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The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is scheduled to be closed and the building sold.
Steven Finacom
The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is scheduled to be closed and the building sold.


Berkeley Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Marijuana Conspiracy, Gun Possession

By Julia Cheever, BCN
Wednesday June 27, 2012 - 02:53:00 PM

A Berkeley man has been sentenced in federal court in San Francisco to 15 years in prison for leading a conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in East Bay grow houses. 

Huy Trinh, 45, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston on Friday. 

He pleaded guilty before Illston in March to one count of conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants and one count of possessing a gun in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said the case against Trinh stemmed from search warrants executed in 2010 at six alleged indoor marijuana grow houses in the East Bay. 

She said agents found 1,198 marijuana plants at three of the sites, including 198 at the home Trinh shared with his wife, Lan Jin, in Berkeley, and 623 at the residence of a co-defendant, Andy Wong, 50, in Oakland.  

Agents also found 5 pounds of processed marijuana and a gun at Trinh's house, Haag said.  

Trinh's 15-year sentence was agreed to by prosecution and defense lawyers in his plea agreement and was the mandatory minimum penalty under federal law for the two crimes.  

Illston also ordered him to pay $74,000 in restitution to PG&E for the cost of electricity stolen from the utility to grow the marijuana.  

Wong and Jin previously pleaded guilty to related charges and were sentenced by Illston to two years and one year in prison, respectively.

Press Release: Berkeley Rent Board Chair Responds to Civil Grand Jury Report

By Lisa Stephens, Chairperson, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board
Monday June 25, 2012 - 10:22:00 PM

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A more detailed response to the Grand Jury's review of the Berkeley Rent stabilization board, along with supporting documents including the full report, can be found here in PDF format.]

The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury has just completed a review of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board’s budget, fees and personnel procedures and issued a Final Report. From the outset of its inquiry, we offered our full cooperation and provided extensive written documentation to support our oral testimony.

Civil Grand Juries can perform a vital role in our modern democracy by reviewing the activities of public agencies and acting as “watchdog” to ensure that those agencies are not abusing the public’s trust. We would have welcomed a critical, fact-based analysis of the Rent Board’s charge under the City Charter: the administration of the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance. Unfortunately, this Grand Jury missed such an opportunity. Instead, it has issued a report that ignored significant evidence substantiating the effective enforcement and reasonableness of the administration of Berkeley’s rent and eviction laws, choosing to mask a disagreement about what type of rent control law Berkeley should have under the guise of criticism of administrative issues. Even more troubling for a report from a public body is the reliance on inaccuracies, innuendo and “perceived” problems, to give a veneer of plausibility to its conclusions.  

In the normal course of events, I would ask the Board to respond to inquiries about the Grand Jury report if and when they arose. The factual errors and insinuation of impropriety in this case are so egregious that to not respond immediately does a disservice not only to the dedicated public servants who provide services to landlords and tenants alike on a daily basis, but to the voters who have consistently supported fair and active enforcement of the Ordinance. The Board may issue a formal response in the future. 

Civil Grand Jury testimony is confidential. Testimony and evidence recounted here is mine and that of the Executive Director, Jay Kelekian. Although we do not know the substance or origin of the complaints that triggered this investigation, the initial inquiries to which we responded and much of the Final Report mirror the June 28, 2011 letter sent to the City Auditor by Sid Lakireddy on behalf of the Berkeley Property Owners’ Association (BPOA) (attached). The BPOA has been a consistent opponent of Berkeley’s rent control laws since the late 1970’s. 

It is important to point out that despite a nine-month investigation, the Grand Jury found nothing illegal or unethical, and that none of the Board’s activities were outside the scope of the Ordinance. Instead, the Grand Jury opined on what type of rent control Berkeley should have without any indication that they understood the distinctive nature of Berkeley’s type of rent control and without any consideration of the strengths, weaknesses and costs of different approaches. The voters of Berkeley have consistently supported Berkeley’s form of rent control over the 32 years it has been in effect. Our staffing levels and fees are in line with cities that have a similar form of rent control (Santa Monica, West Hollywood and East Palo Alto). 

In its report, the Grand Jury either ignored or misstated numerous key points, including: 

  • The elected Board is accountable to the voters, who have repeatedly made clear that they support full enforcement of the Rent Stabilization & Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance.
  • The purpose of the Ordinance is to create a reasonable balance between the interests of landlords and tenants in an unbalanced housing market.
  • The increases to the initial annual registration fee have been passed through to most tenants and are paid through the rent.
  • The Board carries out extensive review and oversight and does so transparently and in public. Board meetings are televised (with transcription), broadcast on radio and web cast to maximize total transparency and accessibility.
  • The Board has six standing committees that meet regularly with staff to provide effective oversight.
  • The staff at the Rent Board has decreased as needs have changed. At the height of rent control, the Rent Board had 36 FTE. Since the passage of vacancy decontrol the staffing level gone down from 27 to between 19 - 21 FTE the past few years.
  • Due to the foreclosure crisis and the increased incentive that vacancy decontrol created to evict long-term tenants, the need for the Rent Program’s services has increased. We receive over 10,000 client contacts a year.
  • Overwhelmingly, tenants and most landlords (regardless of their opinion about the law) believe that the services they receive from the Rent Board staff are fair and professional.
  • Berkeley’s registration fee is within the range of the California cities with strong rent control enforcement policies: Santa Monica, East Palo Alto and West Hollywood.
  • Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland charge lower fees, but studies have shown that these cities have a far higher rate of non-compliance with their ordinances and they have much larger populations and benefit from economies of scale.
  • All Rent Board employees are hired through the City’s civil service system, administered by the Human Resources Department, which ranks job applicants by their qualifications. Those hired at the Rent Board are judged the most qualified candidates by this process.
  • The Executive Director’s pay is similar to what other directors are paid in similar cities.
  • The elected Board’s compensation has not increased in 25 years, since 1987.
  • Like most local and independent governmental agencies, the Board has a lobbyist to represent its interests in Sacramento and has had one since 1984 which includes the period when the majority of the Board were people supported by landlord organizations.
  • The Board has detailed published regulations that govern the late payment penalty/waiver process and all waivers are reviewed by the Director to assure rules are applied correctly.
  • We are fortunate that at a time when tax limitations and recession are crippling local government services, the Berkeley Rent Board is able to charge adequate fees and ensure that the Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance is properly enforced.
Finally, perhaps what is most disturbing are the numerous unfounded and undocumented references to “potential areas of misuse” or “perceptions of impropriety” made by opponents of the Program. Anyone can make unfounded accusations and create a “perception” problem – we live in a time when many people claim the President of the United States is not really an American. The Civil Grand Jury’s inaccurate and inconclusive review of these issues in and of itself contributes to these “perceptions of impropriety”. 

The attached document does not discuss “potential” problems or “perceptions” but rather the facts that were presented to, but often not included in, the Grand Jury’s analysis or Final Report. 


Flash: Main Berkeley Post Office
Scheduled to be Sold

BY Steven Finacom
Monday June 25, 2012 - 04:09:00 PM
The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is scheduled to be closed and the building sold.
Steven Finacom
The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is scheduled to be closed and the building sold.
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom

Berkeley’s civic downtown is about to be dealt a body blow if plans by the Postal Service to sell the Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way go through.

The stately building, completed in 1915, is now scheduled to be closed and sold as surplus property.

Augustine Ruiz, a regional spokesperson for the Postal Service confirmed today, in response to an inquiry from the Planet, ”we are in the process of selling the post office. All carrier operations and Bulk Mail operations will move to the Berkeley Destination Delivery Unit (DDU) located at 1150 8th Street.” 

“We will establish alternate retail services somewhere in the current area of the Main Post Office on Allston Way. We are in the process of looking for a retail location to serve customers in the area. Nothing is finalized on an alternate location as of this date. Our Facility Services Office will be handling the real estate sale of the building.” 

Ruiz added “City of Berkeley Mayor's office and congressional representatives were sent a letter of our plans on June 21, 2012.” 

A copy of that letter wasn’t available, but community users of the Main Office received the news in a letter to bulk mail users, dated June 22 and stuffed in PO boxes at the building, which stated: 

"Berkeley Main Post Office located at 2000 Allston Way Berkeley, CA 94704-9998 will be sold” and gave information for relocating bulk mail. A copy of that letter is here

Sale of the Post Office building, if it goes through, will be in several respects a tragedy for civic Berkeley. 19th and early 20th century Berkeley government and business leaders worked hard to get a Downtown Post office facility worthy of the growing city and succeeded in the second decade of the century, when construction of the current building was authorized in 1910. 

