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Press Release: News Updates from Save the Post Office

Thursday January 29, 2015 - 10:02:00 AM


In an epic court battle, the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are taking on the U.S. Postal Service over the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office and of our nation’s historic post offices. The two legal actions are separate but are being heard concurrently in federal court in San Francisco. When a developer pulled out of a purchase contract, the USPS started playing games about whether the post office is for sale. The USPS claims the suits are moot, or not ripe, or that Berkeley and the National Trust have no right to a judicial review of a Postal Service decision, or if there’s a right to judicial review, the basis of review was terminated when the developer pulled out of the purchase contract…. The judge will decide whether the case will go forward on or after March 19th. 

Save the Date!

Want to understand the lawsuits? Join us for a Community Meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 2133 University (between Shattuck & Walnut—the Arts Festival Space near Ace Hardware). We have two speakers you will want to hear. Tony Rossmann, who specializes in water and land-use law, is representing the City of Berkeley against the U.S. Postal Service. Brian Turner, attorney with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is representing the National Trust against the USPS. Both Mr. Rossmann and Mr. Turner will be at the meeting and will provide us with details of how the U.S. Postal Service has avoided complying with environmental and preservation law and why the City of Berkeley and the nation’s leading preservation organization are asking the court to intervene. 

Financial Services Resolution

Berkeley City Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Linda Maio, and Susan Wengraf are bringing forward a Council Resolution in support of increasing financial services at post offices nationwide. The resolution will be introduced on the consent calendar at the February 10th Council meeting. Attend the meeting and show your support! 

Garden of the Common Good Berkeley Post Office Defenders, First They Came for the Homeless and other volunteers planted the Garden of the Common Good on the west side of the downtown Berkeley Post Office. Stop by and take a look. What an improvement! 

National News

Preserving America’s Public Post Office

USPS intends to close 82 mail-processing plants nationwide in 2015. In the past three years the postal service has closed 143 plants….In August, 51 Senators asked the Postal Service to delay these plant closings and in September, 160 House members asked for a moratorium on closing mail processing plants expressing concern over slowed mail…. Nevertheless the Postal Service says they are going ahead…. As a case example in Oregon three mail processing plants are slated for closure: Current plants in Bend, Pendleton and Eugene are slated for consolidation into the Portland plant….These mail processing plant closures will increase delivery times, eliminate overnight delivery for a large portion of first class mail and slow mail currently subject to a two day standard to a three-day standard…. The USPS Inspector General issued a Management Alert on October 6, 2014, stating “The Postal Service has not analyzed the impact of planned service standard changes or informed stakeholders of the changes related to Phase 2 consolidations. Specifically, management did not complete the service standard impacts worksheet in 91 of the 95 AMP [Area Mail Processing] feasibility studies.” 

On November 14, 2014, the USPS Board of Governors named Megan J. Brennan as the 74th Postmaster General. Ms. Brennan joined the Postal Service in 1986 as a letter carrier in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When Patrick Donahoe retires on February 1st, Ms. Brennan will become the nation’s first female Postmaster General. 

The USPS Board of Governors is broken…

The USPS Board of Governors consists of nine governors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate plus the Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General. At least six members of the BOG are required for a quorum…. As of December 8, 2014, the USPS BOG has six vacancies and is unable to form a quorum…. At the December 5, 2014 meeting, the BOG held a 3 minute and 37 second open session and then completed the meeting in closed session. According to the Federal Register, the Board of Governors has created a Temporary Emergency Committee that it says will have the ability to continue conducting official business in the absence of the quorum required by statute. The committee will consist of the Governors currently in office. The Postal Service General Counsel gave an opinion that the Temporary Emergency Committee can continue to conduct business as if the Board of Governors was able to form a quorum. On January 13, 2015, the USPS placed a “Sunshine Act Meeting” Notice in the Federal Register alerting the public that the previously announced meeting of January 7th was held by teleconference on January 6th…. “In addition, the members voted to close the meeting to public observation and to revise the items to be considered. The Committee determined that no earlier public notice was possible…. The General Counsel of the U.S. Postal Service certified it was OK under the Sunshine Act to conduct a closed meeting. 

Capitol Hill

In the House of Representatives...Congressman Darrell Issa’s reign as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is over. The new chairman is Jason Chaffetz (UT). We’re glad to see Darrell Issa go, but Chaffetz is a wing-nut Republican…. Besides the Post Office the Oversight Committee has responsibility for the District of Columbia and Chaffetz is remembered for his attempt as a freshman congressman in 2010 to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia…. Elijah Cummings (MD) continues as the Ranking Member. Chaffetz appointed Tea Party Republican Mark Meadows (VA) as chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations…. No changes at the top in the House Appropriations Committee…. Harold Rogers (KY) continues as chairman and Nita Lowey (NY) as the ranking member…. In the Senate, with its new Republican majority, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is headed by Ron Johnson (WI), the former chairman Thomas Carper (DE) is now the ranking member. 

President Obama and Nominations to the Board of Governors

On December 17, 2014, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee returned six nominations (Shapira, Barnett, Kennedy, Bennett, Crawford, Miller) for the USPS Board of Governors to President Obama….With the exception of Vickie Reggie Kennedy, the nominees gave little indication of commitment to a public postal service dedicated to the common good….On January 8, 2015, President Obama re-nominated David S. Shapira to the USPS Board of Governors…. Most of Shapira’s career experience has been with Giant Eagle, a large privately-held grocery chain headquartered in Pittsburgh, founded and owned by his family…. Shapira and Giant Eagle were investors in the discount drug chain Phar-Mor…. Mickey Monus, the co-founder with Shapira of Phar-Mor, was convicted in 1995 of fraud and sentenced to federal prison. Prosecutors estimated that the total loss to all investors exceeded $1 billion and Phar-Mor was the subject of a 1994 PBS Frontline report “How to Steal $500 Million”…. No more than five members of the Board of Governors can belong to the same political party…. So frequently nominees come with a party label. So far Shapira does not…. But the Federal Election Commission database shows that Shapira donated $100,000 to the (moderate Republican) American Unity PAC in October of 2014…. In 2012, Shapira gave over $45,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign and an additional $30,000 to the Democratic National Committee. 

7 p.m. Tuesday February 10, 2015: Council Chambers, Resolution on Post Office Financial Services 

7 p.m. Thursday, February 19, 2015: 2133 University Ave, Community Meeting 

Press Release: The Berkeley City Council and police brutality

From Caitlin Quinn, External Affairs Vice President, Associated Students of the University of California
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:55:00 PM

Last night, the Berkeley City Council voted to postpone for two weeks consideration of three items introduced by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin in response to the police response during last December’s protests, despite the fact that students and members of the community had been waiting for eight hours over two separate council meetings to speak on these items. I am extremely disappointed in the Berkeley City Council for once again refusing to address police brutality. The City Council impeded students from voicing their opinions to them on this matter on multiple occasions: the Mayor unilaterally canceled the meeting following the protests; a majority of the City Council voted to delay a special meeting until January 17, ostensibly in order to allow students to speak, despite the fact that the students would not be back from Winter Break for that meeting; and, the Mayor brought up agenda items out-of-order, which further delayed consideration of these items. As a result of the City Council’s latest delay, it will now be more than two months since the Berkeley Police Department’s unwarranted use of force on December 6 before a single introduced item has been discussed, let alone voted on. 

My Office supports the three items introduced by Councilmember Arreguin. The first item endorses the National Demands of Ferguson Action, such as the demilitarization of the police and eliminating the use of military technology and equipment. The second item would refer amendments to the Berkeley Police Department’s general orders on crowd control, use-of-force, and mutual aid based on common-sense changes made to the Oakland and San Francisco PD’s general orders after events such as Occupy Oakland to the City Manager and the Police Review Commission. It would also implement a temporary moratorium on the use of crowd control techniques, such as the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, until after the Police Review Commission presents amendments and conducts an independent investigation. The third item would direct the Police Review Commission to conduct an independent investigation of BPD’s response to the December protests. 

At the next City Council meeting, the Berkeley City Council must take-up and vote for these items. Any attempts to further delay or water-down these measures would represent another sign of disrespect to students, particularly students of color who are overwhelmingly affected by police brutality. My Office will continue organizing to bring students to City Council meetings to demand the Berkeley City Council implement immediate and substantive reforms to protect students and other residents of Berkeley who are practicing their First Amendment rights

SF IndieFest Comes to the East Bay: Films, Parties and Beyond

Preview by Gar Smith
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:51:00 PM

It's time load up on popcorn, pour some White Russians and get ready for the 17th installment of San Francisco's Independent Film Festival, a 15-day romp of screenings and frivolity that will occupy three venues on both sides of the Bay from February 5-19.

SF IndieFest began in 1998 as a four-day event with only 20 films scheduled. But when 3,000 people showed up, SFIF founder Jeff Ross realized he had filled a niche. "Here we are, 17 years later, with 65 films from around the world," Ross proudly notes. "But the goal is the same: provide our audiences with strong, innovative, challenging yet entertaining cinema. Oh, and parties. We like to throw parties."

