social service cutbacks. Spain is headed in the same direction. 

As Spanish economist and London School of Economics professor Luis Garicano told the New York Times, “Unfortunately, Spain did not manage to reach one of its main goals in the negotiations [over the bailout], which was to have Europe bear part of the risk of rescuing the financial sector, without letting it fall instead directly onto the shoulders of the Spanish taxpayers.” 

Garicano went on to complain, “Those who lent to our financial system were the banks and the insurance companies of Northern Europe, which should bear the consequences of these decisions.” 

But of course they will not. Instead, the banks got to go to the casino, gamble other people’s money, and get repaid for their losses. That’s sweet work if you can get it. 

However, the “sado-monetarism” strategy is about more than just bailing out the banks at the expense of the vast majority of European taxpayers. It cloaks its long-term designs in coded language: “rigid labor market,” “internal devaluation,” “pension reform,” “common budgetary process,” “political union.” 

A quick translation. 

“Rigid labor market” means getting rid of contracts that guarantee decent wages, working conditions and benefits, all won through a long process of negotiations and industrial action. As the New York Times put it, the current rightwing Spanish government is attempting to “loosen collective bargaining agreements.” 

The drive to scrap union contracts is coupled with “internal devaluation,” which, as Krugman points out, “basically means cutting wages.” If the working class can be forced to accept lower wages and slimmer benefits—and there is no better disciplinarian in these regards than a high unemployment rate—profits will go up. Sure, the vast majority will be poorer, but not the people who run Deutsche Bank. 

“Pension reform” simply means impoverishing old people, who had nothing to do with the real estate bubbles that brought down Ireland and Spain. But again, someone has to sacrifice, and old people don’t have all that much time left anyhow. 

Oh, for ice floes to put them on. 

“Common budgetary process” and “political union” means giving up national sovereignty in the service of keeping the banks solvent—in essence, the end of democracy on the continent. People could then elect any one they pleased, but no national government would have any say over economic policy. Want to do a bit of pump priming to get the jobless rate down and tax revenues up? Nope. But feel free to paint park benches any color you like. 

The 100 billion Euro ($125 billion) Spanish bailout will fail for the average Spaniard, as bailouts have already failed the Irish, Portuguese and Greeks, and it will lock Spain into generations of debt. Italy is next (not counting the small fry like Cyprus and several Eastern European countries that may fall before Rome is finally sacked). The Euro Zone’s economies are predicted to contract 0.1 percent for all of 2012, and the jobless rate for the 17-country bloc is 11 percent, higher than at anytime since the Euro was established in 1999. 

Spain’s right-wing prime minister, Mariana Rajoy, has tried to argue that the bailout was not as onerous as those imposed on Ireland, Portugal and Greece, but the Germans soon set him straight: “There will be a troika [the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund] and it will make sure the program is being implemented,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaube told the Financial Times. 

It is not unlikely that the Euro will fall sometime in the next year, but of course the debts will remain. The dead hand of the past will lie on the brow of the living for a long, long time to come. 

Financier George Soros puts much of the blame for the current crisis on Germany—indeed, he accuses Chancellor Andrea Merkel of trying to establish a “German Empire”—but that is simplistic. Germany has certainly led the “sado-monetarian” charge, but this strategy is not just about unleashing the austerity Panzers to establish a Fourth Reich. All over the world, capital is on the march, with the goal of rolling back the social programs of the post-World War II period and returning to the Gilded Age when the rich did pretty much as they pleased. 

Weakening unions is central to this, as is privatizing everything capital can get its hands on, and the economic crisis is the perfect cover to try an accomplish this. For a fascinating analogy, pick up Indian journalist P. Sainath’s brilliant “Everyone Loves A Good Drought” that exposed how wealthy landlords in India manipulated a natural crisis to increase their grip over agriculture. 

Former Deutsche Bank head Ackermann recently prattled on about the “social time bomb” of economic inequality, but so far he has not offered to share his 8.8 million Euro bonus. In the meantime, according to the International Labor Organization, youth global unemployment will reach 12.7 percent this year and stay there for at least four years, creating a “lost generation” of workers. 

So, the answer to Krugman’s question, “why are they repeating ancient mistakes?” 

Because they are making out like bandits. 

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

THE PUBLIC EYE: 10 Reasons Obama Can Win

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 15, 2012 - 08:39:00 AM

A fog of doom and gloom has descended over the Left Coast. I was out of the country for a couple of weeks and returned to find dispirited Lefties huddled in small groups, clutching their Chai Lattes, and muttering, “Mitt Romney is coming! Mitt Romney is coming!” Many of my homies believe it is inevitable that Barack Obama will not be reelected. Fear not Liberalles, Obama can still win. 

Here are 10 reasons why Obama can win in November. That’s not to say he will win, but rather that it’s possible if he, and we, get our acts together. 

1. It’s not over until it’s over. It’s slightly less than 5 months before we cast our ballots on November 6, 2012; plenty of time for conditions to change. The economy could get better. Romney could make a terrible mistake. Obama could find his mojo. And Liberals could decide to work for Obama with the rationale: better a glass half full than one that is empty

2. Obama has come from behind before. When Obama declared his candidacy on February 10, 2007, few give him any chance of securing the Democratic nomination – the ascension of Hillary Clinton seemed inevitable. Then when he won the Iowa primary, many regarded it as a fluke and predicted his campaign would be over on Super Tuesday. Then when he took the delegate lead, there were rocky moments – his association with Reverend Wright, the “bitter” remarks – but Obama prevailed. 

3. Romney is a terrible candidate. While Obama can be a great campaigner, Romney gives no indication that he will excite his own Party, much less voters in general. Romney won’t do well in the debates and will lose all favorability comparisons to Obama. Nonetheless, in 2008 John McCain was a terrible candidate – certainly worse than Romney – and he received 46% of the vote. Obama can win the popularity contests but still lose unless Democrats get out the vote. 

4. Republican ideology has gone off the tracks. It’s important for Lefties to take a deep breath and consider what this election is about. It’s not as simple as winning and losing. It’s about the future of civilization, as we know it, because the modern Republican Party is filled radical ideologues – politicians who will say and do anything to win; it’s Voldemort and the death eaters. 

5. The Republican strategy is obvious. It’s not like Republicans have a stealth 2012 presidential strategy. First, they will nominate a “sock-puppet” candidate who will smile at the camera, mouth whatever inanities GOP party bosses feed him and follow the party line. Second, they’ll spend billions of dollars on attack ads to convince swing voters that Obama is responsible for all of America’s problems. Third, they’ll arrange to disenfranchise certain demographics that are highly likely to vote Democratic, such as poor black voters. Fourth, they’ll convince liberals that things are so bad they shouldn’t vote at all or if they do, write in Dennis Kucinich. 

6. Money isn’t everything. Obama will raise millions of dollars, but because of the CITIZENS UNITED decision, Republicans will raise more. That sounds bad because that will give Republicans the opportunity to run attack ads 24/7 in the swing states that will decide the election. While Obama obviously needs money, what he needs more than anything is a coherent campaign. Remember that in the 2010 California Gubernatorial election, Republican Meg Whitman outspent Jerry Brown 5 to 1 ($177 million vs. $36 million). Whitman lost because she ran a terrible campaign. 

7. Republicans don’t have a positive message. Romney’s campaign is based upon convincing voters that Obama caused all America’s problems when the truth is that Republican policies – starting with Ronald Reagan – caused the economic malaise we are suffering through. Romney, a gilt-edged member of the 1 percent, has to convince voters that giving him more tax breaks will help them. 

8. Obama has time to develop a winning narrative. Obama has shown remarkable resiliency and it’s entirely possible that he can develop a winning narrative. Obama’s on the right track when he talks about inequality, but that alone won’t swing the election. Obama needs to take off the gloves and tell the truth: Republicans created the economic mess the US is suffering through and the election of Mitt Romney would only make things worse. 

