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Flash: Preliminary 15th District Results Show Echols and Thurmond Leading

Wednesday June 04, 2014 - 12:24:00 AM

As of midnight, the unofficial results for the California State Assembly District 15 primary race indicated that Democrats Elizabeth Echols and Tony Thurmond, as the top two vote-getters, would be the likely opponents in the November general election: 

Last Update: Jun 4 2014 12:30AM
State Assembly, 15th District
Vote for One (1) Only
Total Precincts: 199 Precincts Reported: 199 Percent Reported: 100.00
Contest # of Votes % of Total
DEM - Elizabeth Echols 8972 34.84
DEM - Tony Thurmond 5689 22.09
DEM - Pamela Price 3962 15.39
REP - Rich Kinney 2403 9.33
DEM - Sam Kang 1851 7.19
DEM - Clarence Hunt 1268 4.92
PF - Eugene E. Ruyle 1157 4.49
NP - Bernt Rainer Wahl 405 1.57
Write-in 42 0.16

New: Suspects in Berkeley hatchet murder case plead not guilty

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday June 02, 2014 - 02:36:00 PM

A Berkeley man and his girlfriend pleaded not guilty today to special circumstance murder charges for the hatchet killing of a man at his West Berkeley apartment in February. 

Michael Diggs, 28, and Kneitawnye Sessoms, 41, his girlfriend, also of Berkeley, are charged in connection with the slaying of 54-year-old Sylvan Fuselier, who was found dead at his apartment in the 1100 block of Addison Street, just east of San Pablo Avenue, at about noon on Feb. 28. 

Police had been dispatched there for a welfare check after a community member told them that they were concerned because they hadn't seen Fuselier for several days. 

Diggs and Sessoms are charged with murder and the special circumstances of murder during the course of a burglary and robbery. 

Diggs is also charged with an enhancement for allegedly using a hatchet to kill Fuselier. 

Berkeley police Sgt. Peter Hong wrote in a probable cause statement that Fuselier died from wounds "consistent with several sharp instruments," including a hatchet. 

Hong said a surveillance camera at Fuselier's apartment complex filmed him, Diggs and Sessoms going into his apartment on Feb. 21, a week before his body was found. 

The next morning, the camera filmed Sessoms leaving the building and apparently "wiping off the door handles," according to the police sergeant. 

Diggs was filmed leaving the back of the apartment several hours later, Hong said. 

Physical evidence indicated that Diggs, who was convicted of carjacking in 2008, had been inside Fuselier's apartment and on March 12 he was arrested and a search of his home turned up an item belonging to Fuselier, Hong wrote. 

When Diggs was interviewed on April 2 he admitted that he and Sessoms had been inside Fuselier's home and he "confessed to killing the victim with two different sharp instruments," according to Hong. 

Diggs also admitted that he and Sessoms had fled the apartment on the morning of Feb. 22 and he had taken Fuselier's property, Hong said. 

Sessoms was interviewed by police on March 31 and admitted she was the woman captured on the surveillance video leaving Fuselier's apartment, according to Hong. 

Diggs and Sessoms are scheduled to return to court on July 14 for a pretrial hearing.

Press Release: Last Albany Bulb Residents Arrested at Gunpoint, Their Home Destroyed; They Plan to Sleep on Solano Avenue

From Osha Neumann
Friday May 30, 2014 - 09:55:00 AM

At 4 AM this morning, a large contingent of Albany police, some carrying guns including assault rifles raided the campsite of the two last residents of the Albany Bulb, Amber Whitson and Philip Lewis, and arrested them along with a supporter, Erik Eisenberg. All three were charged with misdemeanor violations of California Penal Code 647(e), which prohibits lodging. 

Although they all had valid identification on them, the police claimed that they did not and they were taken to Santa Rita jail, where they were held for approximately 6 hours and then released. 

Ms. Whitson’s and Mr. Lewis’ dogs were taken by the police to the Berkeley animal shelter. 

After their arrest, their dwelling was destroyed; the remains of it are still at the site on the Bulb. 

Ms. Whitson has been one of the most vocal advocates for Bulb Residents for many years. She and Mr. Lewis have lived on the Bulb since 2006. 

Ms. Whitson and Mr. Lewis now have no home to go to and plan to spend the night on the sidewalk in front of the California Bank and Trust at 1451 Solano Ave, Albany. 

For further information, contact them there, or at their campsite on the Bulb, where they plan to be during the day.

Updated: Berkeley Police in Criminal Investigation of Alleged Hashish Production in Gilman Fire

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday May 28, 2014 - 09:33:00 PM

A one-alarm fire on the roof of a commercial building in North Berkeley on Wednesday night may have been caused by a hashish production operation, Berkeley, police said today. 

The fire at the one-story building in the 800 block of Gilman Street was reported at about 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday and was under control by 7:05 p.m., Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said. 

An adult male who was on the roof when the fire started there extinguished the fire himself before firefighters arrived but he suffered burn injuries and had to be treated for them at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, Webb said. 

Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said police officers assisting firefighters in responding to the blaze discovered an illegal marijuana growing and hashish production operation at the site. 

Coats said fuel used during the hashish conversion process may have ignited the fire. 

However, Coats said a criminal investigation into the fire is still ongoing and no one has been arrested at this point. 

Webb said fire officials believe the fire started accidentally because there's no indication it was started deliberately or maliciously. 

He said the only damage was to materials on the roof of the building and there was no damage to the building itself. 

Fire officials initially said the fire occurred at the Royal Robbins outdoor clothing store in the 800 block of Gilman Street but a store spokeswoman said the fire was actually at an adjacent building. The store didn't sustain any damage and is open for business as usual today.

What You Need to Know About California Primaries (News Analysis)

By Rob Richie, Executive Director, FairVote
Tuesday May 27, 2014 - 01:57:00 PM

California’s "top two" primary elections are next Tuesday, June 3rd. Turnout is expected to be very low despite the fact that every California voter can vote in every primary election and that voters have the option to vote early by mail or in person. 

Turnout has been poor in recent primary elections in California. In 2012, California hit a historic turnout low for a presidential primary, and in the last midterm elections in 2010, fewer than one in four (24%) eligible voters participated. We hope more Californians will try to reverse the downward spiral by exercising their right to vote. 

Making turnout all the more important is that, unlike much of the country, California holds ‘top-two’ primaries, in which all candidates run together regardless of party, and the top two advance to the general election.. Because the system restricts general election options for voters, primary election participation is all the more valuable.  

Vote-splitting and other unintended consequences of Top Two can unfortunately distort outcomes, as explained in our analysis of California’s system. FairVote advocates for opening both the primary and general elections by using a top-four primary with ranked-choice voting in the general election. This would mean nearly every general race would feature an intraparty contest as well as other parties or independents, thereby expanding voter choices. Better still would be to adopt fair representation voting -- see our proposed plan for the California legislature. 

You also can see our projections for U.S. House races in California and our proposal for fair representation reform on our California state profile, part of our national report and interactive map at Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution

Secretary of State candidate survey: Given that electoral reform is such a key issue in California, we'd urge particular attention to the open seat race for Secretary of State. You can see what nearly all the leading candidates have to say about ranked choice voting and other electoral reforms in a survey conducted by our reform allies at Californians for Electoral Reform. 

Election Facts: Here are key facts about the election. 

  • As noted above, California has a top-two primary system, so party affiliation is not required at registration with the exception of voting for partisan County Central Committees.
  • If you are not yet a registered voter, eligible voters can register register to vote online. The deadline to register for the upcoming primary election has passed, as you must register at least 15 days before an election, but eligible voters can register for the general election.
  • You can apply to vote-by-mail in California. Your application must be received no later than 7 days before Election Day. Otherwise, you can apply in person at your county elections office. Mail ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day.
  • You can vote early in person, as explained by the League of Women Voters of California.
  • The polls are open on Election Day from 7 AM to 8 PM. Find your polling place here.
  • To confirm what's on the ballot, we suggest that you contact your local county elections office, as additional races and measures may be on your local ballot. Find out more at the League of Women Voters page on how to vote.
For additional information on this year’s primaries around the nation, see the FairVote blog and state-by-state information on Open and Closed Primaries.

Updated: Oakland Kaiser Offices Closed Because of Threats

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday May 27, 2014 - 11:37:00 AM

Two Kaiser Permanente facilities in Oakland were closed this morning because of a "specific and credible criminal threat," police said. 

Kaiser officials said in a statement that the two facilities -- office buildings at 3600 and 3701 Broadway -- would remain closed until 12:30 p.m. today as police investigate the threat. 

Kaiser initially said that the closure would stay in effect until 11 a.m. today and again on Wednesday but then clarified that it would be until 12:30 p.m. today and no closure is expected Wednesday. 

The closure affects offices, clinics, laboratories and pharmacies as well as the parking garages adjacent to the two buildings, Kaiser officials said. 

Kaiser is contacting patients that had appointments at the buildings or prescriptions to pick up to reschedule and will extend hours to accommodate the schedule changes. 

The closures are not affecting the Kaiser Permanente hospital or emergency room. 

Oakland police Officer Frank Bonifacio provided few details on the specific threat, but said that Oakland police are working to identify who made the threat.

Five Measures on June 3 Ballot for Berkeley, Alameda County

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:42:00 PM

Alameda County voters will decide the fate of five ballot measures in the June 3 election.

The biggest issue on the ballot is Measure AA, a countywide measure that would extend a half-cent sales tax that provides funds to help the county's public health system and for community medical services for low-income and uninsured residents.

Voters initially approved the tax in 2004 and it won't expire until 2019 but supporters want to extend it to 2034 because they say it will help keep local hospitals open as well as clinics serving more than 100,000 low-income children and families.

However, critics say that serious problems with the way the money is being used must be addressed before the tax is extended.

A report by a tax oversight committee said 75 percent of the tax, which raises about $125 million annually, goes to the Alameda Health System, a public hospital consortium, but the rest is distributed to other health providers.

The oversight committee said it is hard to monitor the funds because recipients often fail to provide data to prove that their programs are beneficial.

In addition, each of the county's five supervisors can direct the spending of $150,000 annually, a feature that critics allege amounts to a slush fund.

Measure AA needs a two-thirds majority to win. 

In Hayward, Measure C would increase the city's sales tax by a half-cent, to 9.5 percent, to restore and maintain city services and facilities, including firefighting and emergency medical services, improving police protection for neighborhoods and replacing the city's aging library. 

The tax would raise $200 million over 20 years. The biggest project would be spending $60 million to build a new library. 

Supporters, including former Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, say the measure is needed because "many city facilities have deteriorated after decades of constant use." 

In their ballot argument, proponents said, "The recent great recession has made it impossible to fund needed repairs or replace aging facilities while still maintaining the city services we need." 

But opponent Lawrence Johnson, a Hayward businessman, says the city's statement that the tax is needed because it has more than $500 million in unmet capital needs is an "incredible claim" because it's not supported by any documentation. 

Johnson also asks, "Why is the city proposing a $60 million library that is 50 percent more costly than even the most expensive Bay Area library built within the past decade?" 

The measure needs a simple majority to pass. 

In Fremont, Measure E is a $650 million school bond measure that supporters say is needed to modernize aging campuses by upgrading technology and classrooms, fixing leaking roofs and replacing outdated wiring and aging plumbing. 

The measure would cost property owners a maximum of $59 per $100,000 of assessed home value annually. 

Supporters, including Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison, said the measure "will ensure that each school has the facilities to provide quality science instruction and classroom technology to prepare students for college and careers." 

But opponents allege that only $160 million of the $650 million the bond measure would raise is for urgent and infrastructure needs and the school district shouldn't waste money to fix old buildings. 

The measure needs 55 percent of the vote to be approved. 

In Livermore, Measure G is a tax of $138 per parcel annually for seven years to maintain the quality of public schools. It needs two-thirds of the vote to pass. 

It would extend a tax that was first approved in 2004 and was re-authorized in 2008. 

Supporters say Measure G will provide nearly $4 million in annual funding for Livermore schools, which is 4 percent of the school district's budget and the equivalent of 54 fulltime teachers. 

Proponents said if Measure G fails, every classroom in Livermore will be impacted and teachers will be laid off, class sizes will increase and many instructional programs will be eliminated. 

No ballot argument against Measure G was submitted. It needs a two-thirds majority to pass. 

In Piedmont, Measure H is a $13.5 million school bond measure to upgrade and repair the Piedmont High School's theater, which is heavily used as a classroom, auditorium and performing arts facility for the school district and the community. 

Supporters say the theater is nearly 40 years old and is in need of significant safety and accessibility upgrades and repairs. They say that without significant renovations, the theater may need to close. 

Opponent Alicia Kalamas says in her ballot argument that "it is irresponsible to support the current renovation plan and associated costs at this juncture" and suggests that the school district should look at the cost of a brand new theater. 

Kalamas says, "We feel we are being asked to pay for a new Porsche and getting a rebuilt (Volkswagen)." 

Measure H needs 55 percent of the vote to pass.

Berkeley's Crowden Music Center Celebrates 30 Years

By Sean McCourt
Saturday May 24, 2014 - 03:32:00 PM

For more than three decades now, the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley has provided unprecedented access and support for young Bay Area student musicians.

Founded in 1983 by Anne Crowden and Piero Mancici, The Crowden School, which incorporates music into a regular daily educational curriculum, started out with just 13 students. Today the school and associated music center serves more than 10,000 people a year through classes, lessons, workshops, camps, concerts and more.

Staff, alumni, local officials and fans will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the center with a special concert this weekend and a book examining the history and influence that the institution has had not only on the Bay Area, but its far-reaching impact on the music world at large.  

Today the "Crowden Music Center's 30th Anniversary Concert" will take place at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, featuring a wide variety of school alumni performing, as well as a world premiere of a new piece commissioned to mark the milestone.  

Samuel Carl Adams, who graduated from Crowden in 2000, went on to earn a Master's Degree from the Yale School of Music, and has had his work performed by the San Francisco Symphony and the St. Lawrence String Quartet among others, composed "musica" to pay tribute to the school. 

