U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is speaking at University of California at Berkeley on Saturday and will be greeted by protestors targeting the Obama Administration's continuing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Holder is scheduled to deliver the commencement address for UC Berkeley's School of Law at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Protestors from the group World Can't Wait say they plan to appear outside the ceremony wearing orange jumpsuits to symbolize both Guantanamo detainees and other victims of torture.
The group said in a statement that in contrast to the school's "historical reputation as a beacon for human rights principles and international law, Holder serves the Obama Administration's policies of indefinite detention, targeted assassination outside due process and use of drone warfare in his official leadership role and his political voice."
World Can't Wait has also called for the dismissal of UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who wrote legal opinions supporting the potential use of torture in the George W. Bush Administration.
Holder has served as attorney general since 2009 and is the first African-American to hold the position.
Berkeley graduates will have a variety of commencement speakers this month, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, who will address political science graduates on May 20, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who will deliver the keynote address at the May 18 commencement, a ceremony honoring all graduating seniors.
A teenager who was fatally shot in East Oakland on Sunday night was identified by an Oakland Unified School District spokesman today as 17-year-old Castlemont High School senior Olajuwon Clayborn.
School district spokesman Troy Flint said Clayborn played on Castlemont's basketball team and was described by staff as "extremely well-liked and a popular and beloved student."
Oakland police said the shooting occurred in the 8600 block of Dowling Street at about 10 p.m. Sunday. They said a second male was also shot but is expected to survive.
Flint said the shooting happened in front of Clayborn's home.
He said Clayborn previously attended Berkeley High School and transferred to Castlemont at the beginning of the current school year last August.
Clayborn was scheduled to graduate from Castlemont this spring, Flint said.
A message on the Berkeley High School E-Tree on Wednesday said,
"We are sad to share the news that former BUSD student Olajuwon Clayborn was shot and killed this past weekend. Olajuwon attended Berkeley schools from pre-school through 11th grade; he transfered to Castlemont High School in Oakland last fall for his senior year. Berkeley High has had counselors available to speak with students."
Representatives of a Berkeley medical marijuana dispensary vowed today to fight a property forfeiture lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors last week.
"We intend to vigorously defend the rights of our patients and the citizens of Berkeley to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, licensed dispensary," said Sean Luse, the chief operating officer of the Berkeley Patients Group.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco last Thursday by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the chief federal prosecutor for Northern California.
It asks the court to order the forfeiture from the group's landlord of the group's leased storefront at 2366 San Pablo Ave., on the grounds that the property is used for illegal sales of marijuana.
The Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999, is the oldest continuously operating medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area and serves more than 10,000 patients, Luse said.
The forfeiture lawsuit is part of a crackdown announced by Haag and the other three regional U.S. attorneys in California in 2011. The prosecutors said they planned to target dispensaries they considered to be large-scale commercial operations by filing forfeiture lawsuits against landlords.
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based marijuana advocacy group, said the new case is one of about 20 currently active forfeiture lawsuits against California dispensaries.
But Hermes said at least several hundred other medical marijuana stores in California have closed since 2011 because of threats of such lawsuits.
Another of the pending lawsuits is one filed last year against Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the state's largest dispensary.
The state's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, protects seriously ill patients who have a doctor's recommendation from being prosecuted under state law for using marijuana as medicine.
But federal laws criminalizing marijuana make no exception for state medical marijuana laws.
The new lawsuit was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Nathaniel Cousins of San Francisco and is scheduled for a status conference on July 31.
Luse said the dispensary will keep operating while the case is ongoing.
Henry Wykowski, a lawyer for the Berkeley Patients Group, said the forfeiture effort "places the patients in unnecessary danger by forcing them to obtain their medicine from gangs and cartels."
In announcing the crackdown in 2011, Haag said Northern California prosecutors would begin by targeting dispensaries near schools and parks, but wouldn't necessarily be limited to such sites.
"None are immune from action by the federal government," Haag said at the time.
After receiving a letter from Haag threatening forfeiture in 2011, the Berkeley Patients Group moved to its present location from a previous address that was within 1,000 feet of a private elementary school.
Haag's May 2 lawsuit asserts that the group's current location is within 1,000 feet of two preschools.
Wykowski said today that before moving, the group received a letter from the city of Berkeley stating that the new address was an "appropriate location."
Luse said that four City Council members and Mayor Tom Bates attended a noon press conference to support the dispensary today.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, issued statements expressing concern about federal prosecutors' forfeiture drive.
Two robberies occurred near the University of California at Berkeley campus Sunday.
Just before 2 a.m. a 20-year-old woman was walking in the 2500 block of Hillegass Avenue near Dwight Way when someone behind her told her, "Don't move," UC Berkeley police said.
The victim turned around and a woman grabbed her by the neck. Two other suspects, both men, took the victim's laptop and iPhone, police said.
The victim screamed and was then pushed to the ground. She sustained minor injuries.
The suspects fled northbound on Hillegas Avenue toward Dwight Way.
According to police, the suspects were described as a woman and two men in their 20s.
The woman had a light complexion and was wearing a turquoise sweatshirt. The men were both described as black men with dark complexions wearing white shirts and black beanies, police said.
On Sunday night another robbery occurred in the 2400 block of Fulton Street, about four blocks away from the earlier incident, according to police.
Around 9:20 p.m. a female victim was walking when a man approached her, pulled out a gun and demanded her property, police said.
The suspect grabbed the victim's cellphone and wallet before running away.
The victim was not injured in the robbery, police said.
The suspect was described as a black man in his late 20s, weighing about 240 pounds, with a heavy build. He was wearing a black hat with a red bill, a black windbreaker, a black polo shirt and dark jeans.
The suspects in both robberies remain at large, police said.
The death of a mentally ill transgender woman who died in a struggle with officers three months ago was an accident, a Berkeley police sergeant has ruled in a lengthy report.
Sgt. Peter Hong also said he believes the physical force used by officers trying to restrain Xavier Moore, 41, who identified as Kayla Moore, at the Gaia Building in the 2100 block of Allston Way shortly before midnight on Feb. 12 was "reasonable."
Members of Berkeley Copwatch and the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley have raised concerns about the way police handled the incident with Moore, alleging that they may have used excessive force.
But the Alameda County coroner's bureau ruled that Moore died from acute combined drug intoxication from toxic levels of methamphetamine and codeine.
It also said that an enlarged heart and morbid obesity were contributing factors to Moore's death.
Moore, who weighed 347 pounds, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was a heavy smoker who used crack cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the 350-page report by Berkeley police.
Moore's roommate, John Hayes, told police in a statement that he called police the night of Feb. 12 because Moore was acting belligerent and he feared that Moore would attack him.
Berkeley police said that as they were responding to the incident they learned that San Francisco police had issued a warrant for Moore for a battery in their city in June 2010.
They also said that Moore was combative with officers who came to her apartment.
Officers put restraints on Moore but removed them after she became unresponsive and stopped breathing, according to the report.
