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Marga Gomez and a "Librarian Stunt Double"
Rob Wrenn
Marga Gomez and a "Librarian Stunt Double"


New: Guerilla Theater Takes on Weeding of Books and Treatment of Berkeley Librarians (News Analysis)

Rob Wrenn
Tuesday August 18, 2015 - 02:00:00 PM
Ivan Arguelles, poet and retired UC Berkeley librarian reads a letter he sent to the Library Board. He later read one of his poems.
Rob Wrenn
Ivan Arguelles, poet and retired UC Berkeley librarian reads a letter he sent to the Library Board. He later read one of his poems.
Marga Gomez and a "Librarian Stunt Double"
Rob Wrenn
Marga Gomez and a "Librarian Stunt Double"
Marga Gomez and former library staffer Roya Arasteh
Rob Wrenn
Marga Gomez and former library staffer Roya Arasteh
Pat Mullen
Rob Wrenn
Pat Mullen
District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington addresses rally
Rob Wrenn
District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington addresses rally
Librarians Silenced
Rob Wrenn
Librarians Silenced

Upwards of 70 people rallied today in front of the entrance to the Main Library in downtown Berkeley to protest the "weeding" of over 39,000 books, CDs and other items from the library's collection and the treatment of librarians who have raised questions about the wisdom of current Library Director Jeff Scott's approach to this process.

Those in attendance were urged to return to the Main Library on August 26 at 5:30 p.m. to rally again before the August 26 meeting of the Board of Library Trustees which begins at 6:30 p.m. During the Closed Session portion of this meeting, the Board will evaluate the performance of the library director, who started work in November, replacing Donna Corbell who resigned on October 3. 

Comedienne Marga Gomez portrayed the library director in a brief guerrilla theater "dramatic reenactment of the mistreatment of Berkeley librarians". In her role she dismissed various concerns about weeding raised by "stunt double librarians" while shoveling weeded books into a wheelbarrow.  

These stunt double librarians later appeared with tape covering their mouths to call attention to what retired librarians involved in the protest say is an effort to keep current librarians from speaking up. At the rally, speakers referred to a "hostile work environment" and said that current and former librarians have faced threats and insults for questioning the process of weeding books. 

District 7 council member Kriss Worthington called for the Board of Library Trustees to initiate an independent investigation immediately to consider how many laws were broken by the library director in his handling of the weeding and the protests it has generated.  

Worthington stated that there is evidence that the director knew on July 23 that over 39,000 items had been deleted but continued to claim after that date that only 2274 items were involved. He also raised the issue that books were removed without being offered to the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library who could have sold them to raise money for the library. 

A number of retired librarians, including Pat Mullan, formerly head of the library's Art and Music Department, have called attention to the fact that 39,140 books and other items have been removed from the library's collection. This includes 13,850 "last copies". You can find a list of the last items, now no longer part of the library's collection here:  

Books that haven't been checked out in three years, even if there is only one remaining copy, have been removed from the library's collection with only at best cursory consideration of their value to the collection according to members of Save Our Berkeley Public Library Books. Art and Music materials are weeded after 7 years; large print books after 2 years. 

Where in the past, over 30 librarians with different areas of expertise were involved in the process of buying and weeding books and other items, weeding and acquisition is now assigned to only two managers with four helpers. 

In a post on Berkeleyside on August 4, Director Scott was quoted as saying that the retired librarians who have raised questions about the weeding are "making wild claims" and are engaged in a "disinformation" campaign. But it seems to this writer, that far from making wild claims, they have been calling attention to real problems. Former library staffer Roya Arasteh's estimate that books have been removed at the rate of 5000-7000 a month, far from being a "wild claim", has proven to be an accurate estimate, while Mr. Scott has more recently admitted that his estimate that only 2274 items had been weeded was not correct.  

For more information about Save Our Berkeley Public Library Books, visit their Web site: http://savethebplbooks.org 

Save the Berkeley Public Library Books is also encouraging people to attend the next regular meeting of the Board of Library Trustees Meeting on Weds Sept. 9 at the South Branch of the library at 1901 Russell Street (at Martin Luther King) at 6:30 p.m. People are encouraged to arrive at 6:15.  

The group wants the board to "announce and implement a moratorium on rampant weeding". They also want the board to reassess the collection development process so as to include "actual input by all 35 professional librarians, not just two managers and four helpers". And finally they want "Report on Collection Development as Researched by Members of the Public" put on the agenda of the August 9 meeting. 

This writer is particularly appalled by the damage done to the library's collection of books related to labor history by the recent weeding and by the removal of books by authors who are current or former residents of Berkeley. I was surprised that they would delete the standard biography of Harry Bridges by Charles Larrowe. Bridges was leader of the San Francisco General Strike, and of the ILWU, an important West Coast union, some of whose members live in Berkeley.  

Shouldn't someone with some at least passing knowledge of labor history be involved in deciding which books in that field should be deleted? Does it really make sense to let just two people who can't possibly be familiar with the entire collection decide what should be deleted and removed? Shouldn't the library make a special effort to hold on to books by local authors? 

Rob Wrenn is a former Planning Commissioner and a frequent visitor to the Main library. 

New: ECLECTIC RANT: Letter to Jeb Bush: Torture is Never Justifiable (Opinion Column)

Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday August 19, 2015 - 09:48:00 AM

Mr. Bush — or Jeb if you don’t mind — I was greatly disturbed to hear that if you became president you won't rule out the resumption of the use of torture arguing that brutal questioning methods might be justifiable and necessary in some circumstances. Jeb, torture is never justifiable. 

President Obama banned CIA torture by executive order in January 2009. I urge you to reconsider your statement concerning torture and agree to leave President Obama’s executive order in place. I don’t want a president who would use torture. 

I assume you have read the Senate Torture Report. If you have not, I suggest you read it. The Report found, among other things, that the CIA misled Congress, the Justice Department, and your brother about the “effectiveness” of torture methods used, including waterboarding, shackling detainees in painful positions, prolonged sleep deprivation, rectal feeding, and slamming detainees against walls. The Report also found that those abuses did not help locate Osama bin Laden or thwart any terrorist plots, and were in fact counterproductive. Remember what went on at Abu Ghraib, at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and our extraordinary rendition program (secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to other countries where torture was used)? 

The release of the Senate Torture Report should have reminded you that human torture is not only morally unacceptable – it is also a crime. Hopefully your statement was not made to pander to those voters who believe themselves superior to other countries and thus, anything the United States does to protect our national interests, including torture, is somehow justifiable.  

Jeb, by using torture, we lose any moral or ideological advantage we might have including the promotion of democracy, freedom, and human rights. We become the thugs our enemies say we are. I urge you to void your statement on the possible use of torture and unequivocally promise never to use torture if you become the president of the United States.

New: When Smart Growth is Actually Dumb Growth, It's Time to Re-Program (Public Comment)

James Shinn
Wednesday August 19, 2015 - 09:39:00 AM

Sometimes, so-called “Smart Growth” construction of residential, high-rise buildings is not smart at all. In fact, it actually can turn out to be “Dumb Growth”—and in some urban locales, such as much of the Bay Area, very dumb growth indeed. It is a complicated story:

The simple explanation for this comes out of an Economics 101 course—it is a phenomenon called “inelasticity of demand as it relates to price”. In an extremely land-scarce, highly desirable(climatologically and topographically) urban locale such as San Francisco, or even Berkeley, all we do when we build skyscrapers is, in effect, to provide more surface area for habitation in a given square yard of land.