"What can I say about Crowden? It was an incredible experience going there, it's an incredibly supportive community, with ferociously talented students and faculty," Adams said. 

"It had a profound impact on me, not only playing in the orchestra, but taking theory classes and understanding how music functions on a theoretical and compositional level -- there were high expectations for everyone, not only for their music making, but also the intellectual and academic achievements," he said. 

When he was asked to compose the piece, Adams wanted to incorporate what he took away from his time at Crowden, and the importance of what music can mean to people. 

"I thought for a very long time about what the piece might be, and what it would celebrate exactly, and how it would function, and what text I would use," Adams said. 

"I thought the only topic that was appropriate for the piece was to look at music itself, to write a piece about music itself -- and not just music as organized sound, but also as an activity that allows us to grow and develop our curiosities as humans," Adams said. 

In addition to the concert, the Berkeley Historical Society is publishing a book, "You've Got to Make It Happen!: Anne Crowden's Musical Legacy in Berkeley and Beyond" to coincide with the anniversary.  

The Crowden Music Center's 30th Anniversary Concert takes place today at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15-$475. For more information visit www.crowden.org.



Tony Thurmond is the Best Choice for California Assembly

By Becky O'Malley
Friday May 23, 2014 - 03:17:00 PM

My friend Tommy (not his real name) is the first to describe himself as “not a political animal”. While this is probably true, he’s an astute observer of human nature and a great—and funny—storyteller. Last week he happened to tell what he thought of as just another funny story to mutual friends who DO follow politics.

They quickly realized that what he was describing as an odd call he’d gotten in early May was actually a push poll on behalf of Elizabeth Echols, one of the candidates for State Assembly in District 15, where I live.

So what’s a push poll, for all the rest of us who aren’t political animals? 

As always, ask Wikipedia. 

“A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll…. a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent….The main advantage of push polls is that they are an effective way of maligning an opponent ("pushing" voters towards a predetermined point of view) while avoiding direct responsibility for the distorted or false information suggested (but not directly alleged) in the push poll.” 

Tommy took notes as he talked to the caller, hoping to collect information which would help him to decide whom to vote for. Our mutual friends insisted that he tell me the story. Here’s what he said in an email: 

“The call was on the evening of May 9th. The female surveyor seemed utterly bored and discouraged. Her opening question was: Are you '‘interested in taking a 17 minute survey concerning the upcoming election?' "She had me laughing already! Who would say yes? Me of course!

"The survey started out fair sounding and then progressed to odd and inconsistent and narrow.

"It started with whether I intended to vote...whether I thought Jerry Brown was leading the state in 'the right direction', if I was familiar with the candidates running for State Assembly. "She listed them all and asked if I had decided who I would vote for..
I felt like a kid caught unprepared on pop quiz day - I told her so…and she laughed. 

"She asked if the support of the following people would influence my choice.. 

"She listed a bunch of names I didn't recognize and some I did. I reacted to the mention of Nancy Skinner, Tom Bates and Loni Hancock. I was asked if particular statements supporting the candidates would encourage me to support or discourage my support of specific candidates. 

"I found the statements uneven … curious. 

"There was a lot more info about SOME of the candidates and less about others .
The survey seemed to be focusing on Tony Thurmond, Elizabeth Echols, Clarence Hunt and Sam Kang. 

"She asked me to respond to the efficacy of statements opposing the candidates…something like, “does this statement strongly discourage, somewhat discourage, not affect, or don't have an opinion ...' 

"Now things got really uneven, lots of [negative] statements about Tony Thurmond, more than anyone else: 

" 'Tony Thurmond will raise your parcel taxes'…Tony Thurmond 'votes against the working man, is against jobs ‘ and is against the economy. ( I wrote down 'against economy' but she said something different , like 'against revitalizing local economies'. She did say this was in reference to his opposition to Chevron refinery expansion. ..I thought this encouraged me to vote for him, not discouraged me!) 

And about the others: 

"Clarence Hunt sues first and asks questions later, is more likely to sue and litigate than any other candidate. ( I was seriously puzzled by this statement.) Clarence Hunt is a New Orleans Republican. Sam Kang has no experience and is a newcomer to politics. Sam Kang is in the pocket of the auto insurance industry.' 

But on the other hand: ‘Elizabeth Echols is a hard worker .’ ‘Elizabeth Echols is a true patriot.’ (I thought it was odd to end with this statement). 

I told her that the survey definitely informed me and made me think. She seemed genuinely amused… I'd done my good deed for the day, I'd made someone laugh.” 

A funny story, sure. At least “funny peculiar”, if not altogether “funny ha-ha”. 

Hearing it, I realized I hadn’t been paying nearly enough attention to the upcoming election. There’s a primary on June 3 where two candidates will be selected to run in the newly minted Assembly District 15, which is what Tommy’s caller was talking about. The vote-by-mail ballots have already gone out. And yet I, who have always considered myself a political animal, read at least two newspapers every day and through the Planet am on hundreds of email lists, knew next to nothing about this Elizabeth Echols. 

Tony Thurmond, one of the disparaged candidates in the “poll”, has sent me or the Planet mailboxes a lot of email in the last couple of years, and he's often appeared in the Contra Costa Times, so I think I know a lot about him. He’s youngish, African American, has held various local offices in the Richmond area, and has been endorsed by a number of people I respect, notably Congressman George Miller and Kamala Harris. I’ve even met him, at a friend’s house party, where he impressed me as intelligent, straightforward and down to earth. I think I gave him a small contribution for the primary, on the theory that he certainly deserves to be one of the top two. 

What you might not know is that under the new rules we’ll end up selecting two candidates in June, though we can only vote for one. The top two finishers in June will face each other in November, regardless of party. 

In this district, with very occasional exceptions, they’re all Democrats. It used to be that “the Democratic candidate” was ostensibly chosen in a spring primary with a very low voter turnout, but actually was pre-selected by party honchos much earlier and was guaranteed to win in November. 

That’s how the torch in the Berkeley area was passed by then-Assemblyman Tom Bates to his legislative assistant Dion Aroner, then to his wife Loni Hancock, then to their protégée Nancy Skinner. The Oakland or Richmond percentage in the district, despite boundary variations, has always been low enough that Berkeley ruled. 

Trying to play catch up, I took a look in my neglected snail mailbox and discovered a starting point, a glossy large two-sided mailer featuring Ms. Echols. Two things caught my eye: “the ONLY candidate endorsed by the California Democratic Party” and a long list of endorsers including the East Bay Express. 

It seemed early for the Express to be endorsing for a race that ended in November, so I checked their site. They had a good piece on the race just a couple of days ago, where I learned that Echols, who has never before run for or held public office, is nonetheless the anointed candidate of the Bates/Hancock apparatus. That also explains “endorsed by the California Democratic Party”. I’m told by insiders that the local party—dare I call it a machine?—has the power to endorse a candidate, and their choice is almost never challenged by the state party, 

Elsewhere on the site I learned that the Express in an unsigned editorial had endorsed BOTH Echols and Thurmond, hoping to wait until the November election to choose between them. And it turns out that a lot of the “endorsements” at this point have the same fudge factor: joint endorsements by people or organizations that prefer to play it coy for now. So be sure to take those glossy mailers with more than a grain of salt--don't use the endorsements as your guide. 

So, again, who is Elizabeth Echols? Her own website revealed just a bit more significant information. She has the usual potpourri of low-level political appointments and high-minded ineffectual non-profits in her resume, but what caught my eye is that she’s a former Google executive, “Director of Policy”, whatever that might mean. 

Verbatim: “Elizabeth played a vital role in transitioning California’s economy into the digital age when she served as Director of Policy at Google from 2004-2008. At Google, she developed and managed the global e-commerce and content policy framework for consumer and business products.” 

Does that mean lobbying, or what? You tell me. 

Another small oddity is that there’s a big picture of Elizabeth and her husband “Parviz” at the top of her bio page. Nowhere on the site is his last name mentioned. A quick bit of web search tells me that he’s Parviz Boozarpour, an ordinary Farsi name, nothing to be ashamed of. The property records reveal that someone used the name "Elizabeh Boozarpour" when buying a house in the Oakland Hills at one point. As a woman who’s used both her birth name and her husband’s name in various job situations over the years myself, I’m not one to criticize, but I do think it’s odd. 

Otherwise, I haven't yet been able to figure out who she might be. The site is no help at all. 

The bottom line for me, anyhow: I’m not going to be comfortable voting for someone who’s never held public office to join the California Assembly. Think Meg and Carly—public office is not a good choice for a second career for middle-aged female high tech dropouts who've never had to answer to an outraged voter. Again, I say this knowing that I am one myself. 

And I really don’t like push polls. It was a push poll, a new invention at the time, that first catapulted Richard Nixon into public office, a push poll that implied that Helen Gahagan Douglas was a Communist, in the days when that was the kiss of death. For this alone, I’d have a hard time voting for any candidate who used one. 

I’d say, therefore, anyone but Echols. Tony Thurmond seems just fine to me, and I plan to vote for him on June 3. 

The Editor's Back Fence

New: How Could Deaths Have Been Prevented?

Becky O'Malley
Tuesday June 03, 2014 - 01:59:00 PM

A few words about the tragic killings in Santa Barbara:

First, all the usual exhortations about the senseless availability of weapons with no other purpose than mass killing of humans apply here. The accused killer was able to do more damage faster because of the kind of guns he was able to buy, but let’s not forget that three of the victims were stabbed to death.

Then, there’s the question of why a variety of concerned observers, including family members, could not stop someone who was obviously mentally ill, suicidal if not homicidal as well, in time to prevent a tragedy.

On this site we’ve hosted an excellent pertinent discussion between regular columnists Ralph Stone and Jack Bragen about the advisability of laws requiring involuntary treatment, the “Laura’s Law” category. There are two points which I think were not fully addressed in their thoughtful essays, however.  

First, it’s one thing to require treatment in certain circumstances, but this presupposes readily available and effective mental health services. In my own experience with trying to help people in emotional distress, even some quite willing to seek help, there’s a serious shortage of resources. A class action lawsuit was filed in October against Kaiser Health Foundation over mental health care wait times, and there are many similar complaints against other health care providers. So even if Laura’s Law or something similar were enacted, there’s no guarantee that persons detained would actually be treated. In this case, family members had been trying to find appropriate treatment for the disturbed young man, but hadn’t found anyone who could help. 

Second, the widespread practice of using law enforcement personnel to handle mental health crises doesn’t work much of the time, and it failed this time. The media is full of stories of disturbed people, both dangerous and harmless, who died during inept police attempts to deal with their problems. 

On NPR this week, I heard about a mentally ill veteran who was shot and killed by two police officers in Lodi. Berkeley’s Kayla Moore, who died as police struggled to subdue her, is the most obvious example, one of many who have died after presumably well-intended peace officers were called to the scene by family and friends.  

In the Santa Barbara case, a family request for a welfare check produced seven armed sheriffs who incorrectly decided that the young man was no danger to himself or others, a tragic error in judgment. It’s one thing to have armed officers as a safety backup, but the principal analysis and handling of a suspected mental health crisis situation should be done by a qualified mental health professional.  





New: Election Conversations Overheard

Becky O'Malley
Tuesday June 03, 2014 - 01:51:00 PM

Outside a late-night restaurant in Downtown Berkeley on election eve, young man to young woman: "Yeah, Berkeley just turned conservative sometime in the 90s."

Outside Nabalom, next to firehouse polling place, on election morning, one grey-haired lady to another, both with "I Voted" stickers: "We used to think we could make a difference."

New: Sort of On Vacation, But Scroll Down for New Stuff

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 30, 2014 - 10:26:00 AM

Since so much of the current issue is election related, and several contributors are on vacation, I’m going to extend it for another week. I’ll just add new articles when they come in and as I have time—scroll down and look for the green “new” tag to make sure you don’t miss anything. I’ll also be posting a few brief reflections of my own on current topics in this “Editor’s Back Fence” section.


Odd Bodkins: Tell the children (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday May 28, 2014 - 09:09:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Knurd (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday May 28, 2014 - 08:43:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: The Political Anatomy of “Walking While Black”

Steve Martinot
Saturday May 31, 2014 - 08:44:00 AM

The video of police stopping three young black people, two men and a woman, for jaywalking, at the corner of Dana St. and Dwight Way, which ends with the woman screaming in the distance as cops throw her to the ground and twist her arms behind her back becomes one of a growing category. This one happened May 2, 2014, in Berkeley. That same week, two others emerged, one at the hands of BART police and the other those of OPD. Both ended with a woman screaming in the distance. On May 20, in Salinas, 60 miles to the south, Carlos Mejia was shot down on a street corner by cops in broad daylight, on video. And Cecily McMillan, who went into convulsions after being beaten and gases during the police suppression of Occupy Wall Street, is convicted of felonious assault on a police officer. These three cases of police harassment and violence are among dozens that have occurred and been videoed in the last few months. 

The videos are extant and multiplying. They give us the ability to examine these incidents more carefully. Certain common traits become perceivable when we do. Although, over the years, the primary targets of police violence like this have been people of color, more and more white people are being added to this list of victims. The police excuses stay the same – “I felt threatened.” “The officer was only doing his duty.” “We have investigated and found that the officer acted properly, and that no crime was committed by the officer.” Etc. But somehow, we don’t hear as much about “rogue cops” any more. The police have retreated to more technological responses. They are now promoting a law making it illegal to video police in the “line of duty.” And a small news item recently reported that Apple is working on a device that will shut down all iPhones in a given radius of the police action by pushing a button. While the general term for this is "unaccountability," it reflects a sense that “rogue” has become more departmental. 

