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Updated: Berkeley Police Re-Open Intersection Closed for 3+ Hours to Investigate Package--There Was No Problem After All

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday July 22, 2015 - 06:56:00 PM

Investigators shut down a North Berkeley intersection for over three hours while investigating a suspicious package found there today, according to police. But Berkeley police checked the package and determined it did not contain anything dangerous,they said. Streets were reopened at about 3:30 p.m. 

Officers first responded to the area of Monterey Avenue and Hopkins Street at 12:11 p.m. to investigate the package, which appeared suspicious because of its markings and how it was packaged, police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said.

Flash: Police activity near Hopkins and Monterey. Avoid area. Roads closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Berkeley Police Department
Wednesday July 22, 2015 - 01:17:00 PM

The Berkeley Police is currently investigating a suspicious package found near the intersection of Monterey Avenue and Hopkins Street. The intersection is closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  

Please avoid the area. We do not know how long the roadway will be closed.  

We will provide more updates as information becomes available.

David Allen Baker, 1942-2015
The Legacy of an Urban Environmentalist

Sharon Hudson
Wednesday July 22, 2015 - 01:15:00 PM

Community leader and neighborhood activist David Allen Baker, 72, died on July 8, 2015, after a long and difficult illness.

David will be missed, not only by his personal friends, but also by all Berkeleyans who have benefitted and continue to benefit from his efforts. David was one of a dwindling handful of neighborhood stewards in the north end of Willard Neighborhood, between Dwight Way and Derby Street. Whatever remains of that neighborhood’s charm and livability is in large part due to David’s efforts.

David was a man of brilliant energy who had studied English literature, but whose primary passion was science, especially astronomy, evolutionary biology, and ecology. Charismatic and inspiring, contrary and cantankerous, David was also sociable, compassionate, and generous in both spirit and in deed. Although his life was far from easy, he determined to meet every day with joyous spontaneity. He loved nature, especially the star-gazing in the Pinnacles, and I fondly remember our rambling camping trips through Mendocino and Monterey Counties.

David bought his beloved Victorian house on Parker Street in the 1960s. For decades he looked after the local common spaces and even the properties of nearby absentee landlords. He viewed the urban landscape, no matter how damaged, as an ecosystem worth protecting. Though fully aware that it was city policy to let students ruin his and other neighborhoods around campus, he looked after his student neighbors with grandfatherly affection. However, he brazenly confronted anyone who impinged on others’ rights in the arenas of noise and light pollution, vandalism, and other blights. 

I first met David in 2002, when our neighborhood learned that we were about to become the unwilling recipient of a 5-story classroom/office building. David and I quickly became best friends and co-leaders of the new Benvenue Neighbors Association. David had always been a passionate environmentalist and radical small-d democrat. I was a total newcomer to land use issues. But we had complementary abilities, so we made a good team. David was the one who rounded the neighbors up for meetings—reminding the forgetful, encouraging the timid, prodding the recalcitrant, praising the helpful. He orchestrated our political presentations into compelling theater. He was able to listen to lies without showing visible anger, and to calmly anticipate and argue “the other side” en route to our own strategy. He frequently kicked me under the table when he sensed me gearing up for some counterproductive truth-telling. “Kiss ass now; kick ass later,” he used to tell me, when I wanted to give a piece of my mind to someone with power over our neighborhood’s fate. It’s a good precept for the impatient. 

David’s formidable intelligence and political insight brought vital victories for neighborhood livability. In the 1990s he landmarked a number of historic properties in north Willard, and after a long struggle, the Benvenue Neighbors defeated the big office building. David’s endless battle against glaring lights and loud parties created a quieter and more peaceful neighborhood. Less visible were David’s preemptive monkey-wrenching of the occasional incipient mini-dorm here and there, his efforts against university blight, his support of rational Southside planning, and his impassioned participation in democratic neighborhood organizing.  

David and I became lasting intellectual companions. His input and feedback were instrumental in many articles I wrote for the Daily Planet. He was unmatched at finding the essence of any issue and the vocabulary to present it. It was David who, based on his knowledge of English history, suggested using the concept of “the commons” to frame public access rights to amenities such as quiet, open space, sunlight, parking, and history. The idea for my “Urban Bill of Rights,” which was published in a British planning journal in 2011, arose when I was visiting David at his property in Soledad. The new “infill” dorms built on Dwight Way in 2006 had filled my apartment with unremitting HVAC noise. The university had erected what David called its “stone wall of indifference,” and I was mad as hell to discover that as a mere tenant and not a property owner, I had little legal recourse. “But I have a goddamned right to open my window at night without hearing that goddamned noise from that goddamned university!” I argued to David. I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing a “tenants’ bill of rights.” A half-dozen rights later I said, “But of course, all urban dwellers, not just tenants, need these rights.” I worked on the “Urban Bill of Rights” over the next few years (google it), with David as my deepest sounding board, and finally dedicated my article to him.  

David was a neighborhood leader, but he was not alone. Unfortunately, many of the other long-term residents who battled with him to keep university blights and bad planning at bay have also died—all too early. This includes local historians Susanna Barrows and Jerry Sulliger, and the inimitable activist Patti Dacey. Other neighborhood anchors moved away to escape the deterioration. It was painful to watch people who owned property in Berkeley fighting for their lives, but I was a renter, so when the university destroyed the livability of my apartment, I moved to a quiet house in Oakland. Meanwhile, David, sounding fatigued, told me he had begun to wear ear protectors while working in his garden. 

Fighting City Hall to protect one’s neighborhood from bad planning takes a heavy toll on one’s time, health, wealth, and psyche. Very few people will do it once, and virtually nobody does it twice. But David came to the rescue of his neighborhood time after time, at great personal cost. The scars of being utterly betrayed by one’s own government never go away, and the depths of dishonesty achieved in the Mark Rhoades planning era astonished even David. Nor was he naïve about the long-term prospects for his neighborhood—or the planet. Yet David remained upbeat, always “thinking globally, acting locally.” As his friend, I will miss most his luminous intellect, but for his community, David’s legacy is that he was an honorable man who simply—but far from simply—took care of his small corner of our pale blue dot. And did it very well.

New: U.C. System Sets Minimum Wage for All Employees at $15/hour by 2017

Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Wednesday July 22, 2015 - 11:26:00 AM

The University of California today announced that it will raise the minimum wage for all workers systemwide to $15 an hour over the next three years. 

UC president Janet Napolitano said the new minimum wage, the first of its kind to be established by a public university, will not only apply to direct university employees hired to work at least 20 hours a week, but to all employees of university contractors as well. 

The required minimum wage will increase to $13 an hour on Oct. 1 of this year, to $14 an hour on Oct. 1, 2016, and to $15 an hour on Oct. 1, 2017. By comparison, the minimum wage in California, currently set at $9 an hour, is set to increase to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016. 

The announcement was made at today's UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco. 

Napolitano said in a statement that the university "does not exist in a vacuum." 

"How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses," Napolitano said. 

"This is the right thing to do -- for our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC's leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of 15 dollars," Napolitano said. 

The requirement for contractors to pay their employees at or above the new minimum wage will be brought in as service contracts are established or renewed, she said. 

In order to enforce the new minimum wage, the university plans to expand monitoring of contractors' wages and working conditions and conduct annual compensation audits of contractors as well as spot checks. The UC will also create a new phone hotline and central online system for contract workers to report complaints and violations to the Office of the President. 

The University of California is the third-largest employer in the state, employing 195,000 people, UC officials said.

Scientists Warn Hayward Fault Expected to Produce Much Larger Quake in Berkeley Area

Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Tuesday July 21, 2015 - 02:22:00 PM

The fault that produced a 4.0-magnitude earthquake in Fremont early this morning is expected to produce a major earthquake "any day now" and Bay Area residents should be prepared, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist said today. 

The 2:41 a.m. earthquake on the border of Fremont and Union City occurred on the Hayward Fault at a depth of 5 miles. The epicenter was at a spot just north of the intersection of Niles Canyon Road and Mission Boulevard. 