Normally, in land-abundant, modestly desirable urban locales, this increase of supply, in the face of a constant LEVEL of demand for the commodity, will result in declining ability of the sellers of the commodity(in this case real estate) to maintain prior price levels, all other factors being equal. This means general purchasing power affordability levels for all real estate goes up. But what happens, in land-scarce, highly desirable locations, is that the very construction of these high-rise structures in itself creates a new, even more intense “vibe” that makes more and more people intensely want to live there.  

Then demand becomes what is called, in economic terms, “inelastic”—it doesn’t go down as prices for the growing commodity stay the same or go up, because buyers are "price-inelastic" in response. They are prepared to pay just about whatever is demanded, just to become one of the chosen few who can say they live in these rarified locales. And, it is not as if the renting or purchasing of this new “land” in these buildings reduces in any way the number of inhabitants living elsewhere in the area. It just means more inhabitants per square mile, more congestion, more gridlock, in part because most of the lower level “worker bees” in these urban locales can no longer afford to live there and are condemned to longer and longer commutes—mostly in cars because of the paucity of effective and sufficient public transport. 

Meanwhile, Bay Area planners are moving ahead with full fervor in implementing what might humorously be referred to as just this latest, in a long series of spiritual, “great awakenings” which have periodically swept American urban planning history—"The Smart Growth Religious Movement”!. Elmer Gantry never had it so good!. Young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, are all listening raptly in the pews—all wanting to be saved from the predicted coming planetary apocalypse—particularly if they are living, or want to live, in highly desirable areas such as the Bay Area. These latest spiritual salesmen, replete with high-sounding credentials from “urban planning” schools, and “distinguished architecture departments”, are peddling this nonsense in boutique cities all along the coastlines of the USA, touting this latest urban planning theory as the panacea for all that ails us. And the big-bucks, high-rise developers are waiting impatiently in the wings, waiting to see if they can take advantage of this phenomenon—while feeling virtuous in the process. All this, when it is absolutely as evident as the nose on one's face that these "high-rise, transit-hub centered” megaliths are producing exactly the opposite effect of what was originally intended, particularly in areas such as San Francisco.. 

Furthermore, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, about 20% of all residential purchases in San Francisco today are by foreign buyers—mostly Chinese. And in some buildings, the absentee ownership runs at 40%. They serve as offshore parking spots for capital fleeing China—as the Chinese economy begins rapidly cooling off. Vancouver is a perfect example of where SF is headed—a new Shenzhen. Also, there are many other “black swans” out there, in addition to a Chinese financial collapse, that could bring all this smart growth development crashing down.. Domestically, Dodd-Frank is a joke—there is less of a wall between commercial and investment banking today than before the crash—and banks “to big to fail" are bigger than ever. The public is more indebted than ever before. The stock market is an expanding bubble based on a lot of froth.. The student loan indebtedness crisis is approaching the bubble level of the last real estate crisis.The tech market has a weaker financial basis than before the 2000 crash. Leading VC figures in the valley are already ringing the alarm bell. We are two thirds of the way through another Bay Area real estate bubble, with legs of maybe two more years. The drought is just beginning to bear fruit in terms of its approaching huge, negative impact on agribusiness in California. Meanwhile, vineyards are crawling up and down the sides of more and more hills all over California, from San Diego county even up into far Mendocino—as if the aquifer will go on forever. The fires have just started. One previous high level official in the CDF noted that the Sierra could now literally burn, almost from one end to the other if conditions continue as at present. And why won’t they? We are increasingly subject to the differential impact of polar precipitation streams, which dump primarily on the Sierra, and El Nino streams, which dump primarily on the Coast range. Climatologists recently are saying to expect more of the latter and less of the former—meaning declining possibility for precipitation run-off that can be harvested. Up on the shores of Clear Lake, most of the forests appear just about dead. This summer’s fires are just the beginning. Wait until next year. 

The overall effect of this disastrous, “smart growth” planning “religion”, which has been filling the pews now for the last several decades in the Bay Area, is presently staring us in the face—everywhere. But, tragically, the public has not yet come to the realization that “the smart growth emperor” quite simply no longer has any clothes! This is typical when people are swept away by a new belief system. It takes a long, long time for the reduction of such cognitive dissonance, because these beliefs are very deeply held, for very emotional reasons.. Maybe, only long-term, on the couch, therapy can be the only real cure for this neurosis! After all, don't we all want to save the planet, and by the way, don’t we all also want to live in more exciting, high-rise, eco-friendly downtowns? How could anyone believe otherwise? The sad reality, however, is that the “Smart Growth Emperor" now truly is wandering around stark naked, and we just have to come to terms with this reality. The solution for generating more housing in high-demand, “inelastic demand" urban locales such as San Francisco and Berkeley, without generating undue excitement or “vibe” in the process, is a steady, even-handed construction of modest, mid-rise, infill and affordable housing units, as necessary. This will best avoid the potential dangers of “boom and bust” urban planning which suddenly creates too much housing, and then is just as suddenly confronted with a market collapse, with its concomitant damage, as we have seen so many times before, and which is ever more likely in the increasingly volatile international economic atmosphere of today. Unfortunately, in the beginning, de-programming of our current urban planning, smart growth belief system may be a bit painful, as is all de-programming-- but in the long run it would be well worth the effort!

New: Can We Have Liberty and Justice for All?

Romila Khanna
Wednesday August 19, 2015 - 10:24:00 AM

Promise are made before elections by prospective candidates, but what happens in reality? After they are elected for public office, we suffer the effect of their broken promises. Mostly the poor and the needy suffer. 

Who holds the purse strings? Who decides how much can be spent on federal programs? Who tries to help the billionaire donors? I hear that the President is wasting taxpayer money. But the view of what constitutes waste seems to depend on a person’s politics. Many people consider the Affordable Care Act an example of government waste. I consider it a lifeline to health for the poor and needy in our country. 

How will the person elected President in 2016 bring wealth, health and peace to all? Will that person ensure equal access to quality education? Will that person help steer strict gun possession laws through Congress? Will that person help rationalize our immigration policy so that many undocumented immigrants are granted limited term guest worker status? 

It takes hard work to promote liberty and justice for ALL. May the new President be committed to that goal.

New: Prominent Jewish Leader Speaks Out

Jagjit Singh
Wednesday August 19, 2015 - 10:21:00 AM

In a startling new development, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, stated recently that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is the main impediment to peace. He urged Palestinians to affirm Israel’s legitimacy, provided Israel is prepared to affirm the legitimacy of a Palestinian state along the pre-’67 borders." 

Acccording to Siegman, Netanyahu’s cabinet appointments exposes a troubling overt racism. Consider the following: 

Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, called for the “destruction of the entire Palestinian people, including its elderly women, cities, villages, property and infrastructure." 

Foreign minister, Hotovely, sent out instructions to all Israeli ambassadors to advise governments that the Bible confirmed that God was in the real estate business and promised all of Palestine to the Jews. 

Miri Regev, the minister of culture, ‘discouraged’ the artistic community from creating art that insults the state of Israel. 

Deputy Minister of Defense, Dahan and his boss called for separating Palestinians and Jews on separate busses. 

Silvan Shalom, the new chief of peace negotiations, has been on record for opposing a two-state solution. 

Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, currently the new director of the Foreign Ministry has a lifelong record of total opposition to a Palestinian state. 

Siegman stated that the only logical way forward was for Palestinians to bypass the Netanyahu government and seek redress from the United Nations Security Council utilizing the various resolutions as the foundation of a new peace process.

New: Confronting Our Fragile Economy (Public Comment)

Harry Brill
Wednesday August 19, 2015 - 10:19:00 AM

How would the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) report the following? Simple arithmetic would tell us that If employers convert, say, 1000 jobs into half time positions, the outcome would double the number of jobs even though not even a single hour of work has been added. Yet the BLS in its employment and unemployment reports would interpret this change without explanation as a 100% improvement. Although the new, part time jobs very likely will offer fewer benefits or no benefits at all, anyone reading just the reported numbers, which is only the number of new jobs created, would conclude understandably that things are getting much better. 

