Full Text

Martin Nicolaus


Press Release: Rally and March Planned to Protest Effort to Pass New Anti-Homeless Laws in Berkeley

Osha Neumann
Thursday March 12, 2015 - 06:29:00 PM

The Streets Are for Everyone Coalition (SAFE), is calling for an emergency march and rally on March 17 to protest efforts to get the Berkeley City Council to pass new laws targeting homeless people on the streets of the city.

The protest will precede a meeting of the Council at which it will consider a proposal by Councilmember Linda Maio for a raft of new ordinances, which would criminalize such innocuous activities as “lying on planter walls” and “deployment” of bedding on sidewalks and plazas during the day.

“Taken together with existing laws, these ordinances would essentially make it illegal for people who are homeless to have a presence on our streets and sidewalks,” said Osha Neumann an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center. He has represented many homeless people who have received citations for, he says, “activities they engage in as part of their effort to survive.” 

Professor Jeff Selbin is the director of Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, which recently published a study about the growing enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws in California. He commented: “The evidence from around the state and country is quite clear: criminalizing people who are homeless doesn’t solve any of the underlying causes or conditions of homelessness; in fact, it only makes them worse. It would be inhumane, ineffective and expensive for Berkeley to double down on punitive laws that will only hurt our most vulnerable residents.” 

Patricia Wall, Executive Director of the Homeless Action Center, expressed outrage that it was again necessary to fight for the rights of people who are homeless in the town with a supposed commitment to civil liberties. “Just under 2 ½ years ago,” she said, “Berkeley voters defeated Measure S, which would have criminalized sitting on the sidewalk. The same real estate interests that brought us that proposal are back again. And once again we need to show them that they don’t own this town, nor, hopefully, its politicians.” 

Bob Offer-Westort of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and former head of the “No on S. Campaign,” was astounded when he learned of Maio’s proposals. “Berkeley’s continuing failure to pay any heed to reason, research, or fellow feeling when developing homeless policy is mind-numbing. This city has a homeless commission, a homeless task force, and one of the best schools of social work in California. But our legislators can’t be bothered to lend an ear to either homeless people themselves, service providers, or policy experts, but legislation seems to be driven by a relentless cycle of panic and whim.” 

The march will begin at 5 PM on the corner of Telegraph Ave. and Haste Street and proceed to the steps of Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, for a rally at 6 PM. 

Streets Are For Everyone Coalition (SAFE) : safecoalitionberkeley@gmail.com

Berkeley Shoreline Parks
under Scrutiny

Toni Mester
Saturday March 07, 2015 - 04:15:00 PM
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus

The Parks and Waterfront Commission meets Wednesday night to consider the future of the Brickyard and Cesar Chavez Park, two prominent but troubled shoreline facilities that will be developed to serve the open space and recreational needs of a growing regional population.

The meeting will take place at the Frances Albrier Community Center, 2800 Park Street in San Pablo Park on Wednesday March 11 at 7:00 PM. Commission Chair Jim McGrath will preside over what promises to be a significant gathering. 

The Brickyard 

The agenda includes an update on the Brickyard Project by the staff of the East Bay Regional Park District. The 30 acre site, at the intersection of lower University Avenue and the frontage road, is part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park that also includes a 72 acre natural resources protected area, commonly referred to as “the meadow” and the north basin strip, home to the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex, aka “Gilman Fields.” 

The Brickyard, adjacent to the Sea Breeze Market and Deli, will be developed over the next decade. According to current plans, Phase One includes grading and preparing the site for a parking area, entry plaza, picnic sites, meadow, and enhancement of existing wetlands and beach. Later improvements will be park signage, a restaurant, shoreline reinforcement, and a service building. 

The service facility is a point of controversy. CESP (Citizens for Eastshore Parks) opposes its location at the Brickyard, believing that a garage and its attendant traffic would detract from the beauty and enjoyment of the site. They also want a visitors’ center, as promised in the general plan, named for famed conservationist and CESP co-founder Dwight Steele. 

Cesar Chavez Park 

The Commission will also consider forming a one year subcommittee to work on planning issues regarding Cesar Chavez Park and discuss recommendations to the Council generated by a biological resource assessment (BRA) commissioned by the Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department in response to demands by the dog walkers for increased mowing of the off-leash area to curtail a foxtail infestation. 

The BRA by Jim Martin is also controversial. The Animal Care Commission rejected its conclusions and questioned the qualifications of the author. These and other communications to the Parks and Waterfront Commission are attached to the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, which includes a comprehensive and erudite summary and proposed resolutions by Chairman McGrath. 

Any decision by the Commission will be difficult, especially since two recently appointed members Maritessa Ares and Kate Harrison will have to play catch up on some complicated questions including the requirements of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as the politics and players involved. 

The BRA recommends four alternatives in dealing with the foxtails, which have become more troublesome according to many dog walkers. The seed heads or awns adhere to the animals and can penetrate orifices, creating horrific internal infections and equally horrific veterinary bills. 

The dogs are therefore both vectors and victims of the foxtails, as their seeds are dispersed by wind and clinging to animals. According to many experts, there is no easy way to deal with foxtails, which also cause problems for horses, cattle, hay and other crops. 

The Department of Agriculture states “Once established, foxtail barley is hard to eradicate. It increases under excessive grazing pressure. Dense stands are usually associated with some type of disturbance, such as overgrazing, close mowing, or repeated burning. Seeding disturbed meadows and pastures with desirable, fast-growing forage grasses is effective in reducing the amount of foxtail barley that invades the site.” 

The botanical problem is complicated. Of the four alternatives outlined by Jim Martin in his BRA, one is unacceptable, two are simplistic, and only one approximates the level of complexity demanded by the situation. The alternatives are the common response to any irritant: 1. Do nothing. 2. Do too much (overkill). 3. Do something specific and elegant. 4. Move. 

The first is self-evident, the no-change alternative. The second is the intensive mowing alternative, which may actually make things worse. The third is the Increased Management Alternative and the fourth is the Reconfigured Footprint Alternative: moving the dog park to the southeast corner of the 90 acres park. 

Doing nothing is just a delaying tactic. Increased mowing would probably require greater environmental review, even an EIR, to scientifically examine the negative impacts. Moving the dog park to an already mowed area sounds like a quick fix but would have to overcome huge resistance by the current users and would be a political nightmare. 

That leaves the specific and elegant solution, increased vegetation management, which would require a greater investment in time, money, and good will than the community has shown to date. Let’s hope that people can get together for the good of the Park and all its users and dedicate ourselves to the best and most rational solution. 

If you love our shoreline parks, please read the BRA, the public comments, and the agenda and come to the meeting on Wednesday night with positive energy. 


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley and a former Parks and Waterfront Commissioner. 



50 Years On: A Gathering to Celebrate The Berkeley Barb

Gar Smith
Saturday March 07, 2015 - 04:27:00 PM

With the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Berkeley Barb coming up in mid-August, what could be better than a Berkeley-based celebration—call it a Barbapolooza. Toward that end, a small but growing group of former Barb vets (both staff and contributors) is just starting to kick this idea into shape. 

So far, the initial plans include: 

August 12: A private celebration party with live music and comedy celebrating free speech and the alternative press, at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage

August 13: The Berkeley Main Library will be hosting a day of speakers and panels. Peter Dale Scott and Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld (Dr. Hip) will be featured along with panels of Barb editors, staffers, and contributors. 

Spread the word. Help us reach out to other Barb vets. Please check out the attached list. Folks in bold have been contacted and will be attending. Can you help us reach the others? And who's missing from the list? 



Other news: 

• We have secured web domains for berkeleybarb.org and .net and have acquired the funding to have the website designed. Also, for the first time, we have arranged for the Barb to be digitally scanned by professional archivists (Jef Moyer's Reveal Digital in Saline, Michigan). The contents will be made freely available to all on our new webpage. 

• We are looking for resources to create historical displays for the Library and other locales so, if you have any Barb-related photos, posters, letters, art, or memorabilia, please send scans or photographs to diana.lynn@comcast.net

• And we even have a spot on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/berkeley.barb?fref=nf 


People We Are Looking For. Our Search So Far: 


Code: Bold = found, Underlined = gone 

Alexander, Ron 

Albert, Judy Gumbo  

Alfred, Randy 

Allen, Velvet 

Armstrong, David 

Ayotte, Elain 

Bacon, Leslie 

Badajos, Ed 

Bail, Jay 

Baldwin, John 

Bauer, Bernard 

Benhari, Ted 

Bensky, Larry 

Billote, Louise 


Bonewits, Issac (d) 

Bottoms, Ken 

Brown, Nacio Jan 

Bryan, John (d) 

Cassidy, Neal 

Chapman, Curtis 

Chatzky, Michael 

Chitwood, Gordon 

Clark, Richard 

Clougher, Rick 

Cook, Charles 

Copeland, Al 

Crawford, Larry 

Curtis, Dale 

Daley, Patrice 

Damon, Bill 

Darling, Todd 

Delores, Velvet 

Demarest, Peter and Michelle 

DeRuter, Carie 

Diggs, R. 