The quake caused some BART delays early today while work crews checked the tracks, but appears to have caused no major damage. At least 13 smaller quakes or aftershocks have been reported near the same location as of 6:42 a.m., the largest of which was a 2.7-magnitude at 2:56 a.m. 

While damage from the quake was minimal, scientists warn that a much larger one is expected on the Hayward Fault, which extends from San Pablo Bay in the north to Fremont in the south and passes through heavily populated areas including Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward and Fremont. 

The last big earthquake on the fault, estimated to have a 6.8-magnitude, occurred in 1868, according to the USGS. 

It killed about 30 people and caused extensive property damage in the Bay Area, particularly in the city of Hayward, from which the fault derives its name. Until the larger 1906 earthquake, it was widely referred to as the "Great San Francisco Earthquake." 

"The population is now 100 times bigger in the East Bay, so we have many more people that wi ll be impacted," said Tom Brocher, a research geophysicist with the USGS. "We keep a close eye on the Hayward Fault because it does sit in the heart of the Bay Area and when we do get a big earthquake on it, it's going to have a big impact on the entire Bay Area," Brocher said. 

While a 2008 report put the probability of a 6.7-magnitude or larger earthquake on the Hayward-Rodgers Creek Fault system over the next 30 years at 31 percent, Brocher said the reality is a major quake is expected on the fault "any day now." 

"The past five major earthquakes [on the fault] have been about 140 years apart, and now we're 147 years from that 1868 earthquake, so we definitely feel that could happen any time," Brocher said. 

Brocher urged residents to take steps to prepare for a major earthquake.  

The USGS shake map shows residents in the areas close to Fremont and Union City experienced light shaking in this morning's event, while weaker shaking might have been felt in areas as far south as Santa Cruz, up the Peninsula and as far east as Livermore. 

Residents throughout the Bay Area reported feeling the quake, with responses concentrated in the East and South Bay, according to the USGS. 

Brocher said this morning's 4.0 earthquake was not likely to have much of an impact one way or the other on the likelihood of a major earthquake occurring on the same fault.

New: Quake on Hayward Fault Shakes Berkeley

Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Tuesday July 21, 2015 - 02:14:00 PM

BART delays and more than a dozen aftershocks were reported in the wake of a 4.0-magnitude earthquake centered on the border of Fremont and Union City this morning, but little or no damage occurred.  

The 2:41 a.m. quake occurred on the Hayward Fault at a depth of 5 miles, and was centered at a spot just north of the intersection of Niles Canyon Road and Mission Boulevard, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The epicenter was located 2 miles north-northeast of Fremont, 2 miles east-southeast of Union City and 4 miles northeast of Newark. 

The U.S. Geological Survey shake map shows residents in the areas close to Fremont and Union City would have felt light shaking, while weaker shaking might have been felt in areas as far south as Santa Cruz, up the Peninsula and as far east as Livermore. 

Residents throughout the Bay Area reported feeling the quake, with responses concentrated in the East and South Bay, according to the USGS. 

At least 13 smaller quakes or aftershocks had been reported near the same location as of 6:42 a.m., the largest of which was a magnitude 2.7 at 2:56 a.m. 

Fremont police on Twitter reported "lots of calls coming in from nervous and scared residents, but no reports of damage" as of 2:58 a.m. Calls to police and fire agencies for further details have not yet been returned.  

The California Highway Patrol also reported no quake damage in the Fremont and Union City areas. 

BART reported major delays in the early morning hours while trains completed track inspections after the quake. The system was recovering by shortly before 5 a.m., with all tracks inspected and all trains running at normal speeds. 

The Hayward Fault extends from San Pablo Bay in the north to Fremont in the south and passes through Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward and Fremont. 

A 2008 report put the probability of a 6.7-magnitude or larger earthquake on the Hayward-Rodgers Creek Fault system over the next 30 years at 31 percent, according to the USGS. 

The last major quake on the Hayward Fault, estimated to have been a 6.8-magnitude, occurred in 1868, according to the USGS. It killed about 30 people and caused extensive property damage in the East Bay, particularly in the city of Hayward, from which the fault derives its name.

Shopping News

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Monday July 20, 2015 - 09:30:00 AM

Three men fired five to six gunshots in an Emeryville Target parking lot yesterday morning, according to the Emeryville police.  

Police got the first call of the shots at 10:28 a.m. at 1555 40th Street, police Sgt. K. Goodman said. He said the shooting happened closer to Panera Bread than to Target.  

It appears no one was hurt because no one went to a hospital suffering from a bullet wound, Goodman said. He said two vehicles were involved in the shooting.  

Police are describing the victim's vehicle as a gold Honda and the suspects' vehicle as a silver BMW. 

The suspects' vehicle was last seen going south on Mandela Parkway, Goodman said.

It's Hot Here, Folks

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Monday July 20, 2015 - 08:21:00 AM

Three Bay Area cities saw record high temperatures today, according to the National Weather Service.  

The high temperature today in San Francisco was 86 degrees, breaking the previous record of 82 degrees set in 1996, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Benjamin said.  

The high temperature today in Oakland was 91 degrees, breaking the previous record of 85 degrees set in 1971. 

Benjamin said the high temperature today at the Salinas Airport was 82 degrees, one degree above the previous record set in 1988. 

"It was very, very warm over the Bay Area," he said. The normal high in San Francisco this time of year is 66 degrees, he said.  

The normal high in Oakland is 70 degrees. 

Benjamin said moist humid southerly air from Hurricane Dolores influenced today's Bay Area temperatures.  

"We experience this every so often," Benjamin said. The storms usually track west, but this one tracked north, he said. The storm brought nearly an inch of rain to Carmel Valley, a community in Monterey County, he said. A thunderstorm sat over the community for about two hours today, according to the weather service.

New: Freedomland: One Country Under Guard

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Sunday July 19, 2015 - 10:52:00 AM

I have my own army in the NYPD—the seventh largest army in the world."

—New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

"Officers' safety comes first, and not infringing on people's rights comes second."

—Philadelphia Police Spokesperson Fran Healy

Once again, it's time to grab a picnic blanket and head for the parks: The San Francisco Mime Troupe has kicked off its 56th year of "overthrowing capitalism, one musical comedy at the time."

While the current production, Freedomland, may not be the most "entertaining," laugh-out-loud show the troupers have ever staged, it stands out as one of the most thoughtful and sobering. Freedomland is fraught with emotion and analysis. Call it, for want of a better phrase, a "musical tragedy," fueled with a polemicist's intensity, a Shakespearean reach, and a doo-wop dollop of tuneful songs. 


Freedomland begins with an introduction into the life of Malcolm Haywood (Michael Gene Sullivan), an aging radical who harbors dreams of revolution that involve his reluctant grandson, Nathaniel (George P. Scott), an embittered soldier recently returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan. 

In a bravura performance as the aging, potbellied Malcolm, Sullivan throws his voice into overdrive as he relives his Black Panther glory days and "my time with Huey." In the course of the play, Sullivan bellows, screams, pleads, sings, moans, and quavers—running a vocal and physical gamut that is operatic and gymnastic. 

Hugo E. Carbajal), plays Malcolm's upstairs neighbor, Lluis—the Fool to Heywood's Lear. A cheerful illegal immigrant who has managed to evade deportation for 30 years, Lluis skates across the stage like a noodle-limbed marionette dangling from invisible strings. 

The play begins with a SWAT team bursting into Malcolm's empty apartment, and waving their pistols and AK-47s at the audience in paranoid agitation. These repeated break-ins become a recurring motif as the story unfolds. It turns out these mistaken "home invasions" (inevitably based on "bad intel" from a Database-that-can-never-be-challenged) are more than a dramatic sideshow. They are, in fact, symptoms of the play's primary focus. 

Freedomland rises to an important new level of radical criticism because it chooses to train it's sights on how the police—and the so-called justice system—are employed to control the poor and enrich the powerful. 

Even more important, the play offers a well-informed analysis of the psychology of police culture. If you want to know why the police behave like paranoid thugs, Freedomland will spell it out for you. 