9. Republicans are fighting for greed, we’re fighting for democracy. The Occupy Wall Street movement indicates a deep level of discontent in the US that could be channeled to provide the momentum for positive change in the 2012 election. The notion that the one percent – corporation executives, Wall Street tycoons, and fat cats in general – are living in a different reality than the 99 percent has traction. Obama has to harness this. This election is about whether the US will cease being a democracy and instead become a plutocracy; whether unfettered capitalism will be allowed to run over the rights and dignity of ordinary people. 

10. Democracy is worth fighting for. If Obama will lead the charge, he can win. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT:Right-To-Work Laws: A GOP Assault on Unions

By Ralph E. Stone
Saturday June 16, 2012 - 03:26:00 PM

In February this year, Indiana became the 23rd state to enact a right-to-work law (RTW), the only RTW law passed in the last decade. Republicans generally favor RTW laws while unions and Democrats do not. RTW laws are geographical too. RTW states are clustered in the Southeast, covering every state from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas, and then north through the Great Plains to the Dakotas and into the Rockies. The West Coast and Midwest-to-Northeast Rust Belt, both traditional union strongholds, have remained non-RTW states. RTW states generally vote Republican while non-RTW states generally vote Democrat. 

RTW is also a potent political symbol, causing serious adverse financial consequences for unions. The Democratic Party receives significant support from organized labor, who supply a great deal of the money, grass roots political organization, and voting base in support of the party. Thus, RTW is not only an assault on unions, but also on the Democratic Party, who rely on labor for support. 

Section 14(b) of theTaft-Hartley amendments to the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C §141, permits a state to pass laws that prohibit unions from requiring a worker to pay dues, even when the worker is covered by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Thus, workers in RTW states have less incentive to join a union and to pay union dues and, as a result, unions have less clout vis-à-vis corporations. In other words, RTW laws prohibit union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to the union. In states without such laws, workers at unionized workplaces generally have to pay such dues or fees. 

RTW laws tend to diminish union power and influence. Labor leaders say that allowing workers to opt out of paying any money to the union that represents them weakens unions’ finances, bargaining clout, and political power. 

According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times , Henry Farber, a labor economist at Princeton, said RTW laws, by allowing “free riders,” shrink union treasuries. (RTW advocates say such employees have been forced into unions, but organized labor calls them "free riders.") One study found that the portion of free riders in RTW states ranged from 9 percent in Georgia to 39 percent in South Dakota. 

Greenhouse cites another study by David T. Ellwood, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Glenn A. Fine, a former Justice Department official, who found that in the five years after states enacted RTW laws, the number of unionization drives dropped by 28 percent, and in the following five years by an added 12 percent. Organizing wins fell by 46 percent in the first five years and 30 percent the next five. Over all, they found, RTW laws, beyond other factors, caused union membership to drop 5 percent to 10 percent. 

Proponents of RTW laws claim that states with such laws grow faster and their citizens are better off. But with their faster growing populations, RTW states had unemployment rates averaging 8 percent in April of 2011, just below the 8.2 percent average in non-RTW states. 

In The Compensation Penalty of "Right-To-Work" Laws by the Economic Policy Institute , economists Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz examined the differences in compensation between RTW and non-RTW states. (The Economic Policy Institute is a labor-backed research center.) Controlling for the demographic and job characteristics of workers as well as state-level economic conditions and cost-of-living differences across states, they found that in 2009 wages were 3.2 percent lower in RTW states versus non-RTW – about $1,500 less annually for a full-time, year-round worker; the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance was 2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states compared with non-RTW states; the rate of employer-sponsored pensions was 4.8 percentage points lower in RTW states. And, in 2008, the rate of workplace deaths was 57 precent higher in RTW states than non-RTW states, while the 2009, poverty rate in RTW states averaged 15 percent, considerably above the 12.8 percent average for non-RTW states. 

Gould and Shierholz concluded, "RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in “right-to-work” states have lower compensation – both union and nonunion workers alike." 

And according to Gordon Lafer , an economist at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center, there is no evidence that RTW laws have any positive impact on employment or bringing back manufacturing jobs. Commenting on Oklahoma's passage of a RTW law in 2001, Lafer, noted that rather than increasing job opportunities, the state saw companies relocate out of Oklahoma. In high-tech industries and those service industries "dependent on consumer spending in the local economy" the laws appear to have actually damaged growth. At the end of the decade, 50,000 fewer Oklahoma residents had jobs in manufacturing. Perhaps most damning, Lafer could find no evidence that the legislation had a positive impact on employment rates. 

In May 8, 2011, Senator Jim DeMint (R. SC) introduced the National Right-to-Work Act S-504), a bill to preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities. S-504 has no chance of passage in the Senate and even if it did, President Obama would likely veto it. However, if the Republicans retake the White House and Senate, and retain the House, you can bet a National RTW Act will be high on the Republican to do list. 

Why do we need unions anyway? Because they are essential for America. Unions are the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing balance against corporate power. They act in the economic interests of the middle class. But the decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. You may take issue with a particular union's position on an issue, but remember they are the only real organized check on the power of the business community in this country. RTW laws are anti-union, pro-business

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Limits to Resilience

By Jack Bragen
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:08:00 PM

People with mental illness are often more subject to aging than others. The average lifespan of persons with mental illness is sometimes ten to thirty years shorter than for others, and this is for a number of reasons. People with mental illness often receive a lower quality of medical care and at the same time take less care of physical health. Mortality comes sooner and often for preventable reasons. 

Additionally (speaking of just mental illnesses) when older, we can not make as rapid or as complete a recovery after an episode of psychiatric illness. 

A psychotic episode, even one that lasts just a few weeks until stopped by medication or other treatment, can entail years, rather than months, of recovery time. Each successive psychotic episode, even if they are years apart, does more damage and requires more time and effort for the ensuing recovery. Subsequent recoveries become less complete. After a string of psychotic episodes, apparently a person's brain loses much of its processing ability. 

Mental illnesses are serious diseases. The tendency not to take one's own illness seriously is an oversight that can have severe consequences. The intermittent tendency of some treatment professionals not to take us or our illnesses seriously is a disservice. 

Persons with mental illness can be fragile, and their successes when they occur can be more fragile. Much care must be taken if a person with a major mental illness is to do well in life. Effort of various types is a requirement in order to succeed at something, including treating the illness. An afflicted person must use much effort at the various tasks and accomplishments in life, but must also use much care. 

Effort in the name of achieving "success" should not be taken to extremes, as a person can easily do damage to oneself. I believe it is important to recognize and heed the warning signs that your body and mind are giving you, which means backing off from the effort when beginning to overexert. If a job situation does not appear to be working out, it is not necessary to crank up the physical and mental effort level, since this can sometimes be damaging. Keeping a job must remain a lower priority than staying well. 

I have seen people who were excessively motivated to a point where they have done themselves damage. I know of one person who tried much too hard at his job and then killed himself due to a relapse of his psychosis. 

It is important to realize that a job is only a job, and if one job doesn't work, there will be more in the future. Not all great people in history worked at a nine to five job. There are other things in life that matter, and this includes getting rest, taking care of oneself, and enjoying the little things in life. 

A person with mental illness can seem like a strong person. And we are often strong people in many respects. However, along with some types of strength comes much fragility. Brain cells require years to regenerate and are damaged easily. 

Having a consistent routine is helpful. It is helpful to have an activity that resembles some type of work, and this can be volunteer work, it can be a job, or it can be work that you do independently. It is important that capacities are exercised, but not to the point of overload. If a person with mental illness is excessively inactive, they risk atrophy of the mind and body. Effort needs to be used in life, but not in excess to where it becomes a form of self punishment.