This was the same era when Berkeley’s old City Hall was erected, the Downtown YMCA was completed, Berkeley High School was expanded, and the University was rapidly growing a few blocks to the east.  

The Post Office, a graceful neoclassical structure was designed by Oscar Wenderoth, and designated City of Berkeley Landmark #38 in 1980. Architectural historian Susan Cerny called it in her guidebook to Berkeley architecture, a “free adaption of Brunelleschi’s Foundling Hospital in Florence with its high round arches on plain Tuscan columns.”  

During the early 20th century, Cerny notes, “government buildings were designed to educate and develop the public’s appreciation for fine architectural design. The Berkeley Post Office is an excellent example of this sense of mission.” 

With its near block-long frontages on Allston Way and Milvia Street, wide entrance stairs and loggia, and strategic position at a corner occupied by Berkeley High School, the Downtown YMCA, and the current main city administration offices in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building, it forms a key anchor of the Downtown. It also contains two of the more important local examples of WPA (Works Progress Administration) art. 

The future of the property is now considerably in doubt. A City staff member told me that they had heard a private religious group had been interested in buying the building. It might also, presumably, be appealing to local private developers as a building site.

Tom Bates and the Secret Government of Berkeley: Excerpt 2

By John Curl
Friday June 22, 2012 - 03:45:00 PM

Copyright © 2012 by John Curl. All rights reserved.

This is the second in a series of excerpts from John Curl’s long article about Mayor Bates and his effects on the city. The article follows Bates and the progressive movement in city government from its beginnings to today, based on extensive quotes from Bates’ own oral history and interviews with other players in the political events. In this excerpt Bates talks about Rent Stabilization, low-income housing, the homeless, and his role in the change to district elections. You can also download a Full PDF. of the entire article.

Tom Bates’ relationship to the issue of rent stabilization was always reluctant, guarded, and iffy. Although publicly he supported Berkeley rent control, behind the scenes it was a different story. “But rent control is an issue that—it was like a no-win position for me… In retrospect, I came out of the base which supported rent control. The people voted for it, but it was never, particularly, any good issue for me because it was—I mean, I had to defend it in the state legislature. Albeit, my wife was mayor, and, I mean, I had ties with people who supported it, supported rent control. So I wasn’t about to break that. And so, I ended up having to fight fights that I didn’t really choose to fight. And from a political-aspiration point of view, when I looked at one time to running for other offices, it was like a death knell… so it was not a good issue for me politically. In fact, that was—well, we used to say that was our baggage; our luggage was that rent control that we had to carry around with us… It wasn’t like I would fall on my sword for this issue. It was something that sort of like came with the territory. And particularly with my affiliations and association; I mean, it was like, if I would have changed my view on rent control and done something like [State Senator Nicholas C.] Petris did—he switched; it was like, people were shocked that he would do this, that he would make this change, and he had sold out and all this other stuff. So it was very hard; people were just like a litmus test. Death penalty, abortions, rent control. You know what I mean? Dogs off leash. There are some issues you can’t win on, right? This was one of those.” 

* * * 

According to Bates, participation in BCA [Berkeley Citizens Action, the progressive coalition] declined because, “The BCA used to be an organization that when they have nominating conventions to various local office, they would have five to seven hundred people would show up and participate in the debate and selection of candidates to represent them. But the zealots and the rent fanatics would talk and bring up all these issues that they drove other people away… So it became more and more of a hard-core of people who were interested in very narrow issues, and rent was one of them. It was like the absolute litmus test. So it really hurt the organization...” 

* * * 

The city council led by Mayor “Gus” Newport got a federal grant to build low income housing. But for every proposed site, conservatives stirred up the neighborhood with fears of low income families… 

Bates was harshly critical of Newport’s attempt to increase low income housing. “They made some really stupid, in my judgment, decisions that haunted them, one of which was… the federal government said that they had all this low-income housing that was available, and if Berkeley wanted them, they could get like 172 units of low-income housing. And they said, ‘Sure. We want it.’ So then they’d try to figure out where to put the low-income housing… And guess what? Nobody wanted it anywhere…” 

* * * 

Bates’ views of some social issues were simplistic and not very compassionate. “[T]he homeless issue. That was really, a terrible, knotty problem because, you know, the question is if you provide services for people in Berkeley, if you provide homeless shelters and you provide food programs, I mean, people will come here from all over, because it’s an accepting community. And a lot of homeless people on the streets, and people are saying, ‘We don’t want them here… we don’t want them on our streets… They belong in mental hospitals. They need help. We don’t want to see them.’” 

* * * 

Anger of Berkeley conservatives at two consecutive electoral defeats at the hands of Mayor Newport and BCA which had left them with only one seat on the Council, led to an initiative charter amendment on the June, 1986 ballot. If the new system passed, the eight councilmembers would be elected by districts and only the mayor would be elected at large. The measure was criticized by BCA in that Berkeley is not very large—its population hovers around 100,000—and while district elections make sense in a large metropolitan area, in a city this size they could result in a focus on the competition of different neighborhoods over who gets their potholes filled first. It would also disarm BCA at its point of strength, the ability to mobilize the power of the flatlands majority behind unified, citywide slate campaigns... 

Newport was always outspoken about social justice issues, and never minced words toward people he considered phony or reactionary. There was no love lost between Bates and Newport, but for the most part they kept it out of the public eye. Newport saw Bates as “a hard nosed politico who’s just there for the political reality, … knows how to take advantage of it, to exploit it.” 

Bates in turn was highly critical of Newport, and put off by his politics and manner. … Bates publicly took a stand against the change to district elections. But privately he later took some of the credit. “[A] guy by the name of Gus Newport, who had been involved with BCA… had the reputation for being extremely rude to the public… I mean, we had to change the election to district elections a lot because of his style, the way he treated the public.” Bates did not further explain the statement “we had to change the election to district elections,” but “we” apparently played a role along with the conservatives. 


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. 

Berkeley Fire Victim Identified

By Jeff Shuttleworth and Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday June 22, 2012 - 02:56:00 PM

A woman who died in a fire at a multi-unit Berkeley home this Thursday 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. Thursday 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.

Two Wheel Tripping Berkeley--the Great Rides

By Ted Friedman
Friday June 22, 2012 - 02:58:00 PM
Thigamajig statue bridges aquatic Park to the Marina.
Ted Friedman
Thigamajig statue bridges aquatic Park to the Marina.
We meet up with Green Furtle commune near Golden gate Fields. They're headed for Santa Cruz.
Ted Friedman
We meet up with Green Furtle commune near Golden gate Fields. They're headed for Santa Cruz.
Welcome to Albany Bulb.
Ted Friedman
Welcome to Albany Bulb.

A Day In The Saddle, Skirting San Francisco Bay.

Off my training, I set off for the Berkeley Marina on my 26-28 lb. mixte. I have always considered cycling the marina a poor alternative to cycling Berkeley's thrill-hills. 

But first I looped the new-improved aquatic park, alongside I-80. Now that the park is closed to cars, and spruced up throughout, I wanted to try it for old times sake. I began cycling Berkeley, 1970, in Aquatic, near where I was staying. I then owned a 24 lb Reynold's 53, Bertin with its pavement damping raked fork. 

My mixte has a raked fork. The light-weight aluminum frame really soaks up stutter-bumps. This made the Aquatic park lake loop a breeze, then on to the Marina via a beautiful suspended bridge. 

Before the bridge, you had to shoulder your bike up stairs to a freeway, and maneuver a dangerous off-ramp. Fortunately, you can still do that; the death-defying clandestine way-out still appeals. 

After cruising the Marina, I headed out to the Albany Bulb, via a portion of the Bay Area Coastal Trail that one day will link the East-Bay to SF, the Pacific, and beyond. The Albany Bulb, built on landfill, is an ersatz arts center of public sculptures, and homeless encampments. 

You have to go through Golden Gate Field's race track parking lot to get to the bulb. A race was in progress. At the end of the parking lot, in a backlot, I met a 20 plus community of street tramps living out of an old bus, they called the Green Furful. Some of them were suspicious of me, but I identified myself as a reporter, and interviewed some of them, and got some pictures. 

They were on their way to Santa Cruise and were having trouble with a belligerent communard, who was drugged out of her mind, and bad-mouthing her fellow travelers. 

She wasted no time verbally assaulting me. I've been assaulted by better. 

The fun you can have on a bike…. 

At the bulb, I decided to take the single-track around the bulb to see how well the mixte did as a cycle-cross. I could have sworn I had dual short-travel suspension. Along the way I met up with a couple from Silicon Valley. We compared cameras and set out to loop the bulb. 

I had to shoulder my bike up a steep climb, almost tumbling backwards to my doom. My new friends went ahead and assured me we could get back, even though we ran out of trail. 