Let us look at this jaywalking incident more carefully, in light of various other stories recently reported at a NAACP townhall meeting on May 10 at the South Berkeley Library. [http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/05/09/berkeley-police-stop-sparks-racial-controversy/] 

The Jaywalkers of Berkeley

The date is May 2, 2014. Three black university students, two men and a woman, all walking together, were stopped by two cops for jaywalking at Dana and Dwight Way. When the video of the incident begins, one of the students, Calvin “Jevon” Cochran, is in handcuffs, standing in the street between two cops (Dana is blocked off on that block). The other two are questioning the cops as to why they have put their friend in handcuffs. They are understandably upset by this. In response, they are told to back away and stand on the sidewalk. Their questions gradually become accusatory, tinged with outrage and a sense that they are sick and tired of being stopped by cops – for walking while black (like driving while black), and of the racial profiling that is clearly being enacted. Their outrage escalates as a third and fourth cop show up, and then a fifth. 

At the NAACP meeting, other people of color came forward to tell similar stories of pointless stops, seemingly just to delay the target subject or somehow find a reason for arrest. One white student told the story the she was walking with a black student, jaywalked, got stopped, and only the black man walking with her was put in handcuffs. 

As the outrage heightens, one cop tries to grab the arm of the woman, LaTasha Pollard. She tells him not to touch her, and when he tries again, she leaves. He chases her, grabs her around the waist, and throws her to the ground. He twists her arms behind her back and handcuffs her while she is screaming in pain. 

Jaywalking is an infraction, for which only a citation is issued. Instead of issuing a citation, the cops put one of the students in handcuffs, and call for backup. Since the students didn’t run, nor withhold ID, the only thing that happened is that they disagreed with being stopped, and objected. We know this to be a fact since, at a different meeting to answer questions about this incident, the police quote what these students said. In effect, this man is in handcuffs because he has talked back. Whatever was said between these students and the cops, it remains the reason extant for handcuffing. 

Now, the three of them are standing there, talking to the cops in their own voice, not in a voice that pretends to be polite or obeisant, as is so often dictated. And the final stage of the incident (physical harassment) begins with an attempt to grab Pollard, threatening her by grabbing for her, and then physically hurting her in the act of arresting her. 

It doesn’t matter that all this is a problem the cop created by simply not issuing a citation. The onus of the situation is shifted onto those who speak for themselves. And all they are doing is speaking. Whatever they say becomes a source of futher police harassment. They assert that it is because they are black, which the cops of course deny, but which they have seen before. As the incident moves through is stages from infraction to harassment to violence, the dynamic of its transformation is simply people standing up for themselves, demanding respect by demanding to know why the police are doing what they are doing. 

At a public meeting with the police about a week after the incident, police said officers are not required to inform someone prior to handcuffing them. That is simply astounding. It means that a cop can handcuff someone arbitrarily, without discussion, due process, or respect. As the jaywalking incident shows, speech can get you put in handcuffs now. 

It is a clear indication that the police have become a law unto themselves. We are no longer secure in our person in the face of that arbitrarity. This very rule, which the police trumpet about themselves and their power without shame, is itself a violation of human rights. And that means that human rights are violated on the streets of US cities every day. 

In other words, the students’ objections are interpreted as resistance. At the police meeting, Police Chief Meehan himself said, “The remedy happens afterward. … The courts have not held that people are allowed to fight with officers during a stop.” So much is contained in this statement. He is stating baldly that, in the moment, there is to be no due process, and that what the students did (speak up for themselves) is already interpreted by the police as “fighting back.” The police create the incident by handcuffing Cochran, having rationalized that violence in advance by having already chosen to see speech as "fighting." 

And then, what is “due process.” “Due process” names the judicial norm that a person is not to be deprived of their freedom or their property without a fair hearing, in which they get to have a say in the matter (that is, the right to speak). It means that one can answer the charge that can possibly lead to loss of freedom or property. And this is an essential element of a just and democratic society. 

For the police, due process comes afterward. Meehan said, “The remedy happens afterward.” But "afterward" is not due process. What happens "afterward" is appeal. Appeal is what one does after one feels the state has committed a wrong. Appeal is not due process, it is appeal. Due process means one cannot be deprived of freedom without having something to say about it. Appeal and due process are different, though it appears that for the police, that difference disappears under their assumption of impunity. 

Handcuffing means to deprive a person of their freedom. To do so without discussion, without explanation, without the participation of on-lookers and neighbors, means it occurs without due process. Withholding due process is a violation of human rights. 

To see the reality of the difference between appeal and due process, consider the case where the police have killed someone. Appeal then is impossible, and moot. But the person has nevertheless been denied due process in being deprived of life, as wholly relevant to what has heppened to him or her. 

What this shift of domain represents, from stopping someone for an infraction to holding them for speech, questioning, disobedience, and refusal, is a shift to the political domain. To demand obedience, to demand silence, to claim rights of operations open to no questioning or discussion in the moment, are all actions that pertain to political power, in the political arena. In this case, the shift to the political domain is prepared by racial profiling. 

Profiling has nothing to do with law enforcement (and law enforcement is the usual mode by which police approach white people). In law enforcement, a crime is committed and the police search for a suspect. In profiling, the police commit an act of suspicion, and then search for (or create) a crime to pin on the target of their suspicion. 

In sum, this type of police procedure has three stages. An infraction is observed. The legal domain of a citation is shifted (escalated) to the political domain by the police responding to the reaction of the students to being stopped as "fighting," as resistance, as disobedience. That now becomes the focus of police attention. Having created the situation in which they can now focus on the students and not the infraction, the perceived disobedience can then be met by a demand for obedience, and violence. 

That is, the police have created a situation of arbitrarity in response to which objections and questions actually become relevant to a person’s self-respect and dignity, but which self-respect and dignity are then criminalized as resistance and disobedience. The students objections to being stopped arise from an awareness that they and other people of color are stopped all the time gratuitously in Berkeley (as testified to in the series of NAACP hearings that have been going on over the past year). 

It is not that the original infraction is raised to the level of crime, but that the infraction is simply used as an excuse to criminalize the other as resisting authority. Their objection signifies an insistence on a social status that is being withheld from them (the social status of whites). This withholding of social status, a status that warrants treatment in terms of the infraction and not in terms of speech, has tragically become culturally acceptible, and any insistance on that status has become criminalizable by the police. In this sense, when the police refer to these people as suspects, they are further denying them their social status, given that the only laws broken by them, for which the term “suspect” might be relevant are laws that the police have become in their person, as laws unto themselves. One is not a "suspect" for having refused a command. The fact that this happens again and again in this city, in other cities, means that there is a routine involved. 

In the process, the students end up in a double bind. To defend one’s dignity is to be criminalized, and not to defend one’s dignity, to lose it to arbitrary authority, is to be reduced to lesser social status. To remain silent is to betray one’s self-respect, and to speak is to be criminalized for that same self-respect. 

It brings to mind the double bind that Richard Wright describes in his autobiographical book, Black Boy. Wright had gotten a job in a lens grinding shop (in Jim Crow Mississippi, 1920s), working with two white men named Reynolds and Pease. 

[Pease approaches Wright and says] “Richard, Reynolds here tells me that you called me Pease.” … I stiffened. A void opened up in me. I knew that this was the showdown. … If I had said: No, sir, Mr. Pease, I never called you Pease, I would by inference have been calling Reynolds a liar; and if I had said: Yes, sir, Mr. Pease, I called you Pease, I would have been pleading guilty to the worst insult that a Negro can offer to a southern white man. (189,HarperPerennial,1998) 

There is no way out. The double bind’s purpose is only to terrorize. It marks the preparation of violence against its victim. It is an institutional double bind insofar as either fault committed by Wright in that situation is already established as a cultural institution – just as the ability of the police to profile, to use color as a source of suspicion, has been legitimized by Supreme Court decision (cf. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow). Today, the ability of the police to create situations by demanding obedience where resistance would be the natural response have been rendered culturally acceptible. 

As an institutional part of Jim Crow, the double bind’s appearance in this minor police incident of harassment in 2014 signifies that institutional racism has indeed been integrated into police activity. 

If democracy were to be instituted in this country, the following would need to be established first. Suspicion itself must cease to be sufficient cause to stop a person. A cop must see a person break the law, or have witnesses. If equality between people is to be established, as a prerequisite for democracy, the people must have the ability to question what the police are doing in the moment, and have their questions answered to their satisfaction within the purview of law, of fairness, and of justice. The police must be able to explain fully the reason for their actions in approaching or stopping a person. If the police cannot do this, their action must be taken as illegitimate, and stopped immediately. Questioning the police in the “line of duty” must be decriminalized if the process of regimentation of society implicit in the police demand for obedience is to be countermanded. 

New: Another Letter the Chronicle Didn't Publish (One in a Series)

By Gar Smith
Wednesday May 28, 2014 - 10:03:00 PM

It's Official. The DHS and the National Security State Are a Sham

Last week, students at booed and turned their backs of UC's new president, Janet Napolitano, when she appeared to deliver a commencement address on the Laney College campus.

Afterwards, reporters asked Napolitano for a comment on Elliot Rodger's bloody Isla Vista murder rampage.

Napolitano, a former director of the Department of Homeland Security, replied: “This is almost the kind of event that’s impossible to prevent and almost impossible to predict.”

The sobering take-away from Napolitano's admission: The Department of Homeland Security is a sham. 

The DHS spent $60.8 billion in 2013 to "protect" Americans while the CIA, NSA and other agencies spent $52.6 billion to track every US phone call, email and Internet posting to "track potential terrorists." And yet, a premeditated crime -- announced in advance online with a 140-page manifesto and a chilling video posted prior to the killing spree –- was allowed to proceed. 

The parents were concerned. Mental health specialists were consulted. The police interviewed the killer. And yet, this troubled young man was able to "legally" purchase three handguns and 400 rounds of ammo -- no questions asked. 

Now, Napolitano tells us, this rampage could not have been predicted or prevented. 

Despite the billions spent, it appears neither DHS nor the NSA can protect us from "domestic terrorism." 

Apparently, it's one thing to challenge Al Qaeda. Just don't expect the government to challenge the NRA.

New: Too Many Glossies!

By Vivian Warkentin
Tuesday May 27, 2014 - 01:35:00 PM

So far I have received five glossy campaign mailers from Elizabeth Echols, candidate for State Assembly, far more than any other candidate. I think it reasonable to assume that she is the Democratic machine candidate and expected heiress apparent to the Assembly. One of these mailers brags that she is endorsed by Loni Hancock and Nancy "not my jurisdiction" Skinner. Just last year Loni Hancock, State Senator, was working to weaken the public right to know via the "public records act", until she and fellow Democrats were busted by the press. She and other machine Democrats are trying to gut the California Environmental Quality Act because it gets in the way of "smart growth". Every time I call Nancy Skinner with a concern, she tells me it's not her jurisdiction. I asked her about a bill to label GMOs and she said the people had spoken by voting against proposition 37 even after Monsanto and the GMO industry plastered the media. Nancy talks a lot of cheap talk about the environment and is a top fundraiser for the Democratic Party. 

Maybe it's time for Democrats to take a break from craning their heads right and notice the corporate infiltration and rot in the Democratic Party. Yeah, Republican Tim Donnelly says "We're going to frack our way to prosperity", but mealy-mouthed Democrats do the same things and stand for nothing. That is why we have fracking, GMO's, perpetual war, developer takeover of our cities. 

Money is bigger than ever in politics. The least we can do is NOT vote for the candidate that spends the most. Maybe another Democrat? But Peace and Freedom are sounding awful good to me right now.

Vote Yes on Proposition 42

By Peter Scheer, First Amendment Coalition
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:55:00 PM

Prop 42, on the ballot for California’s June 4 election, will amend the Constitution to assure that local governments are legally bound to observe open-government requirements. If you prefer transparency to secrecy in your city government, local school board or county government, then the choice is clear: You should vote for Prop 42.

Prop 42 solves a problem that has repeatedly undercut enforcement of California’s open meetings law (the Brown Act) and open records law (the Public Records Act). Because these laws are “mandated” by the Legislature, the state must reimburse local governments for their costs. Although the costs are small (more on that below), local governments and the state inevitably disagree on the amount of reimbursement, and those disagreements, in turn, provide legal cover for local governments to suspend their compliance with parts or all the Brown Act and Public Records Act.

Prop 42 solves this problem once and for all by converting the existing legislative mandate (which has to be reimbursed by the state) into a constitutional mandate (which does not). Prop 42, in other words, unequivocally reallocates these costs to local governments. 

Will these costs be a burden for local governments? No. How much can it cost, after all, for a city council to post on its website the agendas of forthcoming council meetings? Or to help citizens describe the records they are looking for? Until now local governments, able to send all their invoices to Sacramento, have had an incentive to overstate these costs—which explains the lofty cost estimates that some have ascribed to Prop 42. In fact, Prop 42, by placing responsibility for costs on the same government entities that incur them, should cause overall costs of open-government compliance to go down, not up. 

At the end of the day, Prop 42 is about ending the fiscal tug-of-war between the state and local governments over who pays the (relatively modest) costs of complying with open-government laws. While in principle those costs could be definitively allocated to the state rather than local governments, in practice that would not work. 

Why not? Because, even if the state’s obligation to pay was unequivocal and imbedded in the Constitution, there would still arise disputes over the accuracy of the amounts that local governments bill the state. And those disputes would give local governments a legal excuse to suspend compliance with the Public Records Act and Brown Act. 

Finally, the Legislative Analyst has speculated that, in a post-Prop 42 world, overall open-government costs could rise because the state, unconstrained by its current obligation to reimburse local governments, could create costly new open-government programs and requirements, thereby increasing costs for local government. Not so. This theory overlooks the fact that the Public Records Act applies to state agencies as well as to local governments. That means the state, under Prop 42, would share local governments’ incentive to hold down costs. 

Prop 42 in no way alters the requirements of open-government laws; it simply removes an excuse for local governments to opt out of those requirements. It’s high time that We, the People, make clear that we want all levels of government, local and statewide, to operate with maximum transparency so that we can hold public officials accountable and make democracy work.

Keep Our Government Agencies Accountable: Yes on Prop. 42

By Bruce Joffee
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:51:00 PM

Good government depends upon open transparency. We citizens must see how government actions are decided in order to keep our public servants accountable. This requires public access to the same information that government agencies use to conduct their duties, with limited exceptions to protect our common security and individual privacy. This is all spelled out in the California Public Records Act (sections 6250-6270 of the Government Code). 