SFIFF's Opening Night selection showcases Hits, a "dark comedy" from writer-director David Cross (Arrested Development's Tobias Fünke), which screens at the Brava Theater (2781 24th at York) at 7:30—followed by a party. 

The Other Barrio: Murder and Corruption in the Mission District 


The Centerpiece Film is The Other Barrio, set for a 7PM screening at the Brava on February 8. A film adaptation of a story by SF Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia, Barrio was filmed in the City's Latino Mission District and depicts a neighborhood struggling with gentrification and evictions. A fatal hotel fire prompts a Latino housing inspector to uncover "a web of bribery, corruption and murder" that leads to "powerful real estate interests and City Hall." (Odds are, you won't see Mayor Ed Lee performing a cameo in this film.) After closing credits, another party! This time with drinks and music from Dr. Loco and The Other Barrio Band. 

The Kingdom of Women Turns Men into Servants 

IndeFest concludes with Riad Sattouff's Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, one of the weirdest films you'll ever see. (Word is, it won't be screened commercially anywhere else in the US.) This was the only film screened for Bay Area film critics. 

Jacky is a wacky French gender-farce set in the fictitious People's Democratic Republic of Bubunne, an insular nation where the women wear the pants—and the boots and guns—and villages of insecure girly-men tend to their every needs. mincing about covered in orange veils and full-body chadors. 

The Kingdom is ruled by a Supreme Leader who is about to transfer authority to her daughter, the Colonelle (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who must choose which young man will become her doting consort. Jacky (Vincent Lacoste), a village pretty-boy forced to suffer the unwanted sexual advances thrust upon him by Bubunne's lecherous young women, dreams of "going to the ball" and being chosen by the Colonelle. 

The gender-twisting premise pays off in a scene where Jacky tries to slip off to the ball disguised in an army uniform. As he tries to sneak out of his room, another member of the family reels back in shock and asks: "Why are you dressed as a woman?!" 

Imagine Cinderella as it might have been staged by the Charlie Hebdo crew. (In its attempt to satirize male-dominated Western societies, Jacky gratuitously equates the oppression of Bubunne's men with the treatment of women in strict Muslim societies—an unfortunate choice, especially in light of the recent murders in Paris.) 

Instead of worshiping ethereal gods or long-dead religious leaders, Bubunne's giggling gaggles believe in the power of the Holy Horses. Village ponies (aka "horsums") are treated with the reverence accorded to cows in the streets of India. 

The villagers are neither meat-eaters nor vegetarians. Instead, they subsist on a diet of state-supplied "mush" that gushes from large pipes. The housebound men required to properly mash the mush to satisfy the demands of the women who rule their lives. Vegetables are verboten, a fact that feeds a lucrative black market. Ironically, the cash the elites pay the vegetable smugglers winds up financing an insurgent force of manly rebels intent on toppling the Bubunne regime. 

It's all very arcane and silly. Right up to the final scene, which includes an X-rated "reveal" that takes gender-bending in a new direction. A happy ending? Well, not if one is to judge from the film's final word—uttered by a screaming orange-veiled villager. 


IndieFest East 

While you'll have to go to San Francisco to see all of the SFIF entries, there are 12 independent offerings that will be screened in the East Bay at Oakland's Humanist Hall (390 27th Street at Telegraph). They are: 

Black Mountain Side, a chilling, claustrophobic fright-romp set in a snowbound mountain cabin. 

East Side Sushi examines the life of a single mother whose family life raft is a simple sidewalk food cart. 

Free, a jarring and jubilant, fast-paced doc about a pack of Oakland teens who overcome poverty, sexual abuse and gang violence through the exercise of free-form street dance. 

F R E E - Official Trailer from Mill Valley Film Festival on Vimeo


Sex and Broadcasting tells the real-life story of WFMU, a hardscrabble "People's Radio Station" trying to survive in post-recession New Jersey. 

They Look Like People throws its protagonists into a dystopian world of shape-shifters. (This is the West Coast premiere for local filmmaker Perry Blackshear.) 

Violet is a tense and brutal Scandinavian film about the mid-teen tribe of BMX riders faced with the sudden-death of a young friend. 

The Voice of the Voiceless is a powerful, silent film that draws the audience into the world of Olga, a deaf teenager from Central America who finds herself in New York City, unexpectedly trapped inside the world of human trafficking. 

Young Bodies Heal Quickly sends two fugitive brothers on a roadtrip to escape the police only to wind up in the care of their estranged forest-dwelling father, who is still trying to escape his own demons—the memories of his service in Vietnam. 

Finally, IndieFest offers a collection of Film School Gems, an eclectic KQED-curated collection of shorts that run the gamut from comedies to thrillers to documentaries. 

Screenings in San Francisco 


Some of the highlights of the films showing only on screens across the Bay include: 

The Cult of JT LeRoy (the unmasking of a masterful Bay Area-based literary hoax); The Search for Weng Weng (a documentary about a 33-inch-tall Filipino actor who improbably became an action hero in a James-Bond-inspired film called For Your Height Only—which will also screen during IndieFest); I Am a Knife with Legs (a rock star pursued by an assassin hides out in LA to await his fate); and Beyond Clueless (a tour through the tribulations of teen-hood—in the form of a mad-cap mash-up of 200 classic coming-of-age films). 


And, of course, the Parties 

IndieFest is renowned for its traditional sideline events. The festivities kick off on February 1 with a mock-celebration of an actual kick-off—Superbowl: Men in Tights screens the classic football contest live at the Roxie (117 16th at Valencia) while a band of SF comics improvise "hilarious and probably inaccurate play-by-play" commentary. 

The February 5 Opening Night screening of Hits at the Brava Theater will be followed by musical offerings from the Conspiracy of Beards and The Jerk Church Tabernacle Choir. 

The annual Roller Disco Costume Party is set to roll on Friday, February 6. 

The 12th Annual Big Lebowski Party relocates to the refurbished Grand Theater (2665 Mission Street) on February 7. (What goes down at the BLP? Here are some clues: "Costume Contest, Beach Bonfire Trampoline, Volleyball Action, Mini-Bowling, Flying Carpets, Nihilists, White Russians and the Coen Brothers' classic film all night long.") 

The IndieFest Bad Art Gallery reinhabits the 518 Valencia Gallery beginning February 8. 

On February 14, the Anti-Valentines Day 80s Power Ballad Sing-a-Long—an antidote guaranteed to chase away the aroma of flowery tributes and the taste of chocolates. 

And, new this year: A Kickstarter Cage Match that pits local filmmakers against one another before a panel of pitiless judges in an attempt to win approval and financing for their independent film projects. ("Elevator pitch meets American Idol.") 

Just the Tickets 

Regular admission to screenings is $12. Opening night screening is $20 (includes after-party). The Centerpiece Film at the Brava is $12. Admission to all the parties is $10—except for the Power Ballad Sing-a-Long, which goes for $15. 

An IndiePass to all 12 East Bay screenings can be had for $60 ($25 if you are under 21). IndiePasses can be purchased through sfindie.com and at (415) 820-3907. SFIF recommends arriving 15 minutes early "to assure seating."

Berkeley Bicyclist injured in car collision dies

Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 08:58:00 AM

A 64-year-old bicyclist injured in a collision with a car in Berkeley earlier this month died Monday, a police spokeswoman said today. 

The collision occurred on Jan. 13 around 6:45 p.m. at University and McGee avenues, Berkeley police Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

A car hit the bicyclist then fled the scene east on University Avenue, Coats said. 

The vehicle is described as a white or beige four-door sedan with tinted windows, she said. 

The bicyclist was transported to a hospital for serious injuries and passed away Monday, according to Coats. 

He was identified today as Berkeley resident Michael Lake, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau. 

Anyone with information on the collision is asked to call the Berkeley Police Department's traffic bureau at (510) 981-5900. 


Berkeley Building Energy Saving Ordinance is back on the City Council agenda for tonight

Tuesday January 27, 2015 - 11:15:00 AM

Despite rumors to the contrary, tonight the Berkeley City Council will have the second reading of a scheme to mandate ongoing inspection of all homes for energy conservation, replacing an ordinance that required such inspections at time of sale. Many objections have been raised, particularly because of the fees associated with such inspections. See, for objections: 

New Berkeley Building Energy Saving Ordinance (BESO) doesn't respect citizens 

An open letter to City Council on the proposed Energy Report Ordinance 

Ready to pay $479 or more for a City mandated energy audit?