The appearance of police recruit Emily Militis (Lisa Hori-Garcia) adds a useful nuance to the Police-versus-Populace tensions. Recently returned from military service, Emily is too green to be firmly embedded in the brotherhood of the "Thin Blue Line." She still believes, naïvely, that a police officer's role is to "protect and serve"—not to bully, berate and dominate. 

(Listen to Hori-Garcia singing "Until There's Order".) 

Cynical Police Chief Parker (Carbajal again, this time, taciturn and ramrod straight) can't wait to use the gift of an armored personnel carrier, a battlefield hand-me-down passed along by the Pentagon. But what he really wants is a helicopter. "How can you fight the war on street drugs," he asks,"if you don't have a helicopter?" 

Chief Parker is abetted by Mayor Henderson (Sullivan again, in a colorful turn as a flamboyantly compromised sell-out politician who is both Black and pink). 

While Freedomland lands a good number of guffaws, many of them arise from the "pained laughter" end of the humor spectrum. There are fewer of the stirring, choreographed anthems that have prompted wild applause in previous Mime Troupe outings. Instead, the somber nature of this production (which, after all, deals with profound issues like freedom and slavery, social justice and racial repression, life and brutal death) requires a greater reliance on powerful solos about regret, longing and loss. 

Freedomland works it's way to a brilliant conclusion when Emily, standing proudly in her brass-buttoned police uniform, addresses and audience from the podium and blithely recites the Police Code of Ethics—an almost libertarian credo that stresses fairness, restraint, respect and tolerance. (You can read the complete "Law Enforcement Code of Ethics" below.) 

As Emily recites these high-minded standards, Chief Parker can be seen training his new recruits in the fine art of Cop Thought. 

"Imagine it is midnight and you are surrounded by darkness," Parker instructs his anxious and frightened-looking officers. (Parker has an unseemly obsession with the idea of "darkness.") As Parker goes about his training, it becomes increasingly clear that the police are being intentionally trained to suspect and fear everyone in the civilian population. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that many of the America's new recruits are psychologically damaged soldiers returning from a war in which they have been trained to view everyone in the local population as a potential terrorist, insurgent or threat. (Sullivan reappears here as an over-enthusiastic cadet who can't stop repeating every line from every Hollywood Cop Movie ever made—a brilliant way to expose how broadly the concept of militaristic violence has been inculcated into America's popular culture.) 

Freedomland reaches a conclusion that is unusually shocking and somber for a Mime Troupe production. But this is soon offset by an uplifting closing chorus from the four lead actors who trumpet the challenging lyric, "How can you stand a world like this?" 

After such a powerful analysis, this concluding anthem offers welcome catharsis. It's clear that the stakes could not be higher. Our country has become a police state. If you travel abroad, you may have discovered that people in other countries clearly see the police problem in United States. They understand, as most Americans do not, why (as one of the characters and Freedomland notes) it's safer to be a soldier in a combat zone in Afghanistan then it is to be a black American on the streets of Baltimore. 

After the final bows at the July 11 show in Live Oak Park, Sullivan took to the stage to offer his thoughts (and to allow time for "the actors to surround the audience" with buckets to solicit those much-needed tips and donations). Sullivan's passionate spiel (at one point lamenting how even he, a "law-abiding revolutionary," feels unsafe whenever he has to walk down a street in America) was a bracing mini-production in itself. 

As usual, the interplay between the actors' physical comedy and sound effects from the SFMT band was a continuing treat—as was the spirited and eclectic performance of bandmembers Ray Fernandez, Aaron Kierbel and Daniel Savio. And, for the second year in a row, homeboy Ira Marlowe (musical host of Berkeley's Monkey House performance space) provided the music and lyrics for the show's nine whip-smart power ballads. 

PS: In his closing rap, Sullivan noted that the Mime Troupe boasts a new truck (and announced a contest to name the vehicle). But the company still needs to raise $30,000 to stage each Bay Area performance. The SFMT website also lists the need to raise an additional $55,000 to break even this year. So the next time the Mime Troupe rolls into a park near you, stuff some cash inside those picnic blankets. 



Wed., July 22 

Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt) Oakland, 6:30 pm music, 7:00 pm show 

Thurs., July 23 

Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt) Oakland, 6:30 pm music, 7:00 pm show 

Sat., Aug. 1 

Nicholl Park, Richmond, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sat., Aug. 8 

Willard Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sun., Aug. 9 

Willard Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 


The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics  

Published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Code stands as a spirited reminder to the higher order of this calling: 

* As a Law Enforcement Officer my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice. 

* I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare or others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department. 

* Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty. 

* I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities. 

* I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession…law enforcement. 

New: Great Big Smelly Plant Might Bloom Soon at Berkeley Garden

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Saturday July 18, 2015 - 11:26:00 PM

A massive plant from Sumatra, Indonesia, may bloom any day now at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, according to garden officials.  

The plant, nicknamed Trudy, produces one enormous branched leaf that reaches 10 to 15 feet in height. It has the largest bloom of any plant, according to garden officials.  

The plant must usually be at least six to seven years old before it blooms, garden officials said. Trudy bloomed in the garden for the first time in 2005 and then bloomed again in 2009.  

Garden officials said the plant, which has the official name of titan arum, has attracted worldwide attention because of its size, appearance and smell. Titan arums produce an odor similar to rotten flesh, according to garden officials.  

The small lasts for eight to 12 hours, the officials said. 

Garden visitors can see Trudy in the Tropical House any day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry to the garden at 4:30 p.m.

Police Ask for Help Regarding Death of Berkeley Resident

Erin Baldassari (BCN)
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:40:00 PM

Police are asking for the public's help providing any information about a 30-year-old woman whose body turned up on the rocks near Point Isabel in Richmond earlier this month. 

The death of Berkeley resident Katherine "Katie" Gravett is being investigated as suspicious, East Bay Regional Park District police Detective Gary Castaneda said. 

Police found her body on the rocks behind the East Bay Municipal Utility District's Wet Weather Treatment Plant on Isabel Street on July 2, police said. 

She was covered in seaweed and other aquatic vegetation and Castaneda said she had bruising around her neck and head trauma. 

Detectives are trying to retrace her steps, but Castaneda said they still haven't found anybody whom she might have been acquainted with around the time of her death. 

"We've talked to friends who knew her in the past, but not recently," Castaneda said.  

He said she was living in Berkeley and worked at a restaurant in the area but declined to give its name. 

"At this time, we're still trying to piece everything together," he said.  

Gravett was an avid soccer player, who graduated from Mission San Jose High School in 2003 and Menlo College in 2009, according to an obituary on Legacy.com. 

She is survived by her parents, Rick and Betsy, her sister Kelly and nephew Jayden. 

Police are asking anyone with information about the case or about Gravett to contact park police at (510) 881-1833 or to leave an anonymous message at (510) 690-6521.



Books Inc. Moves to North Berkeley Bearing Gifts

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 17, 2015 - 05:20:00 PM

A lot of email comes to my various addresses, and I’m on several interesting list-servs as well. In the last couple of days correspondents have been burning up the wireless wires as they found out about a panel discussion which is scheduled to be part of the festivities celebrating the Books, Inc. chain’s move from their previous West Berkeley location into the North Berkeley space once the home of locally-owned Black Oak Books.

(For full details of all the scheduled events, click here.)

Mostly, it’s a line-up of the usual food fetishists and sensitive novelists, but this description (from the Heyday Books press release newsletter) of the lineup has gotten a lot of people lathered up: 

“Malcolm Margolin will bring together a dozen voices of Berkeley to discuss what they valued about Berkeley that brought them there and what we need to do in the future to preserve these values. “Featured speakers: Tom Bates (Mayor) and Lonnie [sic] Hancock (State Senator), Gray Brechin (cultural activist and author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin), Kenneth Brower (environmental activist and author of Hetch Hetchy: Undoing a Great American Mistake), Tom Dalzell (creator of the website Quirky Berkeley), Frances Dinkelspiel (publisher and author of Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California), David Goines (author, graphic artist, printer, and illustrator of several books including Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook), Robert Hass (poet, essayist, and co-founder of River of Words), Archana Horsting (founder and executive director of Kala Institute), John King (urban design critic and author of Cityscapes: San Francisco and Its Buildings, Earll Kingston (actor), Maxine Hong Kingston (peace activist and author of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts), Linda Maio (Vice Mayor of Berkeley), Vincent Medina (Ohlone Indian and language activist), Ishmael Reed (cultural organizer and author of Going Too Far: Essays about America’s Nervous Breakdown), and Al Young (poet, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and professor).”  