Doern, Barbara 

Douglas, Angela 

Dylano, Ralph 

Eisner, Ken 

Fager, Chuck 

Felsenstein, Lee 

Ferlinghetti, Laurence 

Fries, Janet 

Geerdes, Clay  

Gevins, Adi 

Gentle Waters 

Glasier, Stephen 

Glass, Tom 

Glauberman, Stu 

Glusman, Paul 

Goldberg, Art 

Goldberg, Michael & Leslie 

Goldstein, Geoff 

Grant, Sheila 

Grabowicz, Paul 

Grayson, Milly 

Greaves, Kay 

Griffith, Bill 

Guinn, Nancy 

Haines, Marsha 

Haines, Steve 

Hall, Douglas and Carol 


Heide, Rich 

Hellman, Steve 

Helm, Michael 

Henderson, Dave 

Hillman, Katie 

Hirsch, Marina 

Hoffman, Ron (Pink Cloud) 

Howe, Rob 

Israeli, Phineas 

Jaison, Jef 

Johnson, Art 

Johnston, David 


Kahn, Judy 

Kaplan, David 

Katz, Louise 

Kaufmann, George (Sgt. Pepper)  

Kitt, Al 

Korman, Michael 

Kransdorf, Anne 

Kronenthal, Mike 

Krassner, Paul 

Lampe, Keith (Ponderosa Pine)  

Langley, Beee 

Laurence, Leo 

Leggitt, Anne 

Lichty, Ron 

Linn, Amy 

Liss, Carla 

Loeb, Paul 

Long, Steve [d] 

Luddy, Tom 

Lunch, Sandy 

McGrath, Sean 

McKelvey, Troy 

Means, Loren 

Mitor, Don 

Moriarty, Frances 

Morse, Linda 

Murphy, Fred 

Murray-Nears, Kay 

Neidert, Paul 

Nisker, Scoop 

Ogar, Richard 

Ouroussoff, Alessandro 

Passman, Arnie 

Patrick, Dave 

Paul, Bill 

Perkins, Carol 

Perrino, Albert 

Peterson, Clark 

Plante, Tom 

Poet, J. 

Powelson, Mark K. 

Price, Michelle 

Rat Fink 

Raisch, Charles 

Ranieri, Steve 

Reed, Ishmael 

Reidenbach, Patty 

Reigert, Ray 

Reim, Terry 

Rein, Tari 

Reynolds, Michael  

Richards, Ted 

Robertson, Lynn 

Roman, David 

Rosman, Marty 

Ross, Andrew 

Rumsey, Spencer 

Salisbberry, David 

Savage, Fay 

Schreck, Joel 

Schreiber, James A. 

Shames, Steve 

Sharpe, Karen 

Sharpe, Warren 

Shelton, Gilbert 

Siegel, Gershon 

Silva, Janice 

Silverman, Art 

Siskind, Linda 

Skolnick, Sharon 

Smith, Gar 

Snyder, Michael 

St. James, Margo 

Stansill, Peter 

Stein, Ellin 

Streem, Kathie 

Thomas, J. N. 

Thomas, Ted 

Thompson, Tracy 

Timony, Sheila 

Tow, Laura 

Turpin, Andrew 

Verb, Hal 

Vernon, Steve 

Wald, Karen Lee 

Waldron, Rosemary 

Wallace, Bill  

Wallace, Scott 

Walsh, Jeff 

Wavy Gravy 

Wechter, Jayson 

Weiner, Nancy 

Williams, Kathy 

Wilson, Robert Anton 

Wilson, S. Clay 

Withebert, Carl 

Worthington, Avis 

Wright, Morrie 

Wright, Paul 

Wrigley, Bob 



Berkeley Library patrons might have been exposed to measles

Sara Gaiser
Friday March 06, 2015 - 11:30:00 PM

A person with a possible case of measles was at two Berkeley library branches last week and could have exposed library patrons to the highly contagious disease, city health officials said today.

The person, a Contra Costa County resident who had not yet developed the tell-tale rash associated with measles and whose diagnosis has not yet been confirmed, visited the City of Berkeley West Branch Library last Friday and Saturday and the Central Branch Library on Friday afternoon.

Patrons who visited those libraries on Friday or Saturday should monitor themselves until March 21. Symptoms can develop between seven and 21 days after exposure.  

The incident is the second possible measles exposure in Berkeley in recent weeks.  

On Feb. 20, patrons of La Mediterranee restaurant in Berkeley maybe have been exposed to measles when a San Mateo County resident with the disease ate there.  

California is experiencing a major measles outbreak and residents are urged to make certain that they get the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine, which provides 99 percent protection for those exposed to the measles virus. A single dose provides 95 percent protection.

The Oakland Museum's White Elephant Sale Is This Weekend!

Steven Finacom
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:28:00 PM
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom

Imagine taking the total moveable contents of scores of Bay Area houses—everything from bed linens to toys to garden tools to artwork from the walls—packing everything in shipping containers for 20 or 30 years, and then spreading them out in a block square warehouse for sale at pennies on the dollar in one grand, two day, event open to all.

That’s essentially the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale, which takes place this weekend, March 7 and 8, 2015 from 10 to 4 each day.

The WES corrals and collects discarded but still re-useable objects of consumer culture from primarily the East Bay and offers them up to you, annually, to stuff your house and suit your thrifty urges. Proceeds benefit the programs of the Oakland Museum of California. 

The full WES website is here. Start with the FAQ section and scroll down to Dates/Hours/Admission and Warehouse Site. 

Prices at the WES are generally very good (with a few exceptions). I’ve often encountered EBay sellers at the WES, buying things that they intend to re-sell on their own sites for much more. 

But the real fun of shopping at the WES is not personal profit, but finding unusual, unique—or ordinary—things at great prices, including things that you regret not having bought years ago, and thought you’d never see again.  

Last year I bought a nice, modestly priced, painting in the Art section. It turned out a friend had painted and donated it. Another friend who went this year found exactly the same shirt he had worn that day to the sale, for a couple of dollars. And the one he bought was in better condition than the one he was wearing. 

The vast rectangular warehouse at 333 Lancaster Street in Oakland is divided like a big box or department store into districts, each with its own theme and attentive volunteer staff. Men’s and women’s clothing, toys, books, art, electronics, sewing, jewelry, sportswear, linens, shoes, lamps and small household appliances, furniture, and so forth.  

Furniture commands much of the center of the warehouse with enormous stacks of area rugs and carpets, dining tables galore, a regiment of chairs, mirrors, bedroom sets, and similar.  

This year there’s one new department addition. The Household department has branched out with a new Garden section, found adjacent to the north exit from the warehouse and featuring decorative garden items, pots, planters, furniture, outdoor lighting, and the like. 

The range of objects can be staggering. Toys contains shelves of teddy bears accoutered for every conceivable occupation—soldier, violinist, bride (and groom), circus conductor—as well as a bunch of barbies, unclothed, perhaps of dubious profession. During previews I saw a magnificent vintage model of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars ($110—“works!” says the label) and a bin of signed minor league baseballs, plus puzzles, doll houses, board games, blocks, vintage marbles. 

Bric a Brac has so many animal figurines that they are divided, shelf after shelf, table by table, by species. Cats, and “chats”, pigs, elephants, “barnyard critters”, birds, and so on. When I was there another customer said she was looking specifically for a tiger to give to a friend. Voila! In a moment both tiger figurine and a tiger pin turned up. 

Books is one of my favorite departments, with everything from trashy romance novels to art books and serious tomes of philosophy. I picked up two full sets of recently published soft cover novel series at the Preview. Two and three dollars apiece. 

Here’s how the Sale will work this weekend. 

Both days, line up in advance at the south entrance. Warning! The lines at the opening will be long, stretching for blocks. Some people line up hours in advance. But the building is so big, it seems able to absorb thousands of shoppers at once and the lines move quickly once the doors open. 

Once inside, get your bearings—there are usually volunteers handing out maps, as well. Each department opens off a wide perimeter corridor that makes a full circuit within the building.  

In a department, pick your items, and when you think you’re finished, take them to the check out counter for that department. Don’t wander out in the aisle with unpurchased items. The volunteers will bag, label, and prepare a bill for your purchases; you pay right there, at the same department.  

Departments this year seem all set up to take credit cards, but checks and cash can also be used (caution—I’ve found some of the cashiers won’t take a local check without a phone number on it. And no American Express). 

Between departments, park bulky bags at the “checkstand” near the north entrance. They’ll give you tickets to reclaim your purchases. Don’t lose your claim tickets! Also, don’t lose the stamped receipts stapled or taped by the cashiers to your purchases. They are, literally, your ticket out of the building. The check out guards collect them as you leave. 

On the main sale days it will be very crowded, but most shoppers are fairly accommodating. And if you do encounter that grumpy person who is monopolizing a book aisle or rack and won’t share access, move on and come back later. There’s much more to see and buy. 

But keep in mind that WES items are “as is”, mostly used, and the selection is entirely dependent on what people donated this past year. The “mystery” section of books, for example, might have a full selection of your favorite author, but it’s equally possible there won’t be a book of hers in sight. It all depends, and it changes, year by year.  

Everything is also first come, first served, and choice items are quickly snatched up by other shoppers. 