Throughout this trip, I saw extravagant homeless encampments with a permanency to them. I didn't photograph their jury-rigged homesteads out of concern for their continued existence, but next trip out, I might. 

on my return, I got that end ride exhaustion that spurred me on to take on the rolling uphill return to Berkeley. Estimated mileage, 20-25 miles--three hours with all the sight-seeing and interviewing stops. 


When you see lists of good bicycling towns, you don't see Berkeley, because the lists are skewed to commuting, bike lanes, and safety. 

You see Minneapolis (1), beating out Portland (2), and you see San Francisco, where cyclists are routinely killing pedestrians, or regularly being killed by drivers--touted for safety. 

Davis, ca., a university town a hundred miles by freeway, has been a leading "bike-friendly" town for forty years, but, although I've searched hard, Berkeley never gets mentioned, yet we have some awesome rides. Finally I stopped worrying, and learned to love my local riding community--and to guard my secret. 

I have taken the great rides in SF and Portland; before David Byrne wrote his cycling Manhattan book, I beat him by forty years cycling the cavernous potholes of Wall Street in 1974. Talk about being lost on Boston's MTA, like "poor charlie," (Kingston Trio). 

In '74 NYC, a bicycling Charlie could roll into a Manhattan pot-hole and be lost for years. Not to mention Kamikazi cabbies. 

I've run Portland's major bike loop, Fairmount Blvd, which is preferred by serious road-riders, but had no desire to join them. Cars are only inches from colliding with you, and they speed. I've cycled downtown Portland, along the Willamette, and over four of its seven bridges. 

Good as Portland cyclists think they have it, they would never leave Berkeley after one of our golden rides. In fact, Northern California's road racing winner Cash Lazurre moved to Portland, but couldn't wait to move back to the Bay Area. He missed our rides. 

i'll never forget the boring ride I took with Cash alongside a Portland freeway. 

Berkeley roadies are challenged now by the degraded roads in the Berkeley hills, but some of them don't seem to mind, and have made ergonomic adjustments in the saddle to lessen bad vibrations. I wouldn't do the hills on a road bike these days, but fortunately we have some great off-road rides. 


Are there any readers out there interested in occasional travel/cycling pieces? 

This piece is from berkeleyreporter.com.  

Chris Norton 1950-2012

By Mary Maloney
Monday June 25, 2012 - 04:47:00 PM

Chris Norton died on Friday, June 22, 2012 at his home in Sebastopol, surrounded by loving family and friends. Born June 5, 1950 in Manhattan, New York, to Sylvia Staudt Norton and Charles Norton, Chris was a proud graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York, attended Amherst College and then moved to Northern California in the 1970's, drawn by the political climate and activism. In 1981 he attended the National Autonomous University in Mexico City where he studied Spanish, history and political economy. He graduated with honors from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Central American Studies in 1983, writing his senior thesis on the rise and fall of General Rios Montt (Guatemala). In 1981, he won the University Presidential Grant to conduct independent research in Central America. 

As a teenager reading the New York Times, Chris began following world events and in particular U.S. involvement in world affairs. Always an avid reader with a keen mind and a remarkable historical memory, he had a great ability to seek out authentic resources to learn the truth. His passion was foreign affairs and U.S. Foreign policy. He could synthesize information from many sources to grasp the historical context, and could readily discuss world history and political movements both past and present. 

Early on, Chris demonstrated his passion for truth and social justice, and a strong commitment to the underdog. He staunchly opposed the Vietnam War, and was an activist supporting the many causes dearest to his heart, always proud of his progressive politics. He was active in the United Farm Workers movement and the Berkeley Free Clinic. Chris was invited to live at Maggie's Farm in Berkeley, an eclectic activist commune which also boasted the largest compost pile in the city of Berkeley. Chris was an activist member of MASV (Men Against Sexist Violence), speaking in schools and public forums, and worked as a producer for KPFA's weekly radio program “Men's Lives” broadcast in 1976-1977. 

In the 1980s, Chris closely followed U.S. foreign policy especially in Central America. At UC Berkeley he was active in SAINTES, Students Against Intervention in El Salvador. From 1981 to 1983 he was a writer for UC Berkeley's Daily Californian covering the conflicts in El Salvador and Guatemala; he reported on the Salvadoran election in 1982 and on Guatemala in the aftermath of the military coup that brought General Rios Montt to power. Chris soon decided that Central America was where he wanted to be, and it was the story he wanted to report. 

Initially he worked as an interpreter and interviewer for the San Francisco Examiner's 1982 award-winning “Tortured Land” series in El Salvador and Guatemala. Critical of the news coverage of the U.S. funded war in El Salvador, in 1984 Chris began his career as a foreign correspondent, reporting from El Salvador as the stringer for In These Times, later adding the Christian Science Monitor, Time Magazine, Newsday, the London Independent, the Toronto Globe and Mail and NBC Radio. Consistently, and often at great personal risk, Chris was committed to telling the real story of El Salvador. His reporting shed light on the collaboration of the U.S. government with the Salvadoran military and the military/civilian death squads responsible for the torture, disappearances and murder of over 75,000 Salvadorans. On October 31, 1989, while interviewing a leader of a union federation, he survived a massive bombing of the federation's offices, which took the lives of ten unionists and injured thirty-three. Chris was fearless in his commitment to the truth which earned him the animosity of the U.S. Embassy, the Salvadoran military and the ruling right-wing Arena party. 

In demand as a speaker and media critic, Chris participated in a panel of four journalists invited to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Congressional Human Rights Committee and other forums. He addressed audiences at the Harvard School of Government, the Carter Center at Emory University, the Columbia School of Journalism and Sonoma State University. While a resident journalist in El Salvador, he regularly briefed church delegations, human rights investigators and members of Congress on fact-finding missions. He wrote articles for NACLA (North American Congress for Latin America) and a chapter for A Decade of War: El Salvador Confronts the Future. In 1991 while investigating the assassination of a soldier, Chris found a bullet placed outside the door of his residence, a not-so-subtle threat, and he decided it was time to return to the U.S. 

Chris met his wife, Mary Maloney, in El Salvador in 1985 and they were married in 1990. Back in Northern California, now married and raising beloved daughter Sophie, Chris worked as a carpenter with several local contractors and in 1997 joined Burbank Housing Development Corporation as a construction supervisor teaching low income homeowners, many Spanish-speaking, how to build their own homes. With his gregarious nature and fluent Spanish, he developed close connections and was well-loved by the homeowners. 

Besides his wife and daughter, Chris is survived by: brother Nick Norton and sister Felicia Norton (Moinuddin) both of New York; sisters/brothers-in-law Cathy and Peter Schneider, Pat Carroll, Jean Maloney, Sheila Maloney Kelly, Maureen Maloney and Ron Carroll; nephews Ben (Momo), Tim (Jackie), Jason (Angie) and Jesse (Aleta); and nieces Gabe (Jim), Leah (David) and Annie (Jade). He was loved and treasured by Sophie's closest girlfriends. He had many life-long dear friends, including Larry Mandella, Tom Berry and so many more. 

A memorial mass will be held at Resurrection Church, 303 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, on Wednesday, June 27th at 11:00 a.m., with a reception following. Donations in Chris' memory may be made to the organization where Mary works, Face To Face, 873 Second Street, Santa Rosa, California 95404. 

Mary Struve 1926-2012

Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:23:00 PM
Mary Struve 1926-2012
Mary Struve 1926-2012

Mary Struve, a longtime resident of Berkeley, California, died in her sleep on June 17, 2012, in Santa Clara, California. Mary was born Mary Kriger in 1926 in Los Angeles, the daughter of Simon Kriger and Sarah Kerr, but grew up first in the Russian emigre community in Harbin, China and then in the French Concession of Shanghai, where she attended the Public School for Girls. Her family came to the United States in 1938, where Mary graduated from Central High School in Washington, DC, in 1943.  

Mary attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Reed College in Portland, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied anthropology and then received her master’s degree in Russian literature. At Berkeley she rented a room from the writer Jaime De Angulo and his wife Nancy, and briefly worked for the photographer Edward Weston at his home in Big Sur. In 1947 she met Gleb Struve, whom she married in 1950. Mary and Gleb collaborated on translations of Russian literature, including "Russian Stories: A Dual-Language Book" which is still in print. She lived in Berkeley from 1945 to 2011, and traveled extensively in the US and Europe with Gleb and later their two children. After Gleb died in 1985, Mary continued traveling, exploring the West and taking up cross-country skiing in her sixties. She loved her dogs passionately and showered them with attention. Well into her eighties, Mary continued to walk her dogs every day in her Berkeley Hills neighborhood and in the nearby Regional Parks. Mary was an avid reader and amateur photographer of birds, flowers and landscapes.  