But actually eliminating full time jobs to create part time employment is not good news at all. Although the BLS statistics are reassuring, more and more full time jobs are disappearing in favor of marginal part-time and even temporary work. Moreover, the BLS is covering up other dismal labor force developments as well. The real unemployment rate is more than twice the rate reported by the BLS. Particularly serious, the BLS underestimates the long term unemployment rate because discouraged workers are excluded in calculating its count. They have either given up looking for work or are not looking frequently looking enough to satisfy the BLS. As one economist observed, unlike earlier years, when unemployed workers returned to their old jobs, a lot of jobs are no longer coming back.  

Getting a realistic portrait of the economy is not difficult. The large corporations generally announce their layoffs. For example, Microsoft just announced its plans to eliminate 8700 jobs. In the aggregate, almost 400,000 jobs have disappeared since the beginning of this year. Particularly worrisome, the job loss represents a 34% increase since the same period last year 

Clearly, the reality is that the economy is very fragile. The Economic Justice Committee of The Wellstone Democratic Party's Economic Justice Committee, which I am a member of, has put together a paper spelling out what must to be done. I'll distribute the paper to you when the final draft is completed. Other progressive organizations are drafting similar proposals. 

Most of all, we need to replace the current RAW DEAL that Americans are getting with a NEW DEAL, which would actively involve the federal government in job creation programs, protecting the rights of labor, and assuring a living wage for all working people. Seventy percent of our domestic economy depends on consumer spending. Since the vast majority of consumers are working people, higher wages in secure jobs are indispensible to building a sound economy. Particularly important, special attention must be given to racial and ethnic minorities, whose jobs are less secure, whose income is much lower than the average, and who experience substantially a much higher rate of unemployment. 

Keep in mind that we cannot achieve any of our goals without government intervention. But particularly important, the government cannot enact and enforce our progressive agenda without our intervention. This takes a lot more than making persuasive arguments. Building political power is mandatory. A strong mass movement will create a more favorable electoral ambiance. Also, an effective movement, like the civil rights movement and the earlier labor movement struggles, can exert leverage by making it very difficult for the private sector to do business as usual. 

Conservatives believe that aggressively adopting programs which improve our standard of living is the problem. How wrong they are. It is the solution!

Updated: Earthquake Caused Pipe Breaks, Says EBMUD

Dan McMenamin (BCN)and Planet
Tuesday August 18, 2015 - 08:51:00 AM

Nine water lines broke in the East Bay on Monday following the 4.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in Oakland, an East Bay Municipal Utility District spokeswoman said. 

EBMUD officials initially said seven water pipes broke following the earthquake at 6:49 a.m. Monday, but have since clarified that two others also ruptured. 

The pipes, which include mains and service lines, were cast-iron pipes that are more susceptible to ground movement from earthquakes, EBMUD spokeswoman Tracie Morales-Noisy said. 

Of the nine that broke, five were in Oakland near the epicenter of the quake, while the other four were in areas like Berkeley and Richmond, Morales-Noisy said. 

Seven of the pipes were repaired Monday and overnight, while the other two were lower-priority lines that will be fixed today, she said. 

The average age of cast-iron pipes in the EBMUD system is about 80 years old, with some pipes dating as far back as the 1880s, Morales-Noisy said. She said the incident serves as a reminder of the infrastructure hazards of a major seismic event like the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. 

"We could see hundreds or thousands of main breaks, and it would have an enormous impact," Morales-Noisy said. "We recommend that customers have a minimum of three to seven days worth of water in their home in the event of a major water emergency." 

She advised residents to keep at least one to two gallons of water per day for each person in the home. 

"It doesn't have to be a major emergency, it could be just a main break," Morales-Noisy said. "Things are unpredictable, and you never know when you'll need a water supply." 

This article has been corrected after Tracie Morales-Noisy, spokesperson for EBMUD, informed the Planet that she had been mistaken when she said that the earthquake had damaged a Berkeley water main, In fact, that water main was already broken before the earthquake, she said.

Earthquake, Aftershocks Felt This Morning in Berkeley and Elsewhere

Dan McMenamin (BCN) and Planet
Monday August 17, 2015 - 10:12:00 AM

Several small aftershocks have been reported following a 4.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in Oakland this morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The 4.0 quake was reported at 6:49 a.m. and was located in the Oakland hills about a mile north of Piedmont and 3 miles south of Berkeley, USGS officials said. The reported location is approximately at Lake Temescal, in Oakland near the Berkeley border. 

The quake had a depth of about 3.3 miles and struck on the Hayward Fault, which also saw a 4.0-magnitude earthquake on July 21 in Fremont. 

Several small aftershocks were reported in the hour after this morning's quake, the biggest of which was a 2.4-magnitude temblor in the same area at 7:40 a.m., according to the USGS. 

BART trains were briefly delayed by about 10 minutes this morning as a result of the 4.0 quake, which prompted crews to stop trains and inspect the tracks for possible damage. No damage was found and trains are back on regular service, BART officials said. 

The quake was reported across the Bay in San Francisco and on the Peninsula, as well as out in Concord and elsewhere in Contra Costa County and even as far away as Santa Cruz County.

Updated: Fire in Berkeley Hills

Judi Sierra and Planet
Sunday August 16, 2015 - 08:19:00 AM

At 5:45 A.M. 6-8 trucks were responding to a fire a short bit south of junction of Centennial on the top edge of Strawberry Canyon. The fire was visible from the Space Sciences building back parking lot at the top of the Jordan fire trail. Smoke was still visible an hour later from the lower canyon area. Also Berkeley Police Department officers at the bottom of the fire trail were looking for a naked man who had been seen by others and may or may not be related to the fire.

A spokesperson in the East Bay office of the state fire agency, CalFire, confirmed that there was a fire in a pile of chips from eucalyptus trees which had been cut down, and said that Oakland and Berkeley firefighters and other departments were on the scene.  

By mid-afternoon the fire, about an acre in size, was reported to have been extinguished.

Man Shot in Berkeley Near San Pablo Park

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 11:35:00 PM

A man has been shot near Berkeley's San Pablo Park this evening, according to police.  

Dispatchers received several 911 calls at about 6:40 p.m. to report gunshots in the area. Police found a male victim suffering from a bullet wound in the 1300 block of Russell Street, on the south side of the park, according to police. 

The victim has been taken to a hospital, police said. 

Anyone with information about the shooting is being asked to call Berkeley police.

LIBRARYGATE: Protest of Berkeley library book disposal

Lydia Gans
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:13:00 AM

Over 100 people held a rally in front of the Berkeley Public Library on Wednesday protesting the destruction of large numbers of library books. There are a number of issues arising in the administration of library director Jeff Scott which inspired using the term LIBARYGATE in calling for the protest action. Pat Mullan, former head of Art and Music department organized and chaired the event. 

When word first got out that the library was weeding out books it was understood that this is standard procedure for making room for new acquisitions. But it didn't take long for many questions to be asked - questions as to how many books, which books, most importantly, who was making the choices . It turned out that the choices are being made by the director entirely on his own with no input from library staff or library patrons. 


Pat Mullan spoke of how the Berkeley Library had always been a destination, now the word for it is decimation. Those words, 'destination to decimation' were echoed by several speakers. Mullan and other former librarians at the rally reported a litany of false claims, illegal actions as well as lack of respect for and intimidation of library employees on the part of the Director. 