Sunday—the second and last day of the sale—should feature sudden and attractive further discounts. In past years, after a certain afternoon hour passes, books and bric a brac, for example, will sell you a bag for something like 5 dollars, and everything you can stuff into it goes for that price. Then you will really see things fly off the shelves. 

The goal of the sellers and the WES is to completely clear out the warehouse by the end of the sale. Decades of experience have shown them that it will fill up again, more than ever, for next year. 

There is a free shuttle from the Fruitvale BART station, but also the challenge of transporting bulky purchases. You will probably not be able to lug four boxes of books or a wooden bookshelf onto BART.  

You can drive, and park in the adjacent neighborhood—an eclectic, artsy and manufacturing district—but make sure you’re not blocking a driveway or marked no-parking area. Some people I know arrange to get dropped off, then have family members or friends come back to pick them up. 

There is no “on site” parking, other than some handicapped spaces at either end of the warehouse (but these fill up quickly). But although the street parking will look fully occupied at the start of the sale for blocks in each direction, by mid-day each day some of the early shoppers are leaving and there is some turnover.  

Other details. No food or drinks allowed inside. No animals / pets allowed except service animals. Don’t bring backpacks or your own shopping bags or boxes; they have those there. Portapotties are outside, north of the building. And it can get tedious standing for hours on the hard concrete floors. Dress comfortably. With good weather predicted for the weekend, the temperatures will probably be reasonable inside the massive, windowless, building block.  

And expect to take your purchases with you when you go. You can’t leave them in the Checkstand after the sale; if you’ve bought a big piece of furniture and need to pick it up later, talk to the furniture volunteers. 

If you haven’t gone before, check out the WES website for instructions and details. 




BARF comes to Berkeley--will this be a trend?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:52:00 PM

Wow, the stuff that comes in over the transom!

An acquaintance who follows San Francisco politics sent me this juicy excerpt from something gleaned from an online mailing list because it mentions Berkeley:

“TONIGHT!! Berkely [sic] !!! Landmark preservation hearing

Some people are trying to landmark the view of west Berkeley from a hill - that's basically a moratorium!! Block out your evening,

If any Berkely people already have more info in this, can u post it?”

Hm, someone’s planning to harass the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission who can’t even spell Berkeley correctly? Sounds like trouble, so I went. 

Before I went, I tracked down the person who’d originally sent this subliterate missive and the organization that she belongs to. Clicking on a link in the post I came upon a whole series of posts (13 from three authors and counting as of Friday afternoon) from members of an organization which rejoices in the acronym SF BARF (aka SF Bay Area Renters' Federation). 

From their website: “SFBARF are people who believe SF's housing crisis can be mitigated by increasing the housing supply. We organize renters to testify in favor of new building projects at neighborhood meetings and hearings.” 

The author of the quoted email was a woman named Sonja Trauss, who was profiled in the San Francisco Examiner as the BARF founder. 

Her crusade: “Build as much housing as possible, as fast as possible, for all income levels and at heights and densities not currently allowed in many locations.” 

It’s a tall order isn’t it? (Pun intended). 

She sounds like a lovely young woman. (Sarcasm, what the young often mistakenly call irony.) 

Further quote from the thread: 

“I'm planning on being there around 7, I emailed John Caner to confirm that we should come. 

I'm just excited to finally have an opportunity to read this into the record (written in 1528).
lol hilarious location.” 

That would mean, for all you old fogeys who don’t know the lingo, that she was “Laughing Out Loud” because the meeting was to be held in the North Berkeley Senior Center. 

(Hahaha, Senior, get it? Slap thigh here.) 

What she hoped to read into the record was a bit from that hoary old chestnut, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, the arse-kisser’s bible. 

Sample Courtier wit and wisdom from her link, emphasis sic: 

“Since therefore the senile mind is an unfit subject for many pleasures, it cannot enjoy them; and just as to men in fever, when the palate is spoiled by corrupt vapours, all wines seem bitter, however precious and delicate they be, so old men, because of their infirmity (which yet does not deprive them of appetite), find pleasures flat and cold and very different from those which they remember tasting of old, although the pleasures are intrinsically the same. Thus they feel themselves despoiled, and they lament and call the present times bad, not perceiving that the change lies in themselves and not in the times.”  

However John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, from whom she seems to be taking her marching orders, looked to be no spring chicken himself when he showed up last night at the LPC. 

Yes, reader, I went, lured away from my customary Thursday evening recreation of scorning bitter wine by the prospect of seeing real BARFing in action. 

I was not disappointed. 

Just a few minutes after the meeting started, Caner showed up, accompanied by a posse which included Matt Taecker, the former city Planning Department employee who is now the fixer for the downtown hotel project, Tim Frank, recent chair of the No on R campaign, a bearded young man I didn’t recognize as a Berkeley regular, and a comely young woman in the de rigueur skinny jeans and skyscraper heels who might or might not have been part of their group. 

As they walked in late, Steven Finacom was presenting the application which he and former LPC chair (and MoveOn.org founder) Carrie Olson have made to landmark the viewshed from and towards U.C. Berkeley’s world-famous Campanile. He’s been, among many honors, president of the Berkeley Historical Society, a Berkeley Architectural Heritage board member and an LPC member. He was a longtime staffer at U.C.’s planning office. He’s now the historical columnist for the Media News Group papers and has been an occasional contributing writer for the Planet and berkeleyside.com. 

He looks to be just a bit over fifty. 

Finacom has agreed to do a piece for the Planet on the merits of the Campanile view application, so I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that his talk was lengthy, interesting and well illustrated by history texts and graphics. In brief, he demonstrated how the tower (formally the Sather Tower) had originally been sited to provide the clear and compelling view of the Golden Gate which has been preserved ever since it was built a century ago. The purpose of designating it as a City of Berkeley Landmark would be to preserve that historic prospect. 

As soon as the talk was over, Caner spoke. He expressed his fears, and presumptively those of his employers, the Downtown Berkeley Association, that preserving the view of and from the Campanile might put a cramp in some of the plans now in the works to build ever taller buildings in downtown Berkeley. Specifically mentioned, among others, were opportunity sites now housing Walgreens, Target and FedX. 

These opinions were echoed on cue by Taecker, Frank and the bearded fellow, who identified himself as Ian Monroe from BARF, a participant in the thread which brought them to the meeting. 

Evidently, from what they said, BARF don’t want no stinkin’ views blocking the luxury condo towers they hope to see in Berkeley’s future. 

Monroe had spoken online: 

“Ah shit! I was sort of wondering why Berkeley would even care to
declare a Berkeley property a historic landmark since Berkeley has
next-to-no say in how UC Berkeley conducts itself. But obviously if
the measure is to really to obstruct Shattuck construction, that is
another matter entirely.” 

(A search identifies one Ian Monroe as a sometime lecturer at Stanford. If he's the same guy, that might explain a lot. But we can't confirm at press time. ) 

The woman didn’t speak, so I don’t know if she was a BARFer. 

The public hearing will be kept open until the next LPC meeting on April 2, per the requests of Caner and his associates. Evidently they mean to turn out the troops, since Frank mentioned two well-known “smart” growth lobbying organizations as wanting to participate. 

The spiciest news of the evening was that Mayor Tom Bates, well-known as an advocate of towers downtown, had summarily fired his appointee, Commissioner Rose Marie Pietras, who had represented him on the LPC for several years. The buzz in the room was that she declined to follow the Mayor’s orders about how to vote on the Campanile view landmarking, a no-no in the tightly wrapped Bates apparatus. 

She told me today that the rumors were true. 

She and apparatchik Calvin Fong had had words last week over her criticisms of city staff’s presentation to the LPC of the project proposed for 2211 Harold Way, now the site of the Shattuck theaters. At the time she correctly recognized the threat the building posed to the Campanile view, and she questioned other aspects of the proposal as well. She’s a 22-year veteran of Contra Costa County, including lead responsibility for several major projects, so she knows whereof she speaks. 

To add insult to injury, she learned that she’d been canned through a voicemail left by Fong. She has the message on her cell, if anyone wants to listen to it. When I talked to her, she was still plenty mad. 

He told her there was a new appointee already in place, but no one showed up last night. Today Charles Burress, the mayor’s staff press guy, told me her name is Kimberly Suczynski-Smith, but he knew nothing more about her. 

I wonder if she’s aware that she’s stepping into a hornet’s nest. A quick Google shows her to be an employee of Oakland’s Pyatok, Inc., architectural firm and a lecturer in City and Regional Planning at UCB’s College of Environmental Design. It’s not clear whether the latter position will make it necessary for her to recuse herself on the Campanile question because of a conflict of interest, and at this point no one can tell how she feels about taking orders from the Mayor (who by the way is also over 50.) 

Next month’s LPC meeting promises to be interesting. There will probably be a few speakers who worry that Berkeley is turning into Emeryville. The boys from BARF will surely show up, probably accompanied by allies, and perhaps even founder Sonja will finally show up to read Castiglione into the record. 

I can’t help wondering if this is a battle all the members of the Downtown Berkeley Association want to see waged in their name, especially associated with people like BARF. Some of them must be aware that if their turf turns into a tacky imitation of Walnut Creek, the rest of us altacockers Alte Kakers* could just decide to take our business elsewhere. Does John Caner really speak for them? We’ll find out. 


