Two burning cars on the Clark Kerr Campus. Cause of the fire is under investigation.
Thursday morning at or around 9:30 am two cars burned in the driveway between the Clark Kerr Campus and the back of Redwood Gardens senior housing in Berkeley. Black and white plumes from the fires rose hundreds of feet into the air, clearly marking the location for emergency crews, campus officials, and on-lookers.
The Berkeley Fire Department rapidly extinguished both cars. In the process both hoods and trunks were opened, mostly with fire axes and pry bars, and the interior spaces were thoroughly flooded with water laced with white fire retardant.
The owner of the white BMW with Missouri registration called Berkeley Emergency (911) to report the fire. The BMW burned first, with enough heat to cause the blue Honda parked directly behind it to catch fire. The BMW was reduced to a burned-out shell and the Honda did not fare much better.
L.V. Weiss, a witness to the fire, reports that the City of Berkeley Fire Marshal looked worriedly at the huge wood chip pile near the burning car and said that if it was not taken away "I'm looking at another Oakland Hills Fire".
On Friday, July 20, from 3– 6:00 pm. A public information demonstration will gather at the Downtown Berkeley Post Office, at 2200 Allston Way (near Milvia St).
Then, Friday evening, July 20, 7:30 to 9:00 pm, join us for “They're Selling the Berkeley Post Office?! A Travesty in National Context” for a discussion of options with Gray Brechin at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street (at Arch), Berkeley. * * * * * * *
The following Tuesday, July 24, at 5:30 pm. Join the Rally & Happy Birthday Post Office Demonstration Party. Celebrate the 99 year old landmark Berkeley Main Post Office with a Big Cake! Then, at 6:40pm we March to City Council at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Then, at the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday evening, July 24, at 7 pm, they will consider a resolution to formally appeal the proposed USPS sale. We the people will speak to support the appeal & to protest the sale of our landmark Main Post Office.
* * * * * * *
The giant CB Richard Ellis real estate brokerage is contracted by the U.S. Postal Service to sell America's post offices. It is doing so without local public input and with no consideration for the architectural aesthetic, or historic merit, let alone the vital community functions of postal services. A national grassroots fight to stop service cutbacks and preserve living-wage postal jobs for our communities is also growing (savethepostoffice.com). Berkeley’s Main Post Office was built in 1914 and was modeled on Brunelleschi's Foundling Hospital in Florence, and it hosts two public New Deal art works.
The Berkeley Main Post Office belongs to all of us.
For more information, contact Harvey Smith at 510-684-0414 or
Gray Brechin at 510-204-9607.
The Committee to Save the Berkeley Main Post Office
Steve Finacom confirmed rumors I’d heard when he reported on June 24 that the US Postal Service will soon sell Berkeley’s downtown post office. If that sale goes through as planned, it will be only the latest instance of an accelerating heist from the public domain as the USPS Board of Governors and Congress incrementally unravel America’s 237-year old postal system. In that sense, it is also another lurch in the direction of Ayn Rand’s utopia in which public services and the public domain simply cease to exist.
In 2004, the Oroville postmaster told me that I could not photograph a New Deal-era sculpture in that town’s post office lobby since the USPS, he said, owns it. No it doesn’t, I replied. My parents paid for that art; it belongs to all of us. That’s what the public domain means. He remained adamant however. It never occurred to me at that time that the USPS — or rather, its designated real estate agent — would sell the land underneath our post offices as well as the buildings themselves. That is what is happening today as a hasty and opaque fire sale gathers momentum around the U.S..
A year ago, a resident of Ukiah told me that the USPS was “’consolidating for efficiency’ and taking the heart out of a walkable downtown.” The Post Office”, she said, “is the social center of Ukiah; the alternative is a drive-to Annex on the edge of town that requires an automobile for access.” The USPS had nonetheless gone ahead, “ignoring public comment, thousands of signatures and the law.” As elsewhere, it had thus rendered all resistance by the area’s citizens futile. Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May, the building is now closed and listed for sale for $675,000.
That was only the beginning. NYU professor Steve Hutkins became so alarmed at what he was learning about the auto-liquidation of the U.S. postal system that he launched a go-to website that features many historic and architecturally distinguished properties being thrown onto the market. His site offers rebuttals to the USPS justifications for doing so that the press dutifully parrots while revealing the fox-in-henhouse makeup of the USPS Board of Governors. In a recent posting about the many exquisite California post offices that are or soon will be up for grabs, savethepostoffice.com also reveals that a year ago, the USPS gave commercial real estate giant CB Richard Ellis an exclusive contract to sell the public’s property as well as advising it on which postal facilities it should sell.
CB Richard Ellis is largely owned by its current Chairman of the Board, billionaire investor Richard C. Blum. Among his many other activities, Mr. Blum is the Alpha U.C. Regent so responsible for “restructuring” the University. He is also the domestic partner of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
It is hardly surprising that among the properties CBRE is selling are full or partial city blocks in the heart of some of the priciest towns in the U.S. Those blocks often contain mini-palaces embellished with New Deal artwork that, despite inroads by the internet, still provide vital community services while attracting customers for nearby downtown businesses. Moving what remains of those services to peripheral shopping malls and industrial strips only accelerates the centrifugal forces withering the nation’s downtowns while eliminating buildings that have long provided essential public space.
Even given the generally high quality of U.S. post offices, Berkeley’s is a standout. Nearly a century ago, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury gave the State University’s home town something special, a colonnaded edifice modeled on Brunelleschi’s famous Foundling Hospital in Florence. Built in 1914 at the same time as the Campanile, the post office was intended to harmonize with the neoclassical “city of learning” that architect John Galen Howard was designing for the University just a block away as well as with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition then nearing completion across the Bay in San Francisco.
The building has, over the years, managed to escape the tacky remodelings that the USPS has inflicted on other historic properties such as Oakland’s main post office. Its high ceilinged lobby, marble, oak, and brass fittings, and its two New Deal artworks are a far cry from the vestigial retail outlet that the USPS has said will replace it in unspecified leased space once our post office is off its hands.
As elsewhere in the U.S., that announcement that the public’s property would soon be up for grabs was made by fiat with virtually no public notice and no consultation with the community that depends upon the services that the building provides.
Concerned citizens have begun to ask questions about what they are about to lose and why. On Friday, July 20 at 7:30, the town is invited to learn more about what is at stake here and elsewhere at the Hillside Club as well as to prepare for the July 24 City Council meeting when the Council will consider a measure asking the USPS to rescind its sale of what we all own. On Tuesday, July 24, there will be a rally and Pre-Centennial Birthday Party In front of the post office at 5 PM, just prior to the City Council meeting. Call 510-684-0414 for more information.
Not much of a crowd before council meeting Tuesday, but all that changed later in chambers.