Nevertheless, last June, some politicians tried to make the Public Records Act (PRA) optional, which would have blocked our access to our governments' records. Fortunately that scheme was busted, busted by an open and alert press. 

To prevent similar schemes in the future, Proposition 42 is on the ballot. It assures that public records and open meetings are not closed to the public on the excuse that Sacramento hasn't reimbursed local governments for the cost of complying with the PRA. It is perfectly reasonable that each governmental agency's response to public record requests be a normal cost of doing business. 

Do vote YES on Prop. 42.

New: Thoughts on Gun Violence and How to Control It

By Romila Khanna
Saturday May 31, 2014 - 09:19:00 AM

We go to war to bring stability to the international communities but we don't make strict laws at home to protect innocent people from gun violence. 

When people buy a car, they get it registered. They possess a driver's license. Those who drive stolen cars are usually caught and punished but we don’t have a similar strict management of gun ownership. 

Last week I was talking to a young man about guns. He said that the only way for young people to stop using guns on one another is to take away guns from everyone, including police officers. He added that fear of attack by law enforcement officers leads young people engaged in criminal activity to use guns first. I was shocked to hear this comment. 

I have my own views on violence; the words of the young man are still ringing in my ears the last words of the youth. So long as insecurity persists in the minds of young people, we will not be able to stop gun related deaths. Right now guns are visible everywhere. Young people watch gun shows. They receive reduced rates for purchasing guns. They get the idea that they can get what they want by pointing a gun. 

Can we stop gun shows? Can we make it very difficult for people to buy guns? If we can put a brake on the gun industry, gun sales will drop. This will slow down easy access to the lethal weapon and gun related violence will be reduced.

New: ‘Credit Swiss - Too Big to Jail’

Jagjit Singh
Saturday May 31, 2014 - 09:18:00 AM

Contrary to the Justice Department’s stated promise “to hold accountable those who helped bring about the last financial crisis . . . to ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes . .” - it has largely failed in its mission. 

Its mortgage fraud department launched a much touted campaign - “Operation Stolen Dream” to punish the offenders. It did indeed indict 1,500 low level criminals with nearly $200 million in fines. But, the Justice Departments pronouncement to “get tough on crime” was largely a PR effort. Its dragnet swept up those guilty of liar loans, and small-time independent mortgage brokers all with a wink and nod of loan approvals by the ‘big-daddy banks.” Not a single bank official who approved these bogus loans was asked to don an orange suit and ankle chains. 

Top executives of companies like Countrywide or New Century or Lehman Brothers evaded serious consequences. The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force was another exercise in public relations. 

The latest bank guilty of egregious conduct is Credit Swiss. Successive US administrations have largely ignored Switzerland’s secrecy laws which allow wealthy Americans to evade paying taxes. Credit Swiss agreed to pay $2.6 billion in fines but senior officials evaded criminal liability. Senator Carl Levin echoes the sentiments of many Americans when he stated “ it is a mystery to me why the U.S. government didn’t cough up the names of U.S. clients (22,000 as of 2006) with secret bank accounts.”

New: The Silent Infiltration of Privatization

By Milin Khunkhun
Saturday May 24, 2014 - 03:35:00 PM

Given its unique history of promoting free speech, Berkeley has become a place where people feel emboldened to advocate for their causes. Since my sister attended University of California, Berkeley, I was able to visit the campus and witness a student-driven protest called Occupy Cal whose mission was to protest against the administration raising undergraduate tuition fees by thirty-two percent. The tuition increase would directly affect current and future students’ ability to pay for quality education in a climate where college is increasingly becoming unaffordable. As a high school student, it is my dream to attend UC Berkeley because it delivers world-class higher education for the price of a public school and shapes future activists. Recent attempts to change Berkeley, however, are undermining Berkeley’s reputation as a progressive place. 

The private sector has been slowly and subtly implementing changes in Berkeley to marginalize people’s rights. For instance, in late 2011, residents in Berkeley were introduced to Measure S, an act that would ban sitting and lying down on sidewalks from 7:00am to 10:00pm near business districts. Business owners favor this measure because it would potentially promote a cleaner and friendlier environment that would attract more clientele. According to the measure, people who periodically violate the rules “within 30 days of a warning, would receive a $75 fine or community service.” The measure criminalizes and penalizes the homeless instead of promoting initiatives to help them. The privatization of public spaces reflects the lack of public efforts to supply aid for the homeless through housing, food programs, shelters, and clinics. The measure fails to address the larger systemic social structural that leads to homelessness, including overcrowding of shelters and lack of affordable housing. 

UC Berkeley students’ effort to raise awareness about the controversial Measure S, led to the measure’s defeat. Organizations such as the Suitcase Clinic and CalPIRG coordinated the Students Against Measure S rally at Upper Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. Council member Kriss Worthington and ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin both spoke about the criminalization against the homeless community. UC Berkeley students protested against Measure S because it symbolized the city’s attempt to solve a public issues with private agendas. Protestor and student member of the Suitcase Clinic Erica Thomas said the city should “expand homeless shelter hours during the day…[to insure] a safe place for homeless people to get medical services and to build their resumes and job hunt.” Giving the homeless the opportunity to be apart of the working class would better suit the city’s desire to increase commercial prosperity.  

UC Berkeley students have been known to be prominent catalysts of activism “for turning financial calculations into moral ones.” In 2014, UC Berkeley students rallied and protested against the UC systems involvement in fossil fuel investments. Last May at the Regents’ Sacramento meeting, UC Berkeley students “chained themselves to the symbolic oil rig, chanted calls for divestment and gave a 15-minute speech to the regents.” Students are encouraging the regents to financially divest in fossil fuel companies to decrease the carbon footprint and insure a livable future for their UC students. UC Berkeley students will always be the catalysts for solving public issues when privatization begins harming and threatening the welfare of the public. 

With the efforts to privatize Berkeley, a majority of UC Berkeley students will never hesitate to fearlessly challenge any proposed unjust system. These students have an inherent drive and belief that their voices can stimulate change to better the livelihood of their community. This effort to passionately protest is the vital reason why privatization is constantly being challenged in Berkeley. The students’ effort to organize and take initiative ignites the inspiration in not only me but also other future students, who want to demur to any unjust system. Communities should follow in Berkeley’s legacy for rebellion so that others can challenge the excessive privatization that hinders the prosperity of public community.

Chinese Hacking Uproar is Hypocritical

By Tejinder Uberoi
Friday May 23, 2014 - 05:03:00 PM

The brouhaha over Chinese hacking US corporations for commercial gain exposes us to charges of monumental hypocrisy. Are Americans and our allies supposed to believe that our (NSA) hacking is for the greater good and Chinese hacking is inherently evil? It’s nice to be assured by our government that when we hack, our hearts are pure and we would never hack for commercial gain. 

The criminal hacking charge that the United States has filed against specific foreign officials is largely political theater to demonstrate that we are ever vigilant to spying and blunt any criticisms that we are weak on industrial espionage. We have established the ground rules for hacking, namely military hacking is okay but hacking for commercial gain is verboten!  

There is little chance that the Chinese officials who were named in the indictment will ever see a day in a US court as no extradition treaty exists between our two countries. Furthermore, because of our profligate spending on military adventures, we are beholden to China for a staggering debt of $1.27 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney statement that “we don’t gather intelligence for the benefit of U.S. companies” defies credulity. Such statements do little to assuage growing anger over the NSA activities such as spying on Petrogas, Brazil’s offshore oil reserves and other trade secrets, Chinese Huawei, the giant Chinese maker of Internet switching equipment, and Pacnet, the Hong Kong-based operator of undersea fiber optic cables.

Berkeley City Council: A Cliff Hanger on the Minimum Wage

By Harry Brill
Friday May 23, 2014 - 05:01:00 PM

Tuesday's (May 20) Berkeley City Council session were disappointing but at least, so far, not a disaster. Only hours before the meeting, a small delegation met with Mayor Tom Bates who assured the delegation that he would support a minimal wage proposal that would peak by 2021 to $15 an hour, which afterward would rise each year according to the rate of inflation. He even said that we should feel free to circulate his progressive document. 

He kept that promise by making his proposal. However, to our surprise, when a vote was taken about an hour later it lost because Mayor Bates voted against it. 

The Council finally agreed unanimously to a diluted motion, but one which was nevertheless much better than the miserable proposed ordinance voted on at the last council meeting. In a nutshell, beginning this year on October 1, the minimum wage would be $10 an hour. On October 1, 2015 it would reach $11 an hour, and would peak on October 1, 2016 at $12.53 an hour. 

Unfortunately, the $10 hourly wage that would become effective in October would be 74 cents lower than the current minimum wage in San Francisco. But in contrast to the proposal that the Council had approved a few weeks ago, the higher wage begins this year rather than the next. Also, if this proposal sticks, for the first time it establishes the principle of a minimum wage for all private sector Berkeley workers. The year 2000 living wage ordinance applies only to the relatively small group of workers whose employers contract with the City or who are on City property. 

Although we haven't achieved what we advocated, we have made a good beginning. Among our gains is that we have begun planning for a livable wage ballot initiative for November 2016. It will contain provisions absent from the Council's current proposed ordinance. An annual cost of living increase is necessary. Otherwise a minimum wage soon becomes a subminimum wage. Also, As Daryl Moore compassionately complained, the current proposal lacks a sick leave provision. He was outraged by the Council's omission.  

Clearly, if the Council will not do enough to improving the lives of working people, we will do all we can to make better things happen. 

Because the new proposal must be first made public, an official vote, that is, the first of the two mandated readings will have to wait until the June 10th meeting. So we are not yet out of the woods. Moreover, the Committee of ten who will be charged with taking a long range view is worrisome. Kris Worthington and Linda Maio cannot be on it because they are up for election and Max Anderson, who is a highly progressive and articulate council member, will be having back surgery. This is not good news for us and for the working poor. We need to be prepared for the June 3 Council meeting when the committee will be discussed. And the first reading of the new proposed ordinance will be on June 10.  

It will be imperative that we crowd the City Hall room both dates as we did on Tuesday, and also we must continue lobbying the members of the City Council. A wage that exceeds a poverty wage is essential. Also, a minimum wage must be defended by an annual Cost of Living Adjustment. And Daryl Moore is right. Workers have a right to sick leave. 


New: Echols Not as Bad as All That!

Raymond Barglow
Saturday May 31, 2014 - 08:46:00 AM

The editorial in the May 23 issue of the Planet, endorsing Tony Thurmond for California Assembly over another candidate, Elizabeth Echols, is based on a mistaken premise.

The editorial criticizes a “push poll on behalf of Elizabeth Echols.” I too am very much opposed to such manipulative campaigning. But neither I nor anyone else I know who follows East Bay politics closely has heard of any such Echols-supported poll. When I asked the manager of the Echols campaign, Jamila English, about this matter, she told me that the campaign has done no polling, let alone push polling, whatsoever. 

The Planet editorial gives the impression that Echols is a top-down Democratic Party politician – a technocrat endorsed by local Party insiders who has no grassroots support. This is a very misleading picture. I am active in the local Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, and have observed first hand over the past decade that Echols is a savvy advocate for progressive causes – e.g. firm opposition to fracking, increased funding for our schools, and creation of good jobs. She was elected to, and has for years served on, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. She is an Executive Board member of the National Women’s Political Caucus in Alameda and is active in other progressive Dem. groups as well.  

It’s true that Echols has been active nationally as well as locally. She advised Al Gore during the years of the Clinton Presidency and Pres. Obama appointed her to advocate on behalf of green energy initiatives. In all of these positions, national as well as local, she has acted, to my knowledge, in a thoughtful and principled way. 

Echols understands fully that the well-being of our local communities is closely tied to national funding priorities, and that these priorities must change. There are many ways in which state legislators can work with federal officials as well as with grassroots activists to respond to the true challenges that our communities face. I believe that both Echols and Thurmond understand this, and both of them favor the same causes, although Echols has more experience in dealing with political issues on a national level. 

In brief, Echol’s record as an advocate of good causes that are dear to grassroots progressives is an impressive one.


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Dealing With Loss

By Jack Bragen
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:52:00 PM

The occurrence of loss of various types in our lives seems universal, and happens sooner or later to all people with no exceptions. 

Emotions related to loss can exist in response to letting go of nothing more than an illusion. Following a psychotic episode, the realization may come that the thing upon which we had pinned our hopes isn't happening. It takes a certain amount of strength to face that. But once we do face a fact of not getting something we wanted, (even something we thought we must have) we are relieved of a self-imposed burden. 

While mental illness is apparently based on a malfunction in the brain, we should not ignore a psychological component. An episode can be triggered some of the time by a loss or by a perception of loss. 

When we feel grief or disappointment, it can disrupt an already breakable state of wellness, or could lead to medication noncompliance. 

When facing a genuine loss as opposed to one based on the imagination, the pain associated with it can run a lot deeper, and it can be harder to acknowledge the grief, in comparison to a loss based on a delusion. 

(A mental health professional who I won't name suggested I go into a day treatment program to deal with my delusions about writing, citing that I believed it would do for me things that were unrealistic. I went, and after a couple of weeks of that, decided to hang onto my delusions about writing, quit day treatment, and get back on the computer. Not all goals are unattainable, and we do not need to be overzealous about being a good psychiatric patient.) 

When I lost my father, it was deeply painful, and I cried a lot. However, I had sixteen or seventeen years of recovery under my belt and was able to face these emotions without it leading to a relapse of psychosis. When I lost my cat, beforehand, who had been loyal and adoring of me for fifteen years, it was difficult as well. 

People with mental illness must experience losses just as must everyone else. However, sometimes for us, a loss is harder because our emotional systems may not be as intact. When psychosis is in command of someone, or depression, or mania, we can not deal properly with grief. Letting go of someone or some thing is one of the highest functions of the human mind. A mind that isn't operating properly can't do that. 