Diane Davenport, former head reference librarian and past president of Friends of the Library reported that while the Director claimed that 2,200 books were destroyed, the actual number was more than 39,000. Furthermore his assertion that books were offered to the Friends of the Library book sale before they went out the back door was also untrue. Later she pointed to a library truck standing near the door with a box containing a sample of about 100 books. “Think of that multiplied by 360 to get a sense of how many items were destroyed” she said. 

Debbie Carton was one of only 2 librarians currently on staff who was not afraid to speak out. “It's not just books but also cd's that are being destroyed”, she said. “The most heavily hit area was the jazz collection, the jazz collection that has made Berkeley's art and music department well known . It was one of the best jazz collections in the Bay Area. Patrons would frequently say “I come here rather than to San Francisco Public because even though you're smaller you have a better jazz collection.” 

Several members of the city council attended the rally. Daryl Moore, the city council member who sits on the Board of Library Trustees was there. Jesse Arreguin added his voice as did Linda Maio who promised, “Not one more book leaves the library.” (Some people privately questioned her ability to carry out that promise.) Kriss Worthington gave an agonizing step by step description of his efforts to get the list of the destroyed books from the director, ultimately even having to show him how to access it on his computer.. Speaking of the destruction he said “It is a travesty. The librarians not consulted is a travesty. Books destroyed is a travesty. The biggest travesty of all is to the public.” 

Former librarian Roya Arasteh read a list of destroyed books, identifying many that were last copies. It was heartbreaking to hear her speak of books that might never again be seen. This moved some people to speak of particular books they had cared about that are now gone. 

Berkeley author Cecile Pineda talked of going to the library to get a particular book tthat she was interested in, “the Encyclopedia of Women Travelers of the 19th Century. Not only had it disappeared from the reference section, but nearly one third of the shelves gaped empty.” She announced that she is ready for direct action, calling for volunteers for an occupation of the back door of the library to prevent any more books being taken away 

Even though the Director claimed that his selection of books to be disposed of was based on the number of years that they had not been checked out, several speakers questioned whether there is a political agenda behind the selection of books being disposed of or if there is a bias in the choice of subjects. 

The community has been alerted. Berkeley is not a place to give up on its dedication to literature. Nor will the violations exposed by LIBRARYGATE be ignored.



As Expected, Berkeley's Landmark Preservation Commission Declines to Preserve Berkeley Landmark

Becky O'Malley
Friday August 14, 2015 - 01:43:00 PM

It might be time to give up on Berkeley. Last night’s meeting of the Landmark Preservation Commission was profoundly depressing, a graphic demonstration of how the city is slipping into the clutches of the corporate capital which is now taking cities around the world away from their citizens.

Just to get the bad news out of the way quickly: the Landmarks Preservation commission voted 6-3 to rubberstamp the recommendations of the City of Berkeley’s hired planning staff, the very same department that was trained and managed by Mark Rhoades, who’s now stepped through the revolving door to promote RatBP (The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, aka 2211 Harold Way). And so it goes. Cynics among you can stop reading here.

There were two things remarkable about last night’s meeting. First, the number and quality of the citizens who spoke in opposition to demolishing the structures on the landmarked site, which was the putative principal decision before the commission. Large, and impressive.

Second, the number and quality of the project's supporters, including and especially the commissioners who supplied the needed votes in lockstep with their City Council appointers. Let’s just say minimal and I wasn’t impressed. 

Two of the commissioners who voted yes last night seemed never to have been to an LPC meeting before. Their nameplates, if they had them, were not visible to me from my seat toward the back of a standing room only crowd of opponents. My own newly elected District 8 councilmember, Lori Droste, appointed lawyer Steven Murphy, who also just happens to be District 5 Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s appointee to the Planning Commission. I don’t know about other District 8 residents, but he certainly didn’t represent my family when he voted the Bates/Capitelli position. 

Rumor around town is that (now keep your eye on the ball and take a deep breath) Murphy’s house was gerrymandered into Capitelli’s district so that when Mayor Tom Bates resigns as expected in December, Capitelli can take his place in order to run for Mayor as an incumbent in 2016 and Murphy can run for the District 5 seat, also as an incumbent. Is this true? Only time will tell. 

In the meantime, four of the commissioners who were present and voting, including Murphy, could have been robots. They appeared to be deaf to the pleas of the several dozen citizens who spoke to them, and dumb, unable to utter a word to justify their decision. And I do mean literally, not a word. R2D2 at least said eep eep as I remember. 

When I was on the LPC newly seated commissioners were required to state that they’d read all the materials and listened to all the tapes of previous meetings concerning a matter on which they proposed to vote. The two new commissioners, Murphy and Darryl Moore’s guy, were asked by members of the public (though not by commission or staff) if they’d done that, but I couldn’t hear any response from them. Oh, yes, by the way, the sound system was lousy too, as it usually is at LPC meetings. Keeps the rabble guessing about what’s going on, doesn’t it? 

Darryl Moore’s appointee might have the first name of Kiran, but I couldn’t get his last name. Murphy and “Kiran” might have been temps, or not. They were asked that too, and again their response was sotto voce, so who knows? 

Public commenters asked Commissioners for a show of hands if they’d read the Environmental Impact Report which was supposed to be the basis for their decisions. Only two raised their hands, Austene Hall (Arreguin) and Carrie Olson (Worthington), two of the three no votes. 

The third was architect Christopher Linvill, the new commission chair, appointed by Max Anderson. He gave a thoughtful account of his analysis about whether changes to site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, met the Secretary of Interior's Standards, the regs which govern alterations. 

None of the commissioners appointed by the Council Majority said they’d read the EIR. Why should they bother , when they already had their marching orders? 

Commissioner Paul Schwartz, no robot he, delivered a long explanation of his yes vote, mostly about how much he likes the design for the replacement buildings which would go on the landmarked site, including one 18-story tower and two shorter but still massive buildings which together would fill the city block surrounding the Shattuck Hotel. He also said he likes Manhattan and Los Angeles. He said he'd "considered" the EIR, but not that he'd read it. 

In my opinion, Schwartz is wrong on just about everything, but at least he’s demonstrably eccentric in the Berkeley tradition. He did make a quixotic effort to add an amendment to the resolutions which would have made rebuilding the Shattuck Cinema movie screens, scheduled to be demolished, a condition of the permits for the new building, but it was summarily voted down by the People in Charge. His council appointer is Susan Wengraf, whose house is the only place I’ve ever seen four Oscars on one shelf (her husband is a famous film sound man) and I imagine she’d like to see the theaters rebuilt. 

Tom Biel, appointed by Laurie Capitelli from District 5, said nothing, but voted yes, presumably as instructed. Kim Smith, who was appointed to replace Rose Marie Pietras, who was fired for disagreeing with Mayor Tom Bates, also said nothing, but she was at least brave enough to second Schwartz’s doomed amendment, not that it did any good. Otherwise she too voted as instructed. Both of these looked exceedingly uncomfortable—I’d bet that they know better. 

The citizen commenters were brilliant, again not that it did any good. They included a remarkable number of distinguished professionals: engineers both structural and civic, architects, environmental attorneys, physicians, even a retired diplomat…. And an amazing number of past officeholders who had previously been on opposite sides of the aisle spoke against the project: former Mayor Shirley Dean, former City Councilmember Ying Lee, former LPC commissioners Finacom, Emmington Jones, Pietras and others, including me. 

Even more impressive was the number of self-described newbies who spoke, many if not most movie fans, who had backed into this fight because they wanted to save the Shattuck Cinemas, and who are shocked to discover the ugly underbelly of civic—do we call it corruption, or just negligence? In all, with about 100 attendees, 60+ spoke for their two minutes against the granting of the permits. 