Mayor ends council meeting unexpectedly past midnight Wednesday, before hearing every speaker and, according to three opposing councilmen, violating regulations which could be grounds to challenge the vote which sends sit-lie to the November ballot.
Opponents of sit-lie break out in "We Shall Not Be Moved," a 60's civil rights anthem, after the mayor, allegedly, cut off debate and violated other council protocols.
Wednesday "press conference" at City Hall to charge Mayor Bates with free speech and council rules violations, an end run maneuver to keep an anti-Sit-lie ordinance off the ballot.
It was to have been a working birthday for me. I can't recommend a working birthday too highly, especially if you are running from your age, and discover the soul of Berkeley in the process.
I had expected only to cover the Berkeley City Council Meeting, if for no other reason than to see if sit-lie protestors' last gasp would match its previous uproar June 12.
But first I received an email that the university had encroached in People's Park once more, so I raced to the park to find a young tree had lost three limbs to "pruning." Along Telegraph, I stopped in at Annapurna to check on a reported boycott related to sit-lie.
A crowd had gathered at Telegraph and Haste to see a bus door that had popped its moorings, leaving a gaping wound in the chassis, but at Annapurna, there was no boycott protest, only an empty T.V. Channel 2 van. Channel 2 had abandoned its media van parked outside Annapurna, and was interviewing people outside the Med about their views on the sit-lie measure.
Through staff at Annapurna and other sources, I learned that Channel 2, KTVU, had gotten word that the owner of Annapurna supported sit-lie. The tip was off by a city block; it was Craig Becker, owner of the Cafe Mediterraneum, downwind, who supported sit-lie, along with Roland Peterson, Executive Director of Teley property owners, who had been mis-identified by a lone protester as Annapurna's owner.
Annapurna is owned by Al Geyer, who, as an historic head shop owner, and "People's Park friendly." Roland Peterson told the lone protester at Annapurna he supported sit-lie but did not own the head shop, and the lonely protester left.
KTVU soldiered on with a man-on-the-street angle. Next day the intrepid mainstream
media vamps reported, in all seriousness, there had been a boycott of Annapurna.
I was beginning to think the whole (birth)day was a bust. And when I got to the sparse demo outside city hall, I told Michael Diehl, who organized several anti-sit-lie protests last year, that there weren't enough people for any fireworks at council.
Diehl said he expected a bigger crowd later. But the next day, he admitted he had, along with me, had his doubts.
What we didn't know is that Emiliano Ruiz, 19, a Berkeley boy from a political Mexican family, and a Berkeley Community College student-intern to Kriss Worthington, Dist. 7, had spent days leafletting at the Berkeley Marina July 4th, in downtown Berkeley, on Telegraph, in People's Park, and at university student housing co-ops to get out the opposition to what critics of the council majority called "ram-rodding" sit-lie onto the November ballot.
By 10 p.m. in council chambers, it became clear that Ruiz, who would like someday to run for city council, had scored a major coup, as council swelled (to capacity) with protesters, many of whom were students who complained this was all happening while they were on summer break and not here to object.
Carol Denney, Ann Fagan Ginger, 87, famed civil liberties attorney (who staged her own sit-in on the chamber's floor), councilmen Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin, Pat Wall, who wrote a new crowd-pleasing version of her popular call and response routine from the previous council protest, Osha Neumann, and mayoral candidate Zachary Running Wolf Brown topped even themselves.
Gina Sasso, who died at 49 last year was remembered. Sasso had organized an anti-sit protest at Cody's before she died Another speaker dedicated her protest to Sasso. Since 1991's spirited volleyball protests, to her death, popular South sider, Sasso leaves a growing legacy.
District 5's Laurie Capitelli criticized Anderson for being "eloquent," and Anderson objected, saying he tolerated Capitelli's "lack of eloquence" without complaint.
Capitelli objected to councilmen, like Anderson and Worthington-- "playing to the [anti-sit-lie] crowd."
It now seemed the council majority, who would later claim victory, had won the battle for sit-lie but lost the war. Worse, for them, it had provoked the left to more unified action than wizened council observers had not seen in years.
"We've never in all our years at council seen anything like this," two veteran council watchers said.
Worthington, who earlier confessed to liking "Kumbaya," Anderson, Denney, Dan McMillan ("Who's filling your campaign coffers,") Russell Bates ("sit on this"), and a string of eloquent students had managed to revive a Berkeley 60's voice of civil liberties and justice.
After Mayor Bates bolted from the chambers, ending the meeting in confusion, Worthington not only played to the crowd, he led it in song, dance, and fierce opposition to the proceedings. The audience left chambers at 12:45 a.m. flushed with moral victory.
What remained but to invalidate the council majority decision to put sit-lie to the voters.
NEXT DAY, PRESS CONFERENCE, CITY HALL
At a hastily-called "press conference" in which no questions were fielded (but thoroughly answered after the press conference), and attended by only two local reporters and a few passersby, fifteen members of a coalition to keep sit-lie off the ballot formed a tight band of fellowship to keep alive the high-spirited hell-no from Wednesday morning at Council.
The tight band of fifteen sang two new verses to those at Council of "We Will Not Be Moved."
Speakers included Ruiz, Worthington, Neumann, and Diehl. Anderson succeeded in explaining his showdown with Capitelli, explaining it was not hurt feelings, but rather the sense that the council majority, especially the mayor, had lost sight of civility, Berkeley's best interests, and basic morality.
'It's not about me," Anderson said.
Students, who had researched the Brown act, read a list of legal breeches and further violations that could invalidate the council vote to ballotize sit-lie.
Afterwards, I questioned Ruiz, Arreguin, and Worthington. Wouldn't legal challenges to
the validity of the council's vote take precious, ticking-clock time needed to oppose sit-lie in November? Ruiz and Arreguin said "we must do both."
Worthington felt that a successful legal challenge to the council vote was, he didn't say it--a shot to the heart to derail the sit-lie juggernaut. He recalled a successful court challenge twelve years ago, during Mayor Shirley Dean's regime, to a budget measure that was subsequently kept off the ballot.
"We're seeking legal counsel on this," he said. Strategizing on-the-fly, Worthington predicted that he could maneuver a sequence of events, using filing deadlines and other tactics to create a situation in which "the Alemeda registrar of voters would have no alternative but to bar sit-lie from the ballot."
In an if I do this, and if I do that scenario, Worthington seemed to revel in anticipated victory.
Back at our office at the Med, I cornered Roland Peterson, whom many see as the sit-lie author, assisted by his boss at the property owners, President Craig Becker. Peterson and Becker had taken a drubbing in absentia from Osha Neumann, who characterized them as fat cats, smugly relishing their council victory.
"Look at it this way," I prompted, the fourth quarter game clock has run-out, but the refs re-convene the game. Just when you were ready to turn off your T.V. you had to sweat the game's outcome."
"But the other team has only time for one last play," Peterson rebutted.