The excited readers who’ve been writing to me seem to have been further disturbed by an interview with Malcolm by critic Lou Fancher which appeared in various publications of the Bay Area News Group, which includes the Berkeley Voice, the San Jose Mercury, the Contra Costa Times and other outlets. Fancher reported Margolin’s opinions thus: 

“ ‘ It came up because I was auctioned off for a benefit for Berkeley Public Library,’ Margolin says. ‘People paid to have dinner with me and the talk was about the 'Manhattanization' of Berkeley. I love Manhattan so I wasn't entirely opposed to it. It has economic benefit, freshening, renaissance, but at the same time, it has costs.’ “For people like Margolin and the panel guests -- which include Mayor Tom Bates, state Sen. Loni Hancock, author and environmental activist Kenneth Brower, poet Robert Hass and others -- low-cost housing, a family-friendly environment, and intellectual and social experimentation were attributes that originally attracted them to Berkeley. 

‘Unless we think of how to embed these things in Berkeley, the city will be in the hands of outside ownership,’ Margolin says. ‘I don't want to stop progress, but I want some way of defining these values and to know the various institutions we need to retain. Berkeley presents theatrical possibilities embedded in intellectualism. Without that intellectualism, it becomes stagy and stupid. It becomes a freak show.’ “ 

To read the whole thing in the CoCo Times, click here: 

Online commenters who wrote to me have objected vociferously to the inclusion of spouses Bates and Hancock, Berkeley’s very own version of the family political dynasties which are well on their way to becoming the national norm (think Kennedy, Bush, Clinton et al.) in the panel, particularly because this video speech, in which a chummy Bates advises his good friends the Berkeley landlords to form their own Political Action Committee, has been widely circulated. 


One commenter suggests that audience members or even panelists if they're willing should wear two-foot-square sheets of cardboard around their neck, symbolizing the meager amount of personal space which Berkeley’s latest round of Bates-backed anti-homeless proposals would permit street people to occupy. 

Me, I’m looking forward to the discussion. I think some of the panelists, notably Ishmael Reed (who actually lives in Oakland), Maxine Hong Kingston and Gray Brechin will give Tom and Loni (that’s how she spells it, though the Books, Inc. PR has been spelling it wrong) a run for their money. 

That is, of course, if the pols actually show up. It would surprise me not at all if one or both of them bailed at the last minute. 

And speaking of money, it’s lately occurred to me that the current wars over the Manhattanization of downtown Berkeley, like the wars over the future of Manhattan itself these days, are not about culture at all. They’re all about money: international capital desperately looking for a home. The kind of luxury apartments now in the pipeline for Berkeley are nothing more than what used to be called Cash Register Multiples, investments for developers to sell to the very rich to get the extravagant returns to which they’ve become accustomed. There isn’t really a money person on the panel who might explain this to the public, except of course for Tom Bates, who knows all about the money, since as he told the landlords, since he used to be a developer himself. 

In any event, the panel is on Monday, July 20 at 7 p.m. at Books Inc. at 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Citizen critics are likely to show up early loaded for bear, though time for audience questions will certainly be limited by the management. Space will probably be limited too—when Black Oak was in the building you needed to get there about an hour and a half early to be sure of a seat at an author talk, and this is likely to be worse. 





The Editor's Back Fence

Public Comment

Solving Homelessness in Berkeley

Thomas Lord
Friday July 17, 2015 - 01:58:00 PM

Dear Berkeley,

There's a contradiction you have to come to grips with.

On the one hand, we are a free country (well...let's pretend, at least). We exist in a global market. People are free to travel, associate, and express themselves. People are free to participate in the market.

At least, these are our ideals.

Today we see a sort of lumpenproletariat, often sitting on the sidewalks. Many of them occupy more than two square feet, with their stuff. Many of them might remain in a spot for more than a few minutes. or more than an hour. 

Rightly or wrongly this is the same lumpenproletariat we blame, as a class, collectively and individually, for every whiff of urine, every bit of feces, every unkind word, every fear of dogs, every profane sign, every drinks-with-friends uncomfortably confronted with the state of the actual real world 

Where do they come from? This category of people so much in contention? 

This lumpenproletariat, whom some of you so dislike are as much at liberty as everyone else and it is --- even before Berkeley spends a single dime, socially -- it is natural for them to congregate in urban cores. 

Berkeley is blessed with a downtown BART station, comparatively good bus access, and lot of people walking around with spare change in their pockets. Of course unhoused people gravitate here. 

There is a concept going around that there is some "fair proportionate share" of unhoused people for Berkeley and that Berkeley has "more than its share". Hand in hand with this notion comes the idea that unhoused people are chattle, to be allocated according to regional land use policies runs counter to the basic premises of liberty and market freedom. Someone might propose: "Why can't we ship them to Detroit?", for example. 

Well here is the contradiction, Berkeley: 

Berkeley can only spend what it raises in Berkeley or through perpetually insufficient grants. We can not obtain enough fiscal transfers in to help with the situation owing to the legal structures of the region and state. 

At the same time, we can not transfer people out, at least not without sacrificing the principles of liberty upon which the nation and state are supposedly founded. We shall not become a community that herds the undesirable onto mass transit and sends them off concentrate elsewhere. 

Are we between a rock and hard place? What is to be done in the face of that contradiction? 

To me this says very clearly that we ought to be spending to reduce the conflicts in commercial districts through affordances. The unhoused have been around for decades and will remain. How can we ease the tensions? 

We need to bite the bullet and solve issues like the need for public bathrooms that don't suck, and even minimal storage for travelers. 

We need some way to address the question of where people can safely sleep when shelters are inadequate to the need. 

Such steps could go a long way to easing tensions. 

The homeless issue has been relentless for as long as most people's living memory. 

For decades we have a dysfunctional process whereby certain business interests want "those people" gone and service providers want to "end homelessness". 

Both sides are wrong. 

Start by building bathrooms.

New: Chattanooga Shooting

Ramlah Malhi
Monday July 20, 2015 - 09:28:00 AM

It is heart breaking to hear that our country has lost four heroes on Thursday July 16 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This terror act not only targeted the Marines in the recruiting facility but was a blow to every American. Growing up close to the Military Ocean and Terminal Concord (MOTCO) and the Concord naval weapons station, which has become part of pride and identity, and personally knowing members of our armed forces makes the loss very close to home. Every loss is a loss we must bear as one with a heavy heart and respond to it calmly. 

The officials reported that the motives behind this horrific act are not determined yet. No matter what the motives might have been, nothing can justify the act of taking an innocent life. We expect our armed forces to always be prepared to lay down their lives for our country but the pain heightens knowing that they weren't safe in our own land. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we strongly condemn such an inhumane act. The Quran states, " the killing of one...is like the killing of all mankind" (5:33).Nationwide campaigns such as Muslims for Loyalty and Muslims for Peace have been actively running for the past years by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The aim is to spread the true teaching of the Prophet Muhammad of loyalty and love for the land of residence, a teaching every Ahmadi Muslim mother does best to instill in their children's hearts to raise such individuals who are not only serving humanity at large by patriotically serving America. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has said that there is no rationale of warfare or killing in the defence of religion especially in Islam. 

Terrorism has no justification in any faith. Terrorists have no religion. Religion teaches compassion and humanity. Killing people is not humane. We invite Muslims and non Muslims alike as brethren to grow together and learn about the true teachings of loyalty in Islam in order to express it to such terrorists that terrorism is never acceptable under any nation, creed, or religion. We are all Americans no matter the religion, creed, or social status. We must stick together in paying tributes to the lives lost and their families. Our sincere prayers are with the fallen heroes and the wounded. We must remain calm and united as one, as Americans, in the face of such terrorists who try to tear us apart. May the fallen victims rest in peace and the wounded be healed swiftly.