To deal with loss, we must remain stabilized on medication, and may need extra attention from qualified caregivers. Grief must be acknowledged but not overemphasized. In some instances, privacy is needed, and not all caregivers are privy to a personal loss.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Racism: What’s the Problem?

By Bob Burnett
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:49:00 PM

The past few weeks have seen the anniversaries of the US Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in “Brown v. Board of Education.” We’ve also had a media frenzy over the dreadful remarks of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. For a brief period, there was a national discussion of racism. But now, for most Americans, it’s over. Why can’t we acknowledge racism continues to be a major national problem, a cancer that threatens the heart of our democracy? Why can’t we do something about it? 

As a white liberal, who lived through the civil-rights era, I expected more progress by 2014. I expected America to be integrated socially and economically. I expected deeper equality. 

There has been progress. Sports and entertainment are much different than they were in 1964. And of course, we have a black President. Nonetheless, in many areas of the United States, the plight of the average black family has not improved. There are 39 million African Americans in the US (12.6 percent), but only 6 CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations. Meanwhile, black males are far more likely to end up in prison (30 percent) than are their white brothers (9 percent). 

The persistence and malignancy of racism can be explained by three factors: 

The first is economic inequality. More than a decade ago, I had lunch with a friend, a retired University of California at Berkeley professor who had been charged by (then) Chancellor Tien with funding the University’s affirmative action program. My friend observed, “The people I talk to are sympathetic, but they’re unwilling to give money. They see a divide opening up between the rich and poor and they want to hold onto their money and take of their family.” 

The economic changes wrought by the Reagan era have impacted all working Americans, but they have been particularly harmful to African-Americans. Over the past twenty years, the average wealth of African-Americans families has diminished. MSNBC reporter Ned Resnikoff noted, “[In 1967] median household income was 43% higher for white, non-Hispanic households than for black households... By 2011, median white household income was 72% higher than median black household income.” 

The second explanation for the persistence of racism is our national morality. Beginning with the Reagan administration, conservative ideology was guided malignant notions that helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else; i.e., greed was good. Conservatives swallowed Ayn Rand’s Objectivism: “The concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Today’s conservatives believe that if you are disadvantaged – poor, sick, elderly, or just down on your luck – you should suck it up because it only takes willpower to become triumphant. 

Over the past 30 years, the American ethos changed from “we’re in this together” to “what’s in it for me.” 

The third explanation for the persistence of racism is lack of focus. Speaking on the anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, former President Jimmy Carter observed about the civil-rights movement, "We're pretty much dormant now. We accept self-congratulations about the wonderful 50th anniversary — which is wonderful — but we feel like Lyndon Johnson did it and we don't have to do anything anymore.” 

Meanwhile racism continues to be an active cancer in American society. As social critic, Jie-Song Zhang observed the elements of racism are all around us. 

[We build for-profit prisons and] target Black and Latino men from low-income communities to fill these prisons… [We] come up with special laws in largely Black and Latino communities to make it harder for them to vote, because they don't vote for the things that serve our interests… [We] pass laws that ultimately work so Black people can be shot in the name of self-defense, and make it easy for the shooters to be acquitted.
Activist Dr. Maya Rockeymoore reported, “African American households are beyond broke, owning only six cents for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white household and possessing an average liquid wealth of only $200.” 


Donald Sterling was only one example of white racism. It’s all over the Fox News Network. In March, 2012 Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan made racist comments on a conservative radio program. And on and on. 

Writing in the Atlantic, researcher Robert P. Jones discussed a recent study of racial attitudes. Using sophisticated techniques, a poll found that 31 percent of white respondents admitted, “The idea of America where most people are not white bothers me.” 

There’s a lot of talk about the new populism. We should start with moral assertions: We’re in this together. I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper. No one is free until everyone in free. Every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

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

Arts & Events

New: Around & About Opera & Theater: Cinnabar's 'Marriage of Figaro' & Fringe Festival at Dominican University

By Ken Bullock
Saturday May 31, 2014 - 08:41:00 AM

Cinnabar was founded in the 70s as an arts center in an old stucco schoolhouse on a hill by the late Marvin Klebe, an American baritone with a career in Europe who wanted to come home, raise his family—and involve them and the community in arts education and performance. Cinnabar's still going strong today, with the artistic direction of Elly Lichenstein, Klebe's student and protége (who just won a lifetime achievement award from the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle), and management of Terence Keene, late of Berkeley Rep. 

Opera's Cinnabar's strongest suit, of various performing arts well-staged and taught there; this weekend will be the first of two for a perennial favorite, Mozart and Da Ponte's 'The Marriage of Figaro,' which seamlessly combines exquisite music, a knowing libretto and an uproariously comic story that ends in wisdom. Cinnabar staged it brilliantly a few years back; some of the same singer-performers have returned for the current production, stage-directed by Lichenstein, with the onstage orchestra directed by Mary Chun. Eugene Walden and Kelly Britt sing Figaro and Susanna. 

Opera in such an intimate setting isn't just about good sight-lines and hearing the music and singing clearly. There's a very direct, physical and emotional effect in a small, wood-framed house such as Cinnabar's—most evident in another production a couple years back, with Jillian Khuner of Berkeley singing Violetta in Verdi's 'La Traviata' ... the impact of the famous high notes in her arias were more than affecting, more like (pleasurable!) ballistics—the composer's original point! 

May 30-June 15, Fridays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma. $9-$40. (707) 763-8920, cinnabartheater.org 

About 20 years ago, Annette Lust, an emerita teacher of French at Dominican University with a background in theater and mime (student of Etienne Decroux, the founder of modern mime; longtime reviewer and jurist at international movement theater festivals), created the Dominican University and Community Players, reacting to the cancellation of drama classes and productions. Out of the troupe, the Fringe of Marin eventually took shape, a sometimes scrappy, always interesting melange of original one act plays and solo performances by all and sundry—from local talents as well as contributions from great distances, Dominican students to professionals and talented amateurs. 

Since Lust's death least year, Dominican alumna Gina Pandiani (managing artistic director), with a background in opera and theater, and Pamela Rand (production manager), a student of Jacques LeCoq's movement theater and self-professed comedic "Pam the Ham," have assumed the direction of the Fringe, with their collaborators moving it to Angelico Hall—once the scene of Philharmonia Baroque concerts—and bringing it back from neglect. 

This Spring (there're Spring and Fall seasons for the Fringe), the Fringe features two programs of 10 short plays altogether and a solo performance, repeated on each program (Rick Roitinger excellently navigating the raconteurish maze of Aleks Merilo's 'Little Moscow,' a genial tailor fraught with strange memories, amid the images of bygone times in Russia). 

As is common with short play festivals, the entries are often close to sketch comedies. Beyond the immediate factor of entertainment, though, some in particular focus on greater values: satiric dialogue (C. J. Ehrlich's 'Tuesday in the Park with River Apple'), 'PreOccupy Hollywood' (indie movie extras considering revolt as they wait and wait to go on camera), a teenager in difficult circumstances, acting out on the phone what she won't in conversation (Inbal Kashtan's 'Fourteen,' directed by Jon Tracy, familiar to theatergoers from Aurora and Berkeley Playhouse, among others), a mash-up of disparate characters and moods out in the wilderness, one couple seeking celebration and solace among the wild life, both natural and "on vacation" (Kashtan and Tracy again) ... 

Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 2 & 7:30, Sunday at 2, Angelico Concert Hall, 20 Olive Avenue (just off Grand Avenue, across from Dominican Gym and entrance to Marin Shakespeare). $10-$20 (pay what you can, Saturday, May 31, 2 pm). fringeofmarin.com 

New: San Francisco Film Festival Starts Thursday, Runs Through Weekend at the Castro

By Justin De Freitas
Wednesday May 28, 2014 - 09:14:00 AM
The Parson's Widow
The Parson's Widow
Under The Lantern
Under The Lantern

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival starts Thursday night and runs through Sunday night at the Castro Theater.

Far from the ragged, blurry images of the popular imagination, the silent era of filmmaking was an age of discovery, innovation, and supreme achievement by pioneers working in a new medium. Motion pictures, at first treated as a mere novelty, came of age as an art form between 1910 and 1920, growing from brief, flickering diversions into full-scale narratives. And in the 1920s, the silent era's final decade, cinema truly blossomed as it gained in sophistication and artistry. In those early years, film—despite the tiredness of the cliché—was a new and universal language, relying almost exclusively on image and motion to convey plot and meaning.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival showcases the breadth and depth of this first golden age of cinema, presenting the full range of film treasures—from slapstick comedy to noir, from documentary to the avant garde—as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen, in a beautiful 1920s movie palace, and with live musical accompaniment. This year’s program begins Thursday night, May 29, at the Castro Theater with Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which not only features the famous tango that made Rudolph Valentino one of the biggest stars of the era, but honors the hundredth anniversary of the world war that provides the film's backdrop.

The festival continues all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, closing with a 9 p.m. Sunday screening of Buster Keaton's classic 1924 comedy, The Navigator. In between you'll find a wide range of films accompanied by an array of superb musicians that includes the British Film Institute's Stephen Horne, playing his unique blend of piano, flute, and accordion; the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra of Colorado, which replicates the sound of the small orchestras that performed for mid-size silent-era theaters; and the Matti Bye Ensemble of Sweden, which brings a more modern, experimental approach to the art of silent film accompaniment.

For more information or to order tickets, go to silentfilm.org. Tickets are $15-$20 per show, or $225 for a festival pass. The complete program is below.  

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse  

THURSDAY, MAY 29 • 7:00 PM 

USA, 1921 • Appoximately 132 minutes 

Director Rex Ingram 

Cast Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry, Pomeroy Cannon, Josef Swickard, Alan 


Musical Accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra 

The film that made Rudolph Valentino a star and brought director Rex Ingram to prominence, Four Horsemen is one of the greatest of the Great War chronicles. Valentino brought a new kind of leading man to the screen in the role of Julio Desnoyers: the Latin lover. Desnoyers is the favorite grandson of a wealthy Argentinean rancher, who teaches young Julio to tango and takes him to seedy bars in Buenos Aires’s Boca district. After his grandfather’s death, Julio moves to France and continues his dissolute lifestyle. He falls in love with a married woman (Alice Terry) and is finally shamed into joining the army. The original press book hailed it as “an epic tale of surging passion sweeping from the wide plains of the Argentine through the fascinating frivolities of pre-war Paris into the blazing turmoil of the German invasion.” Based on the best-selling novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and adapted for screen by June Mathis, Four Horsemen was among the biggest box office hits of the silent era, premiering in March 1921 to great critical acclaim. The film was re-released in a shortened version in 1926, the year Valentino died, and was seen in that truncated form until Kevin Brownlow and David Gill undertook a restoration in the early 1990s. Brownlow and Gill returned the film to its original length with its original color tints, as well as restoring the famous tango to its scintillating splendor. Their fully restored version reveals director Rex Ingram as a masterly painter in light as well as a sensitive storyteller. This presentation commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War I, as well as the 25th anniversary of the accompanying ensemble—who started life as the Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra.  

Amazing Tales From the Archives  

FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 10:00 AM 

Free Admission 

Approximately 100 minutes 

Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne 


A behind-the-curtain look at the international preservation scene. Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film, BFI National Archive, presents some astonishing early nature films, which were among the very first films preserved by the BFI National Archive. Dixon’s presentation explores the innovative work of Britain’s nature-loving film pioneers who invented their own equipment and methodology, developed techniques and braved the elements to launch the genre that eventually led to such pinnacles of achievement as Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth (BBC, 2006). The familiar snippet of film commonly known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze became an icon of the earliest cinema. Dan Streible, Founder and Director Orphan Film Symposium, takes a New Look at an Old Sneeze as he shares his discoveries about the film we thought we knew well, which had been missing almost half of the frames shot in 1894! Streible’s presentation includes the new Library of Congress 35mm print of the complete kinetoscopic record. Craig Barron (Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor) and Ben Burtt (Academy Award-winning sound designer) share fascinating insights into Charlie Chaplin’s significant use of technical effects such as matte shots, process shots, miniatures, and rear projection to complement real-life settings, as well as Chaplin’s selective use of sound effects and peripheral dialogue as the sound age developed. Barron and Burtt’s presentation explores how Chaplin worked and adapted new technology and developments to his process—with behind-the-scenes stills, film clips, and animations. 

Song of the Fisherman  

FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 1:00 PM 

China, 1934 Approximately 60 minutes 

Director Cai Chusheng 

Cast Wang Renmei, Luo Peng, Yuan Congmei, Han Langen 

Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin 

Cai Chusheng’s Song of the Fishermen is not only the first social-realist film in Chinese cinema history, but also the first Chinese film to win a prize in an international festival (Moscow Film Festival, 1935). Depicting the struggle of the poor in Shanghai, the film is a moving story of social injustice told with eloquence and passion. Starring the beautiful Wang Renmei (Wild Rose), the film was a breakaway success—playing in Shanghai for a record 84 days to an audience of nearly a million. Wang Renmei became known as the “Wildcat of Shanghai” for her intense performance as “Little Cat” in the film. While shooting Song, Wang announced her marriage to Jin Yang—her Wild Rose costar, considered the Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai—and consequently Linhua Film Company dropped her contract in the belief that a married actress wouldn’t attract male audiences. The film’s title song (composed by Ren Guang) was a huge contemporary hit in Shanghai, and later (in the 1970s) it became a hit in the U.S.  