SENIOR POWER “It’s a bore…!”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 03:53:00 PM

"It's a B-O-R-E when you find you've begun to rot." Katharine Houghton Hepburn (1907-2003), Bryn Mawr College alumna and actor who carried on until age ninety-six, said that. “First I smashed this ankle in an auto accident in '82, and after that I walked in a funny position. Threw out my back. I'll live forever, but I may not be able to move." And she opined, “There is a certain melancholy in seeing oneself rot. Life is hard. After all, it kills you. Isn't it fun getting older? is really a terrible fallacy. Like saying I prefer driving an old car with a flat tire.” 

At sixty, she observed, “I think they're beginning to think I'm not going to be around much longer. And what do you know. They'll miss me like an old monument. Like the Flatiron Building.” Another gem, this timely one uttered during a Dick Cavett interview I think, was “I'm what is known as gradually disintegrating. I don't fear the next world, or anything. I don't fear hell, and I don't look forward to heaven. I don't fear death, it must be like a long sleep.” 

At eighty-six, she set the record straight in a TV documentary “Katharine Hepburn: All About Me” that she narrated. "Now to squash a rumor. No, I don't have Parkinson's. I inherited my shaking head from my grandfather Hepburn. I discovered that whiskey helps stop the shaking. Problem is, if you're not careful, it stops the rest of you too. My head just shakes, but I promise you, it ain't gonna fall off!" [Google tremor for information about Parkinson’s and tremor.] 


Increasingly, one sees and hears media references to “the end of life.” A Bay Area physicians’ medical group recently advertised online (a non-affirmatively managed search process carrying no level of salary information) for a permanent full-time Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner (PC NP) to function as a leader, clinician, researcher and educator. Medications and treatments are said to have a palliative effect if they relieve symptoms without having a curative effect on the underlying disease. Unlike hospice care, palliative medicine is appropriate for patients in all disease stages, as well as those nearing the end of life. It utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, formulating a plan to relieve suffering in all areas of the patient's life.  

There is wide disparity between how people want their final days (and themselves) to be handled and what they have done to ensure it. A survey of “…Attitudes and Experiences With Death and Dying" shows very few Californians have talked to their doctors about their end-of-life health care despite a desire to do so. The survey, released this year by the California HealthCare Foundation, found that two-thirds of Californians say they would prefer a natural death if severely ill; 7% wanted all possible care to prolong their lives. 

It also showed broad public support for reimbursing physicians who take the time to talk to their patients about their end-of-life options, the issue that sparked the infamous "death panel" debate in 2009 over President Obama's federal health care legislation. Results revealed a glaring need for doctors to talk to (with?) their patients about their options, and for people in general to make their wishes known to those who will have to make decisions about their care. And for those without family?  

For more information about Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, and a standardized medical order form that indicates specific types of treatment a seriously ill patient does or does not want, visit www.capolst.org.  


An invitation. Candidates for election are welcome to share statements of their accomplishments and plans vis a vis senior citizens and elders. Please email them to me at pen136@dslextreme.com.  


SOPHIE HAHN, candidate in the November 5, 2012 election for Berkeley District 5 Councilmember, responded to my invitation to candidates to provide statements regarding their accomplishments and goals/plans in behalf of so called senior citizens and elders: 

“The diversity among Berkeley’s seniors reflects the diversity of our entire population. There is a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, of family and economic status. Berkeley needs to ensure that all seniors have adequate housing to meet their changing needs, and services to support them.  

Much of the housing built in the last few years in Berkeley has targeted our student population. I will work for more housing diversity, with developments appropriate for seniors and for families, close to public transportation and other amenities. Funding for affordable housing has been severely restricted at the State and Federal levels, so it’s up to local communities to find ways to support affordable housing. Council recently rejected an approach to obtaining funding for such housing – without even studying the proposal. I will support efforts to find funding for affordable housing.  

I strongly support Complete Streets measures which increase pedestrian safety, and will advocate for both pedestrian and bike improvements city-wide. Public transportation, including Paratransit, must also be supported and improved. As a result of ongoing budget deficits and less funding for AC Transit, fares have gone up and services have been cut. This has a disproportionate impact on seniors who often rely on public transit. I will advocate for increased funding for transit and against cuts that have a negative impact on seniors.  

Our parks, libraries, pools and other public amenities are important for all, and seniors in particular. I support the refurbishment of Berkeley’s pools, including the warm pool, and believe that with good management they can become profit centers for the City. As a member of the Public Library Foundation Board and Chair of the North Berkeley Committee for the Branch Libraries Campaign, I am actively involved in the refurbishment and expansion of our libraries. I believe a community must provide safe and well maintained parks, recreation facilities and other amenities to support the health – and happiness – of all residents, including seniors.  

Cuts to senior programs in Berkeley, including the closing of the West Berkeley Senior Center, are troubling. Cuts in critical safety net programs at the State Level – in-home supportive services and services that help the disabled – compound the problems seniors face. As the State cuts these services it becomes the job of Cities and Counties to fill in the gaps. With tight budgets at the local level as well, the need for good government practices, pro-active, fact-based fiscal management and strategic resource allocation becomes even more important.  

Seniors value good government and good financial management, and want to know that tax dollars are wisely spent. Berkeley, like many municipalities, faces significant financial challenges that will require us to find ways to “do more with less” in the coming years. But we cannot balance our budget on the backs of seniors and other vulnerable populations. We need to increase transparency around the city’s financial predicament, clarify our priorities and pull the community together to address our common future.” 


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

Until June 30. Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Friday, Noon - 5:30 P.M.; Saturday, Noon - 4:30 P.M. Kala Gallery, 2990 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley: Visions from the New California. The Visions from the New California award is an initiative of the Alliance of Artists Communities and is supported by the James Irvine Foundation. Each year the awards program celebrates six outstanding California visual artists from diverse communities. The awardees are artists whose work may as yet be unfamiliar to a wide audience, but whose compelling visions help define California. Free. 510-841-7000.  

Until August 31. Environmental Education Center in Tilden Regional Park. North End Central Park Drive. Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 A.M.-4:30 P.M. Tilden Exhibit Celebrates Conservation Successes. Art exhibit celebrating the successes of conservation in the region, state and nationally. Show features works by 60 artists portraying plants and animals no longer listed as endangered species due to conservation efforts. Some of the featured species include the brown pelican, the tiger salamander, the salt marsh harvest mouse, and tule elk. Exhibit sponsors include the East Bay Regional Park District and the Merritt College Environmental Management and Technology Dept. Free. www.ebparks.org 

Until Sept. 2. Berkeley Arts Festival Gallery presents a new exhibition of the work of creative visual artists. Robert Brokl, paintings/prints. Mark Bulwinkle, painted steel screens. Art Hazelwood, linocuts. Roberta Loach, prints. Mari Marks, encaustic paintings 2133 University Av. Free. 510-644-6893. www.berkeleyartcenter.org 

Until Sept. 29. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4 P.M. Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, Bay Area dancer, dance historian and author of Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965, will discuss the history of East Bay performers, choreographers and pioneers of today’s dance community. The exhibit explores dance in the East Bay and includes a video by Margaretta Mitchell, an interview with Frank Shawl, and archival footage of Hanya Holm. Jeanine Castello-Lin and Tonya Staros, Co-Curators. Wheelchair accessible. Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center St. Free. 510-848-0181 

Fridays, June 8 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 8: Waiting for Guffman. Free. 510-981-6241. Also, June 15, 22, 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27.  

Fridays, June 15 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 15: Little Miss Sunshine. Free. 510-981-6241. Also June 22, 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27.  

Saturday, June 16. 5 P.M. Claremont branch, Berkeley Public library, 2940 Benvenue Av. Melanie O’Reilly will perform original music inspired by Joyce’s writings. 510-981-6280. 