Berkeley/Oakland Tree Cutting Plan to Be Disclosed at Saturday Event

Jack Gescheidt
Friday July 17, 2015 - 05:57:00 PM

If you’ve heard about the big, controversial plan to cut down lots and lots of of trees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills because they’re hazardous, or fire hazards, and you’re not sure what to make of it, here’s an example of the phone conversations I’ve been having the past few months about it. 

ME: Hi, ___________, have you heard that East Bay Parks District, The City of Oakland, and UC Berkeley are going to remove” — which is to say, cut down — lots of trees in the East Bay hills? 

THEM: No, I haven’t heard anything about it. 

ME: Guess how many trees. 

THEM: I don’t know, Jack. But since you’re asking, I bet it’s a lot. 

ME: Well guess. 

THEM: I dunno...1000 trees

ME: No, it’s more. 

THEM: 2,000 trees

ME: No. More. 

THEM: Well, I said I don’t know, so you tell me. 

ME: Humor me, I’m doing this to make a point, so you have to think about it and are more likely to remember this now annoying conversation… 

THEM: Oh, c’mon, just tell me. 

ME: No. I won’t. Please — humor me... 

THEM: 4,000 trees. 

ME: No. More. 

THEM: 10,000 trees. 

ME: No. It’s more. 

THEM: Wow. Really? Why are they cutting them down? For development? Where is this gonna be exactly? 

ME: Hold your horses, we’re not done with the numbers game. And yes, “really,” about the numbers. It’s over 2,000 acres of trees, including, for example, about 325 acres of trees in Tilden Park alone. 

THEM: Oh c’mon, just tell me how many trees. 

ME: Nope. Just 30 more seconds. Guess again. It’s more than your last guess of 10,000 trees. 

THEM: (now exasperated and getting annoyed) Okay, 100,000 trees. (Believing this exponential jump will end their suffering). 

ME: Nope. It’s more. 

THEM: You’ve got to be kidding. What the heck?... 

ME: C’mon, let’s finish this...guess again. 

THEM: Okay, a-quarter of a million trees!!! 

ME: Now, that’s more like it. Good guess! Way to go! But no. It’s more. 

THEM: I thought you were my friend. 

ME: I am, that’s why I’m doing this. One last guess. 

THEM: A half-million trees!! 

ME: Well done! You got it. It’s about 450,000 trees, give or take 50,000 trees. I tell people it’s “the largest SF Bay Area clearcut in 100 years.” Because it is. 

THEM: But WHY?? It’s driven by money, right? Someone’s profiting big-time from this, right? 

ME: Well, that IS the question. In MY OPINION, it’s being helped along by money, and politics, and also and momentum and bureaucracy. But really, what’s driving it is IDEOLOGY… 

THEM: What do you mean? 

ME: Because the trees they plan to cut down are acacia trees, Monterey Pine trees, and…wait for it...eucalyptus trees

THEM: Oh, why didn’t you say so. Because they’re invasive non-natives, right? And I think they’re flammable too, aren’t they? 

ME: Well that surely is the contention of those doing the cutting. But let me tell you something more: when they cut down the trees, they won’t remove the wood from the hillsides, but leave it on the ground. So they’ll turn living forest canopy into thousands of dead, drying-out logs and acres of wood chips in the hills. 

THEM: That doesn’t make sense. Isn’t that flammable? 

ME: Indeed. I‘d argue it’s MORE flammable than living trees of ANY species, including the dreaded, feared eucalyptus. And especially because the wood is now on the ground among grasses and shrubs — they’re what started the 1991 fire. This is what a professional firefighter told me firsthand while touring the East Bay hills. He said fire science, and the Fire Protection Handbook published by the National Fire Protection Association, doesn’t differentiate between species of trees. All living trees are considered fire-RESISTANT. Only dead materials on or dropped from trees are considered “fuels.” 

THEM: But they’re going to replant native trees, right? 

ME: Nope. There are no plans to replant anything at all, native or otherwise. What will grow in the logged areas will be opportunistic plants like poison oak, thistle and broom. All are more flammable than the felled trees. 

THEM: This doesn’t make sense. If what you say is true, it doesn’t make sense. What’s going on here? Is it about money? Who’s profiting from this? 

ME: Money certainly speeds it along. Monsanto profits from all tree cuts that require use of their Roundup (glyphosate) on the hundreds of thousands of stumps, like this plan does. But again, I really think it’s about ideology. That’s why good environmental groups like The Sierra Club back this plan too, support using Roundup, and even sued because they say the plan doesn’t cut down enough of the eucalyptus tree. 

THEM: Wow. You’re kidding. And what do you mean by ideology? 

ME: Thanks for asking. You see how long it took for us to get here, to a second, deeper question, under the top layer about fire danger? And it’s really both issues, fire and so-called invasives, working in concert. To sum up the ideology in two words, it’s Invasion Biology. I’ve just put up a webpage on my TreeSpirit Project website about it: TreeSpiritProject.com/InvasionBiology 

But I’m guessing you’re, uh, burnt out by this conversation by now. 

THEM: Yes, but tell me what you mean. Don’t you agree we need to kill, or at least stop, invasive non-natives from pushing out all the native trees which, after all, are better adapted for the Bay Area? 

ME: In a nutshell, I’d say, try to keep an open mind here. I’ve read two intriguing new books on the subject, “Where Do Camels Belong; Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad” by Ken Thompson, and “The New Wild; Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation” by Fred Pearce. In short, in hundreds of pages of thorough research, the authors propose that: 1) not all non-natives are invasive; 2) not all invasives do harm; 3) not all that do harm can be eradicated without doing more harm than the invasives do; and 4) those few we choose to try to eradicate are not always the ones that end up doing the most harm. Oh, and one more thing, 5) they both challenge the definition of what a “native” species is because plants and animals are always migrating over and between continents, and have been doing so long before humans got involved, or even industrialized humans. You still on the line?... 

THEM: Sort of. 

ME: I know this is a lot to take in. This all challenges our existing beliefs, because we’ve heard a very different story for years. But I recommend either of these books if you’re a nature lover. They’re intriguing and easy, non-technical reads. Read these two books and call me in the morning. Or, if it’s easier, I’m giving a talk on all this in San Rafael on Sat. night, August 15th, in San Rafael at Open Secret Community Center & Bookstore. 

THEM: (click) 


10AM Saturday, July 18, 2015

WHERE: Grinnell Natural Area EUCALYPTUS GROVE, near the UC Berkeley campus’ west entrance, near Oxford & Center St., Berkeley.
(Google Map: Starbucks @ #2128 Oxford St., Berkeley, CA 94704)

Jack Gescheidt is founder of The TreeSpirit Project, on the web at www.TreeSpiritProject.com  

Details about his Sat. Aug.15, 2015 talk at 7:30pm are here: www.TreeSpiritProject.com/events  

You can email Gescheidt at jack@treespiritproject.com. And he promises not to call you.  

Care for the Whole Citizenry

Romila Khanna
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:35:00 PM

Why does our Congress look down upon the needy and the poor? Why does their legislative process hurt the most vulnerable members of the population the most? Why does the Congress just favor the rich people, the big manufacturers and the large donors? Why does Congress eye people's earned social security benefits trying to compel people to turn these benefits into stocks on the open market? 

Members of Congress are supposed to care for the whole citizenry, not only for a chosen few. Can we separate wheat from chaff among our lawmakers? Can we vote against those who are poor in heart, mind and soul? Can we vote for those who value the well being of our entire community, including the unemployed and the underprivileged?

CPUC Electric Rate Hike Approval Retards Energy Conservation

Bruce Joffe
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:28:00 PM

It is outrageous that the California Public Utilities Commission released its plan for changing electricity rates on Wednesday before the July 4th weekend, and approved it on Friday, giving no time for public comment, or even for public awareness of its action. Current rates which reward energy conservation will be reversed, so low-usage customers will be paying higher rates while high-usage energy wasters will pay lower rates. This would mean higher bills for about 75% of electricity customers in the coming years, while rate reductions would go to the top 5% of users. That just ain't right. 