"That play could change the outcome of the game," I suggested.
"They've already had their last play," Peterson concluded. "It's all over."
"Besides," Peterson added, "I've thoroughly researched the Brown Act, and their case is weak and difficult to make."
If sit-lie makes the ballot, opponents have shown they have the solidarity to resist. And the worthy intern to Worthington, Emillio Ruiz, 19, may have more get-out the crowds tactics up his sleeve.
Gravity has emerged as a player in Berkeley politics in the guise of a watershed and streets bond currently under consideration by the City Council. In a city bifurcated between hills and flatlands, the way water moves towards the Bay parallels the trickling down of money into the municipal coffers.
At their July 10 meeting, the Council moved to put a $30 million bond on the fall ballot but will continue their discussion of the measure wording at next week’s Tuesday night meeting. It’s a ticklish situation because polling has revealed that infrastructure repair is the only Berkeley fiscal measure that has a chance to pass the 2/3 requirement for approval.
Even the order of the words, streets and watershed, has been debated among the lawmakers as well as the percentage allocated to each public works category should the measure pass. The need far outweighs $30 million. Full implementation of the watershed management plan would cost over $200 million according to estimates revealed at a special Council work session in October 2011 and repair of Berkeley’s 216 miles of street, 12% of which are “failed” , would require at least $46 million according to a June 26 report by Ann-Marie Hogan, the City Auditor.
In their discussion this week, Council members revealed deep divisions in district interests, despite giving lip service to unity and the need for broad support. The main difference between the hills and the flatlands representatives is the primary focus of the bond. Should relief of the flooding in West Berkeley be the main goal and should the bond language specify the works to be funded?
Too much detail would tie the City’s hands in leveraging the money for matching grants but too little may elicit accusations that the Council betrayed the voters’ intent, like those that greeted the announcement of the demolition of two libraries last year.
Vice-Mayor Linda Maio and Councilmember Moore have been tasked with drafting a balanced and specific proposal that can garner a unanimous vote of the Council on Tuesday and hopefully 2/3 of the voter’s approve in November. It’s a tall order given the complexities of the need.
The floods of West Berkeley
The City’s Watershed Master Plan conceives an elegant and expensive greening of Berkeley that includes the capture of storm water in place by permeable pavement, bio-swales, and cisterns as well as the replacement of inadequate conduits with a system of larger pipes that would filter garbage and carry cleaner water to the Bay. Both aspects of the plan would reduce the flooding of West Berkeley.
Council members Anderson, Moore, and Maio, who represent the districts most susceptible to flooding, spoke in favor of watershed improvements that would lessen “spilled volume” which means the overflow of storm water onto the streets and the cellars of homes and businesses.
They mentioned “red splotches” on maps showing the flood locations along Codornices Creek in the north and Potter Creek in the south, the two watersheds where overflow occurs during the rainy season. North of University, the biggest spills happen along Second and Gilman, but the larger Potter Creek area, draining one-third of the city, is the major flood plain, where the most severe damage occurs.
The area around the Ashby Bart station can be hard hit, especially along Woolsey and Ellis Streets, Ellsworth at Parker, and Ashby at Sacramento, with smaller flows occurring along Telegraph, Ashby, and San Pablo Avenues. Many areas that experience flooding are not represented on the map, which suggests that the overflow may be worse than depicted. For example, our neighborhood’s corner of Tenth and Dwight floods whenever a major storm coincides with a high tide, with a huge puddle that prevents crossing Dwight Way on foot.
What doesn’t spill onto the streets ends up in the Bay and tragically, in Aquatic Park, where the polluted run-off affects those species who cannot speak for themselves: the birds and the insects and fish that they feed upon. The lagoons are also used by boaters and water skiers who come in direct contact with the water. On Tuesday night, Councilmember Maio once again called Aquatic Park “a jewel,” but its beauty is superficial.
As the storm water runs downhill, spillover enters Aquatic Park in several locations, mostly at the Potter Street storm drain, located in the middle lagoon, where water is released by staff to prevent even worse flooding upstream. Excess also seeps from the lateral pipe beneath the trail along the east side of the main lagoon and from runoff from Heinz, Grayson, Carlton, and Parker Streets.
The ecology of the lagoons is saline, so the fresh water itself is a kind of pollution in addition to the trash, toxic materials, and metals it carries as a result of contact with the streets. Our street sweeping is inadequate to remove all the garbage including plastics, food wrappers, and cigarette butts. The City must comply with the Regional Water Quality Board permit requirements, which are complicated and expensive.
A city program called “adopt a drain” recruits volunteers to clean up the storm drains, a worthy cause, but that’s not sufficient effort to solve the problem. The Aquatic Park Improvement Program, APIP, which is scheduled to undergo environmental review, will attempt to update the hydrology of the Park by means that have yet to be fully explained, but that may complicate matters even more.
The most reliable way to prevent polluted storm water from entering the Aquatic Park lagoons is to replace the conduits around its perimeter, especially the main pipe at Potter Street. These upgrades would separate the saline tidal waters from the fresh polluted storm run-off. In the Watershed Management Plan, the options are called “Resolution of SF Bay Tidal Effects” (page 70).
The option favored by the environmentalists at the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks is Option 1, a large pressure pipe and trash collector box that would prevent the storm water from entering the lagoons. Replacement of the main Potter conduit, estimated of $17,238,000, and its upstream feeders would also relieve the flooding, two benefits combined.
Our decaying streets
Despite the obvious need to upgrade the watershed infrastructure, the City seems to favor using the potential revenues for street repair. City Manager Christine Daniel outlined a plan for using 75% over five years to decrease the unfunded need. Another source of money is Alameda County Measure B, a permanent rise in sales tax to benefit transportation including streets.
If both the city bond and the county tax are passed by the voters, Berkeley has a chance to fix deteriorating streets. That’s an outcome to be wished, but it’s not going to pay for all the needs of both watershed and streets that seem to be in competition but are actually deeply connected.
On Tuesday night, Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents hills District 6 said that the revenue “will be paid out by people living east of…Shattuck…because its based on assessed value” which sounded like she was also speaking for Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak, who were quiet during this discussion. Later Wengraf suggested a compromise of a $40 million bond, split 50/50 but that failed to gain support. The silences suggested that the upstream Council members support streets while the downstream members favor watershed and that the Mayor backs the wealthier districts. Next Tuesday’s meeting will show whether this is true.
This conundrum is going to take more diplomacy than was evidenced at the end of the evening when decorum deteriorated completely during the discussion of the “sit/lie” ordinance. But let’s not go there.
Surely, these are times that test the souls of Berkeley citizens of name and good will. If we can’t start a process to bring the city together and fix what’s broken, we should consider revising the structure of the City Council to include at-large members.