Saturday, June 16. 1-5 P.M. California Writers' Club. A workshop open to all writers. At Rockridge Branch Library, Oakland. 5366 College Ave. Anne Fox, 510-420-8775. 510-597-5017 

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

Starting Tuesday, June 19. 10 A.M. Class will meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 4 weeks. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Victoria’s Legacy on the Island. Judith Lynch (local author, teacher and resident) serving on the City 

of Alameda Historical Advisory Board will provide an overview on Victorian history and culture, highlighting the 19th century buildings of Alameda. Will include 6 slide presentations and 2 walking tours to show you how to recognize architectural details and distinguish among the various styles of fancywork homes that abound here. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. Free. Class limited to 25 participants. 

Tuesday, June 19. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

Trusts and Estates. Endy Ukoha-Ajike, Attorney, representing the 2012 State Bar “Educating Seniors Project” will present “Taking Charge: The Rewards and Risks of 

Estate Planning.” Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. 

Beginning Wednesday, June 20. 5:30-8:30 P.M. : Evening Hours at Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Evening programs include computer class ($10. charge) or lab, Line Dancing classes, Yoga, a game of Pool, working on quilting or sewing projects, a movie, ceramic classes, or a cup of coffee in our air-conditioned facility. For more information, visit the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506.  

Wednesday, June 20. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library.  

2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 20. 12 noon. Annual luncheon meeting of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library. Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. (Parking behind the church). Speaker: Amy Thomas, Pegasus Bookstore owner, speaking on “Bookselling in Berkeley”. Bring a brown bag lunch. Desserts, fruit, and beverages will be provided. Library service awards will be presented after lunch. RSVP 510-981-6152 

Wednesday, June 20. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging meeting. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5178. Be sure to confirm. 

Fridays, June 22 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 22: The Gods Must be Crazy. Free. 510-981-6241. Also June 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27.  

Friday, June 22. 1-4 P.M. 2012 Dragon Festival Celebration. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 

Saturday, June 23. 2 – 3:30 P.M. Strength in Diversity: The Poetry of Ecology. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Award winning poets Adam David Miller and Kim Shuck, headline a free multicultural and multigenerational poetry reading by six poets. The program is presented jointly by the Ecology Center and the Berkeley Public Library. 510-981-6100. 

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

Tuesday, June 26. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. A representative from BART will be available to issue Clipper Cards! For more information, sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510- 747-7506. 

Tuesday, June 26. 3-4 P.M. Tea and Cookies. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100.  

Wednesday, June 27. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library.  

2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 27. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.  

Wednesday, June 27. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190.  

Thursday, June 28. 7 P.M. Balinese Dance Performance. The Gamelan Sekar Jaya will give a performance of Balinese dances. The dancers will present pieces that give a taste of the wide range of characters, movements, and moods of this unique dance form. Steeped in the rich culture and traditions of Bali, Indonesia, the audience will have the opportunity to meet the performers and understand the magic of this style of dance. Free 45 minute program provided by the Contra Costa County Library Summer Reading Festival. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. 510-526-7512. 

Fridays, June 29 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 29: Thank You For Smoking. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 6, 13, 20, 27.  

Saturday, June 30. Doors open at 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The Bingo Committee will host the Summer Bingo Bash. Open to the public (18 years and older). Enjoy socialization, free apple pie ala mode (for participants), and a chance to win cash and prizes. First game begins at 12:00 Noon. 510-747-7510. 

Fridays, July 6 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 6: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 13, 20, 27.  

Monday, July 2. 6:30 P.M. "Castoffs" - Knitting Group at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. All levels are welcome and some help will be provided. Free. Louise O’Dea, 510-524-3043, lodea@ccclib.org 

Sunday, July 8. 1 – 4:30 P.M. The 2012 Berkeley Rent Board Convention will be held in the main meeting room of the downtown, central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge, corner of Shattuck. A slate of candidates for the November 2012 election will be chosen. Contact: www.berkeleyrentboard.org 510-981-6100. 

Monday, July 9. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Author Talk and Slide Show. Author-naturalist Laura Cunningham will discuss her book A State of Change: forgotten landscapes of California. Cunningham has not only written the text but has also lavishly illustrated this lovely book. She has written and painted a picture of what California was like before European contact. Free. 510-524-3043 

Wednesday, July 11 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.  

Fridays, July 13 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 13: All About Eve. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 20, 27.  

Saturday, July 14. 1 – 3 P.M. Origami Earring workshop. North Berkeley Public Library, 1170 The Alameda. Learn to make your own origami earrings. Taught by Nga Trinh. 510-981-6250. 

Fridays, July 20– July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 20: Monkey Business. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 27.  

Friday July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 27: The Seven Year Itch. Free. 510-981-6241.  

Wednesday, August 1. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.  

Wednesday, August 22. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Selections from The Bhagavad Gita. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.  

Wednesday, Sept. 5. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.  

Wednesday, Sept. 26. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.  

Wednesday, Oct. 3. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.  

Wednesday, October 24. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Troth, by Gregor von Rezzori. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.  

Wednesday, Nov 7. July 11 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. Also Dec. 5.  

Wednesday, November 28. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.  

Wednesday, Dec. 5. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 


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

By Dorothy Bryant
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 05:11:00 PM

The buzzard never says it is to blame.  

The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.  

When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.  

If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean. 

(5 lines omitted to avoid violating copyright)

On this third planet of the sun  

Among the signs of bestiality  

A clear conscience is Number One.

from In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself (1926)

—by Polish poet Wislawa Symborska (1923-2012) Nobel Prize 1996 

Two or three decades ago, confessing to feeling guilty about something you’d done or left undone was disapproved generally, considered unhealthy, virtually prohibited among some self-styled mental health “experts.” Nothing stronger than the word “regret” was allowed among the throng of gurus that swarmed over Berkeley, promising healthy-minded freedom to those who went through their system or embraced their enlightened views. 

Symborska’s short poem was a blast of fresh air in that tepid miasma of self-satisfaction. A stab of guilt can be healthy—a warning, a bracing endorsement of responsibility, accountability, decency—reminding us that to be truly human may be uncomfortable because it entails wanting to be better than we are, to do better, to think better, speak better, know better—to evolve. 

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

Arts & Events

Duelling Theater Reviews: The Member of the Wedding at Hayward’s DMT Theater

By Ken Bullock and John A. McMullen II
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 05:48:00 PM
Katy Hidalgo, Alexaendrai Bond, Ruby Buckwalter.
Terry Sullivan
Katy Hidalgo, Alexaendrai Bond, Ruby Buckwalter.

Editor's Note: We are always pleased when two or more of our several excellent critics—who make their own assignments—chose the same production to review . These two couldn't be more different. Oh well, à chacun son goût. 

By Ken Bullock 

'Member of the Wedding,' the sole stage play by novelist Carson McCullers--who Gore Vidal once called "An American legend from the beginning" while referring to her "genius for prose"--is her adaptation, at the behest of Tennessee Williams, of her own novel. A great success on Broadway in 1950, as her novels were around America, McCullers isn't read so much anymore, nor is her play often stged. 

But the production of 'Member of the Wedding' (directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes at the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward amply proves it's no faded hit of the past, but a play that deserves to be seen, worthy of an audience, at any time. 

It tells the tale of Frankie, a kind of tomboy in a town in rural Georgia, during the last days of World War Two. (At one point, Frankie tells of reading about the Atom Bomb.) Her soldier brother is to be married--and Frankie, who's "always said" she doesn't believe in love, is strangely moved, and troubled by it. She wants to be somehow united with the happy couple, taken away from the town where she feels herself an outcast. 