Officers then removed the restraints, performed CPR and took her to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to the report.
Moore's stepmother, Elysse Paige-Moore, said in a statement released by Copwatch last month that, "Xavier had a very difficult life but an indomitable spirit. He suffered with mental illness from an early age, struggling throughout his life with paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress syndrome."
Paige-Moore said, "He was a poet and a gifted singer and oh could he dance even at 350 pounds!"
Copwatch spokeswoman Andrea Pritchett was unavailable for comment today.
Coalition for a Safe Berkeley spokeswoman George Lippmann said he doesn't yet have enough information to comment on the police report.
Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said it took police a long time to release their report because "with this type of investigation we want to be as detailed as we can be."
Coats said, "We understand that it took a while and we appreciate everyone's patience. We hope it answers the questions the public had."
At a Special Meeting on May 1, 2013, the Board of Education unanimously voted to appoint Julie Sinai, U.C. Berkeley’s Director of Local Government and Community Relations, to fill an 18 month vacancy on the Board.
The appointment followed a process that brought 10 candidates from throughout the community to fill a seat that opened when Board President Leah Wilson resigned on March 31, 2013, due to a possible conflict of interest in her new role as Court Executive Officer for the Alameda County Superior Court. The Berkeley/Albany League of Women Voters facilitated the Public Comment and Candidate Statement portion of the meeting.
President Hemphill remarked on the high quality of all of the applicants, stating, “It is a testimony to our community's belief in public education, and their commitment to making a quality education accessible to all of our youth.”
In the discussion of the strong field of candidates, Board members emphasized the need for the new Director to hit the ground running, with a new Superintendent coming on board soon, as well as ongoing labor negotiations, continued work on advancing the 2020 Vision, instituting the Common Core curriculum and strengthening partnerships with families, faith based and community organizations, and institutions of higher education.
The Directors unanimously agreed that Julie Sinai stood out as someone who could “roll up her sleeves and be ready for work on day one.” Director-Select Sinai will have an opportunity to do just that when she is sworn in and joins the Board for their May 8th meeting.
Julie Sinai has a long history of involvement with the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), beginning with her role as the Director of School-Linked Programs for BUSD from 1999-2002. As the Mayor of Berkeley’s Senior Aide (2002-2007) and Chief of Staff (2008-2012) she retained a strong focus on education. Sinai also served as part of the Planning Committee and Design Team for the 2020 Vision.
In her current role as Director of Local Government and Community Relations for U.C. Berkeley, Sinai works to build partnerships across the East Bay with community, educational, and government institutions on issues of mutual concern.
Her daughter is a junior at Berkeley High School and her son, a 2010 BHS graduate, is a senior at University of Michigan. Her children have been students at Rosa Parks, King, and Longfellow.
As Director-Select Sinai expressed her sincere appreciation to the Berkeley School Board for their vote of support and confidence in her, she said “It is an honor to serve with such strong advocates for public education. I am truly humbled by the list of applicants for this position. Our community is so fortunate to have such passionate, committed and knowledgeable people working on behalf of our kids.”
This has been a busy week for the Berkeley School Board, with a delegation of Board, District and community members having conducted and debriefed a site visit to Hayward, the home district of Dr. Donald Evans, the finalist for the position of Superintendent for BUSD. An update on the Superintendent site visit is posted on the BUSD website.
While Berkeley continues its protests, the United States Postal Service goes ahead with plans to sell Berkeley’s landmarked Downtown Post Office. The USPS deadline for appealing the decision is Tuesday, May 7th, a day when Berkeley will rally on the steps of the Berkeley Post Office at 2000 Allston Way--music & protest 12:00 to 5 pm, with speakers and music beginning at 3 PM. All are invited to demonstrate and protest the sale of our historic Post Office building.
The Save the Berkeley Post Office Committee, the city of Berkeley and others have appealed the USPS decision. From Georgetown to Santa Monica, the USPS is selling historic post offices that were entrusted to it. In Berkeley, work proceeds at several levels to prevent the sale of our cultural heritage.
o Legally: Save the Berkeley Post Office is working with the National Post Office Collaborate to take joint legal action with other communities, such at the Bronx, and Chelsea, NY, to stop these sales. o Legislation: Senator Bernie Sanders is being asked to amend his bill to prevent the sale of historic post office. His bill preventing the closures of 3,500 post office buildings has passed the Senate. o Education and Outreach: The Committee continues to table and leaflet in front of the Post Office to encourage Berkeley residents to support efforts to save the building for the public. o Fundraising: the public is asked to make a tax-deductible donation to the National Post Office Collaborate to support the legal efforts to stop these sales. Please go to http://www.nationalpostofficecollaborate.com/ ; then click on DONATE. Or mail a check to the National Post Office Collaborate, P.O. Box 1234, Berkeley, CA 94701
"We want these post office buildings to stay within the public domain," said Jacquelyn McCormick, a former mayoral candidate, who organized the National Post Office Collaborate to prevent these sales. NPOC, in the process of attaining a nonprofit status, aims to build a unified national response to the threatened sale of some 40 historic post offices nationwide. NPOC is working with Harold Hughes, retired USPS general counsel, now an attorney with Utah-based Ford & Huff, to look at legal strategies.
"The fact that the post office gave 15 days appeal on a matter that seems to be significant to the public kind of suggests how much thought they're going to give to considering the appeal," Hughes said. He pointed to the National Environmental Policy Act, which says federal agencies must consider environmental impacts of major federal actions. Hughes said USPS avoids considering the cumulative impacts of numerous post office closings.
Hughes criticized the postal service's hearing and appeals process, characterizing them as "pro forma." In his letter appealing the Bronx Post Office sale, he quoted postal regulations that state when a decision affects "the equality of the human environment," USPS must "encourage and facilitate public involvement" in the decisions.
Hughes said, however, the National Historic Preservation Act ensures public access to the art. "Obviously the art was paid for by the public and for public consumption," Hughes said. "When this artwork was created, back in the Depression era, it was created for the public to enjoy. To simply say, 'Well, we continue to have it, but it's up to the new owner whether anyone would get to see it,' really sort of destroys the point of public art."
In April the Postal Service approved the sale of three other historic post office buildings: the Wall Street post office in La Jolla, Old Chelsea on West 18th Street in New York City, and the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse. As in Berkeley, these three post offices contain New Deal public artworks. The murals in the Bronx by Ben Shahn are masterpieces, monumental in scale and extremely well-known.
Berkeley city officials asked for a one year time-out to work with the USPS to find a solution that met the long-term financial needs of the Postal Service and maintained federal ownership. The Postal Service wasn't interested.
As of 2003, the USPS real estate portfolio had an estimated worth of $110 billion. The process of privatizing USPS real estate holdings may yield enormous commissions to CB Richard Ellis, the giant commercial realty firm that was awarded an exclusive contract for USPS property sales. University of California Regent Richard Blum is the chairman of CB Richard Ellis and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, city councilmembers and two state legislators vowed today to do everything they can to stop the U.S. Postal Service from closing down the historic main post office in downtown Berkeley.