From Sergeant Mary C. Kusmiss S-6, City of Berkeley Police Department
Friday July 13, 2012 - 10:43:00 PM
This afternoon, Friday, July 13, 2012 at about 3:38 p.m., community members called the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) reporting a collision involving a bicyclist and a dump truck. The bicyclist, a man in his 60s, was lying in the roadway on Bancroft Way west of Fulton Street. The dump truck was not aware of a collision, but returned to the scene after being alerted by a passing motorcyclist.
City of Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) paramedics tended to the bicyclist and transported him to a local trauma center where he was pronounced dead by physicians. Members of the BPD Fatal Accident Investigation Team (FAIT) responded to the scene to head the ongoing investigation. Thus far, the dynamics of what occurred has not been firmly established. The driver of the truck has been cooperative throughout the initial investigation and is not under arrest.
BPD is asking for the community’s help with this investigation. If anyone witnessed the collision, please call the BPD Non Emergency Dispatch line at (510)981-5900.
BPD is not yet sharing the name of the bicyclist until family members can be properly notified.
Cars clog Telegraph/Haste Thursday as "soft-launch" of Chef food trucks begins nearby.
Opening of Thursday's food-truck event at Telegraph/Haste was jam-packed.
Never-ending four-hour line at Southern Sandwich Co., by 8:15 I was able to get to the counter to order, but I'm not as patient as the students, who routinely stand in line waiting for books, classes, and ice-cream sandwiches on Teley.
Berkeley Police Chief Michael K. Meehan, and his wife, Becky rated their BBQ five star. Zatgat rated it (Southern Sandwich Co.--"we cater"--one of five best in SF.
Closing and Chef-trucks still selling Thursday evening. Many items sold out, and all "sold steadily."
Ken Sarachan, left, discusses plans for Cody's recently, with an architect. See last four paragraphs of our story.
Off the Grid, a federation of chef-operated, moderately priced food trucks rolled onto Haste and Telegraph to help save Berkeley's besieged center, Thursday 5-9 p.m., and packed in the crowds (as many as 5,000, mostly students, over four hours).
Serious money was made by chefs and promotors, who charge 10% of gross profits for their marketing, and a flat $50 a truck fee, according to one chef, who likes the arrangement.
According to Off the Grid's founder, Matt Cohen, the chefs may have grossed more than $2,000 each. There were nine trucks, who will be replaced with nine different trucks next Thursday, rotating each Thursday.
The trucks "hard launch" Wednesdays 5-9pm, Shattuck Ave. at Rose St., near Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, where, according to Cohen, the "curated" truck-fare tries to compete with the likes of Chez Panisse with even fancier fare than on Telegraph.
Thursday's south-side Grid was a "soft launch."
Not a warm-up, opening, or prelim, according to Grid's marketing director, but a "soft-launch."
A delegation of city officials from the city economic planning department, the Berkeley police chief and his wife, and Telegraph businessmen, who hope to benefit from the crowds, all turned out for the transformational event.
Although all but one of the chef-trucks were SF based and deployed, the one, Sunrise Bakery, has a Bancroft store.
The profits may go to SF, but Teley merchants are on-board for the ride. Craig, Becker owner of the Cafe Meiterraneum said that 'in the long run" Teley businesses would benefit from the hordes hounding the Ave. for chef-concoctions served out of elaborate truck-kitchens.
"We just have to find a way to promote ourselves, during Off the Grid…" feed, Becker said.
Moe's Books and the Cafe Mediterraneum donated their toilets for the event.
Could the feeds, with their big drawing power, save the burned out hole that has become Teley/Haste? It saved it Thursday night, but what about in the future?
Grid founder, Matt Cohen said that Grid, which has expanded to 19 locations (two in Berkeley ,one in Larkspur, and the rest in the city) is not interested in setting up daily at Haste/Teley.
A city planning department official said that Remy's Mexican restaurant, on Haste next to People's Park, might add a beer garden to Grid, but couldn't afford to match the costly chef-trucks, and that Sequioia owners' plans to revive Intermezzo have fizzled--seemingly dashing hopes for a permanent fix to the bleak scene at Teley/Haste.
Ken Sarachan, owner of four teley businesses, including Rasputin's, and the Cody building is still awaiting various approvals for his proposed housing at the quarter-century vacant Berkeley inn site.
But he is stepping in to personally revive Cody's site as a "performance space," hoping to stage a Jewish comedy night Christmas Eve this year at the Cody Bldg.
Perhaps if we say it often enough, Berkeley's Center at Teley/Haste will once more shine, as it shone, Thursday, bringing crowds not seen since Bill Clinton signed books at Cody's.
Our South-side "voice" assures us, he will follow the Teley/Haste Revival until Hell freezes over.
Gray Brechin's fine piece on the Berkeley post office notes that "The building has, over the years, managed to escape the tacky remodelings that the USPS has inflicted on other historic properties such as Oakland’s main post office." This is not because of luck. When the USPS threatened to remodel the lobby with its latest interior decoration ideas--formica countertops, etc.--the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association complained to Ron Dellums, then our representative in Congress. His office arranged some meetings with the regional USPS office in San Carlos. It was a frustrating meeting with some of the most stubborn bureaucrats one could imagine, but plans were revised, and the lobby remains.
Some of you who have struggled for permits of various kinds will find it unfair that the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) has acquired not just one permit for amplified sound, but what appears to be an eternal permit for the prime territory near the BART Station on Shattuck Avenue. But consider that, as the most powerful political group in town, they really, really want to control what goes on there.
Face it; they care more than the rest of us do. And just because they are the best-funded business association in town and control hundreds of thousands of dollars doesn’t mean it is selfish of them at all to expect musicians to play for free. Musicians are well-known for this kind of civic generosity, and why would the DBA, as well-heeled as many of its board members are, want to interfere with that?
Mean-spirited observers might suggest that the DBA has “occupied” this prime busking territory to supplant non-compliant musicians and performers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Why, everyone is welcome to apply for an opportunity to display their talents, for free, of course, at this carefully controlled space and enjoy the benefits of the selection process trusted to the DBA staff. What could be fairer than that? And if the DBA gets some good publicity, for free, mind you, out of the process, don’t they deserve it? Of course they do. Musicians would only waste the money anyway. Here’s to the controlled space program!
Now that the talks with Iran on its nuclear program appear to be on the ropes, are we on the road to war? The Israelis threaten it almost weekly, and the Obama administration has reportedly drawn up an attack plan. But in a sense, we are already at war with Iran.
Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. In the case of Iran, international politics has become a de-facto state of war.
According to reports, the annual inflation rate in Iran is 22.2 percent, although many economists estimate it at double that. In the last week of June, the price of chicken rose 30 percent, grains were up 55.8 percent, fruits up 66.6 percent, and vegetables up 99.5 percent. Iran’s Central Bank estimates unemployment among the young is 22.5 percent, although the Financial Timessays “the official figures are vastly underestimated.” The production sector is working at half its capacity.