* Thanks, Daniella, for the Yiddish copy editing! 















Bounce: Moral Compasses (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Sunday March 08, 2015 - 10:56:00 AM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

New: Shattuck Cinema Preservation

Armin Wright
Sunday March 08, 2015 - 08:30:00 PM

The community and the city should mandate a firm, legally enforceable, long-term commitment to very specific lease terms and theater reconstruction terms for the Shattuck Cinemas before signing off on permits for the Harold Way attroc... I mean the Harold Way Project.

Who can forget that the Fine Arts Theater was assured that it could return to its location at Haste and Shattuck if the developer got his permits, but with no hard numbers, only to discover after the new building went up that the theater, a unique cultural asset to the East Bay, could never survive on the new market rental rates demanded. The end result being that while the name was purloined for the Fine Arts building (as a perpetual flipping of the bird to the public), the theater and its repertory are long gone.

Fool me once....

New: Rhyme for Disappearing Berkeley

Kelly Hammargren
Sunday March 08, 2015 - 11:34:00 AM

Mayor Bates he's the man
Stole our city with his plan
Developer's promises are his glory
Broken promises are our story
Confuse the voter was the mission
Get them to give the builders permission
The only green that we have seen
Is in the pockets of developer's schemes
Rhoades is said to grease the wheels
Making for those backroom deals
Now it's time to gather traction
Stop complaining move to action
Let's come together to have our say
Save our cinemas from Harold Way

New: Musicians should be reviewed equitably without discriminating

Patricia Roberto
Friday March 06, 2015 - 11:55:00 PM

Your music reviewer, James MacBean, in the best standards of journalism, appeases the public's need to know in his description of pianist Khatia Buniatishvili's evening wear, with its low cut neckline and its caress of her "hourglass figure."

In contrast, her male counterpart on the violin, Renaud Capucon, suffered egregious discrimination in MacBean's piece. True, we find out that he is short ( 5'8" or 5'9") but only to contrast his "stunningly beautiful" partner who is "tall and statuesque, perhaps three inches taller than he is." Well, yes, it happens all the time.

Not a word on the fit of his pants over his crotch or the clutch of his jacket around his abs. . By god, this is the 21st century and Berkeley no less! I demand equality for male performers (not to mention female readers) in the pages of your newspaper. If chamber music can't deliver on titillating visuals, it has no place in contemporary culture.

Determination of Community Benefits for Large-Scale Downtown Berkeley Buildings

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
Wednesday March 04, 2015 - 04:21:00 PM

The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club requests that the ZAB and City Council enhance the significant community benefits to be provided by developers of the three large scale developments allowed in the downtown, including those to be applied to the proposed Harold Way project.

Many of the design elements of the Harold Way project as proposed, including its height, are concerning in and of themselves. In this letter, we only address the larger issue of the community benefits to be provided. As Harold Way is the first of the projects to be considered under the Downtown Plan, whatever benefits are required of its developers will set a standard against which the other very large developments will be judged. The community as a whole should be involved in the definition of these benefits given the impact these buildings will have on all of our citizens. 

Definition of Community Benefits 

Significant community benefits should go beyond what is required under statute or adopted standards or which represent common community practice. To be considered a significant community benefit, an item should also not primarily benefit the developer or its tenants. 

Project Labor Agreement 

For example, of the $27 million in community benefits cited by the developer, $11 million are assigned to the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the affected unions. This provision should not be considered a “Community Benefit. It is clear that PLAs benefit developers themselves, serving as “a valuable management tool for project planning and labor cost reduction”, according to a 2009 study from Cornell University. Even the project developer, in announcing the PLA, stated that it would result in a higher-quality and more quickly constructed building, likely more than offsetting any additional costs. In addition, despite the developer’s claim in its revised list of community benefits submitted on February 17, 2015, ZAB and community members did not concede that the proposed PLA was a significant community benefit. To the contrary, some members of ZAB and the public directly refuted this point. Many of the other claimed “public benefits” such as bus-passes for building occupants and “park” space at Harold Way primarily benefit the developer and its tenants rather than the public at large. 

Workforce Housing 

Similarly, including workforce units in each of the large-scale downtown projects would help Berkeley meet its already-established targets and conform to the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Association of Bay Area Governments has established a target for Berkeley that it build 2,400 units of low through above moderate income “workforce housing” between 2015 and 2023 so that those who work at ordinary and vital jobs have the opportunity to live here and benefit from its major transportation hubs. The City met less than 0.5% of the need for low to moderate income housing in the last reporting period. The Harold Way and other large projects could help the city meet its housing targets. We appreciate that the developer has agreed to include 10% of its units as available to very low-income individuals in the project instead of providing the in-lieu fee. However, this meets only the minimum 10% requirement set by the City. A higher inclusionary standard, in which an additional 10% of the units should be set aside for workforce housing, better meets the standard of a significant community benefit. 

We believe that one of the conditions for approving any large-scale developments and any other developments requesting variances be required to provide “workforce housing” as part of the requirement for residential development in addition to the baseline mandate of 10%.  

Cultural Requirements 

The concept of community benefits should also include a “cultural requirement”. The existing Landmark Theaters are a major cultural and economic attractor in Downtown Berkeley. A significant community benefit would be requiring that this cultural amenity continue to exist, preferably as movie theaters at a lease cost that encourages the current tenant to stay, and in perpetuity as a cultural space with entertainment affordable to moderate income individuals and families. We ask that the benefits package from the developer clarify the rights of the Landmark Cinemas to remain in their current location and provide a codicil protecting the location as a cultural site in perpetuity. Berkeley has repeatedly recognized the importance of movie theaters and cultural spaces in its planning efforts in the requirement for a performance space in some recently-constructed buildings and the City’s support for retaining the Elmwood Theater. 

City-Determined Definition of Community Benefits 

The Wellstone Club is more generally concerned that the city of Berkeley has not yet defined what should be considered a significant community benefit or considered how those benefits match its already adopted priorities. Instead, the current process allows developers to propose a variety of benefits that may not meet city needs. For example, the multi-year Streets and Open Space Improvement Process (SOSIP) process involving numerous stakeholders identified the transformation of Center Street to a pedestrian and bicycle friendly shared street as a high-priority. In addition, for some time, the City has sought to create a downtown shuttle to reduce parking needs and traffic. However, the proposed open-space and transportation mitigations first offered by the developer included mitigations that would have largely benefitted only the developers’ tenants (e.g. additional bus passes for high-income residents and a small open space plaza immediately adjacent to the building) or proven to be small in scope (e.g., the public bike fix stations). 

In response to comments from ZAB and community members, the developer has now removed some of these benefits but has not replaced them with transportation or open space mitigations that would advance significant community goals. In addition, the developer has removed other unique community benefits from the revised package, including proposed water filtration system in the public right-of-way, which would have advanced city priorities and were identified as beneficial in the SOSIP process. This process under which the developer, not the City, defines “community benefits” highlights the need for the City to define, up-front, the community goals it wants to achieve. 


City officials have an opportunity to define community benefits driven by the City’s own priorities and informed by citizen input. We urge the City to sponsor open public forums in which the public is invited to participate in defining community benefits.  

Open Letter to the Berkeley School Board regarding enrollment projections

Larry Bensky
Friday March 06, 2015 - 08:04:00 AM

Dear School Board Members,

I'm writing to you after reading, in the 3/2 edition of the Daily Californian, about school capacity.

I was among the Berkeley Independent Study parents, students, and teachers who attended your meeting late last year when this issue, and its implications, were addressed.

At that time I submitted a question about the projections for increased enrollment, based on my examination of the documentation available that night.

It seemed to me that the projected enrollment increase figures were highly speculative, and almost certainly inflated. 

We now see that there's a projection of just 33 more students. Which, of course, is subject to further revision. 

I realize you have a very difficult job, trying to decide so many pending issues before you. 

But you can only make good decisions based on accurate information. 

I would urge you to question thoroughly any further estimates about school enrollment. Berkeley is NOT undergoing a child-friendly population increase. Almost all the new housing being built is unaffordable for most families, and is meant to house affluent middle-class commuters or those who work at home or middle class Cal students living here temporarily. 

Those older homes being sold are unaffordable for most families with multiple children. Berkeley's school age population may well decrease rather than increase over the next few years. 

Thanks for your attention, and all the good work you do

March Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Sunday March 08, 2015 - 10:48:00 AM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Greece: A Whisper of Battles Past

Conn Hallinan
Saturday March 07, 2015 - 04:07:00 PM

The recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union (EU) bring to mind Themistocles, a man who knew when to retreat and when to fight. The year was 480 BC and Xerxes I—“the king with half the east at heel”—was marching on Greece with a massive army accompanied by an enormous fleet. Against the invasion stood a small Greek army, led by Leonidas of Sparta, and an equally outnumbered navy, commanded by the Athenian, Themistocles. 

It didn’t look good for the Greeks in August 480 BC. The Persian army was at least 10 times the size of the Greek force, and Themistocles was outnumbered almost three to one. It didn’t look good for Syriza in 2015: not a single EU member supported the Greek call for easing the debt crisis and ending the punishing austerity regime that has shattered the country’s economy and impoverished many of its people. 