But 'Member of the Wedding' is also about Berenice Sadie Brown, the middle-aged black woman who's the housekeeper for Frankie and her father, Frankie's mother having died at her birth. Berenice, as director Fraisher puts it, is "the glue" that keeps the Addamses together--and is the repository of memories and reflections, not only for herself and her own hard life, but for her family, community and her employers. In perhaps the most affecting moment of the play, Berenice recounts the death of her first husband and only true love during a storm. Hers is the voice of common sense and patience that counterbalances Frankie's extravagant flights of fancy, her impulsiveness. Two outsiders; their shared words and moments--and what they can't share, both denizens of a provincial enclave at the point the world was racing towards an uncertain future 

(Langston Hughes, an admirer of McCullers' stories, once wrote about visiting her: "We cursed Georgia together!") 

Fraisher (artistic director at Roleplayers Theatre in Danville) directs the show with a sensitive, even hand--and he has two gems in the led roles: Katy Hidalgo, a 23 year old, native of Hayward, has great presence as the self-confessedly unhappy Frankie--and gets the humor across that lubricates her melancholy. "You're just trying to deprive me of all the pleasures of leaving town," she says to berenice at one point. But she can underscore her hopes and fears with pathos as well: when her brother and his bride tell her of their concern for her, she shoots back: "When you say We ... I'm not included!" 

As Berenice, Alexaendrai Bond--who East Bay theatergoers will recall from her appearances in a number of local venues--has the sort of role that gives her the opportunity to show how integral an actor she really is. Bond runs the gamut of emotions, but subtly, as she recalls, observes, jokes, opines, watches from the sidelines, as both Frankie and her cousin, defiant, ne'er-do-well Honey--her last living relative--go through their own versions of the provincial malaise. But what's a wrenching coming-of-age for Frankie proves deadly for a young black man like Honey. 

Cornell White-Cockerell as Honey, Dorian Lockett as T. T. Williams, Joe Fitzgerald as Frankie's father and Alex Skinner as her brother Jarvis, Hallie Frazer as neighbor Mrs. West and Ruby Buckwalter as her son (and Frankie's younger companion and opponent) John Henry--with Dillon Aurelio-Peralta, Samantha Cowan, Alisha Ehrlich and Bessie Aolno as more of the neighborhood kids--all do their job well as part of the ensemble, supporting the leads and the action. Ruby Buckwalter, a fifth grader, in particular has some hoops to go through as John Henry; already cross-dressed, she plays the boy's comic appropriation of Berenice's hat, shoes and handbag with humor, and is a dissonant high-pitched voice at the three-handed bridge games and discussions between Berenice and Frankie in the kitchen. Both Fitzgerald and Lockett bring strong, if fleeting, male presence to an unusually feminine play. 

And the action's leisurely at first--though, paradoxically, the first two acts, in which practically nothing happens except a lot of talk, are the most absorbing in the play. Then comes the crisis, with the wedding (as everything else, viewed from the sidelines of the kitchen in Jenn Scheller's great set, one that scales a big stage down to the proportions of the characters and their simple actions, lit by Matthew O'Donnell) and all the loose ends really coming loose ... 

McCullers' play is like some of Chekhov, even Beckett; not much happens, and none of it in a completely straight line. But it cuts right to the complex heart of humanity, at the cusp of the switch from simpler-seeming times to the Atomic Age. "Alienation" might be a modern word, but its meaning was always lurking in quiet places years before the word itself was ever heard there. 

The show's well worth the trip to Hayward. Douglas Morrison Theatre itself is a jewel, a big playing area with just a few rows of seats wrapped partway around it. It's in carlos Bee Park, next to the Japanese Garden, which can be visited daytimes, part of the Hayward Area Recreational District, the biggest of its type in California. 

With Oakland resident Susan Evans as the new artistic director, formerly with The Eastenders, Douglas Morrison Theatre promises to have more engaging shows--seasons of them! 



By John A. McMullen II 



Hayward’s Douglas Morrisson Theatre has chosen a very difficult and seldom-produced play in The Member of the Wedding in its “Family Portraits” season. 

This is one of those character-based scripts that rely upon a deeply believable and textured performance by the title character and a directorial feel for the tone, place, and slippery subject matter. 

The intended tone is the wrenching reminiscence of playwright Carson McCullers’ difficult adolescence. The place is the pressure-cooker of heat and isolation in a Georgia kitchen in August at the end of the Second World War, the month they dropped the A-bomb. The subject is a 12-year-old, unattractive, gawky, motherless, isolated child who is breaking the chrysalis of childhood and struggling with her identity, with the added confusion that she may well be attracted to both genders. 

Director Eric Fraisher Hayes instead gave the 70-odd people in attendance on Saturday opening weekend a safe, sweet, domestic dramedy that could have happened in Iowa. Except they sweat in Iowa in August. In this production, hardly anyone sweats. 

The Independent described the play’s 2007 London revival as, “Imagine a great Chekhov story crossed with a Tennessee Williams play….” 

The tone of this production is rather different: when the play opens, the cast comes bursting onto the scene as one might expect in a musical. At the end of a couple of isolated, down-lit soliloquies, I thought they would launch into “Climb Every Mountain,” or “Goodnight My Someone.” 

Katy Hidalgo, as Frankie Addams, the pre-teen in question and our antiheroine, mopes, slouches, tousles her pixie-cut, flip-flops between self-loathing and self-aggrandizement, and invests in those pre-teen annoying behaviors that make those years ‘twixt 12 and 20 so painful for all. But the performance is external, and we sense no emotional core of struggle with her hormones and the world around her. The object of the play would seem to be for the audience to connect with Frankie’s angst—as unattractive as it is—and walk in her tortured shoes for a couple of hours. This critic longed for, but, alas, felt no such connection. 

Moreover, Ms. Hidalgo is—as they say down there--“cute as a June-bug,” and it is quite a stretch to believe she is twelve. No attempt is made to adapt her appearance to the character by prosthetic makeup or haircut (Frankie rues aloud that she got a summer crew-cut). She has no accent—but then most of the cast does not have one in this very Southern Gothic play. 

The situation is that her soldier brother is getting married: Frankie decides that she will leave with the bride and groom on their honeymoon and become the third member of the marriage. 

Her antagonist—and source of emotional support— is the “colored” housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown. She is Frankie’s surrogate mother, and full of contradictions herself. Being a black housekeeper in Georgia was a hard row to hoe in 1945 when Jim Crow Laws were enforced by lynching (over 3,000 lynched in 50 years) and the “N-word” was accepted parlance. African-Americans were treated as children: as the character is written, it is easy to see how that influence –and being cooped up with children all day— could make one a bit of a child who might bite back when bitten. 

Instead of an interesting and complex character, which would add much more compelling conflict to the play, Berenice is played by Alexaendrai Bond as an exemplar of nurturing sweetness. She expresses herself in that breathless, hopeful intonation that draws out the vowels interrupted by lots of pauses in the fashion of Maya Angelou reading a poem. A saving grace is the inclusion of her heavenly singing of a few hymns. 

There are two stand-outs, both mature character roles: Mr. Addams is played by Joe Fitzgerald whose voice fills the wide, spacious house and whose Southern accent never waivers, and T. T. Williams, Berenice’s man-friend, played by Dorian Lockett whose expression lends humor and believability to the production. 

The play is taken from the novel of the same name by Lula Carson Smith McCullers, born and raised in Columbus Georgia, who also wrote the well-known "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” She was a bisexual who had an on-again, off-again marriage with bisexual Reeves McCullers who committed suicide in a Paris hotel after she left him. She was a member of the cultural elite circle and close friends with Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and W. H. Auden. 

The lighting capability of the DMT is superior—I counted over 100 lighting instruments. Lighting designer Matthew O’Donnell uses them well in the changing of time with the sun setting as unobtrusively as in nature, and the green sky of a thunderstorm is accurate and compelling. 

Sound designer Donald Tieck composed music and used pre-set 1940’s swing to take us that place in time. His sound design of crickets and startling thunder was quite effective, but a little undone with the thunder and lightning coming at the same time, when in nature there is always a delay between them. 