The value of the Iranian rial has fallen 40 percent since last year, and there is a wave of business closings and bankruptcies due to rising energy costs and imports made expensive by the sanctions.
Oil exports, Iran’s major source of income, have fallen 40 percent in 2012, according to the international Energy Agency, costing the country just under $32 billion over the past year. The 27-member European Union (EU) ban on buying Iranian oil will further depress sales, and a EU withdrawal of shipping insurance will make it difficult for Teheran to ship oil and gas to its diminishing number of customers. Loss of insurance coverage could reduce Iran’s oil exports by 1/5 million barrels a day, or $4.5 billion a month. Energy accounts for about 80 percent of Iran’s public revenues.
Whipsawed by energy sanctions, the worst may be yet to come. The U.S. has already made it difficult for countries to dealing with Iran’s Central Bank, and the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would declare the Iranian energy sector a “zone of proliferation concern” that would strangle Teheran’s ability collect payments for its oil exports. Other proposals would essentially make it impossible to do business with Iran’s banks. Any country that dared to do so would find itself unable to conduct virtually any kind of international banking.
If the blizzard of legislation does pass, “This would be a significant ratcheting-up of the economic war against Iran,” Mark Dubowitz told the Financial Times. Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who has lobbied for a series of economic assaults against the Palestinians, China, and Hezbollah.
But the “war” has already gone far beyond the economic sphere.
In the past two years, five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. The hits have been widely attributed to the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, and the People’s Mujahidin of Iran (MEK), an organization the U.S. designates as “terrorist.”
Last year a massive explosion rocked the Bid Ganeh military base near Teheran, killing 17 people, including the founder of Iran’s missile program, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam. According to Israeli media, the camp was sabotaged by the MEK working with Mossad. Deadly attacks directed at Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been tied to Jundallah, a Sunni group with ties to U.S. and Israel intelligence.
It is no secret—indeed, President Obama openly admitted it—that under the codename “Olympic Games,” the U.S. has been waging cyber war against Iran. The Stuxnet virus shut down a considerable portion of Iran’s nuclear program, although it also infected infrastructure activities, including power plants, oil rigs, and water supplies. The virus was designed to attack systems made by the German company Siemens and has apparently spread to China, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The U.S. is also suspected of being behind the Flame virus, spyware able to record keystrokes, eavesdrop on conversations near an infected computer, and tap into screen images. Besides Iran, Flame has been found in computers in the Palestinian West Bank, Lebanon, Hungary, Austria, Russia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Because “malware” seeks out undefended computers no matter where they are, it has a habit of spreading beyond its initial target.
Most of the media is focused on whether the failure of the talks will lead to an Israeli or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and there is certainly considerable smoke out there.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been threatening to attack Iran for the past two years. According to Gideon Rachman, a leading columnist for the Financial Times, some Israeli officials have told him Tel Aviv will attack sometime this summer or early fall. One source told him “Israel will wait until September or October because the weather is better and it’s closer to the US elections.”
But the Independent’s (UK) Patrick Cockburn, one of the more reliable analysts on the Middle East, thinks the Israeli threats are “the bluff of the century.” Cockburn argues that there is simply no reason for Tel Aviv to go to war, since the Iranian economy is being effectively strangled by the sanctions. But the saber rattling is useful because it scares the EU into toughing up the siege of Teheran, while also shifting the Palestinian issue to a back burner.
There are serious divisions within Israel on whether to go to war, with the Israeli intelligence and military generally opposed. The latter’s reasons are simple: militarily Tel Aviv couldn’t pull it off, and politically an attack would garner worldwide sympathy for Iran. Recent statements downgrading the threat of Iran by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz suggest the Netanyahu government is finally feeling the pressure from divisions within its own ranks and may be backing off from a military confrontation.
And the US?
According to Paul Rogers, a Department of Peace Studies professor at Bradford University and OpenDemocracy’s international security editor, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for a concentrated attack on Iran’s nuclear industry, using a combination of bombers and cruise missiles. The U.S. recently beefed up its military footprint in the region.
But while the possibility of such an attack is real—especially if congressional hawks get their way—the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence establishment are hardly enthusiastic about it. And in any case, the US is carpet-bombing Iran’s economy without firing a shot or sending air crews into harm’s way.
While Iran is generally depicted as the recalcitrant party in the current nuclear talks, it has already compromised, even agreeing to ship some of its enriched uranium out of the country and to guarantee the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to all nuclear facilities. Teheran has also converted one-third of its 20 percent enriched uranium into plates, making it almost impossible to use the fuel for nuclear weapons. Weapon’s grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent.
In return, Teheran is demanding the right to enrich to 3.5 percent—the level one needs to power a civilian reactor—and an end to sanctions.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not ban enriching uranium—indeed, it is guaranteed by Articles III and IV—as long as the fuel is not weaponized. “Iran is raising eyebrows,” says Yousaf M. Butt of the American Federation of Scientists, “but what it is doing is a concern—not illegal.”
However, the P5+1—the permanent UN Security Council members, Britain, France, the US, Russia, China, plus Germany, is demanding an end to all enrichment, shipping the enriched fuel out of the country, and closing the enrichment plant at Fordo: “stop, shut, and ship.” In return Iran would get enriched fuel for medical use and some spare parts for its civilian airlines. The sanctions would remain in place, however, although it would open the subject up for discussion. The problem is that many of the more onerous sanctions are those independently applied by the U.S. and the EU. Russia and China have expressed opposition to the independent sanctions, but so far have not shown a willingness to openly flaunt them.
It will be hard for Teheran to make further concessions, particularly if there is no light at the end of the sanction tunnel. Indeed, some of the demands seem almost crafted to derail a diplomatic solution, raising the suspicion that the dispute is less about Iran’s nuclear program than a concerted drive to marginalize a country that has resisted European and U.S. interests in the Middle East. Isolate Iran enough, the thinking goes, and it might bring about regime change. Moscow or Beijing don’t support such an outcome, but they have little influence over what Washington and Brussels do independently.
There is no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, the body of evidence suggests the opposite, including the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate that Teheran mothballed its program in 2003. But evidence is irrelevant when the enormous economic power of the US and the EU can cow the rest of the world, and force a country to its knees without resorting to open hostilities.
Returning to Oakland after a long absence, Gertrude Stein famously remarked, “there is no there there.” During the first week of July, conservatives made a similar discovery about Mitt Romney: he’s an empty suit. While Romney blames President Obama for America’s economic malaise, the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t understand what caused the recession and, therefore, has no recovery plan.
“The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it's Mr. Obama's fault. We're on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that "Obama isn't working." Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President's policies aren't working and how Mr. Romney's policies will do better.”
