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Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilmember Betty Olds and environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin drew a flood of media attention when they became Berkeley’s oldest tree-sitters on Jan. 22, 2007. The trio brought 245 years of savvy to a high-profile protest to save the grove of trees UC Berkeley hoped to ax to make way for the $125 million gym complex along Memorial Stadium’s western wall. The project was completed despite their objections and has been a financial disaster.
Richard Brenneman
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilmember Betty Olds and environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin drew a flood of media attention when they became Berkeley’s oldest tree-sitters on Jan. 22, 2007. The trio brought 245 years of savvy to a high-profile protest to save the grove of trees UC Berkeley hoped to ax to make way for the $125 million gym complex along Memorial Stadium’s western wall. The project was completed despite their objections and has been a financial disaster.


New: Re: The Trickle-Down Theory of Global Warming (Public Comment)

Jeff Hoffman
Wednesday January 27, 2016 - 03:40:00 PM

Russ Tillman's column is so blatantly wrong about everything I don't know where to start, but I'll try to do this in the order presented.

First, electric cars are much better for the environment than any cars that burn gasoline. Tillman's claim that "A $70,000 Tesla Model S produces carbon similar to a 31 mile-per-gallon gasoline-powered car" is patently false. If an electric car is charged by electricity from solar panels, it produces no pollution at all, including carbon dioxide. And by the way, it's carbon dioxide, not carbon. 

Next, the California high speed rail train would be electric. Again, if the power were to come from solar panels and wind generators along the tracks, the trains would produce zero pollution. So again, Tillman's claim that "The greenhouse gas emission-equivalent for a typical airplane carrying 116 passengers would be a train carrying 130-280 passengers" is totally false, because it doesn't apply to the high speed rail project. (I actually have some objections to portions of this project, such as the proposed route through the Pacheco Pass wilderness, and don't support it as is, but not for Tillman's reasons.) 

Third, traveling by train is less environmentally harmful than flying for other reasons than just air pollution and global warming. Planes create hideous noise, dump their toxic fuel before they land, and airports take up massive space that could otherwise be used for wildlife. Planes have also killed many birds by hitting them or the birds flying into the jet engines. 

Finally, Tillman seems to think that spending money is what is needed to solve environmental problems. While it's true that in some isolated cases spending money can help the environment, that is rarely what is needed. Overconsumption -- i.e., spending money -- is one of the root causes of all environmental problems (the other being overpopulation). My guess is that Tillman is a leftist and thinks everything is about money, but money has nothing to do with the environment and spending money will usually not help or save it. 

I suggest leftists stick to writing columns about subjects on which they have some knowledge, such as economics. As a long time environmentalist, I can vouch for the fact that leftists look foolish when they write about the environment. To be clear, by "leftists" I mean people who prioritize economic issues. For real environmentalists and the environment itself, that priority is the real problem, not whether one is on the left or the right.

Sylvia McLaughlin, Who Saved the Bay with a Little Help from Her Friends, Dies in Her Hundredth Year

Bay City News and Planet
Friday January 22, 2016 - 10:26:00 AM
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilmember Betty Olds and environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin drew a flood of media attention when they became Berkeley’s oldest tree-sitters on Jan. 22, 2007. The trio brought 245 years of savvy to a high-profile protest to save the grove of trees UC Berkeley hoped to ax to make way for the $125 million gym complex along Memorial Stadium’s western wall. The project was completed despite their objections and has been a financial disaster.
Richard Brenneman
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilmember Betty Olds and environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin drew a flood of media attention when they became Berkeley’s oldest tree-sitters on Jan. 22, 2007. The trio brought 245 years of savvy to a high-profile protest to save the grove of trees UC Berkeley hoped to ax to make way for the $125 million gym complex along Memorial Stadium’s western wall. The project was completed despite their objections and has been a financial disaster.

Sylvia McLaughlin, a leader in the San Francisco Bay Area environmental movement, died quietly at her home in Berkeley on Tuesday. She was 99.

McLaughlin, Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick founded Save San Francisco Bay Association—which became Save The Bay—in 1961 to stop the city of Berkeley from adding 2,000 acres by filling in a part of the Bay.