Here are the items from tonight's agenda: 

C. a. Replace the Residential and Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinances, BMC Chapters 19.16 and 19.72, with a Building Energy Saving Ordinance, BMC Chapter 19.81 (Continued from January 20, 2015)
From: Energy Commission
Recommendation: Adopt second reading of Ordinance No. 7,387-N.S. repealing the Residential and Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinances (RECO and CECO), BMC Chapters 19.16 and 19.72, and adding the Building Energy Saving Ordinance, BMC Chapter 19.81.
First Reading Vote: All Ayes.
Financial Implications: See report
Contact: Neal DeSnoo, Commission Secretary, 981-7400 

b. Supplemental Information Related to Building Energy Saving Ordinance (Continued from January 20, 2015)
From: City Manager
Contact: Eric Angstadt, Planning and Development, 981-7400 

c. Revised Building Energy Saving Ordinance Proposal (Continued from January 20, 2015)
From: City Manager
Contact: Eric Angstadt, Planning and Development, 981-7400

Press Release: Councilmember Proposes Temporary Ban on Tear Gas in Wake of Berkeley Protests

From Anthony Sanchez, Office of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:25:00 PM

In the wake of recent Berkeley protests, the City Council will take up three proposals Tuesday night (January 27th) introduced by Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin to support the demands from activists in Ferguson, MO; call for an independent investigation into police use of tear gas at the December 6, 2014 protests; and temporarily ban the use of tear gas and other non-lethal force for crowd control. 

The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement have led to protests throughout the country. Berkeley, which is the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, saw thousands of residents take to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On December 6, 2014, the first night of major demonstrations, Berkeley police called in mutual aid and met protesters in full riot gear, armed with batons, shields and helmets. 

In response to a small number of people throwing objects and engaging in violence, police used baton strikes, rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a largely non-violent crowd. Tear gas has reportedly not been used in a Berkeley protest in decades. 

In the wake of this excessive police response, Councilmember Arreguin has received numerous complaints by citizens who were hit with batons and shot at with tear gas and rubber bullets. At the December 16, 2014 and January 17, 2015 Berkeley City Council meetings, the vast majority of public speakers talked about the police response to protesters and the need to investigate and take action to improve Berkeley’s response to crowd situations. 

The Berkeley Police Review Commission on December 10, 2014 voted unanimously to ask the Council to initiate an independent investigation into the use of tear gas on December 6th and to call for a review and overhaul of BPD policies on crowd control and use of force. The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission has also voted to support these reforms. 

In response, Councilmember Arreguin has proposed three items directly addressing community concerns over the use of force. The first item would put the Berkeley City Council on record in supporting the demands from activists in Ferguson, MO. 

The second calls for the Police Review Commission to initiate an investigation into the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and force in responding to the protests on December 6, 2014. The third calls for a review of BPD’s policies on responding to protests and large crowds and would adopt a temporary policy to ban the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other non-lethal munitions until a review and update of our crowd control policies is completed. 

“Temporarily suspending the use of tear gas and other non-lethal force until we investigate and change our tactics is the prudent approach, and will ensure that what happened on December 6th does not happen again.” said Councilmember Arreguin, “The City needs to not only learn from what occurred and change our approach in responding to protests, but also in how we interact with communities of color. Police violence in Ferguson, MO or in Berkeley, CA is not acceptable. By adopting these reforms Berkeley can effectively manage crowd situations and at the same time maintain its reputation as a center of free speech and political activity.” 

Links to the proposals can be found here: 

E. Support the National Demands by Ferguson Action (Continued from January 20, 2015)
From: Councilmember Arreguin
Recommendation: 1. Adopt a motion endorsing the National Demands from Ferguson. 2. Advocate for changes to the Alameda County District Attorney policy to include investigations to all in-custody deaths. 3. Issue a statement of concern and support for people of color and their families who have been affected by injury or death by law enforcement agencies.
Financial Implications: None
Contact: Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember, District 4, 981-7140 

F. Amendments to BPD General Orders C-64 (Crowd Control), M-2 (Mutual Aid) and U-2 (Use of Force) (Continued from January 20, 2015 - Item includes revised recommendation.)
From: Councilmember Arreguin
1. Refer to the Police Review Commission (PRC) and City Manager the attached changes to BPD General Orders C-64, M-2, U-2, and request that they return to the City Council with recommended revisions to the General Orders. The proposed changes are modeled after the Oakland Police Department’s recent amendments to their Crowd Control Policy and address issues raised with the police response to the December 6, 2014 Ferguson protests.
2. Adopt a motion declaring as a temporary City of Berkeley policy that the use of chemical agents (tear gas etc.), Specialty Impact Less-Lethal Weapons (“projectiles” or rubber bullets, wooden dowels, stinger grenades, rubber bullets) and over the shoulder baton strikes, are prohibited uses of force in responding to crowd situations, until such time as an investigation is conducted as to the Police response to the December 6, 2014 protests, and a review of General Orders C-64, M-2, and U-2 is completed.
Financial Implications: Unknown
Contact: Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember, District 4, 981-7140 

G. Independent Investigation of Police Response to December 6, 2014 Protests (Continued from January 20, 2015 - Item includes revised recommendation.)
From: Councilmember Arreguin
Recommendation: Direct the City Manager to initiate an independent investigation into the police response to protests on December 6, 2014 and to return to Council as soon as possible, but no later than 60 days with a contract to hire a qualified independent investigator. In considering who to select to conduct the investigation, the City Manager should give preference to former police chiefs or law enforcement officials with experience conducting internal investigations. To avoid the appearance of or possibility of conflicts of interests, the City Manager should avoid selecting an individual or firm who previously worked for the Berkeley Police Department or who previously or currently worked for any law enforcement agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. The City Manager shall ensure that the selected individual or firm has no apparent conflicts of interest.
The Council also refers the questions attached to the report for the City Manager and outside investigator to consider in conducting their investigation.
Financial Implications: Unknown
Contact: Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember, District 4, 981-7140 

WHAT: Berkeley City Council discussion of police reforms and temporary ban on use of tear gas 

WHEN: Tuesday, January 26, 2015, 7:00 p.m. 

WHERE: Berkeley City Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 2134 MLK Jr. Way 




The USPS claims historic Berkeley Post Office is no longer for sale

Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:18:00 PM

Antonio Rossmann, the attorney who is representing the city of Berkeley in the attempt to save the city’s historic downtown post office, has informed the Planet that he has received a response from the U.S. Postal Service to his petition to the court to stop preparations for the sale of the building to a private developer. You can read the motion here.

He says that the agency no longer lists the PO for sale, but they haven’t rescinded any of their National Environmental Policy Act or other determinations required under federal law before the building can be sold.

In an email, he says this:

“The essence of their argument is that we complained about the sale to [private developer Hudson McDonald], and Hudson’s action ended the controversy by canceling the sale.”

But, he says, “ Hudson is not part of this lawsuit and it never challenged Hudson’s duties or prerogatives.

“If Hudson’s conduct is all that counts, then USPS should set aside all their contested actions that violate federal law leading up to his decision, to establish that no controversy exists.”

But for now, he concludes, the Berkeley Post Office does not seem to be for sale, at least publically. 

Jacquelyn McCormick of Berkeley, who is active in the national organization which seeks to prevent U.S. post office buildings from being sold off to private developers, pointed out in an email that would-be developers Hudson McDonald [presumably fronting for other investors] could still be moving ahead behind the scenes: “The PO would not need to post the property ‘for sale’ on the website and we would never know negotiations with [Hudson McDonald]—or any other potential buyer for that matter—were being finalized.” 

In Stamford, Connecticut, she said, the very next day after the judge ruled in the PO's favor, the agency completed the sale of the historic post office to a private buyer, quit-claimed and recorded the deed. 

“The same thing could easily occur here in Berkeley,” she said. 



The Editor's Back Fence

What happened at last night's Berkeley City Council meeting?

Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 10:30:00 AM

Short answer: not a whole lot.

First, for those of you who prefer to watch the meetings online rather than attend in person (I can't imagine why.) It wasn't your fault. The streaming video system has been non-functioning for one full week. Yes, I reported it last week, but they did nothing. When it continued to transmit nothing but a test pattern, I consulted my two computer gurus, who confirmed with three computers, two operating systems and an Ipad that nothing was being sent from Old City Hall, an observation that was echoed by my friends at Berkeleyside who had also been trying to watch the action at home.

I sent alarmed messages to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, and Emilie did the same to press contacts on city staff. Just to make sure, I then went down to the meeting. By the time I got there Kriss told me the system had been fixed and was now online.

My suspicion is that it needed to be rebooted after the power outage last week, but no one bothered to do so. Another person at the meeting told me he'd also reported the problem to the city clerk's office. He said the person he talked to was "surly"--sounds like the same person I talked to! Could there be a management problem here?

So what happened? Two zoning adjustment board decisions were upheld. (Maybe more later on this?) The energy audit program was approved, but with an exemption for residences in buildings of 1-4 units to be "reconsidered" in a couple of years. (Oh, how they labored over that choice of word.)

And yes (see updated editorial) they never did get around to discussing the police issues stemming from the tear gassing of the December 6 demonstration. Priorities, you know!


Odd Bodkins: Abdullah (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday January 23, 2015 - 04:18:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Reality Check (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday January 23, 2015 - 03:26:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: 18 Stories is too Damn Big for Berkeley

Judy Shelton
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:47:00 PM

At a recent Zoning Adjustment Board meeting, Suzie Bluestone asked the fifty-plus attendees a question: “Is there anyone in favor of this development who is on their own time and is not being paid by wealthy development money?”