Midnight Madness  

FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 3:00 PM 

USA, 1928 Approximately 61 minutes 

Director F. Harmon Weight 

Cast Jacqueline Logan, Clive Brook, Walter McGrail, James Bradbury, Oscar 


Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne 

A silent melodrama loosely inspired by The Taming of the Shrew and directed by F. Harmon Weight. Secretary Norma Forbes (Jacqueline Logan) accepts the marriage proposal of Michael Bream (Clive Brook), wealthy diamond miner. Norma reveals to her boss and actual love interest (Walter McGrail) that she’s only marrying for the money. Having eavesdropped through a conveniently open door, Michael, despite his genuine affections, schemes to teach his gold-digging fiancée a lesson. From New York, the newlyweds sail second class to South Africa, where Michael leads his wife to believe that he is down-and-out. They settle in a bleak shack near a mine, where Norma discovers the hardships of life in the African jungle. She sends a cable to her former employer, divulging her whereabouts. A fight ensues, which leaves Michael bound up and prey to a lion. At last realizing her affection for her husband, Mrs. Bream returns with a shotgun—setting up a suspenseful climax that can only result in no lady or no lion. —Jennifer Rhee  

The Parson's Widow  

FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 5:00 PM 

Sweden, 1920 Approximately 88 minutes 

Director Carl Th. Dreyer 

Cast Hildur Carlberg, Einar Rød, Greta Almroth, Olav Aukrust, Kurt Welin, 

Mathilde Nielsen, Lorentz Thyholt 

Musical Accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble A very early film by one of cinema’s masters, and one that will surprise those familiar only with Dreyer’s most famous work—the darkly moving The Passion of Joan of Arc. The Parson’s Widow is as beautifully composed as the later work, but replete with deft comic touches as well. Based on a story by Norwegian poet Kristofer Janson, The Parson’s Widow tells the story of a young seminary graduate (Einar Rød) who travels with his sweetheart (Greta Almroth) to a small village to audition for the job of pastor of the local church. It seems the seminarian can’t marry his beautiful sweetheart before he has a secure job and he’s perfect for the parsonage. The only catch: His deceased predecessor’s elderly widow (Hildur Carlberg) has first dibs on marrying the young man. She charms him through enchantment (hexed herring, perhaps?) and soon the old woman and young man are married. A simple plot filled with opportunity for hilarity, but this is also a Dreyer film and it is tinged throughout with humanity and generosity for all of its characters. 


FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 7:30 PM  

USA, 1928 Approximately 80 minutes 

Director Edwin Carewe 

Cast Dolores del Rio, Warner Baxter, Roland Drew, Vera Lewis, Michael 


Musical Accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra 

Edwin Carewe directed the 1928 version of what had by then proven a durable story, filmed twice previously (and at least once subsequently). Adapted from Helen Hunt Jackson’s hugely popular 1884 novel, the Ramona narrative tells of a mixed-race (Scots-Native American) woman, sympathetically detailing her persecution for reasons of race. Carewe, himself of Chickasaw descent (a very rare thing in Hollywood), represented a felicitous match for the material and a sensitive interpreter of the action. Also inspired was the choice of Dolores del Rio as the star of the 1928 version, being herself a proud Mexican actress who famously declined to be identified as “Spanish” during her career. Wearing a theme of cultural diversity on its sleeve, the Ramona story has become a touchstone to generations of Californians, and an indispensable part of the state’s imaginative cultural heritage. In early California, powerful rancher Señora Moreno (Vera Lewis) is raising the mixed-race orphan Ramona along with her own son Felipe. Ramona (Dolores del Rio) falls in love with Alessandro (Warner Baxter), a Temecula Indian who works at the ranch. Defying Señora Moreno, Ramona elopes with Alessandro, and starts a new life embracing her Indian heritage. But her new family endures tragedy and persecution in an age that held little tolerance for Native Americans.  

Cosmic Voyage  

FRIDAY, MAY 30 • 10:00 PM 

USSR, 1936 Approximately 70 minutes 

Director Vasili Zhuravlyov 

Cast Sergei Komarov, Vasili Kovrigin, Nikolai Feoktistov, Viktor 

Gaponenko, Kseniya Moskalenko 

Musical Accompaniment by the Silent Movie Music Company (Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius) 

The Soviet Union was serious about its science fiction, bringing in rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky as a technical consultant on Cosmic Voyage. Tsiolkovsky designed miniatures for this big budget project that enjoyed the full backing of the Communist Youth League. A trip to the moon, what better way to inspire the youth of a nation! Set in 1946 (a mere 10 years away!), Cosmic Voyage portrays the Soviet space program fractured by warring factions—those who want to play it safe and those who are eager to go to the moon. Professor Sedikh (of the pro-moon-trip faction) is considered too old to lead the first manned moon flight, but he and his assistant Marina elude the naysayers and blast off on their mission, aided by a boy scout (Andryusha) and a fluffy Cat. Cosmic Voyage is a wonderful adventure with hilarious subplots and remarkably sound science. In fact, the film is visionary in its relevance to real-life developments in space exploration. Cosmic Voyage had a brief release in early 1936 before Soviet censors took it out of release. Scenes of cosmonauts hopping across the low-gravity lunar surface didn’t fit with their ideal of socialist realism.  

The Good Bad Man  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 10:00 AM 

USA, 1916 Approximately 80 minutes 

Director Allan Dwan 

Cast Douglas Fairbanks, Sam De Grasse, Doc Cannon, Joseph Singleton, 

Bessie Love, Mary Alden 

Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin 

Douglas Fairbanks produced, wrote and starred (as the character “Passin’ Through”) in this western directed by Allan Dwan and photographed by Victor Fleming. Passin’ Through is an orphan who becomes a Robin Hood-like bandit, robbing from the rich to aid unwanted children. Sam De Grasse is The Wolf who killed Passin’ Through’s father, and silent stars Bessie Love and Pomeroy Cannon have roles. Join us for the world premiere of this new restoration, completed by way of a three-way partnership between SFSFF, Cinémathèque française, and the Film Preservation Society.  

Serge Bromberg's Treasure Trove  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 12:00 NOON 

Approximately 80 minutes 

Presentation and Musical Accompaniment by Serge Bromberg  

World-famous preservationist and entertainer Serge Bromberg has long been a collector of celluloid images and has regularly organized cine-shows he calls Retour de Flamme where he presents rare and often unique footage. Recently film historian and collector Fernando Peña of Buenos Aires (the man who discovered the complete version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis) made a magnificent discovery—a lost version of Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith. Peña reached out to Bromberg about restoring the title and when Bromberg went looking for a 35mm copy that would match the discovered version, he found additional footage! Bromberg will introduce each treasure and accompany the film on piano. Fernando Peña will join Bromberg to introduce The Blacksmith.  

The Epic of Everest  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 2:00 PM 

UK, 1924 Approximately 87 minutes 

Director John Noel 

Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius The Epic of Everest (1924) is the official film record, shot by Captain John Noel, of the third British expedition to attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak. We begin with the large contingent of men, animals and equipment gathered to journey across the Tibetan Plateau towards Everest. En route the film records some of the earliest images of the Tibetan people and their culture, including scenes at the village of Phari (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and the Rongbuk Monastery. On the slopes of Everest we follow each stage of the climb as the mountaineers and Sherpas progress, enduring incredibly harsh conditions. When the camera can go no further, a specially designed telephoto lens, filming at a distance of over two miles, records the final attempts of climbers Mallory and Irvine to reach the summit. The film exemplifies the age of heroic adventure. Man had already reached the North and South Poles; now the new challenge was to climb the world’s highest peak—‘the Third Pole’. The Mount Everest Committee was formed in 1920 by the Alpine Club of Great Britain and the Royal Geographical Society. Special permission to enter Tibet was granted by the 13th Dalai Lama, negotiated by the remarkable diplomat and Tibetologist, Sir Charles Bell. In 1921 Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led a reconnaissance expedition to establish a route for future climbs. In 1922 the second expedition, led by Brigadier General Charles Bruce, recruited Captain John Noel as official cameraman. In 1924 Noel returned as official cameraman, having bought the photographic rights in advance. A version of his film became The Epic of Everest. Like The Great White Silence, Herbert Ponting’s filmed record of Captain Scott’s 1910-13 expedition to the South Pole, Noel’s film served both as an absorbing documentary of an extraordinary journey into the interior of Tibet and as a memorial to a tragedy. The loss of Mallory and Irvine turned the failed expedition into one of the 20th century’s most compelling mysteries. In 1999 Mallory’s body was found on the slopes of Everest. A vestpocket Kodak camera carried by Mallory is still missing. Fierce speculation continues—would any film it contains solve the mystery of who first conquered Everest? — 

BFI Underground  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 4:30 PM 

UK, 1928, Approximately 77 minutes 

Director Anthony Asquith 

Cast Brian Aherne, Elissa Landi, Cyril McLaglen, Norah Baring 

Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne The second feature from aristocratic British director Anthony Asquith (A Cottage on Dartmoor, Pygmalion), Underground is a working-class love story and thriller set in and around London’s subway system. The romantic triangle pits nice-guy Brian Aherne against sinister Cyril McLaglen for the affections of beautiful shopgirl Elissa Landi. The film’s climax is a chase scene at a power station that rivals Hitchcock’s chase scene at the British Museum in Blackmail. Asquith’s fondness for German Expressionism is evident in the lighting, by German Karl Fischer, and the influence of Soviet filmmakers in the use of montage. The British Film Institute restored Underground in 2013, to mark the 150th anniversary of the London subway.  

Under the Lantern  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 7:00 PM 

Germany, 1928, Approximately 129 minutes 

Director Gerhard Lamprecht, 

Cast Lissy Arna, Gerhard Dammann, Mathias Wieman, Paul Heidemann, Hubert 

von Meyerinck 

Musical Accompaniment by the Donald Sosin Ensemble 

The story of a good girl’s descent to a life on the street has been told many times in cinema, but Lamprecht’s telling is filled with such humanity and feel for the denizens of the demimonde that it approaches masterpiece. Especially accompanied by Donald Sosin (composer/piano), Günter Buchwald (violin), Frank Bockius (percussion), and Sascha Jacobsen (bass), whose score with its evocation of Berlin in the ’20s masterfully complements Karl Hasselmann’s expressive camera.  

The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks  

SATURDAY, MAY 31 • 10:00 PM 

USSR. 1924 Approximately 74 minutes 

Director Lev Kuleshov 

Cast Porfiriy Podobed, Boris Barnet, Aleksandra Kho, Vsevolod Pudovikin 

Musical Accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble 

It may seem unlikely that a manic satire of American ignorance about the Soviet Union was one of the first projects to emerge from the workshop of Russian film theoretician Lev Kuleshov. But The Extraordinary Aventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks proves Kuleshov’s ideas about the power of editing and montage, with its fast-paced, slapstick American-style comedy. Mr. West (Porfiri Podobed), a goofy YMCA executive in Harold Lloyd glasses and fur coat travels to Moscow with his cowboy sidekick/bodyguard Jeddy (Boris Barnet). Immediately Mr. West is separated from Jeddy and falls into the clutches of a motley group of thieves posing as Bolsheviks (including Vsevolod Pudovkin!). He is eventually rescued by real Bolsheviks and reunited with Jeddy—who in the meantime has fallen in love—and they take a sightseeing tour of Moscow (Moscow in the '20s!) where American Mr. West finds that Soviets are not the barbarians he expected.  

Seven Years Bad Luck  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 10:00 AM 

USA, 1921 Approximately 62 minutes 

Director Max Linder 

Cast Max Linder, Alta Allen, Ralph McCullough, Betty Peterson 

Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius 

Before there was Chaplin and Keaton, there was Max Linder. A handsome and dapper Parisian, Linder began appearing in film shorts for Pathé in 1905, becoming the cinema’s first comic star. Chaplin and others have cited him as an inspiration. After World War I, Linder moved to Chicago to make films for Essanay, which had recently lost Chaplin. But Linder’s films were not successful in the U.S., and he returned to France. Suffering from depression, he committed suicide in 1925, and his films have been difficult to see. Now, in one of his wonderful American comedies, Seven Years Bad Luck (restored by Lobster films), festival audiences have a rare opportunity to experience Linder’s artistry, including the famous mirror gag that Linder originated. Presented with MAX WANTS A DIVORCE (USA, d. Max Linder, 22 minutes)  

Dragnet Girl  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 12:00 NOON 

Japan, 1933 Approximately 100 minutes 

Director Yasujiro Ozu 

Cast Kinuyo Tanaka, Joji Oka, Sumiko Mizukubo 

Musical Accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald 

Best known for his gentle family comedies and dramas, Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu also made three silent gangster films. Dragnet Girl, the last and best of them, stars future Mizoguchi muse Kinuyo Tanaka as a typist by day, and gun-toting gangster’s moll by night. As her ex-boxer lover, Joji Oka matches her tough bravado. Ozu, a fan of American films, pays stylish homage to the genre, filling the frame with Hollywood-style décor and costumes, moody lighting and noir shadows. The sets and cinematography were reportedly influenced by the work of Joseph von Sternberg. Not typical Ozu, but a surprising, delightful anomaly.  

The Girl in Tails  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 2:30 PM 

Sweden, 1926 Approximately 110 minutes 

Director Karin Swanström 

Cast Einar Axelsson, Magda Holm, Nils Arehn, Georg Blomstedt, Karin 

Swanström, Erik Zetterström 

Musical Accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra A fizzy comedy that makes some serious feminist points, The Girl in Tails was directed by forgotten multi-hyphenate Swedish director Karin Swanström. The film is based on one of a series of novels satirizing small-town life by one of Sweden’s leading early 20th writers. Katja (Magda Holm) wants a new dress for her graduation dance, but her father won’t buy her one. So Katja dresses up in her brother’s tuxedo and attends the dance, smoking cigars, drinking brandy, and shocking the locals. Director Swanström gives herself a juicy role as a formidable dowager who is the town’s leading citizen. Today, Swanström is a footnote in film history, a studio talent scout who is sometimes credited with discovering Ingrid Bergman. But during the 1920s and ’30s, Swanström—a character actress, director and studio executive—was one of the most powerful people in the Swedish film industry.  

The Sign of Four  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 5:00 PM 

UK, 1923 Approximately 83 minutes 

Director Maurice Elvey 

Cast Eille Norwood, Arthur M. Cullin, Isobel Elsom, Fed Raynham, Norman Page 

Musical Accompaniment Donald Sosin on piano with Guenter Buchwald on violin 

One of the best of the surviving silent Sherlock Holmes features, The Sign of Four stars Eille Norwood as the great detective. Arthur Conan Doyle said of Norwood, “He has that rare quality that can only be described as glamour, which compels you to watch an actor eagerly even when he is doing nothing. He has the brooding eye which excites expectation and has also a quite unrivalled power of disguise.” England’s Stoll Film Company was known for producing high-budget dramas with visual flair and director Elvey adapted Conan Doyle’s novel for the screen with wit and energy. The film was shot on the streets of London and includes a thrilling chase on the Thames.  