"Sylvia and her friends just wanted to stop the Bay from being destroyed," Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis said in a statement.

The three feared the Bay could become just a shipping channel if all the infill plans around the Bay became reality.

In 2007, when she was in her 90s, she joined former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean and former Councilmember Betty Olds perching in an oak tree in U.C. Berkeley's Memorial Grove, in an ultimately futile attempt to dissuade the university from cutting down the grove to expand Memorial Stadium. 

McLaughlin was born on Dec. 24, 1916 in Denver, Colorado to George and Jean Cranmer. She was the third of four children and the couple's only daughter.

Her father was responsible for creating the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Her mother was a trained violinist and classical music patron.

McLaughlin, who graduated from Vassar College in 1939,married Donald McLaughlin in 1948 and moved in with him and his mother in Berkeley. Donald was a University of California faculty member and the president of Homestake Mining Company.

When McLaughlin, Kerr and Gulick formed Save San Francisco Bay Association, the three organized residents and temporarily stopped more infill plans for the Bay.

They enlisted the help of hundreds of citizens, most of them women, who paid only a dollar to become Save the Bay members and soon became activists themselves.

McLaughlin was also responsible for the creation of a new state agency, the Bay Conservation & Development Commission, to regulate shoreline development and infilling.

The agency was the first of its kind and is a worldwide model for managing coastal zones.

Citizens for East Shore Parks President Robert Cheasty said McLaughlin is a beacon for young people to see what a life well lived is all about. 

Cheasty said it's not only what McLaughlin did but also how she did it. She never got rude or arrogant or full of herself, he said. She was always kind and humble. 

Her giving and kind spirit was similar to Mother Teresa's, Cheasty said. 

Sylvia encouraged people to "find their best angels," he said. 

McLaughlin was around when women wore white gloves to meetings but she was tough too, Cheasty said. 

"She had a fist of steel under that white glove," he said. 

In addition, she could bring diverse people together, such as business leaders and tree huggers, to advance the effort to protect the shoreline, Citizens for East Shore Parks Executive Director Patricia Jones said. 

In 2012, Eastshore State Park was renamed McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in McLaughlin's honor. 

McLaughlin is survived by her children Jeanie Shaterian and George McLaughlin (Andrea), her stepson Donald McLaughlin Jr. (Martine Jore), ten grandchildren and step-grandchildren and ten step-great-grandchildren. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. a memorial service will be held for McLaughlin at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley and a restoration event in McLaughlin's honor will held in the future. 

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that gifts be made to Save The Bay or Citizens for East Shore Parks.


The Editor's Back Fence

Public Comment

New: Is This the City You Want?

Is This The City We Want Collective
Monday January 25, 2016 - 12:10:00 PM

A powerful video opinion on what's happening in Speculation City: 

New: How Are We Doing?

John Caner, CEO, Downtown Berkeley Association
Monday January 25, 2016 - 12:02:00 PM

Dear Downtown Berkeley Stakeholder:

How are we doing?


The Downtown Berkeley Property-Based Business Improvement District (PBID) commenced operations four years ago in January 2012, with cleaning, landscaping, hospitality, marketing and other services. We are committed to doing an annual survey measuring our performance in meeting the goals of the PBID.

You--the property owners and business owners--are our customers. Hence it is critical that we measure your customer satisfaction, priorities, and perceptions of progress in the Downtown. Your individual responses will be kept confidential, however we will present results in aggregate, and comparison to prior survey, once the survey is completed. 

Please take a couple minutes to answer nine questions about the Downtown to help us create and sustain a vibrant, welcoming, and prosperous Downtown Berkeley. 