The Greek army and Leonidas were destroyed at Thermopylae, but the wily Themistocles first bloodied the Persians at Artemisium, then retreated, buying time to lay a trap at Salamis. With a little deception and a wind at his back—always a plus when you are ramming other people’s ships—the Greeks annihilated the Persian fleet and defeated the invasion. 

Can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis pull off a Salamis and best what looks like another unbeatable foe? It is too soon to tell, but the deal they cut in Brussels bears a resemblance to that long ago battle in the Straits of Artemisium: both sides took losses, but the Greeks bought themselves valuable time. 

And as Varoufakis recently remarked, “Time is our most precious commodity.” 

There are a couple of things to keep in mind about the Feb. 20 agreement approved by the 19 European finance ministers. 

First, Syriza did not have a mandate from the electorate to play one of its most powerful cards: “give us a deal or we leave the Eurozone and maybe tank the Euro.” 

Second, Greece had a gun to its head: a Feb. 28 deadline, after which its banks would have lost support from the European Central Bank (ECB), one of the “Troika” members that include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission. Without ECB support, Greek banks might have gone under, forcing Athens to default on the debt and force it to exit from the Eurozone. 

In the long run the Greeks may decide to default or drop the Euro, but that is not a decision that a freshly elected government that relies on a coalition to stay in power can make in a few weeks. 

Third, as attractive as it is to think of scrappy little Greece defeating the mighty Troika and the EU, let’s be serious. Greece represents about 2 percent of the EU’s GDP. Its foes would have made Xerxes’ tremble: Germany, France, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands, and even the debt-strapped governments of Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. 

Syriza’s critics charge that the Party folded in Brussels, getting little more than a few cosmetic word changes in the Memorandum of Understanding that the Troika forced on Greece back in 2010. But language, as economist James Galbraith points out, has power. In “Reading the Greek Deal Correctly,” the University of Texas professor argues that substituting words like “the current programme” with “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement” means the agreement is extended “but the commitments are to be reviewed.” 

Analyzing the centerpiece of the agreement, Galbraith concludes that there is no “unwavering commitment to the exact terms and conditions” of the 2010 Memorandum. “So,” he writes, “No, the Troika cannot come to Athens and complain about the rehiring of cleaning ladies.” 

Georgos Katroughalos, a Syrizan minister, called the Feb. 20 agreement a study in “constructive ambiguity” that “allows different readings. Our reading is that we are not applying the Memorandum program. We are applying our agenda.” 

What Syriza accepted were those sections of the Memorandum that mirrored its own program: running down tax evaders—unpaid taxes are estimated at 76 billion Euros—ending corruption, targeting fuel and tobacco smuggling, modernizing public administration, and tackling the “humanitarian crisis” with programs for food stamps, free medical care, and electricity for the poor. There will also be a pilot program for a minimum income for those under the poverty line—Brazil has had much success with this—and mortgage relief. 

Which is not to say there were no casualties. 

Syriza backed away from its pledge to end privatizations, although it added a caveat that the sale of public property must actually bring in significant amounts of cash. To date, many privatizations have been inside deals at fire sales prices. The privatization part of the agreement could be a retreat, or a loophole to put the brakes on the process. People will just have to wait and see what Syriza does. 

“Labor reform” is another area around where sparks are certain to fly. By “reform” the Troika means cutting back minimum wages, abolishing collective bargaining, increasing the retirement age, and laying off workers. In theory this is supposed to make Greek workers more “productive” and more like German workers. In fact, Greeks work longer hours than German workers, but Greece does not possess Germany’s modernized infrastructure, including computers, high-speed rail, and autobahns.  

Much of the German “modernization” was paid for by the U.S. to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries. The 1953 London Agreement that canceled much of Germany’s World War II debts and stretched out payments—Syriza is asking for something very similar— was not done out of kindness, but as a critical ingredient in the Cold War. Germany would be part of the “west wall” against the Russians. 

Syriza has agreed to “phase in” raising the minimum wage but is vague about implementing the rest of the “reform” package. Again, this could be seen as capitulation or as a temporary retreat. The measure of that will be what the Greek government actually does. 

Greece is facing some deadlines this summer, and there is pressure from the EU for yet another bailout deal. But if Athens gets its anti-corruption program up and running, throttles gas and tobacco smuggling, and successfully collects taxes, Greece will have cash on hand to fulfill some of its election promises to restore jobs and pensions, and fund health care. The agreement recognizes that Greece is facing a “humanitarian crisis,” wording that might give Syriza more space to maneuver. 

Greece is not alone in this fight. While it received no support from other Eurozone countries, most of those countries have growing anti-austerity movements that back Syriza. The Greek party’s close ally in the European Parliament, Podemos, is now the second largest party in Spain. And while governments in Portugal and Ireland have demanded that Greece stick with its austerity program, those governments are under siege at home for their own austerity regimes. 

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelhois is one of Syriza’s sharpest critics, dismissing the Greek Party’s position as a “children’s fairytale,” but his center-right Social Democrats are running behind the Socialist Party (SP). While the Socialists negotiated the original austerity agreement with the Troika, they have since turned against it. Antonio Costa, the recently elected major of Lisbon and leader of the SP, says austerity has brought nothing to Portugal but poverty and unemployment. On Feb. 12 a multi-party group of 32 leading politicians, economists and scientists urged Coelho to end his “punitive” approach to Greece and instead declare “solidarity” with Athens. 

Even the Germans are not all on the same page. While Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble—sounding more like a Wehrmacht commander than a European politician— snarled that Syriza “would have a difficult time to explain the deal to their voters,” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was far more conciliatory. 

What about just dumping in the Euro and declaring bankruptcy? Argentina did that and its economy grew for several years straight. But Argentina still cannot borrow money without paying onerous interest rates, and the IMF’s blockade of international finances has hurt Buenos Aires. In any case, Argentina has a much bigger economy than Greece and close ties with other South American countries through the trade bloc, Mercosur. In short, it has far greater resources than Athens. 

The Euro has not been good for Greece, or for most of Southern European members of the Eurozone. A common currency doesn’t work when some economies are big, industrial and strong, while others are smaller and, like Greece, rely on business like tourism. Indeed, Greece has lost some of its industrial base since joining the Eurozone. When the playing field is uneven, the big dogs take over, which is why Germany dominates the EU. 

The consequences of withdrawing from the Euro are uncertain, and not something a newly elected government can responsibly take. In any case, the vast majority of Greeks have yet to have that conversation. 

In the coming months it will be obvious whether the latest agreement was a defeat or a tactical maneuver by Syriza. If the new government is to successfully resist the Troika, however, it will need support, not only within Greece, but from Europe and beyond. As UK political activist and journalist Tom Walker put it, “This battle is a long way from over,” and “the future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them we are giving up on our own struggles too.” 

In 480 BC the Spartans held the Persians for three days, and poems were written about their courage, but they all died. It was Themistocles, who knew when to retreat and when to fight, who saved Greece. 


Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseris.wordpress.com 


SENIOR POWER: Whose month?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday March 06, 2015 - 07:53:00 AM

Disparate treatment of elderly persons occurs as a result of the belief that older people are of less value than younger people. It lends itself to satire, sarcasm, ridicule and stereotyping. Remember Barbara “walkies” Woodhouse (1910-1988), parodied in the James Bond Octopussy film? Fear has a lot to do with it too.

Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and thus, the end of the human life cycle. Euphemisms and terms for old people include seniors (American usage), senior citizens (British and American), older adults (social sciences,) the elderly, and elders (many cultures, including those of aboriginal people).

Ageism (also spelled "agism") is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. The term was coined in 1971 by Robert Neil Butler (1927-2010) to describe discrimination against seniors, patterned on sexism and racism. It may be casual or systematic. Butler defined ageism as a combination of prejudicial attitudes towards older people, discriminatory practices against them, and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about them. 

Women are the majority of the senior citizen population, making ageism -- discrimination based on one’s chronological age -- especially prejudicial. Why do I have on my desktop Nicolaes Maes’s (1656) beautiful Old Woman Dozing? I’m celebrating Women’s History Month, while community centers, city governments, and senior housing celebrate other months. Senior centers can foster Writing women back into history (March 2015 Women’s History Month theme) by scheduling memoir-writing classes, exhibits and displays, and “profiling” feminist seniors of the present and past. And not just during the month of March. 

The chronological age denoted as "old age" varies culturally and historically. Thus, old age is a social construct rather than a definite biological stage. Don’t assume! These international women represent many fields and accomplishments. Do you know their names? 