The January 8 meeting at which she spoke was devoted exclusively to public comment on the “benefits” of the proposed 18-story 2211 Harold Way development in downtown Berkeley, a development that:

  • Would be crammed into an already-dense area, just across the street from the Berkeley Main Library and its attached Library Gardens Apartments;
  • Would demolish the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, a great cultural and economic asset to Berkeley (sixty percent of its customers come from out of town);
  • Would destroy retail establishments both at the building site and in the surrounding area, where theater customers generate a significant amount of business;
  • Would cast massive shadows on the Library Gardens Apartments and Berkeley High School;
  • Would create yet more outlandishly expensive housing for upper-middle-class techies streaming in from San Francisco –
and also more vacation homes and AirB&B rentals, as is happening in San Francisco;

  • Would blight the famous Bay view from the Campanile; and
  • Would make already-scarce parking in that area almost impossible.
Given these impacts, are YOU in favor of the Harold Way project? Right. Neither were any of the ZAB attendees – except, of course, for the Mark Rhoades contingent, who stands to make loads of money off it. 

Not surprisingly, the detriments bulleted above don’t even exist for Rhoades, or for the City Council who are responsible for the project’s inception. What the latter focus on is that this unreasonably tall, out-of-scale building will help fulfill the 2012 Measure R plan. Never mind that it is increasingly clear that when voting for this Council-driven blueprint, Berkeley citizens had no idea they were voting for an 18-story building in the heart of downtown. 

Undaunted by its citizens’ dismay, the Council trumpets Measure R as the will of the people, and thus their mandate to cram huge building after huge building down our throats, no matter how ugly, out of character, or unnecessary they are. 

More, the Council and Planning Department maintain, notwithstanding the economic and cultural disruption the Harold Way project would inflict, that this development is good for the City. Yet there are signs that the Council-appointed ZAB has its doubts. oHoHTo paraphrase Zoning Commissioner Sophie Hahn’s remarks during the November ZAB discussion of the Harold Way Project, there’s probably a place for this building somewhere; just not here. 

But the person who said it best is former mayor Shirley Dean, who, at the January 8 meeting, got right to the heart of the matter when she looked at the commissioners, from Denise Pinkston on the left to Steven Donaldson on the right, and simply said, “This building is too damn big.” 

So what are we going to do about this? You can be sure that unless Councilmembers fear for their political futures, they will approve this project. Well, if it’s fear that’s needed, let’s give it to them. Flood the Council and ZAB meetings, or write to them – preferably, both – and:  

  1. Tell them we won’t accept an 18-story building in downtown Berkeley.
  2. Tell them that, whatever they DO build at Harold Way, to respect our culture by preserving the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, and to minimize the displacement and disruption of other businesses that the new building will create.
  3. Tell them that we, the citizens of Berkeley, refuse the top-down imposition of development projects all over the City that are turning Berkeley into a suburb of San Francisco. And,
  4. Tell them that we will vote them out of office if they go through with a high-rise at Harold Way.
For more information on this, see our Facebook page or contact Judy Shelton

New: Netanyahu’s planned US Visit

Jagjit Singh
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:49:00 PM

In a serious breach of established protocol, Speaker John Boehner launched a sneak attack on the White House by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. Jewish Voices for Peace vehemently denounced the planned visit stating that under his leadership, “the Israeli government has ramped up illegal settlement building, increasing the population of Jewish settlers by over 23%, made the biggest land grab in a generation, committed countless human rights abuses and killed thousands of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, and done everything possible to maintain the status quo of Israeli occupation and domination”.  

Critics in Israel have also blamed Netanyahu for Israel’s growing isolation and for deteriorating relations with Washington. “It’s a huge miscalculation,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor at Bar Ilan University. 

“It’s proven again that what we export best as Israelis is chutzpah,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem political consultant and pollster. Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli columnist, said Mr. Netanyahu “lost the major benefit” of the speech because “the whole idea is now contaminated.” 

Tzipi Livnia, a former foreign minister, called the planned speech “gravely irresponsible.” 

Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, a centrist, was equally critical. Michael B. Oren, former Israeli ambassador to Washington, called on Mr. Netanyahu to cancel his speech to Congress. Finally, Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief denounced the event as “irresponsible.” Netanyahu should heed the advice of his many detractors and cancel his visit. 



New: The IRS: The Impact of Tax Cheating

Harry Brill
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:42:00 PM

If Congress really believes that there is not enough money to support and expand publicly financed social programs, then why has it one year after another cut the budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whose income from audits far exceed the Agency's budget? Do you know what members of Congress already know but act as if they don't -- that the average IRS auditor collects revenue which is twenty times his or her salary? Yet the annual cuts in its budget since 2010 have resulted in a staff reduction of about 8,000 employees. Not only has it become far more difficult for a taxpayer to reach a live staff person for assistance. Substantial budget cuts have appreciably reduced the capacity of the IRS to audit individuals and corporations. 

According to the IRS, the federal government is losing about $450 million in taxes every year. That money could be made available to sustain and improve many of our inadequately funded public programs. What accounts, then, for the persistent congressional assault on the IRS? You probably guessed right. Many in the business community have been deeply troubled by audits. They have persuaded the majority in Congress to weaken the agency's auditing capacity. 

It is very important to understand the tremendous antagonism of some in Congress toward the IRS. Take for example a Republican congressman, John Fleming of Louisiana, who proposed suspending for six months all new audits by the IRS while the Agency's biases could be investigated. His rational was that the IRS uses the audits for political purposes by disproportionately auditing conservative groups. That some auditors might be biased against right wing organizations is not clear because the agency also audited many liberal organizations as well. 

What is very clear is that Fleming's own politics makes him an opponent of the IRS. He continually urges that taxes be cut and regulations slashed. He also wants to abolish Obamacare, which for tax related reasons, the IRS is involved in. From Fleming's perspective the IRS is an enemy of the business community. 

The IRS recognizes that to maximize its effectiveness a larger percentage of the rich and big corporations should be audited Overall, the auditing rate is about one percent. But according to the public record in one recent year the chance of individuals being audited is about ten times greater for the richest then those with lower incomes. About 17 percent of big corporations compared with 1.2 percent of small corporations were audited. It is no surprise, then, that the upper class is very unhappy with IRS policy. 

So while progressives have been attempting to persuade Congress to increase corporate and individual income taxes, the failure of many in the higher echelons to pay the taxes they do owe has received relatively little attention. We can expect the problem of tax cheating to become considerably worse as the ability of the IRS to provide oversight continues to diminish. Although it is a very difficult problem for progressives to overcome we need to find ways of addressing the indispensible issue of oversight. Tax cheating is very demoralizing to the American public because it is they who are being cheated. Indeed, what Congress has done on behalf of the have-a-lots at the expense of the have-a-little taxpayers is a very heavy price most Americans are paying in their quality of life.

Jindal should take a vow of silence

Jagjit Singh
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:26:00 PM

Bobby Jindal seems to be suffering from a bad bout of foot and mouth disease. Following his ludicrous defense of former President Bush’s heinous torture practices, the Louisiana governor made a major faux pas by echoing Fox News assertions about Muslims in the wake of the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher Market in Paris.  

Jindal echoed the absurd claims of self-described terrorism expert, Steve Emerson, of Fox News that parts of Europe, including the entire English city of Birmingham (my birth place) were firmly in control of Muslims where non-Muslims feared to tread. Emerson ended up with mega doses of egg all over his face and was forced to apologize; Fox News broadcaster, Julie issued the broadest apology, directed at the people of England and France – “Over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France. Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called 'no-go zones,' areas where non-Muslims allegedly aren’t allowed in and police supposedly won’t go.  

To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion." It is now time for Jindal to issue a similar apology failing which he should take a vow of silence and retire into obscurity.

Normalizing Relations with Iran

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:17:00 PM

The Obama administration (and Pope Francis) deserve credit for normalizing relations with Cuba. They should now move vigorously to normalize relations with Iran. A resolution would bring Iran back into the global economy; give us a useful ally against radical Islamists who are a major threat to world order.  

Our media has acknowledged that Iran has been on the front lines fighting ISIS. We are expending major military resources on degrading ISIS. Why then would we not combine our efforts in fighting a common foe?  

A little over a year ago an interim deal was signed between Iran and The P5+1 which included surprise inspections of all their nuclear facilities. The world intelligence community with the exception of Bibi Netanyahu states there is no evidence that Iran is working on a Nuclear Weapon.  

On the contrary Israel possess between 100-200 nuclear warheads and has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee, Bob Corker, stated that we should act in US interests and not necessarily in Netanyahu’s interests.  

Speaker Boehner seems determined to scuttle the talks by inviting the highly, polarizing divisive Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu, to Washington. AIPAC is supporting this effort and is a direct threat to our functioning democracy. Boehner seems unconcerned that bypassing the White House is a serious violation of protocol by upending Obama’s diplomatic efforts. If they succeed Rouhani’s influence would be marginalized and the hardliners could regain power with devastating consequences. 