The Postal Service has said it plans to close the downtown Berkeley post office and hundreds of other post offices across the country because it is in poor financial shape due to the bad economy and a steady decline in mail volume.
Speaking at a news conference on the steps of the 57,200-square-foot building, which was built in 1914 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, Bates said, "We are opposed to closing this building and will do everything we can to stop this."
He said, "We won't go gently."
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who is Bates' wife and formerly was mayor of Berkeley, called the building "a treasure" and said the only reason the Postal Service is having financial problems is because of what she called a "ridiculous" requirement by Congress that it pay its employees health benefits 75 years in advance.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who formerly served on the Berkeley City Council, alleged that the plan to sell the downtown post office and other post offices across the nation is "part of a right-wing plan to privatize our public services."
City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said, "This idea is stupid and shortsighted."
Bates and the other elected officials who participated in the news conference signed a letter that will be sent to Postal Service officials that appeals the sale of the post office and calls for a moratorium on the sale of all historic post offices across the country.
Bates said there also are other efforts to try to save the post offices, such as possible lawsuits based on the National Historic Preservation Act and a bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, that would change how the postal service is required to fund future benefits and better compete with private postal services.
From street level, there's no hint of the hidden bridge or the artwork that has sprung up to decorate it.
Here's the view from the north side of the bridge, moving down towards the creek:
Stray a bit from the sprawling wall art embellishing the bridge and you might discover another, much smaller, artistic gift inscribed on a nearby path -- an unexplained tribute to octopi.
The art-scene in the park is mutable. On a recent stroll, visitors were surprised to discover someone had tagged the large wooden table near the towering stone fireplace that dominates one of the park's major gathering spaces.
Next week: Beyond the Tunnel -- Live Oak Park Art, Part 3
In addition to the colorful gallery of graffiti beneath Walnut Street near the Berkeley Arts Center, there is another flamboyant display on the cement bridgework supporting Oxford Street where it curves past the western edge of Congregation Beth El. On the west wall of the Cordonices Creek bridge, mysterious trolls armed with bandanas and spray cans have installed huge panels of wall art that extend over both sides of the tunnel below.
When I lived in Michigan, I was a hold-your-nose-and-pull-the-Democratic-lever kinda gal, but in the long time I’ve been in the East Bay it’s gotten harder and harder to do. No, I never thought anyone would know or care if I voted for Ralph Nader, and the one time I met him he was quite surly, so voting for him instead of Gore or Obama was never a temptation.
Some people hold the sacramental view of voting—you should vote for the candidate you believe in, regardless of consequences—but I’m a pragmatist. The firm grip that the usually-liberal machine has on the Democratic party in the East Bay makes participation in elections here just about pointless—and besides, the machine picks usually perform pretty well, all things considered.
Lately, however, some of the people I’ve voted for have been annoying me. Actually, on the national level, annoying isn’t even the word for President Obama’s seeming inability or unwillingness to deal with the continuing situation of the prisoners at Guantanamo. No one, regardless of what they may or may not have done, should be treated the way these guys are being treated, and they haven’t even been convicted of anything. Appalling. Candidate Obama promised change, but he hasn’t delivered.
Then, moving to California, we have Governor Jerry Brown’s, yes, more than annoying, though not surprising, attack on the California Environmental Quality Act. He’s opposed by both labor unions and environmentalists, two groups which don’t always agree, though both usually endorse Democrats. It’s not clear why the governor in his second incarnation wants to gut one of the earliest and probably the best state environmental laws in the country—he’s called CEQA a "vampire" that needs "a silver stake through it"—but you can be sure money has a lot to do with it. Traditionally, developer cash has been the biggest part of campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans.
And there are plenty more corporate contributors from other industries looking to stop CEQA too.
The original Democrat carrying water for the stop-CEQA crowd, Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, who was the head of the State Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee, and whose name was on the first gut-CEQA bill Brown endorsed, left the Senate recently to become a lobbyist for Chevron. Go figure.
Even the self-styled environmentalist senators on the committee, including Berkeley’s Senator Loni Hancock, voted for the bill Steinberg was pushing. This vote was taken by a number of pro-revision commentators to be a good sign. Most of these also seemed to think that there would be more changes in their favor made on the Senate floor before the final version of the bill was passed.
The unions and environmentalist groups haven’t commented yet, but one attorney specializing in environmental litigation to whom I spoke listed a couple of major problems with the Steinberg bill as it now stands. It permits applicants whose Environmental Impact Report is deemed inadequate to start their project even as they’re still working to correct identified deficiencies in the research they’re supposed to have done. What this means is that questionable projects would be able to go forward even if the full EIR might eventually uncover potential environmental harm impossible to eliminate or mitigate.
A second cause for his concern is a new procedure which would create fixed thresholds or standards to determine whether a project is harmful. He gave as an example the monster homes which the nouveaux riches in the 1% are now trying to build all over California. A multi-million dollar 10,000 square foot mega-mansion like the one Mitch Kapor is now trying to persuade the Supreme Court to allow him to build here might be fine in flat suburban Bakersfield but too large on a slippery slope at the top of the Berkeley Hills, yet a single standard for allowable size might apply to both projects.
A particular danger area is for cities like Berkeley affected by SB 375, another Steinberg-sponsored bill which is already law. It exempts a large number of building projects near designated transit hubs from many forms of CEQA oversight. Its stated goal is to reduce automobile use and to prevent sprawl into exurban areas, but critics fear that it simply allows unexamined densification that makes cities more unpleasant places to live without controlling expansion on the periphery.
Today’s Chronicle front page has an excellent Kevin Fagan piece about spillover from Silicon Valley (too crowded, too expensive) into places like San Ramon. His focus is educated Asian immigrant families, but the same phenomenon exists among other successful techies who outgrow their urban condos. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor’s midlife desire to leave Cambridge to build a huge house atop a Berkeley hill is just one example.
Berkeley constituents should ask Senator Hancock why she and her Democratic colleagues on the committee brought this bad bill to the floor of the Senate. There powerful business interests are sure to find more Rubios in the Democratic ranks to advocate for what they want, instead of what voters thought they were getting when they voted for Democrats. Some will argue that the latest version of the stop-CEQA bill is not as bad as the original Brown/Rubio product, but the lesser of two evils is still evil. The environmental groups and the unions who oppose CEQA revision are the backbone of the Democratic party, and any crusade which goes counter to such strong party members is a bad idea.
If you’d like to ask committee members what they think they’re doing, here are links to their websites, which contain their contact information.
Notice that as of this writing, not one of them, Democrat or Republican, has mentioned on her or his site their vote to release the Steinberg bill. You might ask them (especially our own Senator Hancock) why this should be.
And also, you might ask what they can do from now on to make sure that CEQA isn’t further eviscerated on the Senate floor.
After all, that’s not what we expected when we voted for them, is it?