  • In 1971, following forced retirement at age 65, she convened the Gray Panthers to advocate for seniors' rights.
  • This Berkeley resident’s name is Rosita Dolores Alverio, but you may know her as Anita, Louise, Maria Callas, or, more recently, Amanda Wingfield.
  • This Mexican freedom fighter organized schools for Indian children. During the War of Independence (1810), she created an underground army of women, was taken prisoner and executed.
  • She was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.
  • This actor authored The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them. (It’s in the Contra Costa County, Oakland Public and San Francisco Public Libraries.) A concert pianist and Los Angeles resident, she made many trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
  • She was the first woman of Japanese ancestry elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • In 1972 her persistence resulted in passage of Title IX. Because Title IX addresses only public and private schools that receive federal funding, several states, including California, have enacted similar laws to prohibit discrimination based on sex regardless of whether the school receives federal funding.
  • This German American psychiatrist founded a new school of analysis and challenged Freudian dogma, contending that cultural factors -- not biological happenstance -- most critically influence personality.
  • Orphaned at age 9, the frequent butt of jokes as an adult, she became a respected American newspaper columnist, world traveler and U N delegate involved in the League of Women Voters and the Women's Trade Union League.
  • The groundbreaking research work of this British physical chemist led to discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Age 70 or older in California? You must renew your driver’s license every 5 years. This includes the written test (also referred to as the legal test.) In the past this has consisted of a pencil and paper test. Samples of the questions and format are at the DMV website and in the manual. You may, however, be confronted with a new computerized set-up. You can request a paper and pencil test. The DMV where I go is prepared to do this but doesn’t advertise it.  











ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Cognitive Techniques Instead of Illicit Drugs

Jack Bragen
Friday March 06, 2015 - 07:40:00 AM

In this week's column I offer a comparison between meditation versus illicit drugs as avenues for relief from the suffering that may accompany a mental illness. I am offering this contrast because, in the case of mental illness, you might need something that offers at least the hope of feeling better. If stuck in pain in the absence of a way out, or even a hoped-for way out, it becomes a lot more of a temptation to use illicit drugs or to take medication not according to the directions.

If you feel okay, the above paragraph does not apply to you.

Cognitive techniques to help deal with mental illness might, by many people, be thought of as out of reach. Many therapists and other mental health professionals might not believe that persons with mental illness have the necessary insight to perform meditation.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people involved in the organized practice of meditation have the same incorrect skepticism. However, gaining an understanding of one's own mind and learning things about what makes it work or not work might be a big help with a lasting and genuine recovery. Additionally, meditation is possible for persons with mental illness.  

My studies of Buddhism date back to the early 1980's, a time when I sought a solution to the predicament of being mentally ill. I read books on the subject of meditation. In addition, I participated in two different meditation groups.  

My definition of "meditation" for purposes of this manuscript is a very loose definition, and can be seen as almost any type of looking inward in an attempt to resolve some of our problems.  

Some mental health consumers have resorted to illicit drugs in an attempt to escape the suffering associated with their illness. This decision probably led them down a less fortunate path. Marijuana, alcohol and other intoxicants might be fine for some people. However, if you are mentally ill, they compound problems created by a neurological vulnerability.  

When a narcotic becomes your primary source of gratification as well as relief, you have a problem. You might be better off not trying hard drugs in the first place, as opposed to becoming addicted and having an internal monstrosity to deal with.  

And yet, I have had my own forms of foolishness. I believed that if I meditated well enough I could cure my illness. I was wrong. Meditation does not fix a neurobiological, chemical imbalance in the brain. Meditation can work as a useful addition to treatment. 

Meditation can help with acceptance of the predicament of being mentally ill, with being disabled, and with having limits to our lives. Meditation can help with accepting ourselves with something society might consider a defect, and appreciating ourselves as valid human beings.  

Meditation can help with the ability to relinquish illusions caused by the illness, illusions that we might otherwise have more difficulty releasing. On the other hand, narcotics are a form of escapism and don't allow us to deal with life.  

The essence of Buddhist and some other types of meditation is to get to the core of suffering. Suffering is often caused by unnecessary fears and desires. Suffering is often caused by not accepting, on an emotional level, how things are. Acceptance doesn’t entail absence of doing something about problems--yet it allows us to have some immunity to some circumstances that are beyond our control. 

Meditation can allow you to experience life without creating as many upset emotions as otherwise. However, improperly done meditation might exacerbate symptoms of mental illness. Before embarking on mindfulness or meditation, consulting a doctor might be a good idea.  

A good start to meditation might be to read books on the subject. Any book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh or by The Dalai Lama will contain valuable information about meditation.  

There are also alternatives to classic meditation, other cognitive therapies such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (which I have heard about) which is probably very similar to what I am doing. 

There are numerous forms of mindfulness, some of which can be done while sitting in a comfortable chair. Sometimes it is a good form of mindfulness to just sit quietly and look at your emotions. As with any pursuit, it is good to begin at the beginning, which means that one is a student before being a teacher.  

Additional note: If anxious or depressed feelings are too extreme, meditation may not be the appropriate answer, or it may not be the whole answer. If suffering excessively, perhaps it is a good idea to share this with your doctor, who may be able to prescribe an antidepressant or something similar to that. An antidepressant taken under the supervision of a doctor is not the same thing as buying something on the street that hasn't been prescribed.

Arts & Events

New: Around & About: Music--Cypress String Quartet at the City Club; a Note on Berkeley Symphony

Ken Bullock
Friday March 06, 2015 - 05:24:00 PM

Cypress String Quartet--Cecily Ward & Tom Stone, violins; Ethan Fitner, viola & Kloetze, cello--whose group name comes from the title for 12 love songs Anton Dvorak composed for string quartet, will play at 8 this coming Tuesday at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, between Ellsworth & Dana, featuring Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 18, No. 3 (actually his first quartet from 1801); Erwin Schulhof's Divertimento for String Quartet, Opus 14 (Schulhof, a Czech composer encouraged by Dvorak, died in a concentration camp, held as Jew and socialist; and Dvorak's String Quartet in E-flat, Opus 51. 

A complimentary wine & cheese reception will follow the concert, with an opportunity to meet the artists.  

$25, general admission; students through high school, free; post-high school students, $12.50. 525-5211; berkeleychamberperform.org 

* * * 

Following up on their triumphant performance of Thomas Adès' 'Asyla' & Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony in January, Berkeley Symphony put in a fine rendition of the mercurial Brahms' 4th Symphony--his last--a week ago, opening with Ravel's delightful Mother Goose Suite and a well-played commission premiere by Jake Heggie, an orchestration of his work for mezzo-soprano (exceptional Sasha Cooke) & chamber quartet, Camille Claudel, Into the Fire, lyrics by Gene Scheer. 

It would be good to compare the two pieces directly; the lush orchestration--based on a motif by Debussy--did not always set off the vocal line of Claudel's difficult, often tortured life, as at least several listeners said during intermission and at the conclusion of the program. Was what Cooke sang so well better served by string quartet? 

But the orchestra continues to grow under Joana Carneiro's baton, often enough by leaps, as the Adès-Tchaikovsky evening seemed to prove to both audience and the players themselves, with excellent, sometimes exquisite programming of material matched from over two centuries of compositional music.

Theater Review: Just Theater's 'We Are Pleased to Present a Presentation ... ' at Ashby Stage--(Last Performances)

Ken Bullock
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:43:00 PM

--"What if we ended it right there? The overview may be enough ... "

--"But what about my song?"

Just Theater, in collaboration with Shotgun Players, has taken on Jackie Sibblies Drury's 'We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,' now going into its final weekend at Ashby Stage, about a mixed race ensemble struggling in taking on a seemingly undefined--and protean--project concerning a not-so-well known colonialist genocide of an indigenous African people a hundred years ago--by turns awkward and funny, argumentative and increasingly gamey and troubling to both players and audience.  

It's one of the most interesting and deliberately challenging American plays of recent years in its dramaturgy, going into rough territory in many ways--including satirizing the very forms of performance it seems to derive from and representing what it seems to renounce as an impossible means to display its own ineffable subject matter, only realized in the evidence of documents, letters home from the German soldiers and a few photographic images. 

What's perhaps most remarkable is that the script and actions onstage are completely comprehensible to the audience--not much heavy Critical Theory in the lines or behind them, though that seems to be one of the script's major sources and one of its targets of satire--yet they're often loaded with an ominous ambiguity and irony that verges on sarcasm.  

It's hard to more than merely indicate what the show's about or how it progresses without spoiling its surprises, or falling into the traps it constantly warns of, losing oneself in the factual details, both stark and vague, or taking the abstruse map the cast argues over for the unfathomed, maybe fathomless territory they seek to explore.  

Yet the play and the players persist, staging flurries of agit-prop, deconstruction, sketch comedy, almost-Method attempts at empathy with both victims and perpetrators and finally a kind of ritual regression to come to grips with the grim situation of the past, a past closer to home and to the bone for players and audience, their own emotions and disintegrating sense of community.  

Molly Aaronson-Gelb has directed well a very game ensemble--Lucas Hatton, David Moore, Patrick Kelly Jones, Kehinde Koyejo, Rotimi Agbabiaka and Megan Trout--who distinguish themselves by treading on quicksand as a group, during a time of great national questioning about race and community. 

The only "negative"--and telling--criticism that comes to mind: maybe the playwright's means, the means given to the players to work with, too closely parodies what the play essays to criticize. And the climax and rapid conclusion--talked up in very positive, even highly emotional terms in the press-is, in a way, a kind of deliberately faked catharsis, to give it a sort of Masters and Johnson's term in the sexual politics of dramaturgy.  

Both audience and players--the actors the cast is portraying--realize chagrin, the hapless players by inadvertantly acting out their own deep hysteria, set off by inability to confront the material of the play--and their own lives--and the audience through the playwright's very deliberate arrangement of a series of parodied surfaces which collapse, leaving the spectators watching themselves observing, at times laughing at the implosion of the players' company.  