Mary is survived by her daughter Kyra Collins of Clatskanie, Oregon, and her son Dimitry Struve of Santa Cruz, California. She is also survived by six grandchildren: Christina Nikiforuk, Matthew Collins, Emma Collins, Michael Collins, Benjamin Struve, and Rosalie Struve; and two great-grandchildren, Minah and Kaeden. Mary was predeceased by her husband Gleb Struve and her sister Sheila Penners.  

Her family would like to thank her Berkeley friends and neighbors, the team at Pruneridge Residential Care Home in Santa Clara, and Kaiser Santa Clara Hospice, for their friendship and care in her final years. 

If you would like to make a contribution to Mary's legacy, a donation to the Berkeley Humane Society or your local animal rescue is what she would have wanted.



Just Send Money: Elizabeth Warren Does Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:53:00 PM

In today’s email: a note from someone named Bruce Mann, earnestly exhorting me to wish Elizabeth Warren a happy birthday. Even though I don’t know the guy, it’s something I’m pleased to do. I was lucky enough to meet her at a Berkeley garden party on Monday, and I’m here to tell you she’s great—just as smart as she seems to be on TV, and even more charming. 

She’s got the economic situation nailed: no surprise there. As expected, she’s 100% on the side of the ordinary citizens caught up in the financial maelstrom they didn’t cause. Her quick reprise of her own background was even more impressive than reported: father an out-of-work janitor, mother a receptionist at Sears, low-level jobs to pay the bills, etc. etc. etc.  

And, perhaps more surprising, she’s tough on politics too. When economist Brad DeLong, Berkeley’s best blogger, sprung a prepared question on her at the event, she was ready. 

Here’s how he framed it on his blog

“You and your causes have been victims of our dysfunctional senate. When elected, will you use all the procedural tools at your disposal to block Republican initiatives root-and-branch, without compromise, on the principle that turnabout is fair play? Or will you seek to build comity and bipartisanship and make the senate a functioning deliberative body?” 

In fact, the actual phrasing he used in the question period which followed her stump speech was simpler, and at least as I remember it without notes the “functioning deliberative body” part wasn’t there. Her response was to describe in quick concise detail how she’d struggled to get the Consumer Protection Bureau approved by Congress, rallying advocacy groups while the namby-pamby sitting Democrats temporized, until they just couldn’t turn her down. In her telling, it didn’t seem that she unquestioningly endorsed the proposition that bipartisanship necessarily made for a functioning deliberative body in all cases. As I said, she’s tough, and she didn’t cut the Dems any more slack than she did the Republicans.  

Brad didn’t get the chance to ask his prepared alternative follow-up questions, which depending on her response were either : 

“(1) Doesn't that guarantee and dysfunctional government, and allow Republicans to say: ‘We told you so: government is dysfunctional?’ “ 


“(2) Doesn't that simply make you a doormat for the next wave of right-wing policy proposals?” 

Neither would have worked anyhow, because despite being a campaigning neophyte Warren’s adept at the requisite “Yes, but also no” way of answering hard questions. This is no surprise, since according to Wikipedia she was the Oklahoma state debate champion when she was in high school. (Let’s hear it for high school debaters everywhere!) 

What was she doing in south Berkeley anyhow, when she’s supposed to be running for office in Massachusetts? Again, no surprise—she was here to shake the money tree which northern California represents for liberals everywhere. An article in today’s Boston Globe describes the phenomenon which produced her Berkeley appearance: 

“Since September, she has hauled in nearly $16 million, more than any of the 1,613 candidates officially running for Congress on the March deadline, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

“What sets her fund-raising effort apart, and has helped her raise cash at almost twice the rate as Brown since entering the race, is the deep devotion she commands from the left flank of the Democratic Party.” 

In Berkeley, of course, there’s Left and then there’s Left. Things are never simple here.  

We don’t just have liberals, we have progressives, we have moderates, we have what you might call “neo-mods” or perhaps “neo-progs” (who follow the policies of those formerly called moderates but wrap themselves in the progressive mantle at election time), we have the New Left, the Old Left, and even the New Old Left (former CP members who finally caught the winds of change in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s) and some who have tried all of the above—in other words, more flavors of Left sectarianism than Ben and Jerry (well-known Leftists) have flavors of ice cream.  

All of these tendencies were represented at the garden party in my observation, with one notable exception. The “neo-prog-mods” who support Mayor Tom Bates’ latest neo-connish push to ban seedy sitters from city sidewalks, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, were there. The “mostly-mod” councilpersons, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak, ditto. A former mod councilperson, part of the loyal opposition in the days when Loni Hancock was a progressive, was there. A scion of a famous CPUSA family was there. A lawyer who routinely fronts for big corporate developers was there. Some old-time union leaders were there. A flock of Young Democrat types seemed to have been comped and were helping serve food.  

But the three members of the Berkeley City Council who are actual still-functioning progressives, the ones who are courageously opposing the Bates Anti-Sit initiative, were conspicuous by their absence, as were their supporters for the most part. I asked Kriss Worthington if he’d been invited, and got a characteristically diplomatic response which left me in the dark. But the fact that the garden in question was at the home of Ces Rosales, who tried in the last election to knock him off the council with Bates’s blessing, might have had something to do with his absence—or not. 

I don’t know if the other two real progressives on the City Council, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson, weren’t there because they weren’t invited or because they declined to come, but the money flowed without them or their allies. At the end of the party, the guy who did what’s come to be known as The Ask, after the candidate had left the event, boasted of a haul in the tens of thousands, perhaps $20k or $30k, I was too far away to hear the exact total.  

This is as it must be. Berkeley is the Miami Beach of the Rich Old Lefties, the home of the reliable checkwriters who may disagree locally but donate globally when there’s a candidate to support who doesn’t threaten their personal comfort when they want to patronize downtown theaters or restaurants without being accosted by homeless beggars on the sidewalk. Barack Obama did well here, both in votes and in funding. 

The old saying is that “politics stops at the water’s edge”. Berkeley’s conservative can pose as Sacramento’s progressive. 

Does any of this mean that the local progressives who weren’t invited to meet Elizabeth Warren on Monday should not contribute to her campaign? Of course not. This country desperately needs a better Congress, and she has the best chance of anyone in the country to capture another Senate seat.  

The garden event also missed Berkeley’s public left intellectuals: George Lakoff, Robert Reich and others. Brad DeLong was there only because a friend forwarded to him the link to the invitation website (which is also how I managed to get in, though I wasn’t on the original list.) 

It would be nice if Warren could squeeze in another Berkeley event with the real progressives and the other Berkeleyans who aren’t part of the local Democratic machine, though realistically they probably don’t have as much money as the other crowd. But even if you don’t get invited to a meet-and-greet with her, you can still contribute online. The website is elizabethwarren.com. You can also sign up there as a volunteer. 

Go ahead, just do it. Do it today. It’s her birthday after all. We're not going to do any better. 

And by the way, I looked up the guy who sent me the email about it. He’s her husband, another Harvard law professor. Good to know he’s on the team. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley's Proposed Tank in the News

Sunday June 24, 2012 - 09:02:00 AM

Plans for U.C. Berkeley police to acquire a tank for shared use with the city of Berkeley are reported on an international news wire this week, in a critical article by a Berkeley journalist.


Odd Bodkins: Beaney the Existentialist (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday June 25, 2012 - 10:36:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Falling prey & broken promises (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Monday June 25, 2012 - 11:02:00 PM


Joseph Young



THE PUBLIC EYE: Obama vs. Romney: The Economy

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:43:00 PM

Five and half months before the election, polls find President Obama and the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in a virtual dead heat. The reason is the stagnant economy. While Obama holds Democrats, and Romney Republicans, Independents have swung to Romney because they dislike his economic ideas less than Obama’s. 

A recent Pew Research poll profiled the US electorate. In 2012, Pew projects that 10 percent of potential voters will not vote. Pew allocates the remaining 90 percent to three groups: “Mostly Republican,” 25 percent, “Mostly Independent,” 35 percent, and “Mostly Democratic,” 40 percent. (Pew allocates Libertarians, 10 percent, to the Independent bloc, but most of us consider them Republicans.) Writing in the New York Review, Journalist Michael Tomasky observed, “Only 7 percent of the entire electorate… were truly swing voters.” 

Whatever their actual percentage, Independents are unhappy with the President. A June 13th ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 54 percent of Independents disliked Obama’s plans. (47 percent of Independents viewed Romney’s plans negatively.) 