Click below to take the survey: 



John Caner, CEO 

Homeless Youth: A Bright and Shining Light (Candidate Position Paper)

Mike Lee, www.oldbumformayor.org
Friday January 22, 2016 - 01:42:00 PM

Kriss Worthington announced recently in an e-mail to the community that ,"Item 35 to adopt a resolution declaring a homeless crisis was unanimously approved by the City Council." "This simple common sense measure was only delayed twice from Dec 15 and Jan 12 before last night’s successful adoption." He goes on to gently remind the reader that this is but one small step and the next battle is over the Homeless Task Force Tier one recommendations on February 9th

Passage of the crisis resolution is largely symbolic because unlike other cities it does not carry a financial commitment. In a macabre Abbott-and-Costello-like skit there lacks any type of plan or intent to even decide what the next step is. Not only is the majority of the council led by Capitelli and Arreguin befuddled by who's on first they can't even find it! 

It is especially disturbing to me that the obvious is overlooked. All you have to do is walk down Shattuck to discover we have a serious challenge called homelessness. It is unacceptable to me that simple cost effective solutions which are in place to confront this conundrum have to struggle for funding. 

On February 9th the Council will be presented with a request to fund a " ...indoor space for homeless youth during El Nino.."(Worthington e mail). The proposal is being presented primarily by Youth Spirit Artworks(YSA) in partnership with YEAH (Youth Engagement, Advocacy and Housing http://www.yeah-berkeley.org) Along with their impeccable record YSA brings with them a matching grant commitment. 

" YSA has received a new matching grant that will make it possible for all gifts to Youth Spirit to be matched dollar for dollar up to $25,000!
The gift is focused on building our collaboration with YEAH shelter providing jobs training for homeless youth indoors during el Nino. We have opened our doors from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm daily, for a total of up to 40 additional hours to keep youth safe. We are working hard to create 24/7 empowering and positive indoor space for youth this winter." ( http://youthspiritartworks.org/2016/01/16/ysa-receives-matching-grant/) 

Once funding is in place the end result is homeless youth will be provided with shelter 24/7. At night they stay at the YEAH shelter. During the day they can program at YSA. This is exactly the wrap around solution which has proven an effective method in lending a hand up and not a hand out to homeless youth one of which I support whole heartedly. 

The amount requested is a miniscule $15,000. To me this is a no brainer. For the City gets 100% service for 50% of the cost. What a deal! Hell give them the whole $25,000 and ask them to bring another bargain like this one. This proposal is good for the city, its good for the community and its good for homeless youth. 

The Nay-sayers will wail "but we don't have any money!" Let's see there are 100,000 plus residents of Berkeley. If each one gave a quarter that's $25,000. Hey Arreguin isn't this your district? Stop beating your chest about all the good things you've done and get your marching boots are on. Get on the street corner with a bucket, go door to door, sell cookies, wash cars the community doesn't care what you do but go get this money because homeless youth can't wait. 

It's nice the powers that be finally decided to recognize the obvious. What is really shameful is that the community had to keep on harping about this very point. 

At this point the question begging to be answered is this: Who is in charge of the City? According to professional politicians it's them because they and only they know what's good for us. To me it is the community who at the end of the day pay all of the bills and are the true experts on what's best for them. 

Mike Lee is a homelessness activist who describes himself as "the third mayoral candidate with a new vision for a new future: a campaign of solutions and not promises."

The Trickle-Down Theory of Global Warming

Russ Tilleman
Friday January 22, 2016 - 12:49:00 PM

Some of us might remember Reaganomics, and the idea that lower taxes for the rich would somehow put more money in the pockets of the non-rich. Now a similarly absurd approach is being used to "fight" global warming.

Greenwashed toys only the rich can afford, which will do nothing to reduce global warming, are predicted to cause non-rich people to do other things that will reduce global warming.

Two examples come to mind: Tesla and the California High Speed Rail project. 


A $70,000 Tesla Model S produces carbon similar to a 31 mile-per-gallon gasonline-powered car. 

A $24,000 Toyota Prius get 50 miles per gallon. 

So mile-for-mile, a Tesla does almost twice the environmental damage as a Prius. And that is without considering the huge difference in price between the two cars. 

The $46,000 price difference, if spent on carbon offset credits, could get rid of the carbon the Prius would emit in ONE THOUSAND YEARS of typical daily driving. 

The numbers are a lot worse if a Tesla and a Prius are each driven for 20 years before being scrapped. The waste of the $46,000 that could have paid for carbon offset credits makes the Tesla's carbon footprint about the same as a 1 mile-per-gallon gasoline-powered car. 

Yet people who call themselves environmentalists claim that Teslas are good for the planet. That rich people driving around in expensive and evironment-destroying luxury cars will somehow convince average Americans to conserve energy. 

California High-Speed Rail  

The California High Speed Rail project is the most expensive public-works project in the history of the United States. It is estimated to cost up to $100 billion by the time it is finished. And yet, careful analysis by the Department of Civil and Evironmental Engineering at UC Berkeley has shown that this project might produce NO EVNIRONMENTAL BENEFITS AT ALL. 

In 2010, Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath summed up this research in a paper: "Life-cycle assessment of high-speed rail: the case in California". And in 2012, they were interviewed for an article in Berkeley News: "Future of California high-speed rail looks green". 

From the Berkeley News article: 

"The greenhouse gas emission-equivalent for a typical airplane carrying 116 passengers would be a train carrying 130-280 passengers." 


“this is not the answer to the state’s greenhouse gas goals. This is a tiny piece of the puzzle.” 

In other words, a CHSR train might emit between 12 percent and 141 perent MORE carbon than an airliner carrying the same people. 

So California is throwing away $100,000,000,000.00 that could have been used to really help the environment. That much money would put solar panels on 5 million homes. Or do equally good things like build wind turbines or save parts of the Earth's rainforests. 

Again, this is somehow supposed to convince Americans to stop driving their cars and ride a bus or train that won't take them from where they live to where they work or back again. 

The Tragedy of All This 

Global warming is real and we should be doing everything we can afford to do to combat it. And there are things we can do. But our corrupt political system keeps our society from doing the things that should be done. 

- Wealthy people with a profit motive, and misguided would-be environmentalists with big public relations budgets, make false claims about how green their projects are. 

- The media parrots these falsehoods without even bothering to do any fact-checking. 

- Honest Americans who want to save the planet are bombarded with this misinformation until it becomes accepted as fact. 

- Government pays for foolish projects that won't help anything. 

- Developers kick some of that money back to the elected officials. 

- The cycle repeats over and over again. 

We saw this locally with AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit project. Even after Berkeley killed it, the New York Times attacked us for being anti-environmentalists. And they used the same ridiculous claim AC Transit had concocted: that BRT was just like a subway but with buses. 

What Can We Do? 

- We can elect people who won't lie to us, who won't sell us out to special interest groups in return for campaign contributions. 

- We can spend a few dollars a month on carbon offset credits to get rid of the carbon we produce driving our cars or just living our lives. 

- We can stop and think whenever a well-financed public relations department tells us a whopper like diesel-powered buses driving on the street are just like electic-powered subway trains in dedicated tunnels. 

And when someone stands up and says "hey these people are lying to you", we can consider whether they might be right before we attack them as anti-environmentalists.

Israeli Settlements

Jagjit Singh
Friday January 22, 2016 - 12:55:00 PM

The world renowned human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, has called for all companies to cease doing business with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The group’s new report, titled "Occupation, Inc.," also calls on countries like the United States to "withhold funding to the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures and related infrastructure in the West Bank." The settlements have been declared illegal under international law. The report comes on the heels of a statement by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, in which he accused Israel of the abominable treatment of Palestinians. He stated that Israel “having two standards for adherence to the rule of law in the West Bank—one for Jews and one for Palestinians. He added "Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities. Too much vigilantism goes unchecked. And at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law—one for Israelis and another for Palestinians." 

It is time the Obama administration stiffen their collective spines and take heed of the ambassador’s advice and stop supporting Israel’s disdain for international law and its appalling treatment of the Palestinians. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration has pledged to reward Israel for its bad behavior by diverting additional tax payer funds to the tune of $2 billion a year for the next ten years.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Maybe Bernie Can Win

Bob Burnett
Thursday January 21, 2016 - 03:13:00 PM

I’m beginning to believe Bernie Sanders can win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency.

Sunday night, January 17th, I watched the Democratic presidential debates with my wife, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and stepson, an Edward Snowden fan. After two hours – of a real debate – they concluded Bernie Sanders had won. (That was the critical consensus.)

Since Bernie announced his candidacy, I’ve been torn. On the one hand, I’ve long admired Sanders. It’s hard not to respect someone who was born the same year that I was and has paid his dues as a liberal activist and politician. On the other hand, I feel it’s time for a woman to be President and I like Hillary. And, given the slate of truly dreadful candidates, any Democrat is preferable to whomever the GOP eventually nominates. 

For the past eight months I’ve told anyone who asked me, “I believe Hillary will win the Democratic nomination. But, Bernie’s candidacy serves a useful purpose: it will push Hillary to the left.” Meanwhile, the contest exposed Clinton’s weaknesses and demonstrated Sanders can harness the energy of the “activist” part of the Democratic base. 

On issues such as economic justice, environmental sanity, and racial equality, there’s no doubt Hillary has a liberal perspective and is miles apart from any Republican presidential candidate. And, of course, on gender equity and reproductive justice, Clinton is on a different planet than are Trump, Cruz, et al. 

Nonetheless, my decision whom to support for the Democratic nomination does not come down to policies or gender or age (although in an ideal campaign I would prefer to support a younger progressive woman); it’s refusing to be satisfied with the Democratic Party “business as usual” process. 

There’s two wings of the Democracy Party: an activist wing filled with “do gooders” who, each day, slog through the peace and justice trenches taking on issue after issue. And an establishment wing composed of “people of privilege,” the Democratic portion of “the one percent.” 

The two wings co-exist, but they have different access to the leaders of the Democratic Party. When Obama was in San Francisco more than a year ago, Dems demonstrated against approval of the Keystone XL pipeline; but wealthy activist Tom Steyer got to the President when Steyer hosted a democratic fundraiser. 

In 2016, Bernie represents the activists and Hillary the establishment. On May 6th, when I saw Hillary in San Francisco, she talked about the role of money in American politics, “fixing our dysfunctional political system and getting unaccountable money out of it even if that takes a constitutional amendment.” However, since then Hillary has run as an establishment Democrat. Bernie Sanders has made money in politics his central issue. 

In the January 17th debate, Sanders pounded on this theme: “we have a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires are spending extraordinary amounts of money to buy elections.” When each candidate was asked what she or he would do to bring the country together, Bernie replied, “The real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do.” 

When asked about his Wall Street policy, Bernie Sanders responded: 

The first difference [between him and Clinton] is I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs… But here is the issue, Secretary [Clinton] touched on it, can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals? [$600,00 to Clinton in one year.]
In 2016, Hillary Clinton is running the same campaign as Barack Obama in 2008. Obama was an establishment Democrat, a person of privilege, running on progressive policies but not addressing the issue of money in politics. 

Clinton has three weaknesses: First, she does not have a central campaign theme, a core message. (On Sunday night she offered, “I want to be a president who takes care of the big problems and the problems that are affecting the people of our country everyday.”) 

Second, she’s identified as a Washington insider. Likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has surged to the lead of the Republican pack by running as an outsider. He’s effectively channeled voters’ anger at Washington by positioning himself as a maverick who doesn’t need to accept contributions from big money. If Clinton were the Democratic nominee, Trump could attack her as part of the Washington establishment and as someone beholden to big money. 

Finally, a lot of voters don’t like Hillary Clinton. The latest national poll shows Sanders up 15 points in a head-to-head contest with Trump. Clinton is up 10 points. 

Sanders does better against Trump because he has better favorability ratings. (Trump and Clinton are negative.) 

Don’t misunderstand me. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee then I will support her. But now that I think Bernie Sanders has a chance to win the nomination, I’m going to push him (even if he is an old white guy) because he’s got a winning message, strong progressive values; and is most likely to ignite the Democratic activist base. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Palin Endorses Trump: Let the Fun Begin

Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 22, 2016 - 11:54:00 AM

Sarah Palin, winner of the 1984 Miss Wasilla beauty pageant, former Alaska governor, and 2008 Republican Vice presidential nominee, has endorsed Donald Trump for president. Since leaving office, Palin has endorsed and campaigned for the Tea Party movement. Palin is a lifetime member of the NRA, opposes abortion, against same-sex marriage, in favor of capital punishment, opposes the legalization of marijuana, rejects amnesty for illegal immigrants, and opposes ObamaCare. She's Trump's kind of woman 

Palin's family has been somewhat of an embarrassment. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin touted abstinence and then her unmarried daughter Bristol became pregnant. Later, Bristol, the unmarried no-sex-before-marriage advocate, announced her second pregnancy. Recently, Palin's son Track was arrested for domestic violence. Palin said her son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that Obama had made his situation worse by allegedly disrespecting veterans. Perhaps, Palin should mind her own glass house before throwing stones for Trump. Then again, Palin like Trump is not easily embarrassed. 

Palin certainly helped John McCain to a resounding defeat in the 2008 presidential race -- 52.9% to 45.7%. Maybe, Palin will provide Trump with the same kind of help, guiding Trump to an out-of-the-race finish for the Republican nomination for president.  

Let the fun to begin. You betcha.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Mystery of Evolving Past Unawareness

Jack Bragen
Friday January 22, 2016 - 01:41:00 PM

Hard knocks can do a person some good, but only if something is learned as a result. (This is not to say that you should go looking for them.) If a situation goes south, and if it is painful enough, you can learn from it, and try not to repeat the same mistakes. Or you could do otherwise; for example, blame someone else, and continue the flawed behavior.  

This is not to say that we are to blame for all bad things happening to us--on the contrary. Sometimes the lesson that needs to be learned is about defending oneself from the baloney, sabotage, or assault perpetrated by others. Or, bad things can happen when no one is at fault; we could still try to learn something from them. 

But, what was it, in the past nearly twenty years since my last hospitalization, that turned on a light bulb in my head and allowed me to start evolving as a person, from a place of near stupidity despite having an above average I.Q., to a place of being able to reason effectively, and apply this to life situations?  

I was in denial about a number of things. I wasn't aware of how my behavior affected other people. People confronted me. After more time in treatment, I was finally able to hear some of that.  

I was put on Olanzapine after eighteen years of taking only Prolixin. Yet, also, I was (and still am) practicing meditation. It is not Zen, but rather, a self-invented mishmash of cognitive techniques and random thought, originally written down on ream after ream of yellow tablets of paper.  

If in contact with geniuses, or even grounded people, eventually some of that rubs off onto a person, not to say that we don't all have potential. However, my dealings with editors, friends, family, and mental health practitioners have helped me to become grounded into a commonly accepted and more accurate version of reality.  

My wife has done me a lot of good, since she has been willing to stick with me and confront me when I do something inconsiderate, unclear or dumb. I am fortunate that I have learned to hear someone when they tell me forcefully enough that I have done something wrong. People probably like that about me.  

My grasp of reality arose from a combination of participating in treatment, my own efforts, and osmosis through associating with intelligent people. About nineteen years ago, I was emerging from severe delusions, and, on a deep level, I wanted to learn to think better with more accuracy.  

As I approach the twenty-year mark of not being hospitalized, my thinking continues to improve, and I hope that this is apparent in the quality of my writing.  

Now, I have released another self-published book, a memoir, (available on Amazon or directly from lulu.com.) The title is "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle." It outlines some of many hardships, not all of which could be attributed to unclear thought, and it shows how I have experienced repeated setbacks in life, yet have persisted in trying to make things better for myself. Someone suggested the title: "Schizophrenia, my 35 year struggle," but I believe "Battle" is a better word, since it brings to mind "battling cancer" as opposed to "struggle" which implies being plagued with problems.  

I suffer from a disease that affects thought and behavior, and I have battled against that disease, even while suffering the consequences of behavior and speech generated by the condition. I have also dealt with the consequences of standing out as a disabled person seeking success--it has made me a target. 

So, I chose to say "battle" which makes me sound brave, rather than "struggle" which implies turpitude or perhaps weakness. You should read the book and judge for yourself. It costs about fifteen dollars plus shipping, and I am not offering an electronic copy, since it is too easy for