The title is reminiscent of Peter Weiss' 'Marat/Sade'--'The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade'--which harkens back to the Epic Theater of the 60s and before--something still going on today, as the remarkable performances here a year and a half ago by Poland's Studium Teatralne, produced by the San Francisco International Arts Festival demonstrated, a stream of modern theater that doesn't rely on catharsis--or rather on a kind of realization or epiphany not achieved through catharsis, something boggled by most reviews of that stunning show ...  

Walter Benjamin--a figure taken up by the same Critical Theory ' We Are Proud to Present ... ' seems to spring from, parody and criticize--wrote about Epic Theater during the crisis of Fascist political and military successes which Epic Theater was endeavoring to represent and confront, that the interruption of a gesture or an action-- an old technique in popular performance but a new, reinvented one in cinema and the arts of the avant-garde of the time--results in even more gestures ...  

Mimicking the gestures of American theater, of sketch comedy, of Critical Theory as it's usually applied to the arts and to politics in America, can dead-end in a hall of mirrors, in the empty space replacing a sought-after catharsis, an empty space that fills with free-floating shame and chagrin, both personal and social, at witnessing or producing the multiplication of empty gestures. 

Last performances: tonight & tomorrow (Friday/Saturday, March 6-7) at 8, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby at MLK, across from Ashby BART. $25 general, some lower prices for students & those under 25 by reservation: justtheater.org

Theater Review: 'How the World Began' at Custom-Made Theatre

Ken Bullock
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:39:00 PM

A Brooklyn schoolteacher, leaving a botched personal life behind--though more than memories follow her, as she's "in the family way"--takes a job in a Kansas town rebuilding from tornado devastation, and the big city teacher finds herself questioned by the stepson of one of the tornado victims, a young man traumatized too by the physical impact of the storm, about a casual aside she made during class, something she doesn't remember, while explaining the origin and early development of the earth--and the student wants an apology for what he regards as a slander to his god. 

Summarized, Catherine Treischmann's play 'How the World Began' sounds like another, updated edition of 'Six Days or Forever,' maybe just a more psychological chamber version of the hit Broadway courtroom drama and movie of yore that depicted the Scopes trial in Tennessee, a decisive moment in 20th century American public education. 

But as 'How the World Began' develops--rather quietly, with more easy-going humor and a little tartness than controversy and speeches--contradictions surface, both in the memories of the almost non-event, the reactions of teacher and student (hers, often bristly and dismissive; his, oddly conciliatory yet insistent) and of his "guardian," the local who's taken the boy into his home, a folksy fellow and locus of gossip who the boy treats with disdain. 

It's a well-constructed, carefully involuted three-hander play, which has found a good and timely production with Custom-Made Theatre, directed by its executive director Leah Abrams, with Bay Area native (and current Brooklyn resident) Mary McGloin as the teacher, Tim Garcia as the student and Malcolm Rodgers as his somewhat hapless guardian, trying to neatly tie it all together.  

McGloin has good presence as the teacher, trying to keep her own balance as she reacts with a combination of sympathy and her own disdain, both personal and professional, deepening the chain of events and revelations she tries to avoid confronting. Her performance is also a bit too suburban, lacking the insouciance and aggressiveness of the big city woman confronted and impatient with small town concerns and provincial "politicking." 

Tim Garcia delineates the reactions of the young, orphaned student very well, showing his intensity and callow, awkward sense of fairness, his desire to communicate and his underlying guilt and religious mania, occasionally repetitive in his mannerisms. 

In what turns out to be the swing role that enriches the action and dialogue, propelling the story forward, Malcolm Rodgers--a fine actor with range and maturity--plays the nuances of the boy's self-appointed step-parent and community spokesman and "fixer" with deadpan humor (both the character's and his own) and employs the man's genial cluelessness, which opens up behind a curtain of chatty affability and homespun brokering skills, as the communal backdrop to the little drama between student and teacher, which revolves around various degrees of incomprehension to what's perhaps the beginning of some kind of intuitive resolution. 

Through the window behind Erik LaDue's schoolroom set, Colin Johnson's lighting brings the sky and sunsets of the Midwest into the theater, almost as another, silent character, one observing the petty goings-on of the people under the now-benign heavens that can open up in disaster. 

'How the World Began' is a Bay Area premiere, in its last weekend. Another Treischmann play just had its Bay Area premiere in a brief run by Virago Theater at the Flight Deck in Uptown Oakland.  

Friday and Saturday nights at 8, closing performance this Sunday at 7, at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough at Bush, adjoining Trinity/St. Peter's Episcopal Church, San Francisco. $32-$50. (415) 798-2682; custommade.org

Masakela, Mandela Featured at U.C. Berkeley this week

Ken Bullock
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:35:00 PM

Great South African trumpeter-fluegelhorn player-vocalist-bandleader Hugh Masakela will split the bill with Sotho singer-songwriter guitarist Vusi Mahlasela, "the Voice of South Africa," for a program of music to celebrate "20 Years of Freedom" this Wednesday at 8 in Zellerbach Auditorium, near Telegraph and Bancroft on the UC campus. Masakela, the former husband and collaborator of the late, great singer Miriam Makeba, is in particular no stranger to Berkeley audiences: 45 years ago, leading his band The Union of South Africa, he mounted an ecstatic, unforgettable nighttime show at the Greek Theater for the UC Jazz Festival to wild audience and critical acclaim. Tickets are selling briskly. $19-$64. 642-9988; calperformances.org 

In conjunction, the Pacific Film Archive will screen 'A Letter to Nelson Mandela' (South Africa/Germany, 2013) with director Khalo Matabane present, at 7 pm, Thursday, March 12 ($5.50-$9.50) and the Townsend Center will present a symposium, South Africa After Mandela, Friday March 13. bampfa.berkeley.edu & townsendcenter.berkeley.edu

American Bach Soloists Perform the St. Matthew Passion

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 06, 2015 - 05:16:00 PM

It is one of the oddities of music history that more than 75 years after the death of Johann Sebastian Bach his monumental St. Matthew Passion had long been neglected and almost forgotten. It is to the credit of Felix Mendelssohn that in 1829 he resuscitated Bach’s St. Matthew Passion by performing this work with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. However, Mendelssohn saw fit to hugely amplify the orchestral forces far beyond the modest scale of Bach’s own era. Thus, audiences today are more likely to encounter the St. Matthew Passion in the large-scale setting initiated by Mendelssohn than in the small-scale setting Bach himself would have performed.  

Happily, the Bay Area’s American Bach Soloists, under the leadership of Jeffrey Thomas, are devoted to presenting Bach’s music on period instruments and in as close approximation as possible to the way they would have been performed in Bach’s time. Over the weekend of February 27 through March 2, 2015, ABS gave performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in four venues stretching from Belvedere to Davis. I caught their performance of this great oratorio in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on February 28.  

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas faithfully replicated Bach’s division of his instru-mental and vocal forces for the St. Matthew Passion into two distinct yet nearly identical groups on either side of the conductor. Only rarely do both of these groups join together. Each group of vocal soloists sometimes sing individually and at other times in duets, trios, or all four together. Occasionally, they join forces in unison with the opposite vocal group. In addition, the 16-member American Bach Choir sings the large Chorales that, in Bach’s era, were sung by the church congregation, who knew these set pieces by heart. 

Occasionally, individual singers from one group will interact with the chorus of the second group, and vice versa. This sometimes creates an interesting anti-phonal effect as, for example, in the opening Chorale, “O Lamm Gottes,” (“Oh Lamb of God”), when the vocal group on the left sings “Sehet” (“See”), and the vocal group on the right replies “Wen?” (“Whom?”). Then Group I answers “den Braütigam” (“the bridegroom”). This antiphonal pattern continues with Group I singing “Seht ihn” (“See him”), and Group II asking “Wie?” (“How?”), only to be answered, again, by the first group with the words “als wie ein Lamm!” (“like a lamb!”). 

Between these two groups stands the pivotal pair of the Evangelist (St. Matthew), sung by tenor Derek Chester, and Christ, sung by baritone William Sharp. The Evangelist’s function, as in the Gospels, is to narrate the events of the Passion, while Bach gives to Christ his own words to dramatize and personalize key moments in the Passion. As the Evangelist, Derek Chester was outstanding, using his high tenor voice to great effect and with superb clarity of diction in German. Likewise, baritone William Sharp was excellent as Christ, especially in passages such as the one where Christ speaks of his forthcoming betrayal by one of his disciples.  

Early in Part I of the St. Matthew Passion comes the first Recitative, “Du lieber Heiland du” (“You dear Savior, you”), beautifully sung here by Hungarian mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko, who was accompanied in this passage and in the Aria that follows, “Buß und Reu” (“Penance and remorse”), by two flutes and harpsichord. Later, when the Evangelist tells of Judas offering to betray Jesus, an Aria, “Blute nut, du liebes Herz!” (“Bleed, oh dear heart!”), is sung by the Group II soprano, Clara Rottsalk. Later in Part I comes a Recitative and Aria for the soprano of Group I, Hélène Brunet, whose voice rang out impressively in the fortissimo passages but was occasionally drowned out when she sang pianissimo. The tenor of Group I, Charles Blandy, sang beautifully in his Recitative, “O Schmerz!” (“Oh anguish!”), and Aria, “Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen” (“I will watch beside my Jesus”). Towards the end of Part I came a lovely duet for soprano Hélène Brunet and mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko, whose voices blended beautifully as they sang of their despair at seeing Jesus seized and bound by the authorities. There followed an agitated chorus calling for Hell to open its abyss to the traitor who betrayed Jesus. A Chorale brings Part I of the St. Matthew Passion to a close. 