Who were they? My favorite was Emunah Hauser, a thirtyish woman who is on the Board of Directors of Livable Berkeley, the Smart Growth lobbying organization, whose web page says she is the Founding Director of Sunday Streets Berkeley, a joint venture of the Downtown Berkeley Association and the City of Berkeley, which provides the money for the big street fair. 

Last night, positioning herself as the spokesperson for youth, she inexplicably devoted her two minutes to an exegesis of how—excuse my French—crappy she thinks downtown Berkeley is now, and how much better it will be when Manhattanized with lots of towers filled with fancy units. Otherwise there didn’t seem to be anyone there from the BARF lobbying group(Bay Area Renters Federation) and no one else from the Downtown Berkeley Association except the executive director, John Caner. Both groups had emailed invitations to attend this meeting to long lists, but only seven people in all spoke in support of the project, most of them paid employees or consultants. It's hard to understand how trashing the downtown serves the interests of the DBA members. 

Joseph Penner, spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based corporation which owns most of the block, including the retail spaces on the ground floor of the Shattuck Hotel, gave a short speech in which he repeatedly claimed that Berkeley needs his building because our population is increasing. Of course that’s not true, as many knowledgable members of the audience informed him, but he was undeterred. He used the old lying-with-statistics trick of averaging the number of units built all the way back to 1970, a meaningless span which seems to have fooled at least one newsie. 

The really serious problem with the proposed building complex emerged in bits and pieces since the citizens were limited to two minutes each, a very short time in which to explain a structural engineering threat. That was the latest version of how Rhoades (frequently accused of being a prevaricator) plans to bring back the movies. Even last night there were two different claims on the table. The resolution drafted by staff and presumably passed by the commission referenced six screens, while Rhoades in his oral presentation claimed that there would be ten. 

Here's the structural threat: In order to bring the count up to ten, there’s now a proposal to burrow deep under the landmarked Shattuck Hotel for three more screens. As various speakers pointed out, that scheme is fraught with peril. Last night they told the commissioners that the hotel, built at the turn of the 20th Century,sits atop the former bed of Strawberry Creek, and has a very questionable clay tile foundation. Yet the Final Environmental Impact Report, which was prematurely certified by the Zoning Adjustment Board and will surely be appealed to the City Council, does not include or require an impartial evaluation of the developer’s latest proposal by a qualified structural engineer before permits are granted. 

If we think that the Library Gardens tragedy, which has been irrevocably linked with the name of Berkeley in Ireland and the rest of Europe, was a disaster, just imagine the collapse of the Shattuck Hotel, with theaters below and hotel rooms above all filled with people. Commissioner Carrie Olson was on the Design Review Commission which approved Library Gardens. Last night she said she voted to approve it because she trusted the City to watch out for problems in construction, which turns out to have been a mistake. Now she’s leading the charge to halt all permitting for the RatBP project until the actual final plans for the excavation under the hotel can be approved by an impartial qualified outside structural engineering firm. But she was voted down last night on her motion to postpone the LPC decision, again 6-3. 

The next discussion of the progress of this behemoth through the belly of the beast will be at the August 27 Zoning Adjustment Board meeting. It has formerly been believed in Berkeley that appointed commissions and the city council pay attention to the voices of citizens who write letters and come to meetings, but I’m just not sure I believe that any more. It’s possible that the responsive Berkeley we’ve believed in for a couple of decades is over, but come to the ZAB meeting and judge for yourself. 

If, as expected, this project is already in the bag with the support of Mayor Bates’ captive Council Majority and their commission appointees, it might be necessary for citizens to sue on the inadequacy of the EIR, at least in order to make sure that the crazy plan to undermine the hotel is fully vetted before construction begins. And the ultimate remedy could be at the ballot box in 2016, when the elderly Mayor-for-Life might reasonably be expected to step down. 

But all that takes money, doesn’t it? Better start saving your pennies now. 





The Editor's Back Fence

Click on These Links

Sunday August 16, 2015 - 09:42:00 AM

Why am I not surprised?


There's an excellent account of Thursday's LPC meeting from Tom Lochner of the Contra Costa Times:Berkeley: Downtown high rise gains key approval despite criticism

And there's been some pious whining in other media about how opponents of the 2211 Harold Way proposal hissed the tiny handful of proponents at the LPC meeting. Here's a historical perspective:

In Defense of Heckling: Some History Past and Present

Public Comment

Attack of the Stepford Planners

Elisa Cooper
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:15:00 AM

Berkeley is an iconic city because of its bohemian ambiance: people dwell in Berkeley instead of elsewhere because they want to identify as intellectuals, artists, spiritual seekers, social activists, quirky, creative, and diverse. Just as we sought Berkeley to embrace those identities, we are collectively responsible for protecting the city as the place that makes those identities possible. 

For months I have been bewildered as I've watched the City Council and a multitude of commissions ignore, shrug off, and often mock the surge of citizens that have been pleading for them to put an end to the hijacking of the City by the interests of market rate developers and to attend to the need for affordable housing. This experience has become something like those cheesy old 70s horror films like Attack of The Pod People, They Live, and, The Stepford Wives. Has our City government been taken over by pod people? The way they consistently and rather robotically disregard their constituents that literally beg them to make the Market Rate Reign of Terror stop seems like it. Our Pod People City leadership seem unaware their behavior is inflicting trauma. 

On June 16th, 2015, a balcony broke from a shoddy "market rate" building and fell 5 stories: 6 students died. The building had been resold to International investors who cared little for local maintenance complaints. This is trauma, too. 

The invasion of the Pod People started in the City planning department. A planner named Mark Rhoades decided "planners set the pace" for the city of Berkeley. The latest "smart growth" philosophies being pushed from the State level as well as academic departments, including UC Berkeley—which has an interest in shifting the student housing burden onto the City—was to build for "density" around transit and eventually supply would meet demand for housing. 

Clever planners could insert themselves into this process and make their own fortunes on the side. The City Planning Department gets paid out of developer fees, so their mission became to plan for as much dense smart growth as possible. Mark Rhoades and fellow city planner Matt Taecker upzoned themselves to start their own development consulting firms. Once the Planning Department opened the door to the idea that Berkeley was ready to be "redeveloped", Berkeley's political process became inundated with money from real estate industry lobbyists from all over the country. The local property owners’ association formed a half million dollar PAC. Developers fund the most read local news venue Berkeleyside and astroturf the comments section. A couple of paid "youth" get paid to testify to City Council and the Commissions about how we need to destroy Berkeley because somehow that will ultimately result in the youth getting housing. 

I don't exaggerate when I say they mean to destroy Berkeley. One of the astroturf brigade on Berkleyside has proclaimed one of the goals of "smart growth" is the creative destruction of Berkeley

At a recent meeting regarding yet another unwanted developer proposing yet another unneeded market rate development, yet another planted Pod Youth proclaimed that the City of Berkeley must abandon all zoning laws and build up like Manhattan. The person sitting next to him asked incredulously, "Do you want to live in Berkeley?" 

The coup de grace for the people who actually do care about Berkeley came when the City passed up on a 4 million dollar affordable housing grant—a State grant from the Strategic Growth Council that every other City in the Bay Area enthusiastically applied for and got. The housing crisis has supposedly been at the top of the agenda for months if not years in Berkeley, and watchful citizens noted that the City Council sat on the Nexus Report, which established that Berkeley was saturated with market rate housing, until the budget was done and no pressure could be applied to shape the budget toward what was truly needed: affordable housing policy. Then 4 million dollars came along for affordable housing and the City of Berkeley had no procedure in play to grab it. 