It's a busy weekend, and there's not much new news, so this week's new issue will be delayed until we get around to posting it. In the meantime we'll just add to the current issue. Thanks for your indulgence.
Vivian Warkentin's fantasies seem to have outrun reality. As a result, she posted some text on your web site that is misleading, at best. She implies that I have "plans to mitigate global warming by blocking sunlight from the earth with chemical jet aerosols, such as sulphur dioxide and aluminum oxide dust." I can assure her that I have no such plans.
Some people apparently have difficulty distinguishing between people who study "what would happen if .." and people who advocate actually doing such things. I have also studied what would happen if the Earth froze over, but I do not advocate freezing the entire planet. I have studied what would happen if we burn all available fossil fuels, but I do not advocate burning all available fossil fuels. I have studied what would happen if we cut down all forests but I do not advocate cutting down all forests. I often study things that we do not want to be doing. ( I also spend much of my time studying and trying to bring attention to the issue of ocean acidification.)
I left a well-paying job on Wall Street and took a factor-of-10 reduction in my income so that I could spend my time studying and communicating about environmental issues. In this context, it is amusing to read Warkentin talk about "those who truly care about the environment" as if I were not part of that group.
On May 9th, 7:00PM at the Brower Center, 2150 Allston way in Berkeley, corporate, billionaire- backed geoengineer, Ken Caldiera will be laying out the scientists' plans to mitigate global warming by blocking sunlight from the earth with chemical jet aerosols, such as sulphur dioxide and aluminum oxide dust. Earth Island Institute, the sponsor of this debate, is calling the event, "Hack the Sky?"
An ethicist, not a scientist, has been chosen to debate Caldiera. Is the Earth Island Institute telling us there are no scientific arguments against this scheme? Arguments like: These chemical dusts will fall to earth to be absorbed and breathed by humans and all living things. The sun gives the earth life. Sunlight is necessary for plants to perform photosynthesis which takes carbon out of the atmosphere. The sun is the source of vitamin D required for human health. I for one, would like to hear from some forestry scientists, soil scientists, ocean scientists, biologists, botanists, entomologists, and non corporate atmospheric scientists.
It is time for those who truly care about the environment to question blind trust in scientists and for that matter established environmental organizations. Science at our Universities is sponsored and directed by corporations now. Corporations have discovered that the best way to control environmentalists is to fund them. It seems that the "neo" environmentalists are running the environmental wing of the global war on terror, scaring us into all sorts of banker, developer, corporation, scientist enriching schemes ala "disaster capitalism". I know there are plenty of well meaning caring people working with these groups, but has fear numbed their critical thinking?
Geoengineering is massive pollution of the earth and it's inhabitants, and nothing less than the corporate scientific takeover of our greatest commons, our sky and atmosphere, natural weather and climate.
It needs to be noted that the description of geoengineering matches what many already regularly observe in our skies. Please show up for this discussion on a subject that has been mostly hidden from the public.
There will be an educational rally and march opposing geoengineering beginning at 6:00pm corner of Oxford and University.
Dear Editor, Berkeley City Councilmembers, Rent Board Commissioners, and the Berkeley public,
You’re about to get a smokefree housing proposal, possibly more than one competing proposal, in a nearly ten year effort to protect more people in apartments and condominiums from secondhand smoke.
Many well-intentioned and hard working people have put effort into trying to please competing points of view about this issue, and I don’t wish to disparage any particular group or person. But the goal of ensuring clean, healthy air for everyone, even low-income people, in their own homes is getting shipwrecked for the second time in two years by the same dubious concern.
The rent board, perhaps out of concern about looking unfriendly to landlords, is pressuring for a resolution which is absurdly weak. I do not have access to the final wording at this point, but it is looking as though the proposal’s language allows people who currently smoke in their apartments to continue doing so, avoids designating secondhand smoke as a nuisance, and offers little if any protection to people whose health and whose family’s health is being ruined by secondhand smoke exposure.
It will offer tenants the “right of private action”, a right they already have, and a terrible burden for any tenant, let alone a cancer patient or parents of an asthmatic child. Proof of one causal factor for a medical condition in court is a serious burden to meet, requires enormous time and dedication to accomplish, and may only result in a small monetary award rather than clean air, which ought to be the goal of any smokefree housing regulation.
I can appreciate that after the seriously bad press the Rent Stabilization Board received this year makes them loathe to take any steps which might be seen as burdening landlords right now. They were portrayed as a bunch of overpaid do-nothings, a bloated bureaucracy. Whatever the truth may be, I’m sure it affected them deeply as individuals and as a group.
But their dedication to the status quo with respect to secondhand smoke is more than appalling; it is deadly for the majority of Berkeley residents who smoke involuntarily every day and night of their lives.
It is difficult for me to tell if the reluctance to support smokefree housing is cloaked in the tobacco industry’s typical propaganda ploy, the usual specter of massive noncompliance and legal costs, out of ignorance or to avoid explaining the real reason; the inability of a group crippled by the recent unflattering report with its attendant terrible press coverage to stand strong for public health.
But I can tell you this. No landlord looks forward to having to manage a building where some people are allowed to smoke, some people are not allowed to smoke, and everyone in the building ends up exposed to secondhand smoke anyway, defeating the public health goal in the first place.
The rent board advisors love to respond that Berkeley has a lot of turnover that it won’t take long, only a matter of a few years, for grandfathered smokers to clear out of a building. I hope you can imagine how this sounds to a cancer patient, a pregnant woman, a family with children, or anyone who knows the immediate, measurable damage secondhand smoke does and does not live in a student–filled building.
If anyone raises the specter of massive evictions resulting from smokefree housing regulations, I hope you will simply ask for data. Because they have none.
If, as some of the rent board commissioners claim, there are unfair landlords who would use the smokefree regulations unfairly, then point out that unfair landlords can use anything to unfairly target low-income tenants; the playing of an instrument, the ownership of a pet, odd sculptures in the garden, etc. Our public health goals should not be sacrificed entirely because of the small ratio of landlords who try to kick out low-income tenants just to increase rents.
Most of those low-income tenants are nonsmokers. There is no research to support the idea that smokers are any more likely to be targeted for eviction than any other low-income tenant. Low-income tenants in Alameda County who smoke at all are an extreme minority, and a huge majority of them already step outside to smoke.
100% of those smokers already step outside theaters, restaurants, bars, and workplaces to smoke. None of them have to quit smoking to live in smokefree housing; most of them already do. A majority of smokers support smokefree regulations, comply with restrictions on smoking, and hope to quit someday.
Please take a look at Richmond and San Rafael’s success in strong smokefree housing laws. Speak to Serena Chen of the American Lung Association ((510) 982-3191), Carol McGruder, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), and Dr. Valerie Yerger of UCSF (415-476-2784), who was one of those who crafted and implemented Richmond’s successful law.