Scenic designer Jenn Scheller’s set is a work of art with a house, yard and beyond, and a cut-away wall to expose the kitchen where most of the action takes place. The 250-seat theatre has a high proscenium which allows for much creative latitude including a tree realistic in proportion and texture which provides an erstwhile seat for Frankie and shows her to be above and separate from the group, as if she were a wood nymph. It is idyllic, and t there is no hint of conflict or change in the design to match the interior lives of the characters and the times. Except for a couple of strands of Spanish moss high on a tree, my eye could not distinguish it from a house anywhere in the Mid-West. For such an intimate play, the kitchen may be positioned too far away from the audience. In this age of cinematic close-ups, we are not used to stretching for empathy, and closer might be better for connecting with the characters emotionally. 

This is a naturalistic play rife with psychological interplay. The set is detailed in its realism, but the use of Tom Earlywine’s period-accurate props is not. Food is served, but it is just cornbread and rice; the shucked corn is “boiled” in unheated water; the milk poured out of one of those great old glass milk jugs is mimed--yet they are eating real food. A little collard greens, a simple heating coil to make the water boil, and real fresh milk would bring us into the scenes; otherwise, we have to make more allowances which interfere with our suspension of disbelief. When playing three-handed bridge, there is no dummy, it’s played like rummy, and turns are taken out of order. Little things mean a lot. 

Kudos to artistic director Susan E. Evans who has been trying to move DMT’s productions from community theatre to semi-pro by undertaking more meaningful and challenging works. But if that formula is to work, the direction and talent must take the chances that the plays demand while striving for believability and consistency. 

Of interest to readers may be what her contemporaries said about Ms. McCullers (1917- 1967): 

"Mrs. McCullers and perhaps Mr. Faulkner are the only writers since the death of D. H. Lawrence with an original poetic sensibility. I prefer Mrs. McCullers to Mr. Faulkner because she writes more clearly; I prefer her to D. H. Lawrence because she has no message." – Graham Greene 

"[Her work is] one of the few satisfying achievements of our second-rate culture." – Gore Vidal 

"Moving, yes, but a minor author. And broken by illness at such a young age." – Arthur Miller 

"Carson's major theme: the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love." – Tennessee Williams. 

John A. McMullen II is a member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics, and Stage Directors and Choregraphers Society. He holds an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon University and an MA in drama for San Francisco State. E J Dunne edits.  

The Member of the Wedding,  

By Carson McCullers 

Directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes 

At the Douglas Morrisson Theatre 

22311 N. Third St., Hayward, next to the Senior Center and the Japanese Gardens. 

www.dmtonline.org / (510) 881-6777. 

WITH: Alexaendrai Bond as Berenice, Katy Hidalgo as Frankie, Ruby Buckwalter as John Henry, Joe Fitzgerald as Mr. Adams, Dorian Lockett as T.T., Cornell White-Cockrell as Honey, Alex Skinner as Jarvis, Alisha Ehrlich as Janice, Hallie Frazer as Mrs. West, Dillon Aurelio-Perata as Barney, Bessie Zolno as Helen, and Samantha Cowan as Doris.

Theater Review: 'Emilie,' by Symmetry Theatre at the Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:43:00 PM

"Sometimes Truth is snuffed out by bombast." In the old salon of the Berkeley City Club, now of course a theater, a lady from the salons of the early 18th century introduces herself as Emilie, La Marquise Du Chatelet--and gasps for breath. She's dead, and throughout the play will narrate her remarkable life, with many asides. 

The Marquise was an intimate of Voltaire, helping him avoid a "lettre du cachet" which would've had him locked up in the Bastille--and at the same time, a champion of Leibniz, her erudite friend's bete noire (as 'Candide' amply proved), in the controversy over his "correction" of Newton's Second Law of Motion (F = ma: Force equals mass times acceleration) by squaring the more Aristotelian F = mv (Force equals mass times velocity), in order to bring energy "alive," an active force avoiding entropy in a living universe. Newton's pronouncement became known in France as "Force Morte," Leibniz's as "Force Vive." 

Emilie Du Chatelet helped lend experimental proof to Force Vive--for another scientific problem, she describes how she and Voltaire--who she refers to as "V," sounding like "Vive"--in the midst of an affair, "spend all night, every night, setting things ablaze," to prove something else again.  

The old controversy has been shown to be something of a confusion; the equations bear on Conservation of Motion and on Kinetic Energy, respectively. But the Marquise's highly valid work--and her bravery, facing scorn as a woman from the men's club of the Academie--has stood the test of time. 

Laura Gunderson's play plays with time, not only with a dead woman as narrator of her own, just-finished life, but with a variety of anachronisms to "fix," or unfix, the distance between the early 18th and 21st centuries. Symmetry Theatre has taken up the challenge with verve, and company founder Chloe Bronzan's distinguished maiden run as director casts the play in its most appealing light. Bronzan says it best--her own understanding of the play, the way she stages it: " ... this is Emilie's storytelling within a fever dream and filtereed through her own perception of these people. This is her play. She is in control as the playwright, director and puppeteer of these memories ... or is she?" 

Responding to this set-up, Symmetry's Danielle Levin plays a game and charming Emilie, speaking directly to the audience, stepping in and out of the action, often ceding it to her younger self, a self-possessed Blythe Foster, who also fleshes out Voltaire's naughty niece, with whom he has a fling, right in Emilie's chateau under the Marquise's nose. Robert Parsons, as the redoubtable icon of the Enlightenment, plays a perfect oxymoron: deftly obtuse. This isn't a flattering portrait of the master of dissent in the late days of the Royalty. Gunderson's Voltaire is marked by his self-absorption, pettiness and a flighty temperament. And Parsons gets that perfectly, often with droll humor. 

Emilie and V. are the principals; at times, warring divas. The rest of the excellent cast constitutes an ensemble, appropriately in constant motion, representing everyone else, from Emilie's family (Marie Shell as her mother), to a kind of wind-up specter of Newton (Colin Thomson), from the President of the Academie to her gallant admirer Jean Francois (Tyler McKenna), sometimes hovering ominously, heads lowered, on the fringe of the action, in the shadows cast by Kate Boyd's lighting, otherwise moving in a kind of corps de ballet around the principals as one scene or tableau morphs into another. Steve Bage's sound and music helps power this sense of constant motion. 

Gunderson's script tends to be quick and bright, often giving the characters and their situations a light touch. But the puppet show's not always a perfect stylization, nor do the anachronisms match up with what they make light of. Attitudes expressed tend to be more 19th century than Ancien Regime. An air from 'Carmen' gets thrown in. And there's often that sense of puppet show that Ford Madox Ford complained of in novels--the puppeteer, here the playwright--interrupting by winking at the audience, assuring that everything's under control, that the views expressed are her or his own, all up-to-date ... The dialogue sometimes too closely resembles the silly chatter of sitcoms, not adding a touch of lightness so much as lightweightedness.  

Yet the performances are entertaining throughout. And the triumph is the company's--Symmetry, with just a few plays under its belt, all of different styles, is coming of age most precociously--like their heroine in 'Emilie.' 

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2, through July 1. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. $15-$25. symmetrytheatre.com 

Gems from the Global Film Initiative-- The Light Thief: A Small Gem from Kyrgyzstan

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Saturday June 16, 2012 - 03:31:00 PM

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan saw one of its films nominated for an Academy Award—a first for the small, landlocked Asian country. The Light Thief (now available on DVD from the Global Film Institute—see contact info below) is a soulful little film that captures critical moments in the lives of villagers in a small, wind-raked community at the feet of the Alai Mountains. 

I find it impossible to resist sharing this sentence from a review of the film that appeared in the London Observer: "A touching, pawkily amusing example of that fairly rare genre, the satirical tragedy." 