That same day, über-conservative William Kristol wrote in THE WEEKLY STANDARD,
“…voters want to hear what Romney is going to do about the economy. He can "speak about" how bad the economy is all he wants—though Americans are already well aware of the economy's problems—but doesn't the content of what Romney has to say matter? What is his economic growth agenda? His deficit reform agenda? His health care reform agenda? His tax reform agenda? His replacement for Dodd-Frank? No need for any of that, I suppose the Romney campaign believes. Just need to keep on ‘speaking about the economy.’”
What’s wrong with Romney’s campaign? Why is there no there there? It’s probably due to a elemental Romney character fault. Although he comes from a privileged background, went to the best schools, and made an estimated quarter of a billion dollars as a job killer, Romney’s bland and unimaginative. (A recent Selzer poll asked voters who they would rather sit next to on a long plane flight: 57 percent said Obama, 31 percent said Romney.) Perhaps it’s the psychological consequence of flip-flopping on so many issues in order to appease the Republican poobahs. As a friend of mine observed, “If you have your spine removed there are bound to be cognitive consequences.”
Nonetheless, Romney is part of a vast, well-funded Republican political operation and it’s difficult to imagine that his campaign doesn’t have the resources to conjure up an alternative economic plan. Perhaps Romney is saving it for his acceptance speech at the Republican convention on August 30th.
But there’s a more likely explanation. For two years, Republicans have done everything they could to sabotage the US economy, believing that would help them defeat Obama in 2012. (On October 27, 2010, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell famously said, “The single most important thing [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”) For the past twenty-one months Republicans have blocked all White House efforts to stimulate the economy.
The Republican “scorch the economy” policy has had psychological consequences. There’s a famous sixties book “Been down so long it looks like up to me. It may be that Mitt Romney and Republicans are so used to going negative that they can’t get their minds around a positive plan and are forced to fall back on conservative clichés such “cut taxes” and “eliminate government.” Remember that as a businessman Romney’s forte was eliminating American jobs and shipping them overseas. (One of his most famous admissions was, “I like being able to fire people.”)
But the simplest explanation for Romney’s lack of vision is that what he plans to do, if elected President, would be a reprise of George W. Bush’s economic policies. But Romney can’t say this because most voters blame Bush for the stagnant economy. Moreover, even the WALL STREET JOURNAL acknowledges that Bush had the worst job-creation record of any modern president. During eight years, Bush created 3 million jobs. Obama claims to have created 4.4 million jobs -- there’s controversy about this number but it’s clear that Obama has created more jobs than Bush in half the time.
Mitt Romney has a major problem. He can’t tout his own record as a job creator because there isn’t one, he was a job killer. He can’t tout the last Republican president’s record because it was terrible. He can’t tout recent Republican policies because they’ve all been negative – sabotage the economy to make Obama look bad. So Romney will continue to spout vague generalities: he’ll be a better President because he was a successful businessman; Obama doesn’t get it; the solution is lower taxes for the rich and fewer governmental regulations; and on and on.
Republicans may grumble about Romney but in November they’ll vote for him because they hate Obama. So the election outcome will come down to true Independents. Will they be taken in by Romney or will they realize, “There is no there there”? Stay tuned.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If your primary residence was involved in a foreclosure process between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may qualify for a free Independent Foreclosure Review . All Requests for Review Forms must be submitted online or postmarked no later than September 30, 2012.
The free Independent Foreclosure Review will determine whether individual homeowners suffered financial injury and should receive compensation or other remedy because of errors or other problems during their home foreclosure process.
If you believe you are eligible to participate in the program, you may complete and submit a Request for Review Form. It is important that you complete the form to the best of your ability; all information you provide can be useful. Beware of anyone who asks for a fee for any foreclosure review service or for completing The Request for Review form.
You must have been a customer of one of the mortgage servicers listed below.
America’s Servicing Co.
Aurora Loan Services
BAC Home Loans Servicing
Bank of America
EverBank/EverHome Mortgage Company
IndyMac Mortgage Services
National City Mortgage
Washington Mutual (WaMu)
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
Wilshire Credit Corporation
For help completing the form or to have questions answered, call 1-877-465-3138. Monday through Friday, 8 am - 10 pm ET Saturday, 8 am - 5 pm ET
The Independent Foreclosure Review is monitored by federal bank regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, to ensure a fair and impartial process.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a new citizen science initiative to monitor migrating dragonflies. In getting some background on this phenomenon, I read that dragonflies tend to follow the same migratory routes as birds, following the same topographic landmarks and avoiding the same water crossings. Cape May, New Jersey, famous for its migrant raptors and other birds, also sees swarms of southbound dragonflies. I wondered if anything similar had been observed by the hawkwatchers at Hill 129 in the Marin Headlands. Here’s a response from Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory:
“We have a seen a range of meadowhawks and darners [dragonflies], and I know I saw Libellulas [a dragonfly genus] up there, but not so much en masse or migration except for Variegated Meadowhawks, which had a big push during Oct 2010, and seem to show lots of numbers on a few days every autumn. I recall doing a 15-minute a count in 2010 of visible meadowhawks in one direction but I’d have to dig out the figure. Also, we do get GREAT Merlin flights generally in association with (and hunting) those meadowhawks at least a few days per year.”
Merlins are small, swift, highly maneuverable falcons that breed up in the northern forests and winter in our area. I had always thought of them as primarily bird-hunters. But an association with dragonflies might account for the exceptional (in my experience, anyway) merlin numbers at Cape May. The Birds of North America species account notes that recently fledged juveniles take dragonflies in late summer (starter prey?), as do all ages in migration. I don’t know whether dragonfly-hunting has been observed in the Eurasian portion of the falcon’s range.
Further back was a series of columns about animal species that mimic, either temporarily or permanently, females of the species to gain a reproductive advantage. I mentioned the Australian giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) whose males used specialized skin cells called photophores to imitate the patterns of females. They were also somehow able to alter their body shapes to resemble females. Small male cuttlefish used this gambit to get past larger males that were guarding females prior to, or after, mating. If the big guy was distracted and the female receptive, they switched back to a male pattern.
I just learned about a refinement in this remarkable technique. Sneaker males sometimes display a male pattern the side of the body facing the female and a female pattern on the side facing the guarding male. God help them if they get confused.
Finally, years ago, there was a piece about the life spans of birds, based on a study by Daniel Wasser and Paul Sherman at Cornell. They compiled longevity data, both in the wild and in captivity, for what they described as a representative set of bird species, and looked for correlations with taxonomy and life-history traits. Among other findings, they reported that passerines (songbirds) were relatively short-lived, while parrots, flamingos, and albatrosses were avian Methuselahs. They also claimed that longevity was associated with larger size, sociality, a plant-based diet, and nesting on islands, but not with migratory behavior.