In addition, customers who have installed solar power will pay an additional surcharge "to keep the electric grid running." What about California's goals for clean and sustainable energy? These rate changes shove in the wrong direction. 

Can Governor Brown reverse the CPUC's bad decision? Can the Democratic-majority legislature save us from this blunder? Perhaps yes, if enough angry citizens let them know we aren't gonna take this any more.


Tejinder Uberoi
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:33:00 PM

The U.S. backed Saudi offensive against Houthi rebels has caused widespread chaos. A Saudi naval blockade cutting off food and fuel supplies has precipitated widespread famine. 80 percent of Yemen’s 25 million are in dire need of humanitarian aid and more than one million have fled their homes. Yemen is one of the most impoverished nations in the world with over 90 percent of its food imported. The Saudi-led coalition’s (UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan) indiscriminate bombing has intensified rage against the Saudis and the U.S. and boosted support for the Houthi rebels. 

The current conflict is less to do with Yemen who are innocent victims of a regional proxy war. Yemen’s fate was sealed under the highly corrupt, oppressive rule of US backed - former President Saleh and his regime. In 2011, under US pressure, Saleh’s regime gained unprecedented blanket immunity for past war crimes. Prior to the recent hostilities, Yemen was perceived to be the "successful" Arab Spring model. Many of the regional powers have been guilty of committing the most egregious crimes, the Yemini government in exile, the Saudis and their coalition partners, the Houthis and the US which provides the Saudis with billion in weapons. including outlawed cluster bombs, and logistical intelligence The ‘terror in the skies’ hovering over Yemen - US drone strikes - has intensified anger towards the US. The drone strikes are the face of America to most Yeminis.

War Crimes in Gaza

Jagjit Singh
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:37:00 PM

In its long awaited report, the UN Human Rights Council's independent investigation of Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer found evidence of “massive and systematic war crimes”. Investigators were “able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups.” Investigation chairperson, Justice Mary McGowan Davis, stated that “the extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come.” 

Despite the “balanced language” language which is invariably used to avoid false accusation of anti-Israel bias, the raw evidence demonstrates in stark terms the scale of Israeli violence dwarfed by the primitive rocket attacks used by Palestinians in their self-defense. The report clearly lays bare the undeniable fact that Israel targeted Palestinian residential buildings, schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and even the UN building, ignoring the coordinates that were provided to Israeli authorities. Pipelines, torn up by Israeli tanks and bulldozers severely contaminated the ground water in Beit Hanoun to the north of Gaza City. The report should be used as a basis to hold Israeli leaders fully accountable in International Courts. The report concludes that as the occupying power in Gaza, severely restricting the free flow of goods and services, Israel failed in its legal obligations to protect the civilian population. Finally, Israel would do well to heed the growing sentiment that ‘Palestinians lives matter’ voiced across many colleges and religious institutions throughout the world.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Five Keys to the Iran Agreement

Bob Burnett
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:05:00 PM

On July 14th, the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia reached an agreement with Iran to “significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.” Beyond the mechanics, there are five keys to this agreement. 

The first is that most Americans want peace with Iran. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found opinions on the Iran nuclear agreement split along party lines. 50 percent of Democrats supported it, 10 percent were opposed, and 39 percent were unsure. 31 percent of Republicans support the treaty, 30 percent are opposed, and 40 percent are unsure. 33 percent of Independents support the agreement, 21 percent are opposed, and 45 percent are unsure. ( Five Thirty Eight observed that opinions about the agreement are closely aligned with opinions of President Obama.) 

The Center for American Progress Executive Director Neera Tanden observed: 

The agreement between the [United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia] and Iran that constrains Iran’s nuclear program is a historic achievement for the United States and its partners. Iran’s nuclear program will now fall under unprecedented international scrutiny to ensure that Tehran cannot pursue nuclear weapons. It represents the strongest possible outcome for the United States and its partners, avoiding both the passive appeasement of Iran and the dangers of military action. It is the best way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The second key is recognition that once the UN Security Council and the government of Iran approve the agreement for all intents and purposes it goes into effect. Theoretically, the other parties should wait 60 days for the US Congress to approve it—Congress can vote yea or no or do nothing – but it’s hard to image China, Russia, and the European Union would wait long to resume full-bore trade with Iran. (Although it’s likely the US will approve the agreement; the New York Times opined, “Mr. Obama’s chances of ultimately prevailing are considered high. Even if the accord is voted down by one or both houses, he could veto that action, and he is likely to have the votes he would need to prevail in an effort to override the veto.”) 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has to verify that Iran has complied with the terms of the agreement, by shrinking its atomic energy program. When this happens, some say by December 15th, $100 billion in Iran’s frozen assets will be released. 

The third key to understanding this agreement is acknowledgement that it brings Iran into the world commercial community. In this sense, the agreement is comparable to the normalization of relations with China: it doesn’t mean that all of Iran’s problems are fixed – anymore than all of China’s problems are fixed – but it makes it easier to travel to and from Iran, opens its huge market (Iran has a population of 78 million roughly the size of Turkey and 2.5 times the population of Saudi Arabia), and unites it with the global communications infrastructure. 

While Iran remains a theocracy, it’s more secular than Saudi Arabia (a staunch US ally) and far less repressive. (While there are Christian churches in Iran, there are none in Saudi Arabia.) 

The fourth key is recognition that the agreement changes the balance of power in the Middle East. Since the Shah was deposed in 1979, the US has had almost no diplomatic contact with Iran. This has meant that in dealing with Sunni terrorist groups the US has had to rely upon either Iraqi Sunnis or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with substantial help from the Kurds (a distinct ethnic group who are primarily Sunni Muslims). The recent ISIS uprising has demonstrated that relying solely upon Sunnis is not working and the US has begun (covertly) partnering with Shiite forces funded by Iran. US participation in the Iran nuclear agreement paves the way for the US and Iran to cooperate in military action against ISIS. 

The final key to the Iran nuclear agreement is acknowledgment that it further isolates Israel. Israeli leaders denounced the agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a historic mistake.” 

This deal signifies that Israel is further out-of-step with the signatory powers: the United States, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and the European Union. Netanyahu may decry this agreement and blast President Obama for engineering it, but Netanyahu is to blame for Israel’s deteriorating relationship with the US. After all, Netanyahu campaigned against Obama in the 2012 presidential election; and, Netanyahu has chosen to align himself with the US Republican Party. 

Time will tell whether the nuclear agreement between the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and Iran will have the desired results: elimination of Iran as a nuclear threat; reduction of its sponsorship of terrorist activities; opening Iran to commerce with the west; and guaranteeing Iranians a full range of human rights. But the agreement is an important (long overdue) first step. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Brain Health and Tangential Ramblings

Jack Bragen
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:25:00 PM

Thirty-two years or so of taking high dosages of antipsychotic medication apparently hasn't ruined my brain. Aside from being a writer, I am still able to meet most of my needs--except for relying on Social Security rather than having a day job.  

I get some enjoyment in meeting the daily challenges of life. I am able to carry on an intelligent conversation. And I am able to deal with my computer issues rather than relying on the help of supposed computer experts. By most criteria that people could apply, it would appear that I am not severely brain damaged by medication or by the illness. This is not to deny that there are still some things that most non-afflicted people can handle that I can't. 

Effort is a factor. Antipsychotic medication tends to slow things down and sometimes shuts them down. However, if effort is put into brain-intensive activities, such as taking a class, reading a lot of printed material (such as books, online text, and magazines) or focusing on a task, it exercises the brain. Antipsychotic medication can make these things difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. Yet, if we gently but firmly push past that barrier and do something that requires concentration, it is good for the brain.  

(The other side of this is, if you feel overwhelmed or overstressed by an activity, it might be time to take a break and not push yourself excessively. Effort should not be taken to an extreme and should be balanced with rest.) 

If you have been to a mental health clinic, some of the people you see there might appear to be zoned-out, doped up, and dumbed down. Antipsychotic medication, because of its tendency to shut things down, can then cause the brain to atrophy over time.  