One explanation is because the economy has been bad for more than three years, Independents blame the President – they expected him to have solved the problems. Another explanation is that Independents are inclined to give Romney the benefit of the doubt because they don’t know him as well as Obama.  

Of course, Mitt Romney blames Obama for the nation’s economic woes. “When he was recently elected [Obama] went on the ‘The Today Show’ and he was asked about what he’d do, how he’d measure his success, and he said” ‘Look, if I can’t turn the economy around in three years, I will be looking at a one-term proposition.’” Romney says the President is “driving the U.S. forward over a cliff.” 

Not surprisingly, Obama sees things differently.

“Long before the economic crisis of 2008 the basic bargain at the heart of this country has begun to erode. For more than a decade, it had become harder to find a job that paid the bills, harder to save, harder to retire, harder to keep up with rising costs of gas and health care and college tuitions… [Republicans said] that huge tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest Americans, would lead to faster job growth. We were told that fewer regulations, especially for big financial institutions and corporations, would bring about widespread prosperity. We were told that it was OK to put two wars on the nation’s credit card; that tax cuts would create a enough growth to pay for themselves.” ”In the fall of 2008 it all came tumbling down with a financial crisis that plunging the world into the worst economic crisis since the great Depression. Here in America families’ wealth declined at a rate nearly seven times faster than when the market crashed in 1929. Millions of homes were foreclosed our deficit soared, and 9 million of our citizens lost their jobs.”

Republicans blame Obama while the President blames Republican economic policies that were in place long before he was elected. Given the ABC News/Washington Post Poll, it appears that Independents believe the Republican explanation. But it’s likely they’re not sure which Party to trust. A recent Daily Kos poll found that “Among independents, 50 percent said that Republicans are stalling the recovery compared to 40 percent who said they are not.” 

The fact that Independents don’t trust either Party is a ray of hope for Obama.  

The President has to do four things to win back Independents. First, he has to tie the current economic malaise to failed Republican policies. For example, he has to point out that private sector jobs have recovered during his tenure; the job loss has been in the public sector – 600,000 jobs – due to Republican actions at the state and local level. Second, Obama has to tie Romney to these policies and paint him as the reincarnation of George W. Bush – in a recent Gallup Poll 68 percent of respondents said Bush was responsible for the bad state of the economy. 

Third, Obama has to explain what he’ll do in the next four years; what actions will he take to improve the economy given the likelihood that Democrats will not control both the House and Senate? In his Cleveland speech Obama described “an economy that’s built not from the top down but from a growing middle class; that provides ladders of opportunities for folks who aren’t yet in the middle class.” The recent Survey of Consumer Finances revealed that between 2007 and 2010 median US family income dropped 7.7 percent. Obama has to communicate that recent economic gains have all gone to the top 1 percent, not the middle class. And finally, Obama has to tie Romney to the 1 percent; paint him as the pawn of those who have ripped off the middle class. 

Despite all the bad economic news, Obama has a favorability lead over Romney. The President has to build upon this and convince Independents their best interests will be served by voting for him in November. 

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

WILD NEIGHBORS: Citizen Science and the Lord of June

By Joe Eaton
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:19:00 PM
Two migratory dragonflies, common green darner and black saddlebags.
Eugene Zelenko, via Wikimedia Commons
Two migratory dragonflies, common green darner and black saddlebags.
Black Saddlebags
Eugene Zelenko, via Wikimedia Commons
Black Saddlebags

For those of you who have a pond (if I may paraphrase Vita Sackville-West), here’s an opportunity to make a personal contribution to science. The Xerces Society, a nonprofit group that supports the conservation of insects and other invertebrates, has announced a Dragonfly Pond Watch to help document the annual movements of two migratory dragonfly species, the common green darner and the black saddlebags. Both are common and widespread insects, found throughout California, and are easily recognizable even without binoculars. The darner has a particularly felicitous Latin name: Anax junius, the Lord of June. Volunteers are needed to observe a pond or other wetland on a regular basis and note the migrants’ arrival and departure dates (see www.xerces.org/dragonfly-migration/pondwatch for details.) 

The phenomenon of dragonfly migration is unfamiliar to most people, even those who keep an eye on changes in the natural world. It’s similar to the migration of monarch butterflies in that no single individual makes a complete round trip. As Tim Manolis describes it in Dragonflies and Damselflies of California: “Observations suggest that, in late winter and early spring, [migratory] species begin to emerge in large numbers in Mexico and the southern border states (including the warmer areas of California) and move north into the northern United States and southern Canada. They breed in summer and then die. A late summer and fall emergence resulting from this breeding activity typically produces large numbers of offspring that migrate back south to breed in fall and early winter, and their offspring in turn emerge in spring to repeat the cycle.” 

North America has 300-odd dragonfly species, only nine of which migrate. In our area, that would include the variegated meadowhawk, the wandering glider, and the spot-winged glider, in addition to the Pond Watch focal species. (The common names of North American dragonflies were standardized around 2000 by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, with generally euphonious results.) Worldwide, migrants comprise 25 to 50 of the 5200 known species and have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. Flying swarms can be densely packed, with individuals only 3.1 meters apart. Their numbers can be jaw-dropping: 400,000 were tallied in a single day at Cape May, New Jersey. Author Scott Weidensaul on the fall passage through the Mexican state of Veracruz: “Each day, tremendous clouds of green darner dragonflies, probably numbering in the millions, would stream by us while we were counting hawks, the dry rattle of their wings sounding like sleet on dead leaves.” 

Green darners have touched down on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Globe skimmers and a few other species fly all the way across the Indian Ocean from India to Tanzania and Mozambique, by way of isolated island chains like the Maldives and the Seychelles. A large aggregation of dragonflies, possibly globe skimmers, was spotted 900 miles off the coast of Australia. 

In some ways, these mass movements parallel the seasonal migrations of birds. Groups follow ridges, cliffs, sea- and lakeshores, and other topographic leading lines. In North America, at least, their numbers peak after the passage of cold fronts. W.H. Hudson, the Anglo-Argentine naturalist, described flights preceding pamperos, seasonal winds of the pampas: “They make their appearance from five to fifteen minutes before the wind strikes, and when they are in great numbers the air to height of ten or twelve feet…is all at once seen to be full of them, rushing past with extraordinary velocity in a northeasterly direction…” Like birds, dragonflies fatten up before beginning their journeys. It’s not clear whether they feed en route. 

A few years ago, Martin Wikelski of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and colleagues published their study of migratory behavior in the common green darner. They attached 300-milligram radio transmitters to the thoraxes of 14 darners captured in New Jersey, using eyelash adhesive and superglue. Once relaunched, the dragonflies were tracked from the ground and the air (with a Cessna 152 or 172.) The scientists found that their subjects traveled more often on calm days than windy days, and sat out days of high wind. Flying days always followed a night that was cooler than previous days. Like songbirds and some hawks, the darners were reluctant to cross large bodies of open water; some zigzagged to avoid Delaware Bay. 

I don’t know if anyone has attempted a similar project on the West Coast, but there are anecdotal records of mass directional movements through Northern California. Keep watching the pond! 

ECLECTIC RANT:From Raisin in the Sun to Clybourne Park

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:12:00 PM

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and nineteenth. While it is a celebration, it should also be a remembrance of race and real estate, part of the dark side of Black history in this country. 

Many, many years ago, I read and saw Lorraine Hansberry's play, Raisin in the Sun, which debuted on Broadway in 1959. The play concerns Walter and Ruth Younger and Walter's mother ( Mama). Mama received an insurance check for $10,000 and uses part of the money as a down payment on a new house, choosing all-white Clybourne Park in Chicago over a black neighborhood because it happened to be much cheaper. Meanwhile, Karl Lindner, a a weasly white representative of the neighborhood they plan to move into, makes a generous offer to buy them out. His ostensible reason: to avoid neighborhood tensions over interracial population. Walter is actually considering the buyout offer, but at the end of the play he changes his mind, announcing that the family is proud of who they are and will try to be good neighbors. The play closes with the family leaving for an uncertain future in their new home.  

While in New York City earlier this year, I saw Clybourne Park, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner and 2012 Tony Award winner for best play. Bruce Norris, the playwright, borrows the character Karl Lindner from Raisin. In Norris's play, set is the house that Younger bought, we see the white couple who sold it to him being unsuccessfully petitioned by their neighbors not to sell to the Youngers. In the second act, set in 2009, Clybourne Park is now all-black, and a white couple who plans to buy the same house raises the specter of gentrification and the social upheaval it frequently engenders. 