ECLECTIC RANT: Thoughts on freedom of expression in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre

Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:35:00 PM

Much has been written about the killing of 12 people and the wounding of 11 others at the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo. The discussion has for the most part been quite healthy concerning freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a right but it comes with a responsibility.

In the United States, the 1969 Supreme Court in Brandenberg v. Ohio struck down the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, and established a new standard: Speech can be suppressed only if it is intended, and likely to produce, “imminent lawless action.” Otherwise, even speech that advocates violence is protected. The Brandenberg standard prevails in the U.S. today. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Unfortunately, the concept of freedom of expression is not appreciated or understood in most of the Arab world. Blasphemy, for example is prohibited in many Arab countries. For many followers of Islam, the depiction of Muhammad is a contentious issue. The Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad, but there are a few supplemental teachings which explicitly prohibits Muslims from creating visual depictions of figures. And lampooning Muhammad is certain to raise the ire of most Muslims. 

For example, in 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. One showed Muhammad flashing a victory sign—with two extended fingers drawn to resemble the burning World Trade Towers. Another depicted Muhammad as a bomb-toting terrorist. Another showed Muhammad with vampire teeth, drinking wine and smoking a cigar. Muslim groups in Denmark complained that the cartoons insulted Muhammad and Islam and the issue eventually led to protests around the world, including violent demonstrations and riots in some Muslim countries. Shouldn’t the editors of Jyllands-Posten have known that the publication of these cartoons would lead to violent demonstrations? 

Interestingly, in 2003, Jyllands-Posten refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ. A Danish illustrator submitted a series of cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ. He received an email back from the paper’s editor which said: “I don’t think our readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.” The newspaper had no compunction in publishing cartoons lampooning Muhammad but not Jesus. Islamophobia? You draw your own conclusions. 

Notwithstanding the Danish reaction to the cartoons, in 2006 Charlie Hebdo, and other publications in Germany, Italy, and Spain, republished the cartoons. This caused a new wave of protests across the Middle East. 

After the republication, French President Jacques Chirac was quoted as saying, “I condemn all obvious provocations which could dangerously fuel passions. Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised in a spirit of responsibility.” 

Unrepentant, the first cover of Charlie Hebdo after the attack shows the Prophet Muhammad holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign with the caption, “All is forgiven.” The newspaper printed a record 3 million copies this week, with financial help from Google, Le Monde and other organizations. It usually prints around 60,000 copies. This edition was translated into six languages including English, Arabic and Turkish. The edition sold out in minutes. This edition triggered a mixed reaction but for the most part, Muslims have heeded their leaders to remain calm. 

Jesus and Christianity have not been immune from ridicule by cartoonists. Publications have been met with outrage, economic pressure, loss of advertising and subscribers, and political pressure although I am not aware of anyone being killed or wounded in modern times for publishing such cartoons. For example, in its March edition, The Insurgent, an “alternative” student paper at the University of Oregon, printed 12 hand-drawn cartoons of Jesus as a response to a rival paper The Commentator for having published the controversial cartoons of Muhammad originally published in Jyllands-Posteni. One was a depiction of a naked Jesus on the cross with an erection; the other, titled “Resurrection,” showed a naked Jesus kissing another naked man, both sporting erections. The Insurgent claimed it published the drawings to “provoke dialogue.” 

Some of the mandatory student fees at the University of Oregon are set aside for student publications including The Insurgent. In response to cries to cut off funds to The Insurgent, the University President Dave Frohnmayer refused explaining that the university, based on Supreme Court rulings, cannot “exercise control over content by using a threat of removal of fee support. Simply put, neither content nor viewpoint is a lawful basis for denying an allocation of incidental fees to a student group.” 

I am not playing a blame the victim game. No one should be killed or injured over cartoons no matter how offensive they are perceived to be. And free expression does not mean that religions shouldn’t be lampooned. 

I am in favor of freedom of expression, but at the same time, before publication of a cartoon, the editors should ask themselves whether the cartoon is contributing to the political or social dialogue or is it just to inflame the public. Or more specifically, should the editors of Charlie Hebdo have considered the anti-Muslim sentiment in France and how radicals in the French Muslim community would react to the cartoons, especially after the riots following the the cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten? There is no easy answer 

THE PUBLIC EYE:The Return of Good Obama

Bob Burnett
Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:09:00 PM

After working on the 2008 Obama campaign, and celebrating his election, I’ve spent much of the past 6 years defending the President. Fortunately, the 2015 State-of-the-Union address found the President in fine form. Hopefully, this speech marks the return of the “good” Obama I expected. 

Why has President Obama been so inconsistent? Some say it’s the nature of his job. Being President of the United States means Obama has to juggle several hot items at once. Meanwhile the well-oiled Republican propaganda machine has conditioned its audience to receive one negative message each day: “ISIS is coming! Ebola is coming! The barbarians (immigrants) are at the gates!” 

Some say the President appears inconsistent because he is not, by nature, an adversarial person. (After all, he was once employed as a community organizer.) He wants to be conciliatory and tries to placate Republicans. 

Some say Obama has a form of attention-deficit disorder. He’s interested in politics but he lacks the focus or stamina to simultaneously be President of the United States and the leader of the Democratic Party. (And Democrats lack their own version of Karl Rove

I believe Obama’s performance seems inconsistent because Americans grade him based upon the issue de jour. At the moment the President has positive approval ratings because the public believes the economy is strong and therefore that Obama “will move the country in the right direction.” 

I’ll grade Obama’s State-of-the-Union address by first rating him in the four categories that correspond to the great challenges of 2015 and then giving him an overall grade. 

Inequality: The President spent the majority of his State-of-the-Union address talking about various forms of inequality. He began by pointing out how robust the American economy is: “At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.” 

Obama touted “middle-class economics… the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” He advocated creating jobs by investing in a “21st century infrastructure.” (Obama plans to pay for the new infrastructure and a middle-class tax cut by closing tax loopholes that reward corporations for keeping profits abroad and allow “the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.”) 

Obama urged Congress “to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.” Later he observed that Americans, “Condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” 

The tepid Republican response, delivered by Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, was that “[Americans] feel like they're working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.” Her one suggestion was approval of the “Keystone Jobs bill.” 

Grades: Obama gets an A; the President correctly described the economy and made his strongest statement yet on equality. Republicans get a D: They didn’t acknowledge our robust economy and presented no job-creation ideas beyond approval of the Keystone pipeline that only generates 50 full-time jobs

National Security: President Obama noted that the US combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq have ended. He observed, “We’ve learned some costly lessons over the last thirteen years… Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America… America leads… with persistent, steady resolve.” 

The Republican response, delivered by Senator Ernst, was: “We know [terrorist] threats can’t be just wished away… we need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.” 

Grades: Obama gets a B; the President talked about the major security items (terrorism, Iran, Cuba, Ebola…) but presented no plan for reducing the DOD budget or closing overseas bases. Republicans get an F: they falsely implied the President has no plan to defeat terrorists. What’s the GOP plan? 

Global Climate Change: President Obama made his most forceful statement yet about Global Warming: “14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century… The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.” 

The Republican response said nothing about global climate change. 

Grades; Obama earned an A; Republicans an F. 

Privacy: President Obama said: “While some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t… next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.” 

The Republican response didn’t mention the issue of privacy. 

Grades: Obama gets a D-; out here on the Left Coast we believe the government is monitoring all of our digital communications. Republicans deserve an F. 

Summary: President Obama gave a powerful State-of-the-Union address. On the four central issues he graded as A, B, A, and D-. His overall grade was a B, dragged down by his failure to adequately address privacy concerns. Not surprisingly, the Republican grade was F; they didn’t address the key issues. 

Hopefully this signals the return of good Obama we voted for in 2008. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Deterioration vs. Bouncing Back + Rebuking Rand Paul

Jack Bragen
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:12:00 PM

A lot of people with severe mental illness go a number of years in which they are stabilized and function at a fairly high level. However, these fairly good years are sometimes followed by a downturn.  

My wife and I have both had friends, also in treatment in the mental health treatment system, who, at some point, have become too ill to maintain the friendship.  

In some instances, a person seems, on some level, to just give up. In other instances, the consumer has resorted to street drugs as a futile attempt at coping with life's challenges. While, thirdly, someone's illness may simply get worse. In any of those instances, it sometimes seems as though such a person has lost his or her soul.  

Many persons who receive mental health treatment become friends with one another. We share the same plights, and we have an understanding of what we are all going through with being treated for mental illness, with being oppressed by society and with all of those other things that come in the package deal of being a mental health consumer.  

Exactly what factors go into the mental health consumer having a downturn, I am not clear about. Sometimes a downturn is preceded by such a person becoming increasingly unreasonable, more demanding, and having less communication skills.  

My wife and I have met people who could never get by in a "normal" context, and who require a sheltered situation. When someone has a downturn, it can also lead to his or her disappearance. The person may have died, may have needed to live in a locked situation, or may have become homeless.  

However, there are others who bounce back.  

There are individuals who have been determined to make a go of it in life, and to have some sort of purpose. When someone has an attainable goal, it seems more likely that they will have a better outcome. Even just the desire to have a goal, and the exploration of possibilities that comes with that, is better than nothing.  