Harbor Drift  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 7:00 PM 

Germany, 1929 Approximately 93 minutes 

Director Leo Mittler 

Cast Lissi Arna, Paul Rehkopf, Fritz Genschow, Siegfried Arno, Friedrich 

Gnass, Margarete Kupfer 

Musical Accompaniment Stephen Horne on piano with Frank Bockius on percussion At Harbor Drift’s center is a beautiful pearl necklace that could change the lives of three impoverished people, but instead leads to more misery. Exquisite camerawork by Friedl Behn-Grund takes in the harbor, bridges, canals and alleyways of Hamburg as the eloquent story prefigures film noir in its depiction of fated souls. The German title Jenseits der Strasse’s subtitle: Eine Tragödie des Alltags—a tragedy of everyday life—is an apt description of Weimar Germany’s unemployment and destitution as personified in the film by an old beggar (Paul Rehkopf), a jobless young man (Fritz Genschow), and a prostitute (Lissy Arna). Little known in the U.S., Harbor Drift is a masterpiece of the late silent era, worthy of standing with giants such as Asphalt and Joyless Street.  

The Navigator  

SUNDAY, JUNE 1 • 9:00 PM 

USA, 1924 Approximately 60 minutes 

Director Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp 

Cast Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Frederick Vroom, Clarence Burton, 

H.N. Clugston 

Musical Accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble In his fourth feature film, The Navigator, Buster Keaton plays a rich man who goes to great lengths to woo his ladylove (Kathryn McGuire), and in typical Keaton fashion, ends up adrift at sea. To film the shipboard scenes, Keaton chartered a 370-foot steamship capable of holding hundreds of passengers and crew, anchored it first at Catalina Island and later at Lake Tahoe, and spent ten weeks filming some of his most elaborate and famous stunts, including an underwater sequence. The results were worth it: The Navigator was one of his most successful films, and critics at the time praised it as his best. Keaton also counted it as one of his personal favorites. With: POCHTA (USSR, 1929, d. Mikhail Tsekhanovskiy, 18 minutes) The closing night program will start with an absolute masterpiece of Soviet animation, Pochta. This brilliant short animation uses a variety of techniques to tell the story of a letter that travels around the world. Guenter Buchwald will accompany on piano.

Press Release: Berkeley High Jazz Alumni Concert Honors Dr. Herb Wong June 1st

Saturday May 24, 2014 - 10:27:00 AM

Berkeley High Jazz Program alumni will honor the late Dr. Herb Wong, father of Berkeley School Jazz Programs, at the 3rd Annual Berkeley High School Jazz Alumni Concert on June 1st. Some of their finest musicians, spanning decades of Berkeley High Jazz, will celebrate his life. 

The concert will be held on Sunday June 1st from 2-5PM at the beautiful Coventry Grove, a private outdoor performance space in Kensington. Music director for the Berkeley High Jazz Alumni All-Stars will be Charles Hamilton, who helmed the storied BHS Jazz program from 1981 through 2009. 

While the final lineup for the Alumni All-Stars is still shaping up, performers include multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, saxophonists Bennett Friedman and Hitomi Oba, bassoonist Paul Hanson, percussionist Josh Jones, trombonist Sarah Cline, and surprise guests. The event benefits the Berkeley High Jazz Program. In addition, current Berkeley High advanced combos, one just back from performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival, will perform sets with guest alumni sitting in. 

A posthumous award will be presented from the City of Berkeley, honoring Dr. Wong’s inspiration to generations of Berkeley jazz musicians. An accomplished jazz journalist, historian, critic, recording artist, and concert producer, Dr. Wong may be best beloved as a founding father of the Berkeley Schools Jazz program. Dr. Wong was the visionary principal of Washington Elementary School who hired Phil Hardymon, Dick Whittington and Bob Chacona to teach jazz to Berkeley Unified School District kids in the late 1960s. “He was one of a very few people in the nation then who believed in jazz education from the elementary school level,” commented current Berkeley High Jazz Program Director Sarah Cline, “-- as music education, as a part of the civil rights movement, and as a way of propagating a truly democratic and artistic spirit among those of us in the next generation.” 

All ages are welcome. Tickets are $20 at the door or through BerkeleyHighJazz.org and Eventbrite.com. Advance tickets are recommended. 

Doors open at 1PM. Carpooling is encouraged. Allow time to park and walk. “No Parking” signs are strictly enforced

TWO THEATER REVIEWS: 'Over the Tavern' by Actors Ensemble at Live Oak Theater, 'The Crazed' by Central Works at the Berkeley City Club.

By Ken Bullock
Saturday May 24, 2014 - 10:18:00 AM

Two plays still in production, very different in subject and in style, but similar in that both contain a role that is, in many respects, the motor of the play—and both Berkeley productions found an ideal actor to cast in them. 

—"Sister, I'm going to put my cards on the table. I'm twelve years old. What does the Catholic Church want with me?" 

So Rudy Pazinski (Will Reicher) confronts Sister Clarissa (Susannah Wood), each the bane of the other's existence—or so they both think—in Tom Dudzick's family and coming-of-age comedy, 'Over the Tavern,' as directed by Donna Davis, staged by Actors Ensemble of Berkeley at Live Oak Theater. 

It's the the story of a family living over the family business. Father Chet Pazinski (Scott Alexander Ayres) inherited the tavern from his father, never seen onstage, but a presence we hear of and feel in Chet's insouciant denial, every time his wife Ellen (Genevieve Smith) questions his retired dad's continued presence on licensed premises of the old man, drinking all afternoon, driving away customers with his snits, goofing up the "little jobs" Chet throws his way ... signs of a deadlock, of Chet painted into a corner from which he emerges only in sarcasm, quarreling with his wife and three kids. 

Rudy's the focus of 'Over the Tavern,' a young natural as a comedian—and in constant trouble with the Sister for it—turning everything, including Catechism, into a gag, forever polishing his Ed Sullivan impersonation. (The play's set in the late 50s.) And sooner or later, everybody quips; this play with a serious premise has affinities with sketch comedy. The other siblings—Michael O'Connell as Eddie, Nandi Drayton as Annie and Lucas Kathol-Voilleque as learning-disabled Georgie—can come on with the humor, too, but more likely unintended (as when Annie describes to her bemused mother sneaking away from school to go to an "artistic" foreign movie about love) or not so audience-directed (georgie laughs at his own potty-mouth, an audience exclusively for himself). 

The cast is sharp, the direction is telling; it's one of the best Actors Ensemble shows in recent years. Will Reicher and his antagonist Susannah Wood are particularly effective—and Lucas Kathol-Voilleque is fine as Eddie. 

Above all, the mother is at the heart of the action, even when she seems to be merely lending support—and such support!—to the others, listening, reacting to their troubled tales and reticences, cheerful cracking a one-liner herself—or going with the flow ... But the role makes everything happen, or—at the climax—volatilizes it and gives it meaning. And Genevieve Smith puts in a perfect turn, making it go with a simple gesture, glance or sly word, standing up for Ellen's brood against coarse clerical unfairness as well as her knee-jerk pious husband's constant little cruelties. 

It's a comedy; there are no moments of horror; everything's leavened with humor. Far from diluting the real issues at stake, this allows the play to use the mold of popular comedy to explore the characters a little more, and preserve their humanity from caricature. 

CCCT did a good version of it a few years back. 'Over the Tavern' is perfect for community theaters—and here it brings out the best in them, including stalwart Bob Gudmundsson's lighting and scenic design, Marjorie Moore's costumes and Owen Parry's sound design. Jerome Solberg produced this little gem—a family show, emotionally telling and amusing enough, too, for those of us "adults" who walked in the theater stag ... 

Ends Saturday, May 24th—show at 8. Live Oak Theater, Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck at Berryman. $12-$15. 659-5999. aeofberkeley.org 

* * * 

A man in a dunce cap, confronted by a squad of Red Guards, who read a manifesto against Landlords, profiteering farmers, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, traitors, foreign agents, capitalists—and intellectuals. 

And the dunce-capped man denounces himself, and "the poet Dante Aligheri in the poem called Inferno," saying his library deserved to be burned ... 

(That poem was written while Dante was in political exile from Florence, condemning his enemies to a hell he created in verse.) 

As the Guards troop away, the man intones: "Poetry liberates me. you can hurt me, but you cannot take my soul." 

This is the prelude to Central Works' premiere of 'The Crazed,' Sally Dawidoff's play, developed in Central Works'Writers Workshop, based on Chinese emigre poet Ha Jin's novel of the same name from 2002. 

Most of the action of 'The Crazed' takes place more recently—but always reflexive of the past it begins with—in the time leading up to the demonstrations and massacre in Tiananmen Square. 

The dunce-capped man is now a venerable teacher of Chinese poetry, though still a suspicious character to bureaucrats and ambitious university staff and students. His favorite student is engaged to his daughter. He still quotes Dante, along with Han dynasty classics. 

Many of the scenes concerning Professor Yang are set in a hospital room, where Jian Wan, his student, has been detailed to watch over him while studying for his exams—the vital exams that are—and in one form or another, always been the key to a professional career in China. 

These scenes are the heart of the play, as is Professor Yang in all his various moods, lucid and delusional, defiant yet mouthing Maoist slogans ... and Randall Nakano, a fine professional actor in the Bay area for decades, makes the most of a role he can invest his thespic strengths in. Nakano is a performer of great intensity, able to give equal time and presence even to conflicting emotions and expressions or gestures in the same moment. Intensity, for some skillful enough actors, is almost an end in itself. For Nakano, his intensity—unrelenting intensity—serves to illuminate the character and the play—and its subject matter, lighting it up from within. 

The all-Asian American cast is a fine one—-Perry Aliado, Jeannie Barroga, Will Dao, Wes Gabrillo, Carina Lastimosa Salazar and Louel Señores (an excellent utility man)--and Randall Nakano--all perform very well as an ensemble, with Central Works co-artistic director (and lighting designer) Gary Graves' skilled direction, maximizing the usual good production values Central Works has become known for, represented by Tammy Berlin's excellent costumes, Gregory Scharpen's penetrating sound design, and fine props by Debbie Shelley. 

When the story gets away from Professor Yang, the plot often veers sharply into a more generalized melodramatic form, which could, at times, be true of almost any developing country in the midst of social turmoil, or even of aspects of corporate America. But when Nakano as Yang is raving, or quietly reminiscing, or talking about poetry--and certain other scenes, like Jian Wan, sent to the countryside on a deliberate wild-goose chase to separate him from Yang and his daughter, discovering instead the brutal neglect the peasants have been left in by the government, intent on industrialization and beginning consumerism--it takes on a suggestiveness that finds other specifics of life in China, the post-modern world--and doesn't need to conform to any plotting device or march towards meaning.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 through June 22. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue (between Ellsworth & Dana). $28, advanced sales. Sliding scale at the door: $28-$15. Thursdays, pay what you can. 588-1381; centralworks.org

Los Angeles Opera Presents Plácido Domingo in a Spectacular Performance of Massenet’s THAIS

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:15:00 PM

Plácido Domingo has sung 144 different opera roles in the course of his long and illustrious career. Most of these, of course, were tenor roles, and Domingo is justly considered one of the present era’s greatest tenors. Since 2009, however, Domingo has begun singing baritone roles as well. On Saturday, May 17, 2014, Los Angeles Opera offered the opening night performance of Plácido Domingo in the baritone role of the Cenobite monk Athanael in Jules Massenet’s 1894 opera THAIS. Domingo’s performance in this meaty role was stupendous; and if Plácido Domingo had never been a tenor he might well be remembered as a great baritone. One might even be excused for saying that the role of Athanael in Massenet’s THAIS is perhaps Domingo’s role of a lifetime, so magnificent is his vocal and dramatic portrayal of this tormented monk. 

The reason behind Athanael’s torment is the voluptuous courtesan Thais, elegantly sung in Los Angeles by Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze. In composing this opera, Jules Massenet and his librettist, Louis Gallet, based their story on the novel Thais by Anatole France. The story is loosely based on an historical woman who lived in Egypt in the 4th century AD, when the ancient religion was beginning to be challenged by Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. (Some scholars believe the woman in question was the courtesan Mary of Egypt, while others identify her as Thais, who was sainted for her conversion to a penitent Christianity after leading a dissolute life.)  

Whoever was the historical figure of Thais, Anatole France’s novel and Massenet’s opera of the same title must be counted, with Gustave Flaubert’snovel Salammbô among other literary works from the late 19th century, as examples of what Edward Said critiqued under the rubric of “orientalism.”Here, as elsewhere, the exotic east is represented as an oversexed and amoral woman. Only here, in THAIS, there is a twist, as the licentious Egyptian woman gradually renounces her dissolute life and converts to a penitent Christianity, while the Christian monk Athanael who ‘saves her soul’ eventually loses his when he can no longer deny his all too natural carnal desires for the beautiful Thais. 

In Massenet’s opera, as in Anatole France’s novel, the conversion of Thais is brought about through the intervention of the monk Athanael, an ascetic who has left his native Alexandria to join a Cenobite monastery in the desert. As the opera begins, Cenobite monks gather in their desert monastery for a frugal evening meal, and, led by head monk, Palemon, offer prayers for their absent brother Athanael, who has gone to his native Alexandria for a brief visit. Shortly, Athanael returns and reports that he is revulsed by the sinful ways of a dissolute city that talks of nothing but the beautiful courtesan Thais. He acknowledges that he is tempted to return to Alexandria to save Thais’ soul. Palemon, the head monk, sung by bass Valentin Anikin, cautions against this, stating that their Cenobite community must have nothing to do with their corrupt era and live only by prayer and respecting their vow of poverty. 