Why hasn't the City done everything in its power to craft an environment to attract affordable housing development? Why wasn't there a pipeline of projects waiting in the wings? For the people who are facing displacement under the pressure of unprecedented rent spikes and speculative house-flipping, the knowledge the City simply "dropped the ball" on this grant is, again, traumatic. 

Or did the City simply "drop the ball"? 

I went to the City of Berkeley's August 13th Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is a civic body singly charged with preserving the heritage and character of the City of Berkeley. This particular meeting had an unusually large turn out because over the course of months citizens of Berkeley had been gathering to oppose a proposed 18-story "monstrosity" on Harold Way. 

A great many technical, safety, and health reasons have been given to oppose the Harold Way building. But the main reason so many citizens of Berkeley oppose this huge building is because it's the beachhead for the "creative destruction" of Berkeley. It blocks the Campanile view from the UC Berkeley campus, symbolic of the City itself. Moreover, Harold Way will feature luxury units that only very rich people will be able to afford, and it will raise rents in the surrounding area. This building will "creatively destroy" Berkeley. The Stepford Planners and the Pod People who have taken over City Council know this. 

Of the hours of testimony against Harold Way, the most moving was a woman who lamented that real estate industry lobbyists had taken advantage of the progressive spirit of Berkeley by greenwashing their projects, which had tricked the voters into changing zoning laws. While developers frequently cite that they are building what the people of Berkeley voted for, they are invoking an election with historically low voter turnout and historically high outside money influence. The people of Berkeley increasingly feel their government is bought, the election was rigged, and they were tricked when they cast their vote. In South Berkeley people mutter about "the racist budget", "black exodus", and "institutionalized policies of discrimination". When Pod People take over a City's government, that's how their actions get interpreted from below. Again, the sense of trauma deepens. 

In front of around 100 Berkeley citizens, a Landmarks Preservation Commission of Pod People betrayed their sacred duty to protect the heritage and character of the city of Berkeley. Some confessed that they didn't even bother to read the Environmental Impact Report that should have informed their decision. One of the Commissioners who had read the documents before them presented a list of errors, holes, and abdications of the Commission's own procedures. Her attempts to uphold the Commissions own rules and protect the City were duly ignored. 

One of the Pod People Commissioners cited developer astroturf from Berkeleyside to counter the testimony to all the real human beings in front of him. Rather than listen to live pleas for affordable housing, he reached for a dubious source that would back his own Pod Person plan to "creatively destroy" Berkeley. 

The signs that the Stepford Planners have rammed their projects through are all around us: enormous pits, torn up sidewalks, great rumbling construction trucks, and hulking scaffolds of behemoth buildings. Many common citizens like me see the notices for new development everywhere and wonder, "When did this happen?" Under demolition law in Berkeley, units under rent control that get "creatively destroyed" by the Stepford Planners can never be replaced. Any new development is not subject to rent control. Real estate lobbying interests saw to that: the Costa-Hawkins law was a long game approach to eventually dismantle rent control even in places with strong support for rent control like Berkeley. 

The Stepford Planners have been empowered to willfully deform the City of Berkeley. There is no City task force on affordable housing policy, there is no Affordable Housing Tsar, there is no political will from our ostensible political representatives to stop them. The reign of terror of the Stepford Planners continues as their market rate projects are literally paved over top of the desperately resisting citizens of Berkeley and their sense of trauma is mounting. When will it stop?

This is How Homelessness Happens

Carol Denney
Friday August 14, 2015 - 09:48:00 AM

Around 75 people piled in to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to stop the latest jumbo scoop of brassy luxury housing from being poured on top of a Berkeley city landmark on a recent Thursday (August 13, 2015), and it was both thrilling and sad. 

As a community we looked brilliant. Engineers, architects, a former mayor, former Landmarks Preservation Commissioners, commissioners from other community commissions, respected authors, people who had lengthy backgrounds in historic preservation, and citizens with decades of civic involvement made an impressive case for denying developers a project which distorts almost every planning parameter in existence. 

No low-income housing. A fart in the face of the original landmark, which will whisper around its wind tunnel corners but no longer commune with the other landmark buildings nearby in any meaningful way. Eighteen stories of profit for the well-connected handful of consultants and developers who can count on Silicon Valley techsters to fill even wildly overpriced condos and penthouses even if the displaced theaters the building now features are never replaced. 

The beautiful souls who read through the zoning application materials, the applicant statement, the project plans, the draft historic context report, the geotechnical feasibility report, the environmental site assessments, the stormwater report, the LEED checklist, etc. left the meeting collectively stunned having spent many months diligently documenting the obvious flaws in the proposal and the even more obvious tricks that were played upon the process to fast-track matters and keep investors’ minds at ease. 

This is how homelessness happens. Nobody in the room, probably not even the project’s threadbare handful of supporters, really buys the hype about insanely tall buildings somehow saving the whales or solving the housing crisis. Insanely tall buildings full of luxury housing fill up with insanely wealthy people who rarely seem to wonder why a town which once had a thriving black community now looks like a white country club. 

The project opponents are not entirely out of ideas to stop the project. The politicians who stacked the commission with people carefully instructed not to stand in the way of this project no matter how silly it looks can still come to their senses. What was referred to as “architectural poison” by one speaker doesn’t have to be permanently visited on this or any other town. 

But Berkeley, like other cities in the densely packed Bay Area, doesn’t have any more square footage to squander on the wealthy if it ever wants to help the rest of us get out of the rain. Rich people may sprout exponentially out of the tech world or sail in on personal jets from foreign lands, but somebody’s got to drive their taxis, teach their kids, and pump their coffee drinks. Square footage is finite, and we hit the breaking point on living in Modesto while trying to work in San Francisco a long time ago. The well-organized crowd at the LPC meeting knows we need planning that respects our architectural and cultural heritage, our community needs, and politicians who are willing to play fair instead of short-circuit our democracy for personal political gain. This is how homelessness happens, and this is exactly the group that can stop it.

Israeli Settler Terrorism

Jagjit Singh
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:55:00 AM

The latest settler terrorist attack occurred when a Palestinian home was firebombed, killing an 18-month-old baby and severely injuring other members of the family. Graffiti scrawled on walls near the homes read "Revenge" in Hebrew. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the firebombing "an act of terrorism" rings hollow given that his government has encouraged settlement expansion for decades in complete defiance of stated US goals and international law. The blatant theft of land is itself an act of terrorism. 

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Settler terrorism has been ongoing for decades with complete impunity. No settler has ever been charged with vandalism or other acts of violence. 

The attack revived painful memories of the abduction and killing last July of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, who was burned alive by Jewish extremists after he was snatched from his East Jerusalem neighborhood. 

According to the United Nations “Palestinian civilians continue to be subject to various threats to their life, physical safety and liberty; in the West Bank, there was a huge increase in Israeli violence: this year to date 49 Palestinians have been killed almost double the number from last year.” 

Tragically, our government is complicit in these blatant acts of terrorism by rewarding Israel for its bad behavior with $3 billion of our tax money every year.


THE PUBLIC EYE:What Do Republican Candidates Stand For?

Bob Burnett
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:10:00 AM

The August 6th debate among ten Republican presidential contenders was a ratings winner for Fox News . Out here on the left coast, we learned two things: Donald Trump isn’t going away and the Republicans lack a plan for America. 

An NBC News post-debate poll found that Trump continues to lead all of his opponents with 23 percent of the vote. 