Goals that are unattainable, when it becomes apparent that they won't be met, can cause a meltdown. Thus, if someone's goal is unreachable, the person ought to at least have an alternate plan. We should realize that we are acceptable people regardless of what we have or have not accomplished. 

When someone decides to voluntarily participate in his or her treatment it can lead to a better outcome.  

"Purpose" doesn't necessarily mean that someone will have a lofty career goal. Participation in social events with family or friends can be gratifying and can furnish something positive.  

Getting something good in life can often be the direct result of creating something positive. For example, if you have good computer skills, you could offer help to others with their computers. If you have good math skills, you could tutor people in math. I have heard of a program that involves tutoring people in reading. In some cases the recipient is an immigrant who needs better English skills, while in other instances, the recipient of tutoring could have some type of learning disability.  


This is an additional note to rebuke Senator Rand Paul, who commented that most people collecting federal Disability Insurance are "gaming the system." He believes that anyone who is "able-bodied" should not be collecting disability payments.  

Senator Paul should try taking Olanzapine or Seroquel every day and try showing up for his job.  

In the approximate words of a deceased mental health activist with whom I was once friends, if you're going to take away the money, you are obliged to take away the label of mental illness. I might add to this that there simply are no jobs for many persons with a disabling level of mental illness that we could reasonably be hired-for and keep.  

While the senator's idea may make sense in the realm of the hypothetical, it is disconnected from real conditions as they actually are. I certainly hope Hillary Clinton will get her turn as President.  

This is an additional reminder that I have books for sale on Amazon. 

SENIOR POWER : Assisted dying in the UK

Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:07:00 PM

Is suicide a crime? Assisted suicide? How about physician-assisted... 

Should assisted dying for the terminally ill be legalized? 

In Maryland, the medical license of anesthesiologist Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 87, has been revoked for helping 6 sick persons to commit suicide. The Maryland Board of Physicians found that he had engaged in “unprofessional conduct” while working as the medical director for the Final Exit Network. [“Doctor Loses License Over Assisted Suicides," by Alan Blinder (New York Times Dec. 31, 2014).]  

In the UK, leading figures from politics and the arts have demanded assisted dying be legalized, claiming that every fortnight a Briton ends her/his life in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. They argue that the UK general election in May 2015 should not be allowed to derail the legislative process. (See November 30, 2012 Berkeley Daily Planet Senior Power column.)  

January 8th’s Senior Power column was mostly about American senior and housing activist Helen Lima. Today’s column is about British assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy on the occasion of her death at age 51. ["Assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy dies aged 51," by Mark Tran (Guardian [London], Dec. 30, 2014).] 

Debbie Purdy (1963 – 2014) was a British political activist from Bradford, West Yorkshire, notable for her challenge to the law in England and Wales as relates to assisted suicide and for her primary progressive multiple sclerosis. In 2009, it was announced that guidelines for England and Wales on assisted suicide law would be published by the UK Government. The guidelines "come after a legal battle won by Debbie Purdy", as "Law Lords accepted earlier this year that [Purdy] had a right to know whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her to travel abroad to commit suicide." 

Purdy and her counsel argued that the Director of Public Prosecutions was infringing on her human rights by failing to clarify how the Suicide Act of 1961 is enforced. Purdy's particular concern was to discover if any actions her husband, Omar Puente, took in assisting her suicide would lead to his prosecution. No family member of the 92 Brits who have gone abroad for an assisted suicide has been prosecuted but some have been charged and have had to wait for months before hearing the charges had been dropped. Purdy said that if her husband would be exposed to prosecution for helping her travel to Switzerland to a Dignitas clinic to die, she would make the journey sooner while she was able to travel unassisted. This would save her husband from exposure to the law but would have forced Purdy to make her decision on dying before she felt it was absolutely necessary. 

The hearing began in October 2008. The Director of Public Prosecutions said that Purdy could not be given any reassurance that her husband would not be prosecuted because the law was clear that assisting suicide is an offense. In December 2008 Sky TV broadcast a program in which a man with motor neurone disease was shown committing suicide with assistance. There had also been the UK case of a Mr. James who went to Switzerland with the aid of his parents after being paralyzed while playing rugby; the Department of Public Prosecutions determined that to prosecute the parents would be against the public interest. These two events led to the issue of assisted suicide making the first story on BBC's Newsnight. Purdy appeared to debate the issue. She denied that it is society that makes disabled people wish to kill themselves and reasserted her belief that it is right to be able to seek assistance when one is physically incapable of committing suicide. 



A geriatrician tells me that, if one is in good health and eats a balanced diet, the only proven vitamin requirements for people over age 65 are vitamin B12 and vitamin D3: Vitamin B12, 2.4 micrograms daily, Vitamin D3, about 1000 units daily. However, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society advises persons over age 50 to get most of their B12 from supplements. And AARP says 800 international units daily; look for supplements that contain vita D3 (cholecalciferol). 

"New device allows deaf people to 'hear with their tongue'," by Matthew Sparkes (Daily Telegraph [London], Jan. 20, 2015). 

"Hearing-aid intervention helps individuals gradually adjust to devices" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], Jan. 20, 2015). 


"New Program Combines Medicare and Medi-Cal in Santa Clara County," by Gerardo Fernandez (New America Media, January 11, 2015). 

The lack of regulation for California's in-home support services program, which pays people to look after seniors or the sick, means that many patients are left in dangerous situations. Read "When Home Caregivers Kill the Elderly With Neglect," by Anna Gorman (The Atlantic.Washington, District of Columbia, Jan. 6, 2015). 


Arts & Events

New: Timbuktu: Islamic Fundamentalism Comes to Town

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:58:00 PM

Opens January 30 at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco

Abderrahmane Sissako's Oscar-nominated film Timbuktu is a treat for the eyes and a banquet for the senses but it's an occasional pain for the brain. While the film does a masterful job of embedding the viewer in a richly rendered story of a simple family's experience with religious oppression, the experience is undercut by some confusing edits, too many storylines and characters that capture the attention but serve no story-telling purpose.

Still, the film is worth seeing if you want to understand something of the culture-clash that's wreaking havoc in Mali and other African nations as people are suddenly forced to live under rules imposed by invading Islamic purists.

Timbuktu glows with glorious cinematography (We haven't seen desert landscapes like this since George Lukas set up his cameras in Tunisia to provide the background for Tatooine) and resonates with the sound of local melodies strummed on strings or sung aloud. But quietly! Because Timbutu and its surrounding dune-dwelling communities are now under the sway of religious fundamentalists dead-set on asserting control. 


In the name of the Prophet, these apostles of Islam reject many manifestations of the modern world and harken back to a simpler life of devotion. So it is odd to see them pocketing cell phones, roaring about on motorbikes armed with portable megaphones and pestering the locals with admonitions: "Music is not allowed! Soccer is not allowed! No cigarettes! No alcohol! No laughter!" 

These new proscriptions seem arbitrary and contradictory. In one case, a member of the religious militia informs a woman that she must now cover her legs and start wearing socks. He then goes on to stop a man walking through his village and demand that he doff his sandals and roll his pants up to his knees. 

It looks like these "foreigners" are making it up as they go along. (But isn't it equally odd that Christian men are required to remove their hats while women are required to cover their heads when entering a church?) 

Grassroots Resistance in a Desert World 

When the Jihadists arrest a villager for owning a soccer ball, the young boys of the village will not be deterred. In a rousing scene, they take to their dusty field and battle over a ball that exists only in their imaginations. (And look for the little kid wearing the Barcelona jersey emblazoned with Lionel Messi's number ten. Soccer is truly an international sport, an experience so universal that it transcends religions.) 

It's uplifting to see how it is the women who are quickest to resist to these attempts to impose the new rules. One women asks "How can I sell fish if my hands are wearing gloves?!" and demands to be arrested. Another refuses to deal with a self-important suitor who asks permission to marry her young daughter. And in the one of the most memorable scenes in the history of film, a young woman forced to kneel for a flogging because she was caught singing, turns her cries of pain into a sobbing song of resistance. 

In an American film, such an act of defiance would prompt the man with the lash to increase the force and frequency of the flogging. Instead, the jihadist simply continues to mete out the proper measure of punishing pain. He's not ruled by his emotions. It's all "by the Book." 

A Reign of Pious Villainy 

Here is a surprising thing about Timbuktu: It shows the nightmare of having to live under an extreme version of Islamic law but the "persecutors" are not depicted as true villains. 

Certainly, it's chilling to watch the religious police on patrol at night, skulking through the narrow streets and peering into doorways in search of the source of forbidden music. But this isn't anything like the standard operational brutality displayed by US soldiers conducting "night raids" in a foreign country. People are arrested (except for those who manage to escape into the darkness, clutching their guitars) but there is no screaming of obscenities, no doors kicked in by heavy boots, no threats to shoot unarmed people in their homes. 