That drew, recently, an email from Julien Peter Benney, who may be in Australia. Benney points out methodological flaws in the Wasser-Sherman paper, including the omission of the “old endemic” songbirds of Australia, which are relatively long-lived (he says the green catbird, a species of bowerbird, has reached 14 years in the wild), the nightjars, and the kingfishers. He also says the authors fail to differentiate between nomads (birds that move around and nest opportunistically based on environmental conditions, like the Australian banded stilt and our own white-faced ibis) and true migrants with a fixed route between consistent breeding and wintering areas.
Benney also enclosed a pdf of the paper, which I had not seen before (it was behind a paywall, so I relied on the press release.) Lo and behold, their species list did have a heavy Northern Hemisphere bias. They not only excluded bowerbirds, birds of paradise, and all the other old Australian families, but the antbirds and ovenbirds of South America as well. That may just reflect the availability of data, although you would think a few such species might have credible longevity records. They managed to include a few Australian parrots, along with the American and African species. And yes, no kingfishers or nightjars (the family that includes nighthawks and poorwills.)
Point taken, Mr. Benney. After a few borderline abusive comments I’ve had lately, it was kind of refreshing to get a civil response.
Anxiety is fear, which is usually less intense than outright terror, which is constant, and which stubbornly hangs on despite attempts at relief. It can occur for a variety of reasons including but not limited to having post traumatic stress or having some type of brain malfunction. There isn't always an explanation for its occurrence.
Anxiety can respond to medication, but can also sometimes be dealt with through meditative exercises. For a period of many months, I would experience an anxiety attack at the same time every day. I never found an explanation for it, but am able to deal with it through meditating and resting at that time of day.
Severe anxiety can be harder to deal with than you might expect. It is generally categorized as a much less severe disorder than psychosis or bipolar. (This is probably because anxiety doesn't usually cause odd and unexplained behavior and it doesn't strip the mind of the person's ability to survive in society. It is just very uncomfortable.) Many people in the "mainstream" population, who work and who essentially qualify as "normal people" suffer from chronic anxiety. People with anxiety do not get regarded as "crazy" as do those with schizophrenia or bipolar.
Despite the less severe nature of anxiety, it is sometimes a hard condition to treat because the medications most effective at treating it can become addictive. Clonazepam, for example, loses much of its effectiveness if a person remains at a constant dosage. Benzodiazepines, in general, require periodic increases in dosage in order for them to retain effectiveness. This is a part of the definition of addiction.
When I first became psychotic, about thirty years ago, I experienced anxiety that was so bad that all I could do was lie flat on my back. In my case, the anxiety is sometimes a precursor to another episode of psychosis. In other instances, it is merely another "perk" in my package deal of mental illness.
Anxiousness can be an unbearable emotion and it can sometimes be resistive to attempts at resolving it with meditation. In my case, anxiety often persists until I either take an anti-anxiety medication or else meditate at the top of my ability. Sometimes I am simply stuck experiencing it. It can be debilitating because it makes me immobilized. Doing something to distract myself including working or getting physical exercise seems to only increase the intensity of the discomfort. Attempts at being active tend to worsen the anxiety, and this type of multitasking can be excruciating. When I have a major attack of anxiety, the last thing I want to do is move.
Anxiety can be uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable even when one knows intellectually that nothing is wrong. As with many mental health problems, medication does not always neatly solve the symptom. Combining medication with mental exercises and with mere toleration seems to be a better approach.
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly Asleep on the black trunk Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The Cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. (5 lines omitted) I lean back, as evening darkens and comes on A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
—from “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm” by James Wright
Familiar feeling? One those perfect, peaceful moments of complete attention, suddenly ripped apart to let all our petty failures rush into our consciousness. Is that the primary effect of giving ourselves to beauty—simply to make us vulnerable to perception of our failure to live up to the gift of life?
The best meditation counselors of all spiritual traditions disagree. They advise, “Gently bring yourself back to attention again, again. If you do nothing but that, over and over again, all your life, whatever else you are doing, you will be fulfilling the purpose of human consciousness.”
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)
Oakland storyteller Jovelyn Richards stages an expanded version of the piece she debuted at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley, 'Stripping Down to Story,' about the pride of the Harlem Renaissance, Diane, aka Stardust, showing it all in the back alley striptease club in NYC, including the tattooed pictures that begin speaking to her during the black-outs ... Jovelyn holding forth, with musical accompaniment in her inimitable style, supplied by Mike Wilson, sax, and Dexter Rogers, keyboards. Friday-Saturday at 8, this weekend only, The Garage, 715 Howard at Fifth, San Francisco, part of the Resident Artist Workshop (RAW). $10-$20 (cash) at the door, $15 brownpapertickets.com in advance. (415) 518-1517; 975howard.com
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"Pity the poor 1%" ... The SF Mime Troupe, to celebrate their 53rd season--and another cliffhanger campaign and vote--perform their latest, 'For the Greater Good, or The Last Election,' based on the 19th century melodrama 'The Poor of New York,' showing the POV of the sad "Godzillionaires" embroiled in this economic mess ... this weekend--1:30 (music) & 2 (show), Saturday & Sunday, Cedar-Rose Park, Berkeley, between those two streets, near Chestnut or Ordway, FREE ... Michael Gene Sullivan directs SFMT favorites Velina Brown, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Victor Tomai & newcomer Reggie D. White. Pat Moran leads the combo. (Future local dates, 1:30-2 p. m. starts, unless noted): July 21, Mosswood Park, Oakland; August 1, Lakeside Park, Oakland (6:30, 7 p. m.); August 4-5, Live Oak Park, Berkeley; August 23, Montclair Ballfield, Oakland (6:30-7 p. m.); August 25-26, Willard Park, Berkeley. sfmt.org
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Berkeley Playhouse will stage the musical, 'Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,' July 14-August 19, at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Avenue. Elizabeth McKoy directs a cast that includes East Bay singer Vernon Bush, featured vocalist with SoVoSo and the Glide Ensemble. Thursdays, 7 p. m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7; Sundays, 12 & 5. (A special Wednesday night show July 28 at 7). $17-$35. 845-8542, extension 317; brkeleyplayhouse.org
A giant real estate company contracted by the U.S. Postal Service to sell America's post offices is doing so without user input and with no consideration for their aesthetic or historic merit let alone their vital community functions.
Now it's Berkeley's turn. Built in 1914 and modeled on Brunelleschi's Foundling Hospital in Florence to harmonize with the nearby University buildings, the downtown post office is one of the nation's most beautiful and hosts two New Deal art works. It belongs to all of us.
Dr. Gray Brechin will discuss the actual reasons for the fire sale of what the National Trust for Historic Preservation has categorically named among America's most endangered treasures and what we can do to stop it. The Berkeley City Council will consider a resolution to formally appeal the sale at its July 24 meeting.