As the story begins, a national election is pending and passions are flaring with a new political order pressing to make inroads in the hinterlands. Svet-Ake, a modest town electrician, popularly known as "Mr. Light," is soon to become the story's lightning rod (in one case, literally, when he attempts to cure his inability to father a son by climbing a power pole during an ill-advised night of drunken carousing). Svet-Ake is unassuming to a fault; a shy and well-mannered man of fierce but generally unvoiced principles. As the past and present collide, the humble electrician will be caught between his desires and his dreams. 

Mr. Light routinely risks his livelihood by illegally connecting his poor light-starved neighbors to commercial power lines but he dreams of someday powering the village independently with an armada of wind-turbines arrayed on a nearby hill. In the meantime, he spends his spare hours tinkering with an impressive hand-made wind-charger he has pieced together near a wall of his family home. 

The Light Thief takes viewers into the home life of its quiet hero—a house filled with a doting wife and four rambunctious daughters. Along the way, we meet Svet-Ake's neighbors (mostly played by local villagers) and look on as children play in the dusty streets and village elders don their traditional ceremonial hats and meet to ponder the challenges of local democracy. 

The tranquility is doomed by the death of a principled political patriarch and the arrival of Bekzat, a political protégé with dreams of growing right by developing the "barren wastelands" by handing development rights over to a cabal of Chinese investors. 

At first, Svet-Ake is dazzled by Bekzat's attention—and his generous payments for stringing lights to brighten a yurt erected to entertain the visiting investors. Even more tempting is Bekzat's professed interest in Svet-Ale's blueprints for a local wind-farm. 

It all falls apart when a young village woman who once had dreams of going to college is forced to present herself as bait to the Chinese visitors. After copious drinks are poured during the well-catered yurt-fest, Bekzat offers to entertain his guests with a "local tradition" that turns out to involve a tethered camel, a liquored guest, and the young woman whose dreams are dust. 

Svet-Ake, invited to sit-in in the shadows far from the seated VIPs around the central table, suddenly lurches forward indignantly, to halt the proceedings. 

Bekzat is not the kind of politician who takes kindly to someone messing with his master plans. Svet-Ake finds himself targeted for punishment and stands his ground bravely. The eventual showdown is stark, simple, unique, shocking, and unforgettable. 

While there are dark moments, the film ends on a magical note. In the middle of one dark, windy night, the chain on Svet-Ake's windmill breaks and the blades begin to spin, turning a newly installed generator. As the night grows darker, a lone electric bulb dangling unseen outside Svet-Ake's home, begins to weakly pulse until it finally begins to grow with a steady brilliance. 

It comes as a surprise to discover that director Aktan Arym Kubat not only wrote the screenplay for The Light Thief and also played the lead role of Mr. Light—a role that required him to climb pole poles and towering trees with a nimble prowess that would due credit to action-film superstar Jackie Chan. 

The Light Thief has won 19 major international awards, from Calgary to Cannes. For ordering and other information, contact the Global Film Initiative, 145 Ninth Street, Suite 105, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 934-9500. www.globalfilm.org

DON'T MISS THIS: Nixon in China and More

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:13:00 PM

Get out your engagement calendar, friends. You can't imagine all the great things happening in the bay area this summer -- art, drama, opera and movies, all richly deserving of your time and attention. 

Without question, the most exciting event of the year is San Francisco's Opera production of John Adams opera, "Nixon In China," a moving recreation of a disgraced president's visit to China. It's been called "the greatest American opera of the last quarter century." Indeed, Berkeley is honored to have as its citizen the brilliant and prolific composer, John Adams. You might spot him someday in the College Avenue Safeway, as I did this past week. 

One might wonder about the subject of this opera -- a mythical and elusive depiction of Nixon's 1972 trip to Beijing to meet with his erstwhile adversary, Mao Zedong. But a review in the S.F. Chronicle this week points to Adams' tenderhearted vigor, with special attention to the lovely and banal Act 2 aria of Pat Nixon. Director Michael Cavanagh's production captures the work's sense of artfully composed tableaux. "Nixon" unfolds over three acts, each a dramatic microcosm with its own distinctive shape. Again, it's no wonder that Adams is regarded as one of the nation's leading composers, following closely on his "Dr. Atomic" opera. He was on hand at last Friday's performance at the S.F. Opera House, receiving thunderous applause. The opera will be performed on June 17, 22, 26, 30 and July 3. For information, call (415) 864-3330

For all you theatre lovers, here are just a few of the plays now showing in the bay area: Eve Ensler's "Black and Blue Boys, " written and performed by Dael Oldersmith ("mesmerizing, incisively written and masterfully performed"), now playing through June 25, Berkeley Rep. , (510) 647-2949; "Salomnia stages Mark Johnson's world premiere of his historical drama about San Francisco's famed Maud Allen, famed for her early 20th Century "Dance of the Seven Veils", destroyed by an Oscar Wilde-like trial in London. Opens June 21 through July 22. Aurora Theatre, (510) 843-4822

A.C.T. will be showing ""The Scottsboro Boys," (the best new musical of the year) beginning June 2l. (415) 749-2228. "American Idiot," the Green Day musical of disaffected youth that went from Berkeley Rep to Broadway fame, opens Wednesday through July 8 at the Orpheum Theatre, S.S. (888) 746-1799

If you're into dance, you'll definitely want to catch the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, playing at several locations -- Fort Mason Center, Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through July 1. ("A glorious achievement" according to The New York Times.) 

As for art, actress Kim Novak, who you may remember for her role in "Vertigo," several years ago, now unveils her art at an exhibit, using tex panels, photographs, posters and vintage cameras. Slide shows, lectures and book signings will be part of the exhibit June 24, 11 a.m. - 4: p.m. at the Old Mint , 88 Fifth Street, S.F. (www.sfhistory.org). 

I've no doubt missed several outstanding cultural events, but the above-mentioned affairs should keep you happily occupied this summer.

New: AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: Inferno Theatre Community-Building Benefit June 23 at South Berkeley Community Church

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 16, 2012 - 11:19:00 AM

Inferno Theatre, the small but impressive company founded just a couple of years ago by Giulio Cesare Perrone--perhaps best-known locally as a set designer and past administrator of the remarkable Dell'Arte School of Theater in Humboldt County--has staged his original plays about Galileo's theories and personal life ('Galileo's Daughters') and divine intervention in the all-too-human Trojan War ('The Iliad') at the City Club, in San Jose and elsewhere--and now in partnership with the historic South Berkeley Community Church--showing unusual care with the sets and props and the physical dimension of the acting. 

Now Inferno's planning a fundraiser for their innovative Youth Theatre Program at Oakland's Manzanita SEED Elementary School and their own , from 4-10 on Saturday, June 23 at the Church. "But it's also a way to build community," said Perrone, pointing to the activities, both family-friendly and more theatrically intensive--and to the low sliding scale ($10-$30) for attendance, and the promise of childcare for spectators of the theater events in the evening. "It's a fundraiser--but money isn't everything!" The troupe's just as interested in meeting other individuals and families, and have them meet each other, as well as get familiarized with the company's work and its youth theater program. 

From 4 to 6 p. m. on the 23rd, the focus is on family and kids, including an introduction to the Community Church's remarkable structural space--Mission Revival Arts & Crafts stucco on the outside, with an unusual belltower, redwood panelled and semi-circular inside, both sanctuary and social hall, the structure--a Berkeley City Historical Landmark--dating back to 1912, the present congregation--Berkeley's first integrated one--to 1943. Then origami, with Diego Perrone, followed by a masked play, "sort of a workshop piece," according to Perrone, who will direct kids and parents, with masks "that dictate the shape of the body, an exploration of that ... ". There'll be flag-making, with Emilia Sumelius, of various countries' flags, and a "little parade," and a performance by the Manzanita SEED Youth Theatre. 

Berkeley composer-pianist Luchiano Chessa will perform an original piece, "Varrazione su un oggetto di scena, for piano & stuffed animals"--and teach a puppet how to play it. 