In Timbuktu, the extremists never fly off the handle. They don't lose their tempers. The are almost always calm and civil as they go about the job of enforcing Sharia Law. Even when they lead someone off to death, they seem to treat the prisoner with courtesy and respect. Instead of "perp-walking" a victim in handcuffs, the executioners are solicitous—steadying the victims and reaching out to help them as they stumble toward their fate. 

For anyone steeped in the violence of Western cinema, this lack of violence and outbursts of anger, is startling. 

But the calm, methodical execution of transgressors is still horrific. No more so than in the brief scene depicting the stoning deaths of a young couple. (It was a real-life stoning in 2012 that prompted the Mali-born director to co-author the screenplay.) 

There is only one outburst of irrational violence in the film and it involves a baffling bushwhacking incident in the desert. The chief Jihadist (who everyone knows is secretly addicted to cigarettes) asks his driver to stop their vehicle during a drive through the desert. Pointing his rifle towards a sand dune, he opens fire on the only thing growing in that patch of desert—a spindly bush. I watched closely, expecting to see the hand of a sniper reach out in the agony of death. But there was nothing more to be seen. (Chronicle reviewer Jessica Zack offers an interesting interpretation. According to Zack, the jihadist was angered because the placement of the bush in the sand dunes resembled female genitalia.) 

Kidane's Story 

Timbuktu's central story revolves around a cattle-herder named Kidane who lives in a tent on a dune with his wife Satima and his daughter Toya. Kidane's life is simple but fulfilling. He lounges around most of the day, plucking a forbidden stringed instrument and bantering with his family while a young boy drives the cattle off to graze. 

Living far from the city, Kidane's family enjoys some freedom from the Islamists. Only on occasion does a pickup truck flying a black Al Qaeda flag ever darken the horizon. While Kidane runs afoul of Jihadist law, it's a matter of his own doing. 

One day, following a dispute with a neighbor, mild-mannered Kidane suddenly loses his temper and instigates a confrontation. As we watch two men push, pull, punch and struggle in a shallow lagoon, a gun suddenly explodes with shocking power. At least a full minute of screen time goes by as we watch the horrific aftermath—without knowing exactly what has happened. 

When Kidane is forced to deal with the Jihadists, Sharia law actually proves more forgiving than US jurisprudence. (US courts don't offer the option of "forgiveness" in exchange for "blood money." But, in Sharia law as in US law, the option of securing a lesser sentence is an option, depending on the financial assets of the accused.) 

Some Distraction Amid the Action 

Throughout the film, there were many moments where someone would stare intently at the screen, followed by a scene of another person engaged in some activity. The assumption followed that the first person was observing the second. That assumption was repeatedly undercut when it became apparent that the first person was living in the city and the second person was miles away in the desert. 

Neither had any idea what the other was doing. 

There is a village "mad woman" who appears throughout the film. Although she is one of the most striking figures in the film, she serves no dramatic purpose. Similarly, there is a man who dances wildly at her feet in a scene that seems detached from any meaning. 

The film ends with an act of sudden brutality that was so confusingly rendered, we had to replay the DVD screener several times to understand what had happened. And then we needed to back-up even further to establish who it was who left Kidane's tent and who it was who stayed behind. 

Despite its flaws, Timbuktu offers a memorable immersion in the lives of the people of Mali, a nation of many cultures, languages and ethnicities. It will leave you with memories of a land you've never known. One of the most memorable images is that of 12-year-old Toya walking to the top of the tallest sand dune and hoisting a cell phone to the sky in her hand—hoping against hope to connect with her father, lost somewhere beyond a vast horizon of sand. 

Abderrahmane Sissako Weeps During Cannes Press Conference 


(May 16, 2014) -- Abderrahmane Sissako, moved during Timbuktu's press conference in Cannes Film Festival 2014. 


New: American Bach Soloists Perform Handel’s ACIS AND GALATEA

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:44:00 PM

George Friederic Handel’s chamber opera Acis and Galatea was first presented in 1717 as a masque, i.e., an aristocratic entertainment involving pantomime, dance, and song, at the English country estate, Cannons, of the man later known as Duke of Chandos. Based on a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Acis and Galatea is in the pastoral tradition, evoking the Arcadian world of shepherds, nymphs and mythological characters (such as Polyphemus, the famed one-eyed Cyclops). During Handel’s lifetime, Acis and Galatea was performed more often than any other of this composer’s dramatic works. 

Over the weekend of January 23-26, 2015, led by Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, American Bach Soloists performed Acis and Galatea at four different venues throughout the Bay Area. I caught the show on Saturday, January 24, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. Opening the evening was ABS playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, composed in 1717 shortly after Bach took up the post of Kapellmeister in Anhalt-Köthen. The Fourth Brandenburg Concerto features two recorders, which carry on a dialogue with the first violin throughout the work. First violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock and recorder players Judith Linsenberg and Debra Nagy were outstanding, not only in the opening movement’s extensive ritornello but also in the second movement’s pensive mood, as well as in the third and final movement’s extensive fugal material. 

Following this Bach concerto, ABS moved on to another work from 1717, Handel’s brief two-act chamber opera Acis and Galatea. Performed by ABS in a concert version, with words by John Gay, Alexander Pope, and John Hughes, Acis and Galatea paints a delightful, if quite mannered, picture of pastoral life, to which Handel set outstanding music. After a lively Sinfonia, followed by the American Bach Chorus singing the praises of pastoral life, Galatea, a semi-divine sea-nymph, sings her first aria amidst warbling birdcalls evoked by violins and oboes. As Galatea, soprano Nola Richardson sang with gorgeous tone and fine clarity of diction, as she sighs over her love for the absent shepherd Acis. Meanwhile, Acis, sung by tenor Kyle Stegall, ponders where he might look for his beloved Galatea. Stegall, fresh from a fine performance with ABS in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, has a clear high tenor voice with plenty of power.  

Damon, another shepherd, then cautions Acis not to become too enthralled with Galatea. Passion, he sings, may lead to ruin. Sung here by tenor Zachary Wilder, Damon establishes himself both as a voice of reason and also a bit of a killjoy. Needless to say, Acis ignores Damon’s advice. When Acis soon encounters his beloved, he sings a rapturous aria, “Love in her eyes sits playing.” 

Galatea then sings an aria once again evoking birdcalls as she likens herself, reunited with Acis, to a female dove reunited with her mate, billing and cooing the live-long day. Together, Acis and Galatea then begin the famous duet, “Happy we,” which is quickly taken up by the chorus, as Act I of Handel’s Acis and Galatea comes to a close. 

After intermission, the pastoral happiness of Act I is soon left behind, as the chorus warns that “no joy shall last.” Enter Polyphemus, the monstrous giant, who, as it happens, longs in vain for fair Galatea. Sung here by baritone Mischa Bouvier, Polyphemus bursts onstage with the words, “I rage –I melt – I burn!” Bouvier describes this accompanied recitative as “a bit of that wonderful Handelian coloratura on the word ‘ rage’. It starts quite low, but quickly rises to the top of the singer’s range.” Bouvier brought off this difficult passage in brilliant form. However, the efforts of Polyphemus to woo Galatea are hardly reciprocated; and the fair maid dismisses the giant in no uncertain terms. In response, Polyphemus blusters. But Damon, once again the voice of reason, cautions Polyphemus that in courting one must proceed softly, gently and kindly.  

Observing Polyphemus, Acis becomes enraged at the giant’s efforts to woo Galatea, and he readies himself to fight. However, Damon intervenes again with words of caution. Damon’s aria, “Consider, fond Shepherd,” is a nugget of philosophical advice. Tenor Zachary Wilder sang this aria beautifully, with subtle dynamic contrasts and occasional falsetto. Musically, this aria, like his previous aria counseling Polyphemus to woo softly, gently and kindly, is in a “call and response” pattern with the instrumental lines. Here the oboe echoes Damon’s musical lines. 

Now it is Galatea who rejects Damon’s advice. Love will win out, she proclaims. Galatea and Acis then launch a duet. “The flocks shall leave the mountain… ere I forsake my love,” which quickly becomes a trio as Polyphemus enters on a discordant note of anger. Mischa Bouvier describes this amazing trio as “almost Mozartian.” Indeed, in its conflicting emotions, this trio does evoke Mozart. Here, however, it leads to tragedy, as Polyphemus hurls a boulder and crushes Acis to death. Dying, Acis evokes Hades in a soft, descending passage. Now the chorus sings a mournful lament for gentle Acis. Galatea joins the chorus in mourning; but the chorus urges her not to grieve. Exercising her semi-divine powers, Galatea transforms the mortal Acis into an immortal spring, as violins and oboes echo the bubbling, murmuring stream. The chorus then brings the work to a close with a lively song in praise of the apotheosis of Acis brought about by the gentle love of Galatea. 

When the applause for ABS was at its highest peak, conductor Jeffrey Thomas rallied his troops for an encore consisting of the “Happy we” chorus from Act I. It was a fitting encore to a “happy, happy” evening of fine music. 

A Most Unlikely Butterfly—“Retard” plays in living rooms

John McMullen
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:29:00 PM

Last Saturday, I went to a living room performance in Oakland near the Berkeley border.