I assume that Mama or her immediate ancestors were part of the some six million African-Americans who left the south for about every other corner of the U.S. from about 1915 well into the 1970s, It was called the Great Migration. They were escaping the Jim Crow laws that enforced a rigid caste system throughout the South. The Great Migration did not end until the 1970s when the South finally began to change. The whites-only signs began to come down, the all-white schools admitted blacks, and everyone was allowed to vote. By the 1970s, some forty-seven percent of blacks were living outside the South, compared to ten percent when the Migration began. For example, in Chicago the black population went from about 44,000 before the Migration to more than one million. There are more blacks living in Chicago now than in the state of Mississippi.  

Until the late 1960s, banks and savings and loan institutions overwhelmingly practiced "redlining." That is, they refused to make mortgage loans to African-Americans, no matter what their individual credit history.  

Real-estate speculators bought low from whites and sold high to blacks. If blacks could not get mortgages, then how could they buy? The answer was to buy "on contract." On contract was an installment plan, which combines the worst of owning with the worst of renting. The buyer made a down payment and is responsible for taxes, insurance, interest, and property maintenance. But contract buyers, unlike mortgage buyers, got no equity in their property until it was paid in full. Properties sold on contract could be repossessed if the buyer missed even one monthly payment. You could pay $9,000 on a house priced at $9,500, miss a payment, and lose the property plus your down payment. 

Buying on contract left the buyer in a vulnerable position. For one thing, the property was probably inflated. Yet, to own a house, blacks had no choice but to accept the deal. Black-Americans were often trapped. Because they bought at an inflated price, many husbands and wives worked two jobs to make their payments. They put off maintenance and often had to take in tenants. 

Whites saw the deteriorating neighborhoods, overcrowded properties, declining maintenance, absent parents, and unsupervised children, but did not know the cause. As a result, whites fled, sold at a loss and moved to the suburbs. Their former houses were then sold at a mark up to African-Americans. 

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, now prohibits redlining when the criteria for redlining are based on race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, or ethnic origin. 

Another unsavory practice was "blockbusting" where unsavory real estate speculators would scare white owners into fleeing their neighborhoods by selling to an African-American or spreading a rumor that an African-American was moving into the neighborhood. 

In Clybourne Park a character quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, "The story of American history is in private property." And ever since, we have been attempting to resolve the problems of race and property.


By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:38:00 PM

I like large print. Large print, large-type, large-font, whatever. Books, newspapers, online publications with typeface or font that accommodate my increased need for visual senior power

Large print is usually defined as at least 16 points in size. Libraries use the subject heading or descriptor, LARGE TYPE BOOKS. As of June 21, 2012, the Berkeley Public library catalog lists 4,067 such LARGE TYPE entries. They are mostly mysteries, other fiction and biography, with plenty of standards like Tom Sawyer, All Creatures Great and Small, A Room of One’s Own, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Dickenson’s Selected Poems, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. They range across subject-matter, or, in terms of that infamously referenced Dewey Decimal, 000’s – 999’s.  

A book published in the original type size, usually hard-cover, may also be available in large print and additional versions or formats. For example, Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 The Help; A Novel. The version in large print was published by Thorndike Press of Waterville, Maine, “the world’s largest publisher of large print books,” which publishes 16 point best-sellers in paperback. In England, Chivers Large Print. The Help is also available as a CD sound recording and a DVD video of the motion picture adaptation, not by Stockett.  

From my perspective, the novel and the motion picture are quite different, although each within its own genre brilliantly recognizes many of the paradoxes, inequities and incongruities of people’s lives in the Deep South of the sixties, especially women’s. Things did not change greatly in a decade. In the seventies, 170 miles from Jackson, Mississippi -- Skeeter Phelan’s brother drove it in two hours -- conditions where I lived continued much the same. The deepest Deep South is the tier from east Texas across Gulf Coast southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Today’s students do not learn of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.  

Before there was Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, there was V. I. Warshawski. Sixty-five year old Sara Paretsky revolutionized the mystery world in 1982 when she introduced V.I. in Indemnity Only. Numerous Paretsky/V.I. titles are published in several formats in addition to the original trade editions. Bitter Medicine, Body Work, Hard Ball, and Indemnity Only are available in large print and as CD sound recordings and electronic ‘e books.’  

Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski is a sexy, smart, gutsy, not-young private investigator operating in Chicago. It seemed that Kathleen Turner, then thirty-seven years old, would be great as V.I.. But the 1991 motion picture was the creation of three guys who decided to make Paretsky’s Deadlock into a comedy. It was a critical and commercial failure. Like Tillie Olsen and her Tell Me A Riddle, Paretsky likely learned the hard way the need to retain control and script approval.  


I’ve been reading a nonfiction-fiction double dose -- Prague Winter and Mudwoman. I have the library’s large, large-print copies. My hands are full. Heavy reading indeed.  

Prague Winter : A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 is seventy-five year old Madeleine Korbel Albright’s latest book with Bill Woodward, who “played a major role in research and, as he has done on my previous books, served as a partner in the writing.” It was she who, while serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, wryly observed "This is not cojones. This is cowardice," after Cuban military pilots shot down two small civilian aircraft flown over international waters by a Cuban-American exile group. Albright was the first woman to serve as United States Secretary of State.  

Except for her Madam Secretary memoir completed in 2003 (and available in large print,) this has been her most personal book, an account of her family’s history blended with that of the era. Her central theme this time is why we make the choices we do. “Nothing could be more adult than the decisions people were compelled to make during this turbulent era, yet the issues involved would be familiar to any child: How can I be safe? Whom can I trust? What can I believe? And (in the words of the Czech national anthem) ‘Where Is My Home?’” For the first six decades of her life, she had been ignorant of her family’s Jewish heritage. She had, in fact, been raised a Catholic.  

As a war time refugee enrolled in an English grammar school, her first-term geography grade was D minus, “which did not bode well for a career in world affairs, but the next semester I improved to B, so there was a chance after all.” “I learned in the course of my own career that British diplomats are trained to write with precision; so when a double negative is employed, the intent, usually, is not to clarify an issue but to surround it with fog.” An example is the “not disinterested” politician negotiator. 


Seventy-four year old Joyce Carol Oates’ 2012 novel is Mudwoman. Meredith “M. R.” Neukirchen (German for new church) is the first female president of a hot-shot Ivy League institution. She struggles with a past that has included adoption, repressed abuse, and years of wasted devotion to an unworthy man. Forty-one year old M.R. is not a feminist. Will she be able to cope with the present, which includes disparate treatment based on her sex/gender, jargon for sexism in academe.  

Oates moved to New Jersey in 1978 and began teaching at Princeton University. She has suggested that Mudwoman’s events are somewhat autobiographical, summoned up by a dream she had had. I have never been able to get into her slow-beginnings. And there are those unclear endings. 

I resolved to hang in there and got the large print version of her 2011 memoir, A Widow’s Story, written “In memory of my husband Raymond Smith.” “My husband died, my life collapsed.” She concludes, “Of the widow’s countless death-duties there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband’s death the widow should think I kept myself alive.” Smith and Oates were married in 1961. In 2004, she described "a marriage of like minds—both my husband and I are so interested in literature and we read the same books; he'll be reading a book and then I'll read it—we trade and we talk about our reading at meal times...it's a very collaborative and imaginative marriage." 

Smith died in February 2008. Six months after his death, she met Charles Gross of the Princeton Psychology Department and Neuroscience Institute. They were married in early 2009. 


In 1996, seventy-eight year old Gary Marshall was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television. His 2012 memoir, published by Random House Large Print, is My Happy Days in Hollywood :A Memoir : from Happy Days and The Odd Couple to Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries :Tales from a Hollywood Legend. It is easy reading.  



This month SAGE (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) released a groundbreaking report. Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice is a new report examines the social, economic and service barriers facing transgender older adults, who face profound challenges and experience striking disparities in areas such as health and health care access, physical and mental health, employment, and housing. With a growing older transgender population, there is an urgent need to understand the challenges that can threaten financial security, health and overall well-being. Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults includes a detailed literature review, profiles of the experiences of transgender older adults around the country, and more than 60 concrete recommendations for policymakers and practitioners.  

The Elder Justice Coalition, a national advocacy voice for elder justice in America, a 3,000+ member coalition, shares good news regarding the Senate Labor-HHS Bill, which includes funding for the Elder Justice Act. The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved of their FY 2013 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. This proposal includes $8 million for the Elder Justice Act (EJA), specifically funding for adult protective services. This was the amount requested in the President’s FY 2013 budget.  

The 2012 California Driver Handbook is available on line and in hard copy. I picked up my free copy at the North branch of the Berkeley Public Library. It provides two sample Knowledge tests, more online. Try them now before the time comes to renew your driver’s license. A handbook specifically for senior drivers is at www.dmv.ca.gov Senior Guide for Safe Driving (DL 625) or call 1-800-777-0133. The Senior Driver Ombudsman Program in the San Francisco/Oakland area is at 510-563-8998.  