The surprise second-place challenger was Texas Senator Ted Cruz. At the end of the Republican debate Cruz was asked what he would do if elected President: 

The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama. The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations. The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to [stop] persecuting religious liberty, and then [I] intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Cruz provided a concise summary of the debate: Republicans don’t like Barack Obama and will seek to reverse all of his actions, including Obamacare. They do not support women’s health; their desire to defund Planed Parenthood is one indication of this. They oppose efforts to recognize same-sex marriage – they categorize this as a religious liberty issue. And Republicans oppose the Iran nuclear agreement and pledge unquestioning support for Israel. 


Other than Republicans, Americans are interested in what a candidate is for, what their positive initiatives are. National polls indicate that voters are most concerned about “the economy and jobs.” Surprisingly, the Republican candidates had little to say about this. The most complete statement was by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: 

There’s 6 million people living in poverty today, more than when Barack Obama got elected. 6.5 million people are working part-time, most of whom want to work full-time. We’ve created rules and taxes on top of every aspiration of people, and the net result is we’re not growing fast, income is not growing. A four percent growth strategy means you fix a convoluted tax code. You get in and you change every aspect of regulations that are job killers. You get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.
Jeb reprised “trickledown economics:” get rid of taxes and regulations and Obamacare and that will fix all ills; “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, said: 

Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t win anymore. We don’t beat China in trade. We don’t beat Japan, with their millions and millions of cars coming into this country, in trade. We can’t beat Mexico, at the border or in trade. We can’t do anything right. Our military has to be strengthened. Our vets have to be taken care of. We have to end Obamacare, and we have to make our country great again, and I will do that.

The Republican candidates don’t have a plan to deal with income inequality other than the failed policies of Reaganomics. 

After jobs and the economy, most voters are interested in healthcare. Once again, Republicans have no plan other than to repeal Obamacare. In the debate, Donald Trump called it “a complete disaster.” After mentioning that a single-payer system has worked well in Canada and Scotland, Trump proposed, “a private [health insurance] system without the artificial lines around every state.” His was the most specific proposal offered. 

National polls indicate that after jobs and healthcare, most voters are interested in terrorism and foreign policy. All the candidates described the Obama foreign policy as a disaster. The most comprehensive statement was by Senator Cruz: 

We have abandoned and alienated our friends and allies, and our enemies are stronger. Radical Islam is on the rise, Iran’s on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon, China is waging cyber warfare against America, Russia… Russia used cyber warfare against the joint chiefs.
Each of the candidates were against the Iran nuclear agreement and some, such as Jeb Bush, proposed sending troops back into Iraq. 


After jobs, healthcare, and foreign policy, voters are most interested in immigration. During the debate, there was no discussion of a pathway to citizenship; instead the candidates vied to take the toughest stance possible. Trump said, “We need to build a wall… to keep illegals out.” Governor Walker opined, “I believe we need to secure the border.” Senator Cruz argued, “[President Obama and other Washington leaders] don’t want to enforce the immigration laws.” 

The Republican candidates emulate Donald Trump who promises to do great things but evades specifics. When asked about Obamacare, Trump told one reporter he would repeal the law and replace it with “something terrific.” In fact, most of the Republican presidential candidates plan “something terrific.” 

This calculated vagueness may work with Republicans but it won’t work with voters, in general. America deserves a leader with a specific plan. 

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


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Cognitive Exercises as Augment to Treatment

Jack Bragen
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:05:00 AM

One of the reasons that I have been fairly successful at some things in spite of being mentally ill, and have been able to stick with treatment most of the time, is that I have used cognitive techniques to combat much of the suffering that has come up.  

You won't see me write a piece about "dual diagnosis" and this is because I have very limited experience with substance abuse with the exceptions of cigarette smoking (which is a bad idea that I absolutely don't recommend) and a lot of coffee. I have not resorted to street drugs because my source of relief from pain has often been that I have meditated.  

This is not absolute, since I also rely on antianxiety meds. However, because relief by means of mental exercises is often a reliable solution for me, emotional pain does not feel like a boogeyman--it is more like a nuisance.  

If you rely wholly on your psychiatrist and psychotherapist to "fix you" when you are in pain, it doesn't always work very well. While some situations call for assistance from a professional, there are other situations in which we can, on our own, deal with suffering. Life inevitably brings some rough spots. How we deal with them is a large factor in how well we do in our lives.  

Learning how to create relief from pain from the inside, through changes in the thoughts, changes in perception, and through having an understanding of how the mind works to produce suffering, is a source of great power. It doesn't increase power over other people or over the outside world--it is a source of power over oneself.  

"Handbook to Higher Consciousness" from the late Ken Keyes Jr., was the first book I studied about spiritual growth. Although Keyes seemed like somewhat of a cult leader, his philosophy helped me a lot. I eventually filtered out the parts that didn't work for me. Rather than admiring Ken, as people in his groups were apparently expected to do, I focused on developing my own tools, using the basic ideas of Buddhism as explained by Keyes as a launching board.  

Some parts of Keyes' philosophy were in defiance of common sense. In these instances, I favored common sense over what he was saying.  

Furthermore, I eventually realized that meditation doesn't cure mental illness. Instead, almost as good, meditation allows a mental health consumer to face the slings and arrows of living with mental illness.  

Other spiritual teachers have other books on meditation. However, Handbook to Higher Consciousness was a good read for understanding the very basic concepts. Suffering is often created internally, and it is inflicted by wanting things to be different from how they are.  

Over time, I threw out more and more parts of Keyes' philosophy. However, the basic idea stuck with me, which is that events that we can't control don't have to cause us mental anguish. Further, I discarded the specific techniques that he outlined for reaching "higher consciousness" and I instead developed my own set of techniques that I could use on demand for relief from emotional pain, so long as I am in a situation where I am able to concentrate.  

I also visited the Berkeley Psychic Institute. And I eventually decided that trying to be psychic is unworkable for someone with a psychotic disorder such as mine.  

I have gone briefly to a couple of Zen Buddhist meditation centers in the Bay Area. I decided Zen Buddhism doesn't work as well for me as the techniques I developed for myself. However, I would recommend Zen to mental health consumers if they are able to handle it.  

I would recommend a book called, "The Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh. I would recommend, "An Introduction to Zen Buddhism," by D.T. Suzuki.  

(If you are practicing meditation and have a mental illness treated by medication, it may seem that medication interferes with meditation. However, an untreated mental condition interferes with meditation far, far more than does medication. Stay on your medication and work around any limitations it is causing with meditation practices. It can be done--I have done it.)  

In pursuit of meditation, I suggest a purpose simply of being happier, and not one of reaching a mysterious "enlightenment." If any parts of a meditation philosophy conflict with treatment for mental illness, you must decide in favor of treatment, and you should not abide by a conflicting philosophy.  

Over time, I have come to realize that physical comfort and emotional comfort are not necessities, especially when I can keep in mind the thought that "I am okay."  

Happiness isn't always synonymous with a continuous state of emotional comfort. If comfort is not a priority, a lot more can be accomplished because you don't always have to coddle your emotions. This is one of the things perhaps that goes beyond the philosophy taught by Keyes, and it points to the main deficiency of a philosophy designed to keep us seeking relief from emotional thorns. If you always need to be comfortable in the inside, you will not be able to survive in our society.  

On the other hand, persons with mental illness have a greater need for calmness, compared to non-afflicted people. Even if we were to create some immunity to emotional pain, too many uncomfortable emotions could cause instability, which puts us at risk for a relapse. It is important that we pace ourselves and not put ourselves in situations that are overwhelming.  

Taking time to relax, to check in with ourselves, and to let the tension drain out, is a necessary part of the day. Meditation can become a valuable resource in one's arsenal of tools for maintaining mental health.


Ralph E. Stone
Sunday August 16, 2015 - 09:54:00 AM

In conjunction with Bob Burnett's astute analysis of the Donald Trump phenomenon, here is my take on last Thursday's top-ten Republican debate.