Berkeley’s current policy disproportionately affects African-American families and families of color with low incomes, a group the majority of whom do not smoke and who have the least financial and medical options. Please don’t allow the mythology weakening the potential smokefree regulations coming your way to consign them and other low-income tenants to death and disease. It is time for Berkeley to re-join the frontline it used to lead with strong, protective legislation for people suffering from secondhand smoke exposure.
Smokers have options; they can stroll outside, use gum, patches, tinctures, lozenges, and yes, they have the option to quit if they can. But the rest of us have to breathe. We have no other options, and we’re counting on you.
Please, Berkeley City Councilmembers and Rent Board commissioners, at least put a six month’s sunset on indoor smoking in housing with shared walls, and help save lives.-
As a college student with increasing debt in my tuition, it is already difficult to find foods that are financially apt for my situation. The increase of tax in sugar sweetened beverages will affect all college students that face a similar situation. Further, drinking sweetened beverages is to the discretion to the buyer. He or she understands the consequences of the conscious choice.
It is no secret that excessive sugar is detrimental to the body. Thus, another approach to the health issue should be taken place. Promoting health education to parents and students will surely increase awareness. Encouragement to children to eat their greens and exercise constantly creates a purpose to healthy lifestyle. It is unfair to point the finger at an industry as the cause for obesity, when the blame should be upon the lack of knowledge. Please reconsider the bill upon Senate.
Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.
You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.
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Just when most Americans had forgotten the traumatic Bush era, along came the George W. Bush library to reopen old wounds. After the April 25th library dedication, the MSM began to speculate about Dubya’s legacy. A few suggestions:
1. Hail to the thief. Dubya was the first President since Benjamin Harrison to be elected even though he lost the popular vote. Most Democrats believe the Florida election results were mishandled and feel that an unbiased recount would have tilted the state to Al Gore. Florida was only the beginning; Republicans have continued their campaign of vote suppression.
2. “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” [Vice President Dick Cheney] Dubya was a hands-off President who delegated key issues to his inner circle. Dick Cheney was charged with developing a national energy policy. Not surprisingly, Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, produced a pro-fossil-fuel plan that minimized the specter of global climate change. (The Cheney loophole exempted Fracking companies from water and air regulations.)
3. “Here we have the haves and the have mores. Some call you the elite; I call you my base.” In a 2009 essay Kurt Andersen described baby boomers as the Grasshopper Generation who “ate through a staggering amount of our national wealth and our natural world in a very short period of time, leaving the next generation a massive economic and ecological deficit.” Dubya was their champion, opting for immediate gratification and ignoring the long-term consequences of critical policy decisions. His Administration took a budget surplus and turned it into a massive deficit. Not surprisingly, the “have mores” flourished and America suffered near-record income inequality.
4. “Wall Street got drunk.” Beginning with the Reagan administration, Republicans were guided by three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else; markets were inherently self correcting and therefore there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because that was a natural consequence of the free market. As a true believer, Dubya supported Reaganomics and ignored both the housing bubble and widespread Wall Street malfeasance. This produced the 2008 economic collapse.
5. “If the [Supreme court] decision is wrong, it should be overruled. That's not activism. That's applying the law correctly” [Chief Justice John Roberts] Dubya nominated two Supreme Court Justices, Samuel Alito and John Roberts. Even though Bush and Roberts decried “judicial activism” the Roberts court initiated unprecedented conservative activism. On January 29, 2010, the Supremes Citizens United decision affirmed corporate “personhood” and gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in political contests.
6. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina rolled across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into New Orleans, devastating the city and surrounding parishes (counties). Although there were governmental failures at all levels, most observers specifically fault the Federal government, in particular the inadequate FEMA effort directed by Michael Brown – a political appointee with scant managerial experience.
7. “I don’t know where Bin Laden is. I have no idea and I really don’t care.” Most observers lay the blame for the September 11th terrorist attacks on the Bush Administration. Dubya failed to read critical security memos and the White House underestimated the capabilities of Al Qaeda. The initial foray of the “War on Terror,” the invasion of Afghanistan, was poorly organized and Al Qaeda leaders managed to elude capture.
8. “From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.'' [Andrew Card, Bush White House Chief of Staff] Faced with the failure of their efforts in Afghanistan, and the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush Administration shifted focus to Iraq. They began their war-promotion campaign after Labor Day in 2002 and Republicans gained a congressional majority. On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext that the government of Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the US because of alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. This war cost thousands of Iraqi and American lives and more than $2 trillion.
9. “Democracy is messy.” [Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld] Due to weak administration leadership, both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions were disasters. The US abandoned use of the Geneva Conventions, resulting in torture, illegal detention, and unprecedented eavesdropping on average Americans. The Iraq War angered Arabs and aided Al Qaeda recruiting.
10. You’re on your own. After 9/11, Dubya answered the question “What can the average American do” by first suggesting, “hug your kids” and then, “go shopping.” Dubya saw no need for collective sacrifice. His perspective infantilized Americans and produced the conservative version of the “nanny state.”
Americans began to mistrust government, lost faith in the future, and felt powerless to enact meaningful change. That’s Dubya’s legacy.
On July 23, 2012, Syria admitted possessing a stockpile of chemical weapons, which it claimed are reserved for national defense against foreign countries. One of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including sarin, a lethal nerve gas, is located in the town of al-Safira, near Aleppo.
The ongoing danger, of course, is that the al-Safira chemical weapons plant might fall to opposition forces, which may include members with links to al-Qaeda.
According to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “The U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin.”
Evidence of alleged sarin gas use has supposedly come from human tissue samples. A few dozen Syrians are said to have been killed. If true, did Assad forces or the opposition forces use these chemical weapons and why was only a small amount of sarin used? Was its use just a test to gauge U.S. reaction?
Already there is a call for action against Syria. For example, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has long pressed the Obama administration to take tougher action, saying he hopes the administration will consider establishing a safe area for Assad’s opponents, enforcing a “no-fly” zone and providing weapons to “the people in the resistance who we trust.”
Does the use of chemical weapons violate international law? On September 3, 1992, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was adopted by the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The CWC is the first disarmament agreement that provides for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction under universally applied international control.
On 29 April 1997, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established to implement the provisions of the CWC and to ensure a credible means to verify the destruction of chemical weapons; to prevent their re-emergence in any member State; to provide protection and assistance against chemical weapons; to encourage international cooperation in the peaceful uses of chemistry; and to achieve universal membership of the OPCW.”
President Obama has warned that the use of chemical weapons by Syria would cross a “red line” and would be a “game changer.” However, Hagel and the White House have backed off a bit on this use claim. They are now saying ”with a varying degree of confidence” that chemical weapons have been used “on a small scale” inside Syria. “This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example, the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.” In other words, if chemical weapons were used, it is not clear whether the Assad forces or the opposition forces used them.
In sum, there seems to be no definitive, credible evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. For this reason, Obama is being very careful before accusing Syria of using chemical weapons.
Remember George W. Bush and his minions? They intentionally built a case for war with Iraq without regard to factual evidence. They took advantage of the public’s hysteria over the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to authorize an invasion and occupation of Iraq with no evidence that Iraq had WMDs. No WMDs were found in Iraq. Obama does not want to make the same error of judgment.