At 6, there'll be a finger food dinner, with jazz by Alma and the Blue Wave. Then a game devised by company members, "with some questions that can be answered by individuals, others only by getting together with others in the room. It will allow us all to get to know each other without formally asking--and when a combination of answers is found, the winners can shout Bingo!" 

Chad Stender will play Mark Twain and serve as MC. Then Inferno's new play, 'Tracce D'Angeli' (traces of Angels), featuring Valentina Emeri, Simone Bloch and Alison Sacha Ross, directed by Perrone. 

A silent auction will follow, and a newly-discovered theatrical speech out of Antiquity, the prologue to Horace's 'Cleopatra,' from archaeological finds in Alexandria, delivered by Federico Wardal (who played the young Casanova in Fellini's film and worked onstage with playwright and actor Eduardo de Filipo), the President of the Italian-American Friends of the Library of Alexandria, in Arabic, English and Italian. A new theater piece, 'My Recollect Time,' by Jamie Greenblatt, will be performed, about Mary Field, a freed slave who dressed and worked as a man, until deciding to live as a woman again, did the chores in a convent, where she befriended the Mother Superior--the story of a friendship. There will also be a piece performed from an Inferno workshop, originally made from the members telling their lives to each other, those stories now put together and staged by Steve Askell, featuring Emeri, Bloch, Paul and Kaya Davis and Michelle Hamer. 

The performances will mostly last about 10 minutes, with music in between. 

"It's a celebration of different cultures and languages, of America and of English," said Perrone. "And at one point, children will be encouraged to speak in gibberish! Most fundraisers usually don't have so much theater. We wanted to do something a little bit more, with the art form as the center of the event, to include families, kids, and people from the neighborhood--and welcome everybody." 

Inferno Theatre 2012 Season and Manzanilla SEED School Youth Theatre Program Fundraiser, 4-10 p' m., June 23, at South Berkeley Community Church, 1802 Franklin, corner of Ellis, just west of Shattuck, near Ashby BART. $10-$30; children 12 and under, free (must be accompanied by an adult). Childcare from 7-10. Tickets: 825-0449; 355-2279, or infernotheatrecompany@gmail.com

Turn Me On, Dammit! Opens Today at the Shattuck Landmark Theaters

By Gar Smith
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 03:39:00 PM

Writer-filmmaker Jannicke Systad Jacobsen sets the scene of her new film with an opening collection of desolate landscape shots from the outback of rural Norway accompanied by a voice-over from 15-year-old Alma: "Empty road." "Another empty road." "Empty road with tractor." "Stupid sheep." "Stupid hay." It's clear that Alma feels trapped in a small village that she would rather escape. It's also clear that Alma feels trapped in a body that's caught between youthful innocence and the emerging fever of primal lust. 

When we get our first glimpse of Alma (played by winningly winsome newcomer Helene Bergsholm), she's sprawled on her back on the kitchen floor listening to an xxx-racy phone-sex monologue delivered by an earnest "phone-sex actor" named "Stig." One of Alma's hands is on the phone—the other is stuffed inside her panties. 

All it takes is this one opening shot to send the message: This is not your typical teenage sex-angst comedy! This is one for the girls. 

The production notes reinforce the argument for making this film: 

"While there are umpteen cinematic tales of frustrated boys desperate to shed their virginity and pop culture is awash in highly sexualized images of very young girls, the frank depiction of an ordinary 15-year-old-girl's lust is one of our greatest societal taboos. Gazing at a blossoming teenage girl's exterior is a lot less problematic than contemplating her inner life, and the sensual thoughts that might be teeming there. To be depicted in a movie, an underaged girl's natural sexuality must either be sanitized through romance, sublimated (Twilight), perverse (A Very Young Girl), or lampooned (American Pie). It's as if the one thing a young girl's desire cannot be is normal." 

Alma seems composed enough on the outside but her inner life is emotionally volcanic. She's not only prone to phone sex (literally, in the first scene), she's prone to sexual fantasies that range from the romantic to taboo. Alma's teen libida keeps creeping up on her, hijacking her imagination with visions of unspeakables being performed on unmentionables. 

It doesn't help that Alma lives with a single mother who has her own lack-of-companionship issues. And it doesn't help that Alma lives in a town so dull that its name, Soddenheimen, translates as "Fogland." In fact, every time Alma and her cynical pack of gal pals drive pass the road sign announcing the town boundary, they ceremonially salute it with the Rigid Digit of Disgust. 

Alma's secret life begins to derail her real life when her mother (an exasperated Henriette Steenstrup) opens a phone bill that's ballooned with scores of calls to a suspicious "Service Line." Alma, embarrassed to find herself suddenly Stig-matized, confronts her mother with the straightforward truth: "I'm horny!" 

Alma promises to pay for the calls but her mother (who maintains the household from her salary as a turnip-harvester) points out that her daughter hasn't a kroener to her name. Mom arranges a clerk's job with the father of a friend but this fails after Alma is caught purloining a sex mag. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper has become hunk-fodder for Alma's hormone-fed fantasies (with the shop-owner performing an over-the-top Chippendale routine in Alma's mind.) 

Alma does have someone she hankers for in the real world. Her Thor is a skinny classmate named Artur. They keep eying each other but neither has the nerve to declare their feelings—until one afternoon at the Youth Culture Center when Alma sneaks into the backyard to enjoy a solitary beer. Artur joins her and, after some initial shy, mutual starring, he unzips his pants and flashes her. (Or does he? Could this merely be another of Alma's inner fantasies?) 

A flustered and delighted Alma returns to the clubhouse to tell her friends that Artur had just "poked her" with his manhood. Naturally, her friends doubt her story, and challenge Artur to ask if it's true. Naturally, Artur denies everything. And, since Artur is the most popular boy in the school, people have to choose sides. Suddenly, Alma becomes the school outcast, abandoned by her classmates and shunned by her closest friends. Alma's life starts to resemble a Nordic version of Bully

Alma's Goth-eyed gal pal, Sara (Malin Bjorhovde), continues to spend time with Alma—meeting covertly in the bus shelter at the town's boundary to share bottles of beer and sips of teen wisdom. 

"Don't get a boyfriend," Sara warns. "If you do, you'll never leave this town." Sara has dreams of a life beyond Soddenheimen: She wants to move to Texas and work to abolish the death penalty. 

Without friends, Alma forsakes beer bottles for hash cigarettes from the unkempt schoolyard stoner and starts going on long dates with liquor bottles. 

Since Alma's a basically good kid (and since this is a wistful comedy), her life takes a turn for the better when she gets drunk, runs away from home, and hitchhikes to Oslo. Alone in the Big City, Alma looks up a friend's sister and finds shelter with a sympathetic trio of independent young adults. They treat her as an equal and Alma discovers a sense of dignity, independent and freedom that was missing at home. 

When her worried mother finally tracks her down and drives her back to Fogland, a knowing smile is playing on Alma's face. She has made that break with childhood. She may not have a man but she's been emancipated: She has taken control of her life and is going to be making her on rules from now on. 

When Artur shows to plead that he loves her, she dismisses him with the news that "You missed your chance, Artur. We are different, now. I have courage." 

It turns out that Artur also develops an aptitude for courage that enables him to commis a splendid act of public self-humiliation that wins Alma over. 

Turn Me On, Dammit! is charmingly outrageous—a wholly enjoyable romp that fills a void in cinematic narrative. As the Chronicle recently pointed out, a new generation of femme cinema has begun to emerge on the screen with break-trough films like Bridesmaids and Greta Gerwig's Lola Versus. Jacobsen's film (and Bergsholm's well-treaked performance) sets the bar a little higher and a lot further down the road. The film also delivers a special bonus—the ability to fling a Norse oath. If you happen to harbor the hots for some slow-to-ignite Norwegian, just use the original title of Turn Me On, Dammit!Få Meg På, For Faen!