Honesty is not something that happens much on stage, perhaps by the nature of the art and artifice. We use the playwright’s words, we pretend to be someone we are not, and, like Aristotle said, honesty on the stage is an imitation of real life.

This performance was honest. There are only two people who can perform it. It is about their story. The honesty is no only their banter, in her narrative of her journey, and in her voice and choice of songs. There is an impromptu feel and candor that shows not only their connection but also shows the sometimes rocky nature of their relationship.

Miss Jeffrie Givens voice will transport you. I use that archaic honorific “Miss” to underscore that she is a woman despite her masculine -sounding surname. But the crux of the play is her ability to tell her story of breaking out of her tightly woven chrysalis with the help of Marty Nemko, her career counselor, who played a sort of Henry Higgins role in her life. 

Rarely is one able to make art from a counseling session. 

You probably recognize the name Marty Nemko from his KGO and KALW radio shows about work and careers or his long-running career column in the Chronicle. Several polls have named him the best career counselor in the Bay Area. But he is much more. 

I’ve known Marty for a decade. He is a gifted pianist who plays by ear and when very young back in NYC, was a well-known accompanist who even played with Peter Duchin. Marty is a New Yorker whose outspoken opinions don’t fly in the PC SFBay. He wrote “Career Counseling for Dummies,” writes a regular column for Psychology Today. He is one of the most generous men I know. 

Ms. Givens is obese, African-American, and has been diagnosed with autism. She felt she had failed at life after being rejected for all 600 job applications. Shy doesn’t describe the inwardness that made all around her feel uncomfortable. When in grade school, the kids and the teachers called her “retard.” Transcending that label, she now has a degree from UC Berkeley.  

When she went to Marty, she wasn’t interested in anything--except singing. 

Marty used it to break down the wall. He pushed her to return to college to finish her final three credits and challenged her continuously—or as he said, “I pushed her ass.” In some of their banter, you can feel that their closeness has its rocky side. She now works at Children’s Hospital, and has been cast in musicals from Woodminster to Lamplighters. 

Her story--and their story of working together—use a well-rehearsed collection of some of the more challenging including many lesser-known songs and in the Broadway musical repertory.  

Marty sings with her occasionally, and has a version of “My Yiddishe Mama” that brings tears. The performance is about 90 minutes with an intermission.  

At least one local major theatre has expressed interest in producing this biographical musical. 

“Retard!” is one of those two-person revues that could run for years at a small theatre on Sutter St. in SF or elsewhere. But it is so personal that it would have to be performed by these two personalities. 

While future productions of 'Retard' are pending, you can arrange for a performance for your fundraiser or for a party by contacting Marty Nemko at MNemko@comcast.net Performances can be tailored to your time needs. 

View a snippet of the performance at https://vimeo.com/111924923

THEATER REVIEW: 'Panhandle'--The Depression & Dust Bowl In Situ--Actors' Ensemble stages Walter Halsey Davis' play with music

Ken Bullock
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:22:00 PM

"A Communist? What's that?"

"Someone who wants to take away private property."

"You mean like bankers?"

Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath' and the books and movies that followed it chronicled and made legend the impoverished families and the lonely men who crossed the country to the West Coast in the 1930s, trying to escape the ravages of the Depression and the Dust Bowl that them drove away from their farms, their homes ...

They're usually seen scrabbling for jobs, places to live, some respect--or fighting or running from oppression--Out West. But what were they like at home, before and during the ordeal that changed their lives and the history of the nation?

Actors Ensemble is staging Walter Halsey Davis' play with music, 'Panhandle,' through January 31 at Live Oak Theatre, which tells that tale, shows something of the lives of that community who saw their hopes blow away literally as dust on the wind. It's a perfect piece for AE, the Berkeley community theater company--the oldest theater company in Berkeley--to be doing, rich in background as well as foregrounded characters who rise from the ensemble, representing the community. And the music by Marc Ream and Jeremy Cohen mixes songs for chorus and individuals, both anthems and more reflective numbers that contrast the moods of those changing times. 

The story of 'Panhandle' follows a cotton-farming family, especially the younger generation, go-getter Orin (played with energy by Ben Grubb) and his new wife Clara (pretty, demure Laura Espino--who shows, too, that Clara can rise to the occasion)--and Orin's "Sis" (sprightly Erika Bakse), abandoned by her husband, who provides some comic moments with her Temperance spirit and spirited temper, no church mouse! 

Before economic chaos opens up, Orin's busy buying up land, a tractor, a radio--though the family has no electricity "yet"... As setbacks loom, he and Clara start a family of their own. Orin's extra-energetic optimism is a tragically perfect foil for the string of impersonal disasters--exacerbated by those who make personal hay from them--that plague the community, the whole region, one after another. 

The family circle's completed by Pa (Lee Vogt, who proves a fine tall-tale teller) and Ma (sympathetic Anne Fairlie), augmented by Orin's friends and (despite Sis' displeasure) whiskey-drinking buddies in quaffing and song, Clyde (Patrick Glenn--whose job opportunity in a jobless market as deputy has dire consequences) and Nase (comic Bruce Kaplan). Others who add their presence to the little town are Peter Weiss as a Preacher (one of the high points of Michael R. Cohen's overall even-handed directing--the Preacher, with townspeople backing him who morph into the choir, appeals directly to the audience with his high-flying words and loose-limbed strut) and Ely (Joseph O'Loughlin, alternating gravity with humbug), the local well-to-do citizen who gets the locals to sponsor his climb up the ladder of state politics. 

Perhaps the finest bit of dramaturgy, though, is the whole chronicle framed by the local storekeeper, The Old Man (played by the playwright), a gruff curmudgeon who proves the most tolerant of all, telling the story of the town's downfall to a WPA man (Chris Cruz) who arrives on the scene at the start of the play--that is,very late in the day--as a flashback over the better part of a decade, bracketing action and the history of disaster that stretches from the Crash of '29 to the Great War Veteran's March on Washington, 1932, put down harshly by the Hoover Administration, to the ascension of Roosevelt and the New Deal, only to fall back again with the drought and windstorms of the Dust Bowl, 1934-37. 

This tale-within-a-tale enables the audience to absorb all the action over the years and react to it as it happens, yet to experience a kind of haunting realization of the end effect of all the incidents, all the sound and fury, succeeded by an eerie silence, as capsulized in the Old Man's uncharacteristically mournful closing words. 

Owen Kelley's guitar and Moktai's banjo and mandolin are a constant onstage presence, with Alice Montgomery's piano, all accompanying the cast's singing as well as in purely instrumental playing. Paula Aiello's costuming and Lisa Sullivan's set design--a storefront and the stoop of the family home with the playing area focused on the bevel, the commons in between--set the place and the times. Other townspeople who perform and sing both roles and ensemble are David Weiner (bartender and auctioneer), Paloma George, Julia Plafker, Patricia Long Davis and Deborah Shaw. And stalwart Jerome Solberg of AE is the producer of this engaging, satisfying production. 

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 through January 31 with a Sunday matinee at 2, January 25. Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck at Berryman. $15-$20.aeofberkeley.org

AROUND & ABOUT OPERA: Premiere of ''The Lariat,' from the Novella by Berkeley Author Jaime De Angulo

Ken Bullock
Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:15:00 PM

Lisa Scola Prosek's new opera, ''The Lariat,' winner of the New York Center for Contemporary Opera's Atelier Award, based on Berkeley author Jaime De Angulo's novella--billed as "darkly comic"--about a Spanish priest and Essalen tribesmen in Big Sur and Carmel during the age of the California Missions, premieres at 8 tonight, Friday, January 23, with performances continuing this week and next Friday and Saturday. 

The composer/librettist will join the instrumental complement on piano, with her son, Ed Prosek, whose own music has been released in Europe and the States, playing trumpet. Jayne Wegner directs, Bruce Olstad conducting. Philip Skinner is featured in the role of father Luis, Crystal Philippi as Ishka, the Essalen woman. 

Jaime De Angulo, whose daughter and literary executrix Gui still lives in Berkeley, studied and lived with many California tribes during the 1920s-30s, associated for awhile with the UC Anthropological Department during its glory days. His writing, both fiction and nonfiction, was hailed by Ezra Pound, who called him ""the Ovid of North America," and helped get much of his literary work published posthumously. 

Pound, among others, considered ''The Lariat,' inspired by Mission era diaries in the Bancroft, Jaime's masterpiece. Shortly before his death in 1950, he read the manuscript of his children's book taken in part from mythic and legendary sCalifornia Native American stories, ''Indian Tales,' on KPFA, which still offers recordings of it for sale, available in some libraries. (One story, "The Gilak Monster," can be heard online: writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Alcheringa.php --scroll down to the two MP3s under ""New Series, Volume One, Issue One, 1975") Ironically, his work's now considered a major uncredited source for Carlos Castaneda's popular Don Juan series of books. 

Friday-Saturday at 8 through January 31, Thick House, 1695-18th Street(near Connecticut Street) on Potrero Hill, San Francisco. ScolaVox.org