In the Los Angeles Opera’s staging of THAIS, a production borrowed from the Finnish National Opera, with sets designed by Johan Engels for the Gothenburg Opera, Sweden, the opening scene in the Cenobite monastery looks nothing like an ascetic retreat in the Egyptian desert. Incongruously,the stage-set is a three-tiered structure of modern design with a metal spiral staircase by which the monks descend to make their entrance. Even more incongruously, the supposedly ascetic monks all wear elegant white gloves and sumptuous black robes with crimson trimming. The head monk, Palemon, even sports a gold braided chain around his neck. This whole scene looksmore like a meeting of the Académie Française than a community of ascetic monks in an Egyptian desert monastery! To further the anachronistic bent of this opening scene of THAIS, when Palemon exhorts his fellow monks to “renounce the material world,” he doffs a 19th century top hat! I suppose the intention here of director Nicola Raab is to make the point that religious organizations of all epochs may preach poverty yet regularly indulge them-selves in all the worldly pleasures they rail against. 

The time-frame of this staging of THAIS is further destabilized by the next scene, whose set consists of an elegant cutaway view of an opera house.As anachronisms go, this is a whopper. Clearly, there were no opera houses --and no operas – in the 4th century AD. Director Nicola Raab obviously wants to span the centuries and bring this 4th century AD tale into a context of late19th century opera, the very context in which Massenet’s THAIS was composed and first performed. In any case, the cutaway view of an opera house is the site of Athanael’s dream, the night he returns to the monastery, in which he sees all Alexandria hailing the courtesan Thais. When Athanael awakens from his dream, he tells his fellow monks he is resolved to return to Alexandria and try to convert Thais and save her soul. 

Regaining Alexandria, Athanael visits his old schoolmate Nicias, who lives in a posh villa across from the opera house. The villa of Nicias in this staging is suggested by an elegant throne-like chair situated in front of the cutaway view of the opera house. The richly attired Nicias, sung by the excellent tenor Paul Groves, welcomes his old friend and good-naturedly chides him for his ascetic philosophy. When Athanael asks if Nicias knows the courtesan Thais, Nicias laughs, saying he has spent a fortune to get Thais to spend a week with him. Tonight will be their last night together, says Nicias, adding that Thais will be here shortly. Meanwhile, Nicias plays the lavish host to a group of courtiers dressed in elegant 19th century evening wear. Just before Thais arrives, Nicias climbs atop the opera house stage and – in yet another outrageous anachronism -- dives into a mosh pit of courtiers. 

When Thais arrives, all eyes are on her. Regally attired, Thais wears a fantastic costume made of 9.5 yards of gold fabric, 10 yards of trim, and 96rhinestones. Her arms are clothed in eagle-like plumage. When she spreads wide her wing-like arms, she looks ready to take flight. When she wants to be coy, she wraps her wings to cover her face. In the role of Thais, soprano Nino Machaidze cut a beautiful figure. She also sang beautifully in a role that requires the soprano to range over 2.3 octaves, from low B to high D. In the initial confrontation between Athanael and Thais, the voluptuous courtesan chides the ascetic monk for denying himself the pleasures the world has to offer, the most wonderful of which is love. Thais declares that she worships the goddess of love, and recognizes no greater god than Venus.In the struggle between Athanael and Thais, round one clearly is won by Thais. 

Act II opens in the house of Thais. It is an opulent room, full of over-stuffed furniture, many brightly colored cushions, much oriental bric-a-brac,and a full-length mirror. Gazing at her own reflection in the mirror, Thais sings the beautiful aria “Dis-moi que je suis belle/Tell me I’m beautiful.” This aria begins on a brisk, self-congratulatory note, then slows down to reveal Thais’ insecurity over how long her beauty will last. If only, she muses, herbeauty might prove to be eternal. When Athanael arrives moments later, heoffers Thais a different notion of eternal life – that of the soul. In the role of Athanael, Plácido Domingo musters all the rich, dark intensity of his baritone vocalism in an effort to convert the pagan worshipper of the flesh to a Christianw orship of the soul. Thais admits she is deeply moved. Round two is seemingly won by Athanael. At the last minute, however, Thais reverts to form and asserts that she wants nothing of this ascetic monk and his god. Then she falls to the floor, sobbing violently at her mixed emotions. Athanael tells her to think things over during this night. He will await her tomorrow morning outside her door. He departs, and the curtain falls. 

Between the foregoing scene and the next is the famed orchestral intermezzo known as the Meditation from THAIS. To the lilting melodies of a solo violin, harp and orchestra, this Meditation was staged by Los AngelesOpera with Thais alone onstage, clad in a simple flowing gown, walking slowly to the front of the stage, where, with head held high, she seems lost in meditation over her relation to herself, to the gods, and even to her audience. It is a brilliant way of staging this lovely orchestral interlude, which becomes the literal turning point of the opera. When morning comes, Thais declares herself ready to accompany Athanael to the desert where he promises to place her a convent in the care of the abbess Albine. After a brief and raucous encounter with Nicias and the courtiers, Thais and Athanael set off to leave Alexandria for the desert. 

Act III, the opera’s final act, is set in the desert, where Athanael and Thais make their way toward abbess Albine’s convent. Exhausted, Thais can barely walk. Athanael harshly insists that the body must be punished to cleanse its sins. But when Thais falls to the ground, Athanael takes pity and becomes solicitous. She in turn thanks him tenderly for all his efforts to redeem her soul. Their tender duet, “Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres/Bathe my hands and lips with water,” is almost a love duet; and in the Los Angeles Opera staging it included a shyly suggestive kiss on the lips.  

Another turning point is reached here, for it is now becoming clear that while Thais is moving from the carnal to the spiritual, Athanael is moving in the opposite direction. Director Nicola Raab emphasizes this turnabout by having a circular stage-set revolve first in clockwise fashion, then, in the ensuing scene, in counter-clockwise motion. However, why director Raab included an auditorium’s group of chairs with men wearing black suits seated as if watching a spectacle (of religious conversion, on one hand, and conversion to the desires of the flesh, on the other), is opaque to me. And whether it was overkill on director Raab’s part to include a backdrop landscape of Egypt resembling the naked body of a woman lying on her side, with one very obvious breast and nipple feature dominating this landscape, is a very pertinent question. Is this perhaps an overly intellectual staging that strives to do too much and make too many points? 

In any case, this stage-set also serves for the opera’s final scene, where Thais, now a member of abbess Albine’s convent, becomes seriously ill and dies in a state of religious exaltation. Meanwhile, Athanael is more tormented thanever, as he realizes how ardently he desires Thais. He repents having renounced the desires of the flesh, and now affirms Thais’ former devotion to love. “There is nothing greater,” Athanael now realizes in an anguished cry, “than the love of two human beings.” With this fatal turnabout, Massenet’s THAIS comes to an end. In this Los Angeles Opera production, Plácido Domingo, in what is certainly one of the great roles of his lifetime, stole the show from the beautiful – and beautifully sung – portrayal of Thais by Nino Machaidze. It was a truly magnificent night at the opera.

Around & About Theater, Dance, Opera & Music: Isadora's 137th Birthday Celebration; Mendocino Music Festival Preview at City Club; Jaime De Angulo Novella As Opera; Marion Faye's Theater Class

By Ken Bullock
Friday May 23, 2014 - 04:35:00 PM

--May 26th is the 137th anniversary of Isadora Duncan's birth in San Francisco. (She grew up in Oakland, taking her artistry and considerable influence in art, manners and fashion to the world while still young.) This year, as for the past 16, Mary Sano, the Bay Area's extraordinary exponent of Duncan Dancing in teaching, choreography and her own exquisite performances, will host a birthday party in her studio on the two days previous, next weekend.  

Joining Sano will be her Duncan Dancers, pianist Mutsuko Dohi, wood flautist Elizabeth Gaston, Neo-Classical pianist-composer Benjamin Alea Belew and singer-songwriter tony Chapman. It will be the first collaboration between Sano, Dohi and Gaston, and will feature new flute music by Reynaldo Hahn. 

Mary Sano's studio shows are intimate and offer a different perspective on local arts. I've been attending since the start, and find these programs a constant surprise and refreshment. 

Saturday, May 24 at 8; Sunday the 25th at 5; Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dance, 245 Fifth Street, between Howard & Folsom at Tehama, San Francisco.$18 reserved, $20 at the door. (415) 357-1817; info@duncandance.org 

--Mendocino Music Festival (July 12-26)--the ever-ambitious annual event in the glorious town by the ocean, created 28 years ago by Berkeleyites Allan Pollack and Susan Waterfall--features a Bachfest this year (July 13-16), curated by Waterfall, which will feature pianist Stephen Prutsman, as well as a Bach & Beer symposium, illuminating more than just brew in the life and times of the great composer.  

This Wednesday, Waterfall, playing piano in concert with cellist Burke Schuchmann, flutist Wendy Rosenfeld and violinist Jeremy Cohen, will present a preview of the Fest, a program unto itself, in the Julia Morgan-designed rooms of the Berkeley City Club, featuring the Trio Sonata from the Musicall Offering, the d Minor Chaconne for violin, the Italian Concerto and selected movements from Bach suites and sonatas.  

The Festival as a whole will range musically from a performance of 'Don Giovanni' to Pollack's Big Band jazz, from blue grass to latin to rock, and feature guest artists from Frederica von Stade to Kim Nalley, Poncho Sanchez to Chris Hillman, Irma Thomas to Kenny Washington, plus flamenco and other treats. 

Wednesday, May 28, 8 pm, Berkeley City Club, Durant Avenue (between Ellsworth & Dana). $20. mendocinomusic.org 

--Jaime De Angulo lived in the Berkeley Hills--and the Big Sur highlands--during the early and middle 20th century, traveling California to learn Indian languages, music and customs directly from the many tribes and bands still populating the state. In 1949-50, just before his death, he regaled radio audiences with his remarkable reading of the entirety of his book of stories for children from those tribes' myths, 'Indian Tales,' on KPFA, which can be found on CD in libraries or purchased from Pacifica. His daughter and biographer Gui still lives in the area. 

Now a new opera of Jaime's magnum opus, 'The Lariat,' by the talented Lisa Scola Prosek, will be previewed next week by the San Francisco Arts Festival in a studio version; the full premiere will be next Spring. 'The Lariat,' a novel set at the Carmel Mission and in the Big Sur back country, about a Spanish ex-soldier who's taken the cloth and his collision with the life and magical medicine practices of the Essalen tribe, was Ezra Pound's favorite of De Angulo's books. Pound worked to get Jaime published, enlisting Allen Ginsberg as informal agent at one point, who took 'Indian Tales' to his dedicatée of 'Howl,' Carl Solomon, who in turn helped bring it into print--it's never been unavailable since.  

Scola Prosek has worked closely with members of the Essalen Nation to further advance their perspective on the story: there is an Essalen libretto by Louise Miranda Ramirez, and Desirée Harp, an Essalen mezzo soprano, plays a key role. 

Saturday, June 21, 7 pm, Un-Scripted Theater, 533 Sutter, between Powell & Mason, San Francisco. $15. sfiaf.org (A video of Harp singing "Creator, Take Me, Too" in Essalen, is on the site.)  

--Marion Fay's excellent Theater Explorations class is gearing up for the summer session. Beginning on June 16, there will be six Monday classes from 1-3 pm (no class on July 7), and three plays the class will see: 'Maestro' (aout Leonard Bernstein) by Harvey Felder at Berkeley Rep, 2 pm, June 22; 'American Buffalo' by David Mamet at Aurora, July 10 at 8; Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' at Shotgun, July 20 at 5.  

Guest speakers include two playwrights, alighting designer/actor and a stage director from Ashby Stage/Shotgun Players. 

Class fee: $50, payable at the first class. Discounted theater tickets at additional charge. 

Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda (near Solano Avenue and the tunnel).  

Information: marionfay@earthlink.net

Press Release: Fayyad, Shalev, Kurtzer Kick Off J Street’s First National West Coast Summit

From Jessica Rosenblum, J-Street
Wednesday June 04, 2014 - 01:43:00 PM

SAN FRANCISCO--In his first U.S. appearance since resigning a year ago, former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will join former Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev and former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to discuss an insiders’ view of Mideast diplomacy. 

The moderated conversation on Saturday, June 7th at 7PM will take place at Congregation Emanu-El (2 Lake St, San Francisco, CA 94118) and kick off J Street’s National Summit, the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organization’s first national event on the West Coast. The day-and-a-half-long summit will bring together political and opinion leaders, community activists and students, demonstrating the scope of American support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The Sunday program will take place at the San Francisco JCC (3200 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118), beginning at 8:45AM. The entire Summit is open to the media and coverage is welcome. The full schedule and speaker bios are available here. 

The Summit takes place just one month after the suspension of the most recent round of U.S.-led negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, providing a critical opportunity for the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement to assess its strategy and chart its course forward. The program will feature plenaries, discussions and workshops on policy, politics and organizing. 

A gala dinner, capping off the Summit, will be held on the evening of Sunday, June 8th at the Hotel Intercontinental (888 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103). Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli (Labor) and Rabbi Sharon Brous will keynote the evening. J Street Board member Dr. Carol Winograd will be honored with the organization’s annual Tzedek v’Shalom (Justice and Peace) Award in recognition of her visionary leadership. Press coverage of the gala is welcome, but RSVP is required. 

J Street has around 180,000 supporters nationwide fighting to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic future through the achievement of a two-state solution. Through a lobby, community education and mobilization, and the country’s largest pro-Israel PAC, J Street works to fix the broken politics around Israel in America in order to create the political space and support necessary for elected officials to work for a two-state solution. 

Polls consistently show that American Jews strongly support both a two-state solution and U.S. diplomatic leadership to achieve it. A survey conducted by J Street in November 2012 found that 81 percent believes both that a two-state solution is necessary to strengthen Israel’s security and ensure its Jewish democratic character, and that it is an important national security interest for the United States. 

To RSVP to the Gala, or for further information about the National Summit, please contact Jessica Rosenblum, Jessica@jstreet.org, 202.279.0005.