But what if it is definitively established that Assad forces have used chemical weapons? Would Obama call for an invasion of Syria or the use of air strikes – as was done in Libya – or the establishment of a no fly zone as Senator McCain suggests? Obama could also authorize the arming of the rebels but these weapons could fall in the hands of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda.
Or is the U.S. obligated to do anything at all militarily if Syria crosses Obama’s “red line?”
I do not believe the American people have the stomach for another war like Iraq or Afghanistan or the enormous cost of an action like Libya.
Presently, there seems to be a stalemate in Syria between the Assad forces and the opposition forces. But what if Assad is pushed to the wall? Would he then use chemical weapons as a last resort? If so, how would the U.S. respond? Stay tuned.
As of this spring, I have gone seventeen years since my last admission to an inpatient psychiatry ward. (I was hospitalized on April Fool's Day, 1996.) I'm not bragging when I say this is a significant accomplishment given my diagnosis of Paranoid-type Schizophrenia, and the severity of my case of this illness.
Much of the credit for this belongs to my wife, since she said she would move out if I became medication noncompliant. Also, following this last episode, I promised myself that I would not forget how bad an experience it is to go through a full-blown psychotic episode. And I promised myself that I would never again make the mistake of becoming medication noncompliant.
I was in my early thirties, and I realized that my parents were getting too old to deal with me as a psychotic person. Also, I realized that I was getting old enough to where I might not physically survive the stresses on the body that are induced by being psychotic.
The psychosis that I would get when off medication would cause me to be very verbally aggressive as well as unable to care for myself. I would also behave erratically, albeit with some safety mechanisms that prevented me from doing anything super dumb.
Once stabilized, it would take me four, or maybe five years to get back to a good level of functioning. (Also, I previously had a pattern of relapsing every six years.)
A psychotic episode causes long-term damage. Recovery after psychosis tends to be slow for most people. Recovery after repeated psychotic episodes is even slower because more damage has occurred.
I consider myself lucky that I retained enough brain cells to eventually be able to write for publication. I still have a number of life difficulties that are a direct or indirect result of the illness. Daily living, doing all of the things that are needed to get by (paying rent, taking out the trash, putting gas in the tank, and so on) is an ongoing struggle.
I believe that persons with mental illness can be helped by becoming educated about their illnesses. Furthermore, I think noncompliance would occur less often if life conditions were made better. Many persons with mental illness may not have much to look forward to, and this can create a despair that leads to noncompliance, in the usually vain hope that the illness can be left behind.
In Buddhism it is said that we ought to "live in the moment." However, if the moment stinks, you need to live on hope for the future. For person's with mental illness, it isn't always realistic to enjoy the now moment, since we must sometimes endure symptoms and circumstances that we do not control, which entail a great depth of misery. It is important to remember, no matter what, we should always remain hopeful, since at some point, things will invariably get better.
May is designated Older Americans Month in the United States. The 2013 theme is Unleash the Power of Age. Unleash me by emailing suggestions to me, firstname.lastname@example.org , for a title for this column that’s better than Senor Power!
Annually since 1963, Older Americans Month has, says the Administration on Aging, been a time “to appreciate and celebrate the vitality and aspirations of older adults and their contributions to our communities… Older Americans are productive, active, and influential members of society, sharing essential talents, wisdom, and life experience with their families, friends, and neighbors.” Sounds like a one-way street with a difficult corner-crossing. And there’s that incessant assumption that senior citizens have families, whereas many are orphaned by age.
Congress passed the Older Americans Act in response to concern by policymakers about a lack of community social services for older persons. The law established the Administration on Aging to administer the newly created grant programs and to serve as the Federal focal point on matters concerning older persons. Don’t hold your breath while waiting for reauthorizations of the OAA. Some Senators support a significant funding increase for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs. More than two dozen Senators, including California’s Barbara Boxer, responded and signed on to an April 26, 2013 letter by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to Senate appropriators calling for a 12% increase.
Due to lack of authorization or appropriations, White House Conferences on Aging have not always been convened within the historical ten-year timeframe. That’s guvspeak for they were held in 1961, 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Contact your Congressional Representative and Senators regarding authorizations and appropriations necessary for a 2015 White House Conference on Aging.
In 1934, the U.S. issued Whistler’s Mother postage “in memory and in honor of the mothers of America. Three cents.” In the United States and Canada, we celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May. This year M Day is May 12.
Mother’s (Mothers’ if you prefer) Day is big business. The Internet is full of insights into such things as what makes a good mother, twenty qualities of a good mom, and how to be a good mom. Suggested (advertised) gifts include flowers, jewelry, cards, crafts, and printable coupons. Fun & Stylish Eco-Friendly Shopping Bags for mom are being pushed. “Forget the paper vs. plastic debate! These stylish, super lightweight bags can tuck into a purse or glove compartment, and hold as much as two plastic grocery bags.”
Father's Day, on Sunday, June 16, complements M Day. It’s described as honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. Many countries observe it on the third Sunday of June, but it is also widely celebrated on other days.
Working mother, lesbian mother, mother superior, foster mother, adoptive mother… grandparents, foster parents, and numerous other designations are without their own days.
When Elena premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, it was acclaimed “original and different,” and director Andrey Zvyagintsev received international recognition. The DVD is in Russian with ample English subtitles.
Elena is a mother and a grandmother. Vladimir is a father. She has an adult son. He has an adult daughter. Elena and Vladimir have no children.
They are a sixty-going-on-seventy couple, married for the last two of their ten years together. They share his upscale Moscow apartment. I see her as essentially a housekeeper with a credit card and accessibility. She makes and serves breakfast, after which he grabs her by the wrist for sex in his bedroom before driving to the gym, where he has a heart attack.
Meanwhile, she takes public transport to pick up her pension. Thence to the other side of town to a crowded, block apartment adjacent to power plants. On the way, she stops at a grocery store to pick up plastic bags of edibles for her unemployed son’s family. Useless grandson is about to be conscripted unless they (she) can pay to get him into a university. Everyone, including Elena herself, expects her to come through with the required cash layout. Everyone except Vladimir, who is actually sympathetic but wary of further “loans.”
When Vladimir is hospitalized, he instructs her to contact his wayward daughter, and they are reunited. Elena visits a church and prays to the icons. So far, she has come across as a dutiful spouse, parent, and grandparent. But the plot thickens. In fact, it has been described as gripping, a modern twist on the classic noir thriller.
The Elena DVD is interesting from other perspectives as well. There’s that Moscow apartment—balcony, basement garage, groceries delivered, park-like grounds, doorman, wall-safe to which she has access, etc.— who knew! In a 30-minute interview, the forty-seven year old director points out the still-prevalent Russian sexism, which is, incidentally not the film’s main message.