After intermission, Part II began with a lament, “Ach! Nun ist mein Jesu hin!” (“Ah! Now my Jesus is gone!”), sung by mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko, whose singing was ever the highlight of this performance. Later, when Jesus is interrogated by the High Priest of the Jews, the countertenor of Group II, Jay Carter, sang a lovely Recitative and Aria accompanied by cello and contrabass. Later, just after Peter has denied Christ three times, came the vocal masterpiece of the St. Matthew Passion, the Aria “Erbarme dich” (“Have mercy Lord”), gorgeously sung here by mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko, whose rendition of this lilting melody, beautifully supported by violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme, outshone all others I have heard. Agnes Vojtko is already a much sought-after international star vocalist.  

Moments later the bass of Group II, Joshua Copeland, sang the brief Aria, “Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder!” (“Give my Jesus back to me!”). Then, when Pontius Pilate offers the Jews the release of either Jesus or Barrabas, the crowd answers “Barrabas.” “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” asks Pontius Pilate. And the Jews reply agitatedly, “Laß ihn kreuzigen!” (“Let him be crucified!”). When Jesus is flagellated by the authorities, countertenor Jay Carter of Group II sang the plaintive Aria, “Können Tränen meiner Wangen Nichts erlangen” (“If my tears gain nothing”), accompanied by Group II violinists Tekla Cunningham and Janet Worsley Srauss. As Jesus is led to the hill of Golgatha, Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross Jesus bears, and Simon’s brief Aria is sung by Group I bass Thomas Meglior-anza. Atop the hill of Golgatha, the Evangelist tells us, Christ is nailed upon the cross.  

Agnes Vojtko sang a plaintive Recitative and Aria, the latter incorporating an antiphonal call-and-response between herself and Group II. At length, Jesus calls out in despair, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”). Moments later, the Evangelist tells us, Jesus cried out again and yielded up his spirit, the Evangelist’s voice suddenly lowering on the final word that signals Jesus’ death. A Chorale follows, representing the voice of all Christians in hoping and praying that even in death Jesus will look after them and mitigate their pain and suffering. The final Chorus of the St. Matthew Passion expresses the hope that Jesus will rest softly in his grave. Thus ended a wonderful and authentic period performance by American Bach Soloists of Johann Sebastian Bach’s glorious St. Matthew Passion.

Anne-Sophie Mutter Plays Brahms at Davies Hall

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:48:00 PM

Anne-Sophie Mutter returned to San Francisco for four performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D-Major, Thursday-Sunday, February 26-March 1, with the San Francisco Symphony. To hear Mutter play this Brahms concerto 33 years after her famous recording of it when, as a young teenager, she teamed up with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, offers a rare opportunity to examine how an artist’s interpretation changes over time. Interestingly, the youthful Anne-Sophie Mutter’s reading of the Brahms concerto under von Karajan turns out to be mellower, more graceful and balanced than her mature inter-pretation under Michael Tilson Thomas, which latter is hard-edged to the point of being almost strident. 

With von Karajan in 1982, Mutter gave us Brahms the classical composer, with only a subtle hint of the Romantic. Now, with Thomas, she gives us the full-blown Romantic Brahms, redolent of Sturm und Drang. This is not to say, however, that Mutter’s lustrous tone has lost any of its fullness. It’s just that she now attacks the difficult double-stop passages Brahms wrote for solo violin with a ferocity that is awesome to behold.  

Brahms’s Violin Concerto begins with a 100-measure orchestral introduction, whose first five notes, played by cellos, violas, bassoons and horns, offer the primary material out of which the whole first movement – and much of the entire concerto – will develop. The full orchestra then takes up this lyrical theme, works it out, and, following a D-major crescendo, transitions into the tender second theme, introduced by the oboe and repeated by the violins. Here too the orchestra begins in a relaxed, lyrical vein, then gradually builds up the tension, this time with jabbing strings which reach a peak then fall away, creating a space for the dramatic entry of the violin soloist.  

Anne-Sophie Mutter demonstrated right from her first notes that she was in full attack mode, aggressively playing her opening passage as if she were a fiery Gypsy fiddler. The orchestra remained subdued as the soloist tackled the first theme in a minor key, developed it, modulated it to the tonic major key, and lyrically reprised the work’s opening theme and its transition to the second theme. A bit later, a third theme was introduced -- a graceful ballad that eventually gave way to an elaborate cadenza.  

This cadenza was written by Brahms’s friend and counselor, violinist Joseph Joachim, who played the première of this work, with Brahms conducting, at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on January 1, 1879. In Anne-Sophie Mutter’s 1982 recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto, she played the Joachim cadenza very beautifully. Now, in her San Francisco appearances, she attacks this cadenza equally beautifully, but with a ferocious, hard-edged virtuosity that is almost frightening. 

The second movement, marked Adagio, opens with an idyllic song, first heard in the oboe, gorgeously played by Mingjia Liu, with woodwinds and horns providing harmonic texture. When the solo violin enters, it plays a variant of this lovely melody, elegantly supported by the orchestra. A second soulful melody is introduced by the soloist, adding to the magical lyricism of this movement. Finally, the first theme returns in the oboe against octaves in the violins. Now the soloist takes it up against pizzicato strings as the movement comes to a serene close. 

The third and final movement is in rondo in form, featuring a Hungarian Gypsy dance. Anne-Sophie Mutter introduces the dance theme with exciting double-stops; and the orchestra soon embraces this Gypsy theme. When a second theme is heard, it is equally vigorous and forceful. The development of these two themes is given robust treatment by both solo violin and orchestra, culminating in a brisk march-like coda that closes this work. 

All told, this was a scintillating if decidedly hard-edged interpretation of Brahms’s well-loved Violin Concerto offered by soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. (Incidentally, for Sunday’s concert, Anne-Sophie Mutter passes the soloist’s role to one of her protégés, South Korean violinist Ye-Eun Choi,) 

The brief work that opened the program was The Light That Fills the World by minimalist composer John Luther Adams (not to be confused with Berkeley’s John Adams). After introducing this piece with a few words, Michael Tilson Thomas turned over the podium to young Christian Baldini, who conducted The Light That Fills the World. This 13-minute piece is scored for contrabassoon, marimba, two basses, vibraphone, violin, and portative organ. In this work, John Luther Adams, who lives outside Fairbanks, Alaska, evokes the Alaskan landscape in late winter and early spring, when snow still covers the ground but is greeted by new light after the darkness of winter. The work offers no melodies or meters, but instead proceeds by subtle oscillations provided by marimba and vibraphone over a drone-like accompaniment by the strings and organ. The Light That Fills the World was a pleasant if somewhat moody opener for this program. 

After intermission, Michael Tilson Thomas returned to the podium to conduct Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, nicknamed the “Spring” Symphony. This enormously popular symphony was given a brilliant reading by Thomas and the orchestra. Written in a month, and performed for the first time only a month later on March 31, 1841, by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, this work opens with a famous fanfare of horns. At Leipzig, a however, the musicians were not yet using the newly introduced horns with valves, so Schumann rewrote the opening passages to accommodate the orchestra’s valveless horns. This fanfare is actually a double-fanfare, offering a repeated summons welcoming the anticipated coming of spring.  

However, winter struggles on in the orchestra’s dramatic plunge to a D-Minor, following which a fierce tremolando in the violas suggests the stormy last gasps of winter. The first movement transitions to an Allegro section marked molto vivace; and indeed the tempo quickly accelerates. The movement’s first theme is explored, but Schumann also introduces a plaintive melody for oboe. The recap-itulation continues the quick tempo, but the double fanfare returns in its original Andante tempo. Then a gentle song is heard, introducing a tender mood that foreshadows the second movement. 

Marked Larghetto, the second movement is introduced by a lovely song-like melody heard in the first violins, with syncopated accompaniment in the second violins and violas. When the cellos take up this melody, they are backed by slightly off-the-beat woodwind punctuations. At this movement’s close, the trombones enter pianissimo with a coda that anticipates the next movement. 

The famous Scherzo opens with the same theme just played by the trombones now translated into an energetic dance theme, with strongly accented jabbing motifs. These motifs are frequently repeated throughout the two trios that make up this Scherzo movement. They offer a kind of ‘signature’ to this movement and to this symphony as a whole. The final movement opens with full orchestra offering a first theme that recalls a babbling brook. The second theme darkens the mood by shifting to a minor key; but things brighten again when Schumann introduces a plaintive song for oboe, distant horn calls, and, finally, sweet birdcalls for the flute. A joyful coda brings this work to a close that musically embodies the optimistic, hopeful mood of spring. Under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony was far more than just a breath of fresh air; it was a revelation of Schumann’s very personal genius as a symphonic composer.