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.  



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 


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. 


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. 

Monday, July 16, 7:00 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. “Author Village Rythms: African Village Celebration.” Laura Cunningham. Onye Onyemaechi, master percussionist, educator and performing musician, engages students and families in a participatory experience of African Village life. His repertoire involves student participation in African drumming, dancing, songs and stories. He uses captivating music, native dress and instruments presented in a historical/cultural context. This free 45-minute program is brought to you by Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival. 510-524-3043. 


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. 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. 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Some Discrimination and Misunderstanding

By Jack Bragen
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:14:00 PM

Persons with mental illness are a very misunderstood category of people. From our perspective, the perspective of the person with mental illness trying to live in society, it seems like many of those who are successful people behave toward us as though we were lepers. Even among those who have more understanding, there is always that subtle bit in which we are not being treated as equals or as intelligent, aware people, which many of us are. 

On the "less understanding" end of the scale, you have people who expect us to be assaultive at any moment. Being afraid of a category of people fosters disdain and not understanding. I was called "an animal" by someone who worked in a psychiatric ward, possibly a social worker or an attorney, whose job was to help persons with mental illness. I was called, "sick." Another person, in front of a mental health clinic, came up and said, "I'll let you know when I need someone to empty my garbage." The person said he could tell that I was "a Prozac." 

It is easy to say nasty things like that to someone who has just recently experienced a psychotic episode and who is thus without a lot of defenses, or to insult someone in front of the perceived safety of a surveillance camera. 

When someone discloses their psychiatric condition, it can make them not hirable at most positions. It is probably in the hiring market where many people's prejudice becomes apparent. Most people probably think schizophrenic people are just fine, so long as they don't have to deal with them personally (or as someone who can affect their bread and butter such as in a business). "PC-ism" gets tossed when someone believes their wallet will be affected. 

I worked for a restaurant wholesaler as a delivery person for a short time. When I called in sick, and then I apologized for it and said that I should have gotten more rest in the first place, my manager spread the concern that I was going to drive off in the company van, and go somewhere with it. The van keys were taken from me. They were under the mistaken impression that I still worked for them when they phoned me for more work, and that was when I informed them that I was no longer working for them. 

On the other side of the coin, I have also worked several places where my psychiatric disorder was not considered a problem. Some of those work situations worked out just fine. And, I assume that should I wish to become self-employed again, I could do so with a fictitious name rather than by using my own name. Our government is not allowed to discriminate against me for having a disability, in most matters-and this includes most types of licensing. Our government would not allow me to become a peace officer, join the army, or work for the secret service. However, there is no law that I couldn't run for public office. (I just wouldn't get any votes.) 

As a person who must live with a schizophrenic disability, I have encountered some prejudice and some equality. I am lucky that I live in a democracy like the US which is a place where most of my freedoms are intact, and I can look forward to mostly a "fair shake" in life.

Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT OPERA: Three Bargain Opportunities This Weekend: Happy End, Lucia di Lammermoor, Summer Eve

By Planet and Ken Bullock
Friday June 22, 2012 - 02:31:00 PM

This weekend opera lovers have three great chances to experience opera live and up close. 

Goat Hall productions is presenting Happy End, by Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht, at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, on Friday, June 22 and Saturday, June 23 at 8:00. Tickets are priced from $15 to $25. Details at goathall.org. 

On Sunday at 2, you can see the only remaining Berkeley performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, staged by Verismo Opera, with Eliza O'Malley in the title role, at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street in Berkeley. Tickets are $16-$120. 

And for a free performance in Walnut Creek, try "Opera on a Summer Eve--Out of the opera house ... and into the fresh air." Festival Opera artists will perform at the Community Fair at walnut Creek Civic Park, Civic Drive at Broadway, this Sunday at 5 (the Fair starts at 4), with soprano Kristin Clayton (alumna of both Merola and Adler Fellows programs of SF Opera--& Teatro ZinZanni's Prima Donna), baritone Zachary Gordin, conductor Bryan Nies and the festival Opera Chorus. Glorious arias--and it's free! (Ken Bullock).

The Monkey House: Berkeley's New Underground Nightspot

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:33:00 PM

Berkeley's got a hip new nightclub. It's so hip, in fact, that most people don't know where it's located.

It's called The Monkey House and it's the home of Ira Marlowe, a multi-talented singer/composer The Planet once dubbed "the love child of Tom Waits and Tom Lehrer."

As a way of boosting Berkeley's music and art community, he's converted the front section of his live/work storefront on University Ave. into a cozy performance space, a maroon-walled mini-club complete with a small, well-lit elevated stage and several dozen folding chairs (interspersed with the occasional small wooden table). Earlier this month, he sent out word to a small universe of friends that a special club-warming party was to take place on June 9. By 8PM, the place was packed and the joint was jumping. In order to gain admission, you need a password. (The Monkey House follows in the tradition of other subterranean cultural treasures like Strings, another "secret," word-of-mouth performance space that has flourished for years.) The Planet uttered the magic phrase "Chim-chim" and was quickly ushered into the nicely lit band-cave. The walls are appropriately fitted with lamps that bear a monkey-tail insignia and a large stuffed monkey presides over one well-upholstered sofa. The front walls are adorned with a tangy assortment of Monkeyabilia—graphics, artwork, and circus posters. (An easy guess is that this collection will continue to blossom as fans begin bringing their own Monkey art to add to the walls. 

Naturally, a special night calls forth a special crowd. In this case, nearly everyone in the packed room seemed to be a professional performer. Instead of swapping business cards, people were reaching into satchels and purses to exchange their latest CDs. As Marlowe explained to the opening night crowd, the Monkey House is not just a venue for composers and singing guitar-pluckers, it's also a refuge for "storytellers, spoken word artists and magicians." 

The inaugural lineup of guest performers included: Maurice Tani, Vanessa Lowe, Alexis Harte, Robert Temple, David Gans, Clara Bellino, Ari Fellows-Mannion, Joe Rut, Jhene Canody, Tommy Banks, The Secret Identities, spoken-wordmeister Chris Chandler, and Marlowe, himself. 

There was so much talent in the room that night that soloists and duos had to limit themselves to a single song—three performances at a time with five-minute breaks to socialize. Every performance was a highlight. David Gans had the crowd hooting and guffawing to a tune that could well have been called "My Psychoanalytic Blues." ("I've been working on my issues/Got some work to do./ I've come to the conclusion/ That my problem is you.") Joe Rut had the throng convulsed with a song inspired by "the second time I died." (Wherein Rut ascends to the Pearly Gates and has to dicker with a less-than-sympathetic Saint Peter.) 

Under the glow of the stage lights, storyteller Chris Chandler, a slim slip of a man in a porkpie hat, transformed into a ranting dervish-from-Dixie. The embodiment of a slick hick swinging a mean schtick, Chandler dashed about, dishing out a cosmic perspective on the plight of people living on Trailerpark Earth. At one point, he grabbed a stage mike and turned it into a steering wheel for a souped-up car-chase through the Cosmos. 

Bringing things back to earth, Marlowe stepped to the stage to offer a poignant "song to our children." Somewhat in the tradition of Dylan's "Forever Young," Marlowe's touching chorus concluded with a hope and a whispered wish: "I hope you live forever… (for awhile)." 

While the guys largely sang original tunes devoted to kids and death, a bevy of talented women commandeered guitars and fiddles to wail songs (some wistful and some wicked) mostly about cowboys (some boyfriend material; others irredeemable jerks). Alexis Harte offered a sweet ballad of childhood innocence that contained this lingering lyric of reassurance: "It's [just] a temporary tattoo of a candy cigarette." 

Because The Monkey House is located on the street level of a large apartment building, the show had to wind down by 10, out of deference to "the folks who live upstairs." This should not be a major problem since the building manager is a big backer of the nightclub and was among the beaming participants on hand for the Secret Opening Night Gala. 

After the event, The Planet followed one happy partygoer to the door of her apartment. It was a short walk. She happily revealed she is one of those people who "lives upstairs." It was a good omen. 

The first official Monkey House show is set for Saturday, June 23. It's a Comedy Night with coic juggler/mgician Frank Olivier (The Tonight Show, America's Got Talent) comic and cartoonist Michael Capozzola, and host Marlowe himself, sharing a barrelful of his more humorous songs. 

Details on the show are available at: http://www.monkeyhousetheater.com/MONKEY_HOUSE/comedy_night.html 

To make a reservation, visit www.monkeyhousetheater.com. There is a sliding scale donation of $10-20, and you'll need to bring your own drinks and snacks. The secret location of the Monkey House is located just three blocks from North Berkeley BART. That's all we can reveal. 