The truism, "use it or lose it," is applicable. If you opt for the seemingly more comfortable mode of not doing anything, then the brain might shrink from lack of use.  

We're also looking at stereotypes. People with mental illness are often prejudged as dumb. While we may not dress and groom spectacularly, and while our speech and mannerisms may appear doped up, it doesn’t mean necessarily that we are unintelligent and lacking in consciousness. Most "normal" people who do not look past the surface might assume that mentally ill people are subnormal. This is not accurate.  

Having a mental illness doesn't make you dumb, and neither does being medicated. Some of us have some deficiencies, and it varies from person to person. Yet many of us also possess great talents, even surpassing those of "normal" people. Being in treatment doesn't make our talents go away.  

Some medications are worse than others at suppressing the higher functions. While I am adapted to antipsychotic medications, there are some other meds (such as an old, sedating antidepressant called "Trazodone") that are worse. Experiences of other people will inevitably vary from mine.  

Taking a non-stimulating supplement, such as fish oil over a long period of time may help brain condition. Fish oil is also good for your cholesterol numbers.  

Exercise, such as taking your dog for a walk, can help us feel better. It isn't necessary to go to the gym and get a great "six pack of abs." Exercising gently while doing something more enjoyable, such as hiking at a park, or walking in general, can be more appealing to many people. And this can also help the mind. Having an exercise partner or hiking in a group is another thing that can make exercise appealing as opposed to it being a chore.  

To sum it up, you can be mentally ill and have a good brain. You can also have self-respect, regardless of other people's regard or lack thereof.  

(When I get angry about mistreatment, and if the dishes are dirty, on some occasions I take out my anger on the dishes. I get out the dish soap, I get the hot water running, and no dirty dish in my home is safe.) 





ECLECTIC RANT: Gun Control Anyone?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:30:00 PM

Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year old white supremacist, is accused of murdering nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. President Obama called the shootings "senseless murders" and suggested more gun control is needed in the wake of the tragedy. 

But in this violent nation of ours, there seems to be a disconnect between our Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms" and the number of mass killings in this country. People with guns kill thousands of Americans each year. And remember, the right to bear arms is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices. 

Incongruous though it might be, while Charleston and the rest of the nation were mourning the dead, at the same time Charles L. Cotton, a National Rifle Association (NRA) member, was blaming one of the slain, Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state legislator, stating, "And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue." Does anyone really believe that if the worshippers were "packing heat" at the church, the shootings would have been prevented? 

it took the the December 2012, killing of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School to reach a tipping point, causing reasonable gun control legislation to be proposed at the federal level. However, Congress failed to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Other legislation failed to pass, including tougher laws on straw purchases and illegal gun trafficking, efforts to increase school safety, keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and universal background checks. and restrictions on the size of magazines so as to reduce the number of bullets that can be fired before reloading is required. 

And gun control works. A new study found that states with higher rates of firearms in the home have disproportionately big numbers of gun-related homicides. The findings suggest that measures to make guns less available could cut the rate of killings. http:// 

Will the Charleston killings be another tipping point, providing the impetus for the actual passage of reasonable gun control legislation at the federal level? Certainly, there will again be calls for federal gun control legislation, but unfortunately such efforts will probably be doomed because too many members of Congress are still overly responsive to the NRA lobby, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations.  

And after all the sound and fury is over, the cycle of killings, hand wringing, and mourning will likely continue ad infinitum.


Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:01:00 PM

Ninety-one year old Ruth Karola Westheimer is an American sex therapist, media personality, and author best known as Dr. Ruth. The New York Times describes her as a psychologist who became a kind of cultural icon in the 1980s.… She ushered in the new age of freer, franker talk about sex on radio and television—and was endlessly parodied for her enthusiasm and for her accent. Dr. Ruth’s latest book is The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre.  

People who are middle-aged or older may have grown up in an environment where attitudes toward sexuality were more rigid than they are today. They may have learned that sex should not be talked about. A double standard of sexual behavior still exists, although it turns out that people who do not talk about sex are less likely to practice safer sex.  

Beware the ageist-sexist attitude too often imposed by housing and nursing home managements that assumes old people are non-readers who should be advocates and do-gooders knitting and volunteering.  

In 1972, the late Susan Sontag (then 39 years old) suggested that ageing is largely a trial of the imagination. She believed that the anxiety and depression many women experienced about ageing was caused by ‘the way this society limits how women feel free to imagine themselves.’ That same year, 64-year old Simone de Beauvoir described ageing as ‘a class struggle, which, like race and gender, becomes a filter through which to see and understand differential life changes.’ Both wrote of the ‘double-standard of ageing’ – the poisonous nexus of sexism and ageism that disempowers women as they age. ‘For most women,’ Sontag wrote, ‘ageing means a gradual process of sexual disqualification.’ Her “The Double Standard of Aging” is a classic. (The Saturday Review, September 23, 1972, pp. 29-38)  

Two of the several ageist stereotypes are: senior citizens have little interest in sex, and they are confused by technology. But a new study (a netnography-- "Let's talk about sex" American Association for the Advancement of Science, June 29, 2015) declares many older adults are going online to dish about the joys of sex and swap advice about keeping their mojos working well. Translation: to dish is to gossip; mojo refers to sex appeal or talent.  

Liza Berdychevsky, a University of Illinois professor of recreation, sport and tourism, researches sexual behavior and well-being (think about it…). The new netnography suggests that "Many older people preserve both high interest in sex and involvement in sexual activities…The popularity of sex-related discussions in seniors' online communities suggests that, in a reality of limited alternatives for open and direct sex-related communication, seniors are finding channels to satisfy their needs for information and support." Discussions of sexual topics in 14 online communities geared toward adults age 50+ were examined. Seven were U.S.-based, 4 in the U.K., 2 in Canada, one in Australia. 

Netnography is the branch of ethnography that analyzes the free behavior of individuals on the Internet. It uses marketing research techniques to provide information on the symbolism, meaning, and consumption patterns of online consumer groups. An online community is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. An online community may feel like a “family of invisible friends." A person wanting to be part of an online community usually becomes a member of a specific site and therefore needs a pc and internet connection. Members can post, comment on discussions, give advice or collaborate. 

The most common social media forms are chat rooms, forums, e-mail lists and discussion boards. Google leads to numerous advertisements for senior online communities. See, for example, Jennifer Chait’s Senior citizen online community

Berdychevsky concluded that online communities offer notable potential for helping people with 3 primary sexual vulnerabilities occurring in later life: 

  • health issues and life circumstances that affect sexuality,
  • difficulties communicating with health care providers about sex-related problems, and
  • limited access to sexual health information.
Seniors' discussions of sexual subjects were found to be lively and wide-ranging, with participants swapping opinions and information about such topics as sexual partners’ age differences, taboos, same-sex marriage, pornography, prostitution, and the use of sexual aids, toys and sex-enhancing drugs.  

For some users, online discussions provided a form of leisure entertainment, with discussion characterized by open, lighthearted atmospheres and posts rife with sexual jokes, anecdotes and innuendos. But some wrote about how much they relished opportunities to engage in intellectual discussions about sex.  

An especially popular topic was societal stereotypes about older adults' sexuality. Problems were noted with clinicians who ignored or dismissed their concerns, and other seniors disclosed they were too embarrassed to even initiate such conversations. "Of particular interest was society's lack of acceptance of sexuality in older adulthood, the reasons for this ageist view and the importance of changing it…” 

According to their posts, the anonymity of cyberspace enabled seniors to overcome shyness or embarrassment and share their uncensored thoughts about sex for the first time. For seniors struggling with the loss of intimacy due to their partner's death or declining health, the online forums provided emotional support and a place to vent their frustrations. The paper will be published in the Journal of Leisure Research, and is available online. "Many older adults going online to discuss, learn about sex" (American Association for the Advancement of Science, June 10, 2015).  

Another study suggests that, among older couples, physical illness can strain a marriage, but maintaining a healthy sex life could make a difference in how happily both partners cope. Researchers have long known that illnesses that come with age may be linked to poorer marriage quality, but exactly why has not been clear. According to the new analysis, sexual intimacy is the link that keeps partners positive about their marriage in difficult times, and a lack of sex makes matters worse. 