—Raul Ruiz's films, such as 'Three Crowns of the Sailor,' 'On Top of the Whale,' 'Time Regained' (from Proust's last novel) made big splashes during the 80s & 90s at the San Francisco International Film Festival & the Pacific Film Archive. The filmmaker himself appeared at the PFA & at the 1997 SF Film Festival.
Ruiz died not quite two years ago ... A late masterpiece, 'Mysteries of Lisbon,' had just played at the Film Festival & was then distributed nationally, playing in Berkeley & at the PFA's memorial retrospective of some of Salvador Allende's one-time film advisor's roughly 120 films.
But it's only now that his final movie, 'Night Across the Street,' adapting stories by Chilean writer Hernan del Solar (& a salute to Jean Giono) to rework some old themes & motifs that run through films, novels & plays Ruiz produced so prolifically throughout his 50 year artistic career, is being screened here: at the PFA Saturday at 6 as part of the Film Festival & on July 11 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco.
By turns fantastic & meditative, humorous & hair-raising, 'Night Across the Street' brings to the fore Ruiz's dreamlike stories, his trenchant humor & irony ("My work isn't fiction ... but about fiction"), his extraordinary direction of actors & his command of & constant innovation in the structures & techniques of narrative & of the medium of cinema itself.
—Bahram Beyzaie's 1979 play 'The Death of Yazgerd' (which he made into a film in 1983) played in 2004 at the Ashby Stage, a joint production of Darvag Theatre Company & Shotgun Players. I thought then & think now that it's the finest play by a living playwright I've ever reviewed.
Beyzaie's importance to Iranian performing arts can't be exaggerated. I was fortunate to interview him a year ago, after the success of the production, near Stanford where he's taught for several years, of his shadowplay-epic poem 'Jana & Baladoor.' Every night was sold out, Iranians flocking from up & down the West Coast—& from farther afield—to celebrate the first Persian shadowplay—a native form—in 600 years.
His scholarship into native Iranian modes of performance, begun in the 1960s, is still considered fundamental, groundbreaking. His combining of those modes with other Asian forms & techniques, as well as select European influences, was a watershed in the creation of an Iranian national theater movement. And as a teacher, he guided a whole generation & more who became performers, directors, designers, technicians, producers—all over the world.
Beyzaie was also a key contributing filmmaker to the Iranian New Wave of the 60s-70s, along with others, of whom Abbas Kiarostami is the most famous. His first film—a restored version of the only surviving print—'Downpour' will be screened Sunday at 3:20 at the PFA as part of the Film Festival. Asked to describe the style in which he rendered the story of a teacher sent to a conservative area & his relationship with a woman there, Beyzaie said in a recent interview: "Poetic maybe. A poem of daily life ... You can find metaphors in other countries' artistic languages as well, but may be the core of Iranian artistic expression." —from genevaanderson.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/interview-iranian-filmmaker-bahram-beyzaie ( ... )
Pacific Film Archive 2575 Bancroft, between College & Telegrah, on the UC campus $13-$15 (Festival prices) bamfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/
—The East Bay Media Center is launching a series of weekend screenings on weekend nights in May in their new performance space, starting this Friday & Saturday at 7:45: 'What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?'—Len Richmond's film, narrated by Peter Coyote. $7. In coming weeks, the Himalayan Film Festival, May 18-19, will be a highlight. 1939 Addison (between Milvia & MLK) 843-3699.
Before shooting his new crops-and-robbers film, At Any Price, Director Ramin Bahrani (a good ol' boy born and raised in North Carolina) spent six months living with farm families in the Midwest Corn Belt. As Bahrani will readily tell you, the two catch-phrases he heard most often from America's farmers were: "Expand or Die" and "Get Big or Get Out."
It is these twin mantras of modern agriculture that drive the fortunes of three-generations on the Whipple family farm as their stories play out in a 105-minute saga that has won praise at the Toronto, Telluride and Venice Film Festivals.
Much of the tension in this tale arises from the modern farmer's need to be more a competitive, hard-knuckled salesman than a traditional, sunburned steward of the land. As Dennis Quaid observed when he first read the script: "I thought: It's Willy Loman on the prairie. We're really doing Death of a Salesman!"
Bahrani (once dubbed "director of the decade" by the late-great movie critic Roger Ebert) has assembled a great cast to tell his tale of agribiz and avarice. The major conflict flashes between second-generation farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid, as a grinning, bubbling tar-pot of fake bonhomie hiding a sink-hole of insecurity) and his feckless, resentful son, Dean (the always credible Zac Efron, who seems to have spent half his screen life playing magnetic young rebels). Maika Monroe, Kim Daniels and Heather Graham all hit their marks as, respectively, Zack's girlfriend, Henry's wife and Henry's mistress. (Spanning generations, Graham's character, Meredith, also takes a memorable tumble with Dean in the cinematic confines of a corn silo.)
These days, we learn, it's not enough for Henry to preside over 3,000 acres of corn (patrolling his empire in a massive, air-conditioned, GPS-directed tractor). He also has a parallel career as a salesman for Liberty seeds, a genetically modified corn produced by a powerful multinational. (It is a mark of the power of today's agribiz giants that even Hollywood is afraid to come right out and name the company –- even though everyone who sees the film will know it's Monsanto, a company whose business model is the very antithesis of "liberty.")
While Henry and his major competitor pursue control of seed contracts with the intensity of two warring Mafia families, Henry is also struggling to recruit the youngest of his two sons to pick up the family mantle. But Dean, a rising star on the local stock car circuit, is eager to abandon the farm and pursue a career as a NASCAR driver. Ultimately, Dean is cursed with a dark core that may prove his undoing. At the same time, Henry suffers under the longstanding, critical gaze of his own father, who has never cut Henry any slack -- and never will.
Berkeley-based author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) has called Bahrani's film "a harrowing journey into the modern, post-Monsanto farm belt." Pollan also assisted Bahrani in his research, introducing the director to George Naylor, an Iowa farmer profiled in the powerful, award-winning documentary, Food Inc. Pollan also introduced Bahrani to Troy Roush, another farmer profiled in Food Inc. (Roush wound up with a small role in At Any Price, playing -- no surprise -- a farmer threatened by corporate enforcers.)
Modern farming has radically changed, Bahrani reflects: "It's not local guys in overalls plowing the land; it's businessmen running multimillion-dollar operations with very advanced technology." The "expand or die" philosophy that rules the cornfields struck Bahrani as "a metaphor for American society, for the values that have led us to disaster [and]… perpetuated the housing crisis, and the global financial meltdown. It's a dangerous philosophy for life that is being exported to Europe and beyond."
The cornfields of Iowa mirror the malaise Bahrani sees reflected from Washington DC to Washington State. "That's the culture of the country right now," Bahrani says. "Politicians on both sides helped the banks get away with [crashing the economy]. Corporate and political greed is on steroids. Screw people over and you'll get away with it -- you will even be rewarded!"
It all comes back to Arthur Miller's doomed salesman, Willy Loman. "He valued the idea of having more and getting bigger, more than he valued his own life," Bahrani says, "And I think that's where we're unfortunately heading as a global community. I thought this film could be an alarm bell that would ring out from the cornfields."