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Colorful Cartoon “Magic Flute” at SF Opera—a pedestrian review

By John A. McMullen II
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:29:00 PM
Nathan Gunn as Papageno
Cory Weaver
Nathan Gunn as Papageno

The Magic Flute at San Francisco Opera is a lovely cartoon of an opera which is, in this case, more about the extraordinary designer Jun Kaneko than the work of Mozart.  

In front of the War Memorial Opera House are two enormous ceramic sculptures by Jun facing one another, so you enter through these portals into his colorful imagination. 

During the overture a hypnotic abstract line drawing which is cued to the music fascinates the audience. 

The background sets are mainly Kaneko’s graphic projections of moving colors and shapes. The various bird and animal costumes are amazing and are reminiscent of some 1960’s fantasy caricatures. 

The staging of the opera is spare—mostly “park and bark”—seemingly to avoid competition with the projections. 

Most folks recall the movie “Amadeus,” in which there is a scene of an opera with a fellow in a chicken costume that sticks in the memory. That’s this opera. It was Mozart’s last opera. It ran for 100 performances, but he didn’t get to appreciate its success because he died 66 days after it opened. 

This production is sung in English, so it’s The Magic Flute rather than Die Zauberflote. Supertitles are still used since words can be lost in the arias.  

Perhaps it is the simplicity and familiarity of hearing it in our language that changes it from the mystique of German to the mundane. English is harder to sing—probably because of the hard “r’s”—but there is still some exotic difference. Compare hearing “So wird Ruh' im Tode sein!” vs. “I welcome the peace of death.” There are some languages that inspire awe by their nature--said this critic who grew up a Catholic when the mass was said in Latin.  

And the libretto is in rhymed couplets and quatrains in tetrameter, like this, “Who nears the holy temple door? / Young man, what are you looking for?” or “Loathsome villain, feel my scorn! / Pamina’s rescue I have sworn.” Thus the child-like simplicity is much more evident than in the German. 

The opera is a Singspiel, which includes spoken dialogue, but here all sung recitative is replaced completely by colloquial dialogue. Dialogue suited to a cartoon, like, “Get up and act like a man.” – “I’d rather lie here and act like a mouse.” 

It gives one the impression of having wandered into a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta with better singing; which is not necessarily a bad thing. 

At first glance, it seems to be a sexist, racist storyline.  

It’s complicated, but here’s a quick sketch:  

The Queen of the Night is the antagonist whose husband did not grant her the power upon his demise, but gave it to the sorcerer Sarastro. Sarastro has abducted the Queen’s daughter Pamina (sung by Soprano Heidi Stober) to keep her safe from her mother’s influence. Sarastro’s henchman Monostatos the Moor, unbeknownst to his master, keeps trying to have his way with Pamina. The Evil Queen has promised Pamina to the Moor if he can free her from Sarastro and bring her back to her court. Sarastro is keeping his friend’s daughter safe until her hero appears and completes the three tasks. He does this because, well, she’s a woman, and a woman can’t really make it in this world without a man to guide her. Or, implicitly, she might become like her mom. When we meet Tamino, our hero, he is being attacked by a two-headed, scary Big Red Chinese Snake—done masterfully with an outsized puppet. The Three Ladies slay the snake and view Tamino’s healthy unconscious form with lustful intentions. The bird-catcher Papageno(in a bird suit) shows up and becomes Tamino’s sidekick. Sarastro puts Tamino through his trials to win the fair maiden and enter the Brotherhood. Tamino was sung by Alek Shrader when I attended. 

Although sexism and racism were acceptable in 1791, that wasn’t the intention. It is far more complicated and a sort of “opera a clef”—a work of fiction that has a key to unlock the door in order to reveal the real people this opera was written about. 

The key is Empress Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Dynasty who tried to suppress free thought and expression, and was virulently anti-Masonic. She was also the mother of Marie Antoinette, so this was on the eve of Revolution. Mozart was a Mason, and, together with his friend impresario/actor Emanuel Schickaneder who wrote the libretto, “laid it between the lines”— they made this opera an indictment of Maria Theresa who, here, is the Queen of the Night.  

The only two extraordinary voices in the cast are Albina Shagamuritova as the Queen and Kristin SIgmundsson as Sarastro. Shagamuritova’s coloratura—where she sings high in her register and bounces around sending off vocal fireworks—is the musical highlight of the opera. In "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" ("The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart") she hits an F6. (For those with limited musical knowledge like me, that’s 17 white keys above middle C on your piano.) She brought the audience to their feet during the curtain call. (When it comes to divas and ballerinas, do Russians just do it better?) Kristin Sigmundsson has a bass that is eerie in its depth, hitting an F on the low end. 

The acting is broad and sometimes slapstick, and Papageno (Nathan Gunn) and his new girlfriend Papagena (Nadine Sierra) give particularly joyful and animated performances. The “Three Ladies” (Melody Moore, Lauren McNeese, Renee Tatum) who rescue Tamino from the Snake are a pleasure to watch in their competitive byplay and to listen to in their overlapping trios 

It’s perfect for older children and for adults to get a firmer grasp of the slippery plot line that can seem abstruse in German. On a warm June evening, it makes for a grand night out. 

THE MAGIC FLUTE by W. A. Mozart 

San Francisco Opera 

The War Memorial Opera 301 Van Ness Avenue at Fulton, San Francisco. 

Conducted by Rory MacDonald 

Production designed by Jun Kaneko 


Plays: Thu 06/21 7:30pm, Sun 06/24 2pm*, Wed 06/27 7:30pm, Fri 06/29 8pm, Sun 07/18 2pm 

(*-Exploration Workshop: Inside the Magic Flute! @ Sun 06/24 11am & 12:30pm) 

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

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Iranian Playwright & Director Bahram Bazai, St. Marks Playreading, A Folkie Bard On Disk ...

By Ken Bullock
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:16:00 PM

Bahram Beyzaie, celebrated Iranian playwright, film and theater director (his play 'The Death of Yazgird,' performed at Ashby Stage eight years ago by Darvag Theatre in collaboration with Shotgun is the best play by a living playwright I've reviewed in the past dozen years), has been in residence at Stanford. Next week, he'll be staging a shadowplay, from his new play 'Jana & Baladoor,' a story of music, myth and the elements, which the brilliant Larry Reed of Shadowlight Productions consulted on, at Cubberley Auditorium on the Stanford campus. Noted Iranian actres Modeh Shamsaie and famous musician Mohsen Namjoo will participate. With the exception by shows at Cal Performances, Stanford and the annual San Francisco International Arts Festival, we seldom have the opportunity to see the work of major artists and companies from elsewhere in the world. Beyzaie is the genuine article; I urge you to make the trek to Palo Alto to see what he has to show us. With Iran being heaped with opprobrium in the news, it's refreshing to have one of its most eminent artists staging a production here. 

June 27-30, 8 p. m. at the Cubberley Community Center, Stanford campus. $30-$60. 650-725-2787; events.stanford. edu/events/324/32457 

* * * * 

St. Marks Episcopal Church Spoken Word Committee will present a staged reading of acclaimed British playwright Howard Brenton's short play 'Paul,' about the life of the Apostle, a secular piece exploring the phenomenon of faith, June 24 at 2:30, 2300 Bancroft way at Ellsworth, across from UC Berkeley campus (parking garage accessible from Durant Avenue). Free. * 

Those Rude Mechanicals are at it again! The long (five year) hiatus after Subterranean Shakespeare's previous foray into vocalizing The Bard on 'Shakespeare's Greatest Hits' has been broken. June Levine, who began writing folk songs based on The Bard's plays in 1962, beginning with 'Julius Caesar'--and who founded Rossmoor Shakespeare Appreciation Society with her husband, Gene Gordon, in 2001, became such a fan of Subshakes' maiden album that she commissioned its founder, (ex-punk producer0 Geoffrey Pond, to spin the dials on another with 22 of her songs, some co-authored by Peter J. Crabtree, a few set to traditional tunes. The result, 'Folkspeare,' is now available, numbers covering various Tragedies, Comedies & Histories from the Canon ... with an original version of "Mac the Knife" and a provocatively titled "O Henry!" thrown in for good measure ("Measure For Measure" unfortunately not set to song). $15 at: folkspeare.com or on cdbaby.com/cd/therudemechanicals or by calling Geoff Pond at: 276-3871. 

The Rude Mechanicals are: Laurie Amat, Stuart Hall, Lori Higa, Tamara Miller, Kevin Moore, Michael Peppe, the aforementioned Geoff Pond and Cindy Weyuker.