Other studies find that sex in old age may boost brain power. (Shelley Emling. Huffington Post, blog, March 4, 2015); “Marital 'long-timers' have a 'modest rebound' in sexual frequency after 50 years," (American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 16, 2015); and "Married Sex Gets Better in the Golden Years," by Jan Hoffman (New York Times, Feb. 24, 2015). 

Men as well as women undergo changes in their sexuality as they age. Lower testosterone levels are sometimes a factor in loss of sexual interest for some men. "More Sex, Better Testosterone Levels?" (HealthDay, March 13, 2015). 

There’s news for women. "A 'Female Viagra' and Female Sexuality," by Tom Ashbrook (U.S. National Public Radio On Point, June 8, 2015) is a pro-con discussion-update. 








Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT: Berkeley Period Instrument Musicians Start Up First Valley of the Moon Music Festival, July 18-August 2

Ken Bullock
Friday July 17, 2015 - 06:21:00 PM

Cellist Tanya Tomkins—co-founder of the new Valley of the Moon Music Festival, starting this weekend at Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, the only festival in the U. S. featuring Classical and Romantic chamber music played on period instruments—recalls when she was "studying and performing in Holland, years ago" she heard the Orchestra of the 18th Century play "a very familiar" Mozart symphony on period instruments. 

"It sounded more radical, not antiquated. It was more progressive, played that way.It shed new light on the music." 

Tomkins remarked on the scarcity of performances of the Classical and Romantic repertoires on period instruments. "It's usually only for Baroque. Once in awhile, a festival or an orchestra will make a quick foray into Schubert, say—but the festival will be completely Classical and Romantic music played on original instruments and copies." 

The Festival features seven concerts, most of them at 4 p. m. at the Hanna Boys Center, a few minutes from the Sonoma Plaza, with chamber music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Kreutzer, Hummel, Weber and Glinka, played by Tomkins and Zivian with apprentices, colleagues and guest artists from around Europe and North America, including well-known local musicians like violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock. 

Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian—who founded and continue to produce the Benvenue House Music chamber concerts in Berkeley ( benvenuehousemusic.org )—have played, recorded and taught together for the past decade. Tomkins has also played as both soloist and orchestra member with the Philharmonia Baroque. (Musical director Nicholas McGegan serves on the Valley of the Moon Festival board of directors.) Zivian, a Peter Serkin student, has also played in local groups like the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. "He's a fortepianist," said Tomkins, "But not a harpsichordist. Which puts us squarely in Post-Baroque repertoire, as far as original instruments go." The Festival will feature Zivian's two period pianos, an 1841 Viennese instrument and a small copy of a Mozart era fortepiano, "perfect for Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven ..." 

Tomkins and Zivian have "dedicated more and more time to student development, as coaches, mentors," with students playing in their house concerts and now on some of the Festival programs "with more seasoned players" as apprentices, and one concert, at 7:30 on Friday, July 31, featuring all young musicians playing music by Mozart, Schumann and Beethoven, with free admission to the public. 

"I loved learning that way myself," said Tomkins, "playing together for an audience, rather than just one-on-one lessons." 

As for Sonoma and the Hanna Boys Center—at 17000 Arnold Drive and Agua Caliente Road West—Tomkins enthuses about both. 

"Sonoma's gorgeous—and so near us, just an hour from Berkeley. And they're so open to us there, so supportive of the music." She and Zivian have worked with the music program at the 70 year old Hanna Center. "The auditorium is really new, very warm; it seats 300. Perfect recital hall for chamber concerts. And outside is a big terrace with a view, for picnics before the shows, intermissions and receptions with our wine sponsors there, too." 

Programs over the next three weekends include this Sunday's, all pieces featuring clarinet, and an all-Schubert program on Sunday the 26th. 

For tickets—$40 general, $20 for under 30—maps, directions, much information, visit the Festival's excellent website: valleyofthemoonmusicfestival.org/ 

(Daily Planet readers can enter a code— VMMFdailyplanet —for 10% off on tickets.)

New: George Cleve Kicks off Midsummer Mozart 2015

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday July 21, 2015 - 02:13:00 PM

In this, the 41st season of Midsummer Mozart, founding director George Cleve scheduled Program I with Mozart’s 41st Symphony in C Major, as well as such less frequently encountered works as the Oboe Concerto in C Major, the Horn Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, the overture to the one-act opera Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) and several rarely performed arias. On Friday evening, July 17, the Midsummer Mozart company performed at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Maestro Cleve, who now uses a wheelchair, conducted only the opening Impresario overture and the final work, Mozart’s 41st or “Jupiter” Symphony. All the other works by Mozart were ably conducted by Assistant Conductor, Florin Parvelescu. 

I have only seen Mozart’s The Impresario once; but this one-act opera is not to be dismissed. It was composed in 1886 at the same time that Mozart was working on Le Nozze di Figaro, and it was performed in Vienna in a pairing with Antonio Salieri’s fine one-act opera Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the Music and then the Words”). The overture is robust and has much to recommend it. Maestro George Cleve led a brisk reading of this fine overture.  

Next, Florin Parvelscu led soprano Christina Major accompanied by basset horn player Natalie Parker in an aria from Mozart’s late opera La Clemenza di Tito, which he composed in a rush while also finishing up Die Zauberflöte. This aria, Non piu di fiore, was ably sung by Christina Major, who has an impressive range featuring chest tones in the low notes and surprising head tones in the high notes, with only a hint of shrillness in the highest reaches of the soprano range. Nonetheless, she sang quite admirably in this aria, as well as in the concert aria, Nehmt meinen Dank, the latter originally written by Mozart for Aloysia Lange. Natalie Parker’s basset horn accompaniment in the former aria was exquisite. 

Following these arias, Parvelescu conducted oboist Laura Griffiths as soloist in Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 285d/314. This work, which is sometimes listed as K. 271k, was written by Mozart for Salzburg’s Italian oboist Giuseppe Ferlandis. Later, Mozart reworked this concerto for flute instead of oboe, in an attempt to fulfill his obligations to Mannheim’s Dutch flutist Ferdinand De Jean. However, the score of the original C Major Oboe Concerto has come down to us intact; and Maestro Cleve scheduled it as a pendant to the great C Major 41st Symphony. Oboist Laura Griffith was terrific in navigating the solo part in this concerto. Her musicianship was most evident in the elaborate cadenzas in each movement. This is a delightful work that deserves to be heard more often. 

After intermission, Parvelescu returned to lead the orchestra and horn soloist Glen Swarts in Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 2 in Eb Major, K. 417. Mozart’s four Horn Concertos were famously recorded by English horn player Dennis Brain in the 1950s; and these recordings still set the standard for these pieces. The Second Horn Concerto is mostly known for its third and final movement, a robust Rondo. Glen Swarts played this movement with fine panache. Now Maestro Cleve returned to the podium to conduct the final work of Program I, Mozart’s 41st or “Jupiter” Symphony in C major. No one knows who first called this the “Jupiter” Symphony; but in any case it is a misnomer in most senses. There is nothing of divine detachment in this work, which instead is intensely personal. The opening movement features dramatic contrasts of light and dark, soft and powerful passages, with sudden outbursts in an unexpected minor key. The second movement, an Andante cantabile, offers a somber, wistful theme with strangely displaced accents. The third movement, a Minuetto, offers sighing chromaticisms of great emotional feeling. At last comes the finale, a remarkable composition consisting of five themes all worked into sonata form with a fugal texture of incredible elaboration. Eric Blom describes it as “combining now any two of the subjects, now a single one in canon, and again mixing both procedures together. The dizzy culmination comes in the coda, where all five themes appear together in various juxtapositions.” Of special note is Mozart’s use of the brass section in these fugal textures. Maestro Cleve led the orchestra in a majestic reading of this great, final symphony by Mozart. 

Midsummer Mozart’s Program II, featuring Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade and soloist Seymour Lipkin in Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto, plays July 23 at 7:30 pm at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford; July 24 at 8:00 pm at San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and July 26 at 7:00 pm at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church.