The audience probably learned more from the excellent, pointed questions put to the GOP presidential wannabes than their rambling non-answers. But then this was really a beauty pageant rather than a debate. We got to put faces to names and whether the wannabes could speak coherently. None of the candidates looked particularly presidential. That's probably why Trump is leading in the polls and seems to be featured in the post-debate media. It will be a challenge for the wannabes not named Trump to separate his or herself from the pack. Will Trump falter in future debates and in the Republican primaries?  

If nothing else, It will be an interesting primary season.

Arts & Events

A Sumptuous French Opera: Marin Marais’ SÉMÉLÉ

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:08:00 AM

As the centerpiece of its Versailles Festival, American Bach Soloists presented on Thursday evening, August 13, a concert performance of the 1709 opera Sémélé by Marin Marais. This opera, which preceded Handel’s rendering of the same story by several decades, was a huge undertaking for ABS’s Music Director, Jeffrey Thomas. The musical forces involved were monumental: a 53-piece orchestra, 17 chorus members, and 12 solo singers, amounting to 83 persons onstage counting Jeffrey Thomas who conducted. The results were well worth the effort, for this was a lively, musically rewarding performance of a French Baroque opera that long languished in oblivion. In fact, Marais’ Sémélé was neglected for almost 300 years until the French group Le Concert Spirituel, led by Hervé Niquet, presented the work at the Festival International de l’Opéra Baroque in Beaune, France, in 2006, the 350th anniversary year of Marin Marais’ birth. The current ABS presentation of Marais’ Sémélé at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which repeats on Friday, August 14, is believed to be the first this opera has received outside of France. 

Following the format established by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who, together with his librettist Philippe Quinault, prescribed that French tragédie lyrique should be comprised of five acts and a prologue based on classical myths, Marais’ Sémélé tells the tale of Jupiter’s passionate courting of the Theban princess Semele. Jupiter (Zeus in Greek) descends from Mount Olympus disguised as Idas, a mere mortal, and ardently woos Semele, who is promised by her father, Cadmus, to a Theban warrior, Adraste. Semele responds to the wooing of Idas, but she is reluctant to go against the wishes of her father. An indignant Jupiter then confesses his true identity, and thus wins over Semele, who is flattered by the love of the foremost god of the Greek (and Roman) pantheon.  

However, Adraste is bitter at Semele’s betrayal of their betrothal, and he enlists Juno, the long-suffering wife of Jupiter, to punish Semele. Juno, disguised as Beroe, an aging servant of Semele’s, plants a seed of doubt in Semele’s mind. Perhaps Jupiter is not who he says he is but merely an imposter. Juno urges Semele to seek proof of Jupiter’s godhead. Let him display himself in all his celestial glory, Juno advises, knowing full well that no mortal may gaze on such godhead without being consumed in fire and turned to ash. Semele falls for the bait, and would indeed be turned to ash except for the mercy of Jupiter, who raises her to the heavens as a constellation in the firmament. Jupiter also rescues Semele’s unborn son, Bacchus (Dionysos), from Semele’s womb, protects the fetus in his own thigh, and delivers the child from his own body. But this part of the story is not told in Marais’ Sémélé, which ends with Semele’s apotheosis. 

The Prologue features a Priest and Priestess of Bacchus who lead a crowd of celebrants in praise of Bacchus and his gift of wine. Soprano Grace Srinivasan was a vocally bright Priestess, and baritone Ben Kazez was a robust Priest. Midway through the Prologue, Apollo descends. Ably sung by tenor Matthew Hill, Apollo bids the crowd to welcome his brother Bacchus, born of the same father, Jupiter. Apollo asks the Muses to recount the story of how Bacchus came to be the child of Semele and Jupiter. 

As Act I begins, Cadmus, king of Thebes, informs his daughter Semele that he has promised her to Adraste, a Theban prince who has just defeated the forces of an enemy of Thebes in battle. Cadmus is sung by baritone Corbin Phillips, who began somewhat hesitantly but grew stronger as the opera progressed. Semele, sung by soprano Rebecca Myers Hoke, confides to her confidante, Dorine, that she loves Idas, a stranger, (Jupiter in disguise), who has ardently courted her. As Semele, Rebecca Myers Hoke has a light, lyric soprano with near perfect diction in French. However, one might have wished for more vocal power in passages that call for power. As Dorine, soprano Chelsea Morris has a darker tone, which paired well with Hoke’s higher and lighter voice. Their duets were especially effective, as in their Act I duet warning each other of the two-faced aspects of love. A lovely march featuring trumpets and drums announces a victory parade in honor of Adraste. Sung by tenor Steven Brennfleck, Adraste addresses Semele and seeks her consent to be his wife. Semele hesitates, but says she’ll obey her father. Adraste exults in his triumph. However, a thunderstorm erupts and is taken as an ill omen. 

A side-plot now involves the god Mercury (disguised at first as a mortal, Arbate), who woos Dorine. Robustly sung by baritone David Rugger, Mercury/ 

Arbate is successful in his courtship. However, Jupiter (disguised as Idas) and Semele engage in a somewhat testy dialogue in which Semele reveals how torn she is between the desires of her heart and the call of duty. Toward the end of this dialogue, Jupiter reveals to Semele his true identity. To demonstrate his powers, Jupiter, powerfully sung by bass Christopher Besch, transforms the woods into a palace with gardens and fountains. The chorus sings of birdcalls that delight the ear. Now the orchestra launches an extensive and very beautiful Chaconne featuring a tambourine and castanets. This Chaconne is no mere divertissement but rather suggests in musical terms the delightful, harmon-ious transformation effected by Jupiter of the woodsy environs. Adraste, who has been lurking nearby, confronts Semele and asks why she betrays him. Semele replies that the love of a god releases her from her betrothal. Indignant, Adraste questions whether Idas is truly a god in disguise. Thus ends Act II. 

After intermission, Act III develops Adraste’s efforts at revenge, his enlisting of Juno in his plot, and Juno’s jealous hatred of the beautiful Semele. Juno is ably sung by mezzo-soprano Sara LeMesh. Midway through Act III is an agitated choral air for the Furies, invoked by Juno to aid her revenge. Act IV returns to the sub-plot of Mercury and Dorine’s love, offering a happy, unclouded contrast to the tormented love of Jupiter and Semele. At the close of Act IV, Semele asks Jupiter for one thing. Whatever you ask, I promise to give, says Jupiter. Egged on by Juno, Semele demands from Jupiter that he show himself in all his celestial glory. Jupiter despairs that this will bring about Semele’s death. 

Act V opens with Semele sure of her victory, and Adraste sure that one way or another, he will soon be dead. Cadmus appears and utters a fussy, fastidious prayer that the all-powerful god may protect and bless the Theban people. How-ever, an earthquake erupts, signalling the imminent appearance of Jupiter. The earthquake is rendered musically in agitated cellos, violas, and violins. A chorus sings in fear. Adraste senses his imminent demise. Semele rejoices in what she deems will be her own beautiful death as Jupiter gives proof that he was indeed her lover. Adraste is reduced to ash, but Semele is saved by the love of Jupiter, who instructs the Zephyrs to carry Semele into the heavens, where she will reign forever as an equal to his wife Juno. 

All in all, this concert production of Marin Marais’ Sémélé gives abundant notice that Marin Marais was far more than just a gifted viola da gambist, a notion that might have been furthered by the 1991 film Tous les Matins du Monde. As Sémélé clearly demonstrates, Marais, who briefly took over the Paris Opera after the death of Lully, was also a consummate composer of opera, and an important transition figure between Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau in the history of French Baroque opera.