But having spent some serious time with today's corn farmers, Bahrani admits the odds of dramatic reform are dimmed by self-interest. Every farmer Bahrani met confessed a preference for owning his own "automated tractor with air conditioning that could drive itself with GPS." Why give up petroleum-fueled comfort for the backbreaking work of traditional farming?
Progress comes with a price tag, Bahrani says: "The Whipples have to choose between the truth or survival and they have to live with trying to succeed at any price. Each of us has to decide for ourselves what our moral compass is -- who we are, and what type of world we want to live in."
Also Opening: The Playground Film Festival
Opens at Berkeley's Elmwood (and around the Bay Area) on May 1
For the second year in a row, local filmmakers and writers have teamed up to deliver a series of short films that celebrate a unique collaboration of Bay Area playwrights and film artists. This year's festival begins at Berkeley's Elmwood Theater on May 1 and runs through the 25th with additional screenings at Berkeley's Zaentz Media Center (2699 Tenth Street) and in San Francisco, Palo Alto and San Rafael.
In an unusual teaming of stage and screen artists, each of the films is based on a play by a local writer. Six films will be screened in this year's festival and each film will be followed by a short documentary about the playwright. The plays -- and the subsequent screen adaptations -- enjoy the sponsorship of Playground and Dances with Light.
The six films are: Aegis (Jonathan Luskin playwright and filmmaker), Climax (playwright Sean Owens; filmmaker Jeremy Solterbeck), Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos (playwright Kirk Shimano; filmmaker Amy Harrison), Obit (playwright Geetha Reddy; filmmaker Brian Tolle), The Secret Life of a Hotel Room (playwright Garret Jon Groenveld; filmmakers the Runnels Brothers) and Undone (playwright Diane Sampson; filmmaker Bruce Coughran).
The festival's official opening is set for the Elmwood on Wednesday May 1 (5:30/7:30).
If you've had it up to here with the overblown description of the Boston Marathon Attack, cheer up. Fortunately for those of us living in the bay area, there are some fabulous events and activities running now through summer and fall -- ballet, concerts, art exhibits, comedians, all designed to wipe out grim memories of that Attack.
Let's start with our own Oakland East Bay Symphony, with Michael Morgan, Music Director. On May 3, at 8 p.m. there will be a program of Beethoven and Cesar Franck at the Paramount Theatre (510)444-0801. Then on Saturday, June 1, 8 p.m., a program celebrating the music of Dave Brubeck will liven things up. 1-800-745-3000.
Wente Vineyards In Livermore will kick off their concert series on July 10 with Huey Lewis and his band.
Woodminster Summer Musicals features: July 12-21 "Annie Get Your Gun; August 9-18 "A Chorus Line," Sept. 6-15 "Legally Blond" Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland. (510) 531-9597.
"Fame, Infamy,Immortality" (China's Terracota Warriors) Asian Art Museum, S.F. Ends May 27.
Hillsborough 18th Annual Art and Wine Festival, Sat. May 4 - 10:00 - 7:00, Sun. May 6 - 10:00 - 5:00. (925) 672-2300.
Oakland Greek Festival, Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 4700 Lincoln Ave., Basile will perform. May `17, 18 and 19. (510) 531-3400.
Martinez Open Studios, Free Self-Guided Art Studios Tour, May 4th and 5th. Martinez, California.
Diablo Ballet, "The Power of World Class Artists," May 3 and 4, Shadelands Arts Center, Auditorium, Walnut Creek, performed to live music, including wine and hors d'oeuvre. (925) 943-1775.
"Black Watch," "Theatrical Event of the Year," A.C.T., S.F., begins May 9th, (415) 749-2228.
We trust that the above stimulating and bound-to-please events will wipe out haunting memories of the Boston Marathon Attack!
"You build up & up till you scrape the sky with your cutting edge ..."
("A view of the edge, the outer limits, the place where the city stops ... ")
"He just wanted to see the ground."
(A mogul, afraid of heights, in the penthouse of the tallest building, riding the fastest elevator down, while a daredevil elevator engineer skydives instead ... An aging watchmaker & his collection of clocks tended by The Kid, a mechanical man ... Shiny monks hefting blocks of ice, chanting a liturgy about Time ... The scams of a street couple ... An up-&-coming manager, hoping to pre-plan her family down to the nanosecond of her daily schedule ... )
All of the above, in their own separate vignettes, tableaux, finally converge when The Crack opens up to reveal the Dark Heart of the World ...
Ragged Wing Ensemble's new original, 'Time Sensitive,' written & directed by co-founder & artistic director Amy Sass, folds together the ingredients into a theatrical souffle that rises & rises ... Building on movement theater styles—& the ensemble movements are among the best this plucky little outfit has ever performed—the show seems to be a watershed for both the company—who'll move into their new home, Flight Deck, this Fall, at Telegraph & Broadway, the edge of Uptown. (Oakland, the only city without a Midtown!) —Not, as erroneously mentioned here before, the location of this show, an old Pentecostal church on the corner of Telegraph & 38th, fit stage for 'Time Sensitive,' literally in the sanctuary.
The ensemble—Anthony Agresti, DiLecia Childress, Keith Cory Davis, Michele Owen, Annie Paladino, Soren Santos, Addie Ulrey, Liz Wand & Philip Wharton—deserve the applause of a rapt audience, after their meandering trip through the labyrinth of considering Time ...
(It doesn't reduce that praise at all to single out Keith Davis, assistant director & core company director for Ragged Wing, always an engaging performer, for his meticulous mechanical stylization of The Kid, who—like Pinocchio, like a thousand other dreams of homunculi of wood, stone, steel, microchip—comes alive ... )
A great moment for the many of us who've followed the emergence of this ambitious & honest little troupe through their productions, free outdoor performances, educational initiatives over most of the past decade.
If I have even a small criticism, it's the residue of "the symbolic" mode (versus, say, what Roland Barthes called the Obtuse, in his essay "The Third Meaning"—or the stylizations of Meyerhold—"The grotesque is the triumph of Form over Content ... mixing opposites ... not found together in Nature"—or of Artaud's "Theater of Cruelty," in Nietzche's sense) that still glazes a little of the considerable dynamism & specificity of this Non-Euclidean outpouring of movement & language, otherwise reminiscent of a Mannerist canvas or play—like Greco's "Christ Cleansing the Temple" or the shape-shifting of Marlowe & Shakespeare ...
Ragged Wing's always been an East Bay company to watch. Now—& especially with their membership in the Network of Ensemble Theaters, with local troupes like foolsFURY, mugwumpin, Dell'Arte, the SF Mime Troupe,—they're on the verge of becoming crucial to the whole Bay Area scene.
8 p. m. Thursday-Saturday through May 18, Sanctuary for the Arts, 496-38th Street @ Telegraph, Oakland. $25-$40. 1-800-316-8559; raggedwing.org