Friday, June 20 • 7:30 pm • Donation
2286 Cedar Street (at Arch)
Further information: 510-848-3227 leave msg at Hillside Club
Director Fred Chacon is to be congratulated for assembling a cast of highly talented young actors and singers who believably resemble the teenage characters in the Tony Winning “SPRING AWAKENING” at Altarena. When this musical is produced, usually the actors look like they are in their twenties.
Altarena Playhouse Artistic Director Chacon’s choice to produce this piece was ballsy: controversial subject matters of teenage angst over sex and school. It contains a real, passionate kiss between men, scenes of simulated masturbation and fornication, all expressed in rock songs. As Chacon said in his pre-show intro, this is not a show for those who voted for Rick Santorum.
I saw it in NYC, and thisproduction holds up well by comparison. It is performed on a bare stage with just chairs, just like the Broadway version.
Chacon also was lucky and smart to enlist choreographer Christina Lazo who has a whole lot of talent and perhaps a future. Her complicated intertwined marching, her stomping choreography, and her “body-discovery” modern dance mirror the roller-coaster of rage, confusion, and hormones that is the human condition when breaking through to sexual maturity. At one point, she has the students stomp high in place and throw their hand up as if to get the instructor’s attention, but it is eerily reminiscent of the goose-step and the “Heil” that they might live to see. It is in her frenzied, agitated dance moves that we most clearly connect with the adolescent free-fall.
Music director Dean Starnes’s on-stage ensemble of cello, synthesizer, guitar, bass, and percussion are in synch with the performers and some solos are quite impressive. During the first act I had a hard time understanding the amplified lyrics, but the problem was solved in the second act. Cary Litchford’s vocal direction used the falsettos well, and brought out some nice tones from the young performers.
If you haven’t seen “SPRING AWAKENING”, they use microphones—both “body mics” and wireless, handheld mics like rock singers use. This bothers some folks, and my companion questioned why they would use both. We discussed the aesthetics of it. I conjectured that it was to draw in a younger audience; everybody has rock star fantasies. Then we considered the idea that it is an “expressionistic” device—it shows what is going on inside them emotionally, while separating them from the activity that surrounds them. That could have been helped with isolating light.
There is a stand-out among the cast: Brendon North who plays golden-boy and rebel Melchior is a gifted singer with angelic, magnetic features who can really act. He rips out our hearts every time he pouts or speaks.
Shauna Shoptaw and Charles Evans play all the overweening adults while showing the fragility behind their mask.
Wendla, played by Riley Krull, a grad of the prestigious Boston Conservatory, has a gorgeous and controlled voice. Her image presents a perfect Teutonic naïf, innocent, confused, and desperate for info on the bird and the bees. Her expression consistently childlike and submissive; perhaps a more nuanced, approach might have evoked more audience empathy. (Lea Michele (from “Glee”) played the role on Broadway.)
It is a delightful undertaking that raises further the ever-rising bar at community theaters.
That having been said…
There is a lack of urgency to the play. Remember when you were a teenager and everything was a crisis? One does not feel the tension that the characters’ world is about to go to hell—and their world does in so many ways.
The “sacrifice” character is Moritz who is flunking out and consumed by sexual fantasies and ignorance. His parental rejection at his failure and access to firearms puts him at risk for suicide. Moritz is played by Max Thorne who looks the part and is a performer with pizzazz. However, there is not the needed vulnerability about him in his characterization. Perhaps his performing confidence and frenetic energy lessens our belief that he is a weakling who we should worry about. His character is the third leg of the central trio of Melchior/Wendla/Moritz, and this leg wobbles.
It is a difficult balance not to wilt the budding flower by over-directing, but a stronger hand and a sharper vision could have made this an award-winning production.
Chacon allows some sex scenes to be played for laughs, which defuses them. It does not make us remember and feel the pain of such humiliations as interrupted masturbation or the trauma and fantasy of attraction to one’s mature buxom piano teacher. The circle-jerk at the reformatory is given short-shrift, too. The simulated fornication is sweetly child-like and less than furiously passionate. The “body awareness” self-touching as choreographed by Lazo is done perfunctorily and thus desexualized. Wendla’s fate at the abortionist is zipped through.
The musical is based on the play “Spring Awakening” (Frühlings Erwachen,” subtitled “Eine Kindertragödie”) which was first produced in Germany in 1906 by the great Max Reinhardt. It was written by Frank Wedekind (Benjamin Franklin Wedekind!) who was conceived in Oakland but born in Germany when his parents repatriated during his actress-mother’s pregnancy. “Spring Awakening” was produced in NYC during the First World War and won an obscenity battle in the courts. It is a highly symbolic play, a cry against the sexually-oppressive culture of 19th century Germany, and a precursor to Expressionism. Though Wedekind instituted the tradition of satire in German theatre (after spending nine-months in jail for another satirical poem), there is hardly a laugh in this play, and it rips your heart out. (I remember writing a 40-page paper on it for my master’s degree.) There was a Zeitgeist of sexual awareness, if not sexual revolution, for the next two decades in Europe—from Freud’s writings to the “voluptuous panic” of the Weimar Republic.
I pretty much hate most of the music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater, regardless of the awards. It’s that insipid drivel that passes for rock among our modern clueless youth …this curmudgeon snarled in his dotage. For the most part, the lyrics of the slower songs are neither witty nor particularly poetic nor emotionally evocative. But I do like the rebellious “emo” selections that derive from hardcore punk such as “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” etc.
AND---that having been said…
…it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s about 15-20 minutes from Oakland/Berkeley down 880 across the High Street Bridge. If you’ve never been there, it’s worth the trip, since they claim the title of “oldest continuous running community theatre” in these parts, and “Ambassador” Rick James and the free (donation requested) organic cookies are most welcoming.
music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics & book by Steven Slater
Gray Brechin will provide the context of the closings within the push for privatization of the public sector and will describe how the New Deal not only built post offices, but also beautified them with public art. Union postal workers will talk about the national grassroots fight to stop service cutbacks and preserve living-wage postal jobs for our communities.
Sunday, July 15, 2012 10:00 am free 2133 University Avenue
Excellent Festival Opera celebrates the start of its third decade with a benefit this Saturday at 8, with an all-star reprise of some of the great moments of its past performances, featuring 16 splendid singers, starting with Eugene Brancovenu and Hope Briggs, as well as special guest from The Met, Susanne Mentzer ... Music and artistic director Michael Morgan, principal conductor Bryan Nies and Joseph Marcheso will conduct, with James Toland leading the 40-voice Festival Opera Chorus. $100--with a special package including restaurant party and champagne reception at intermission, $250. (925) 943-7469; festivalopera.org
Carol Smith, retired CCNY faculty, will give a slide lecture of photographs, graphics, and cartoons documenting student and faculty political activism at CCNY in the 1930s, and the ensuing repression which led to the dismissal of over fifty faculty and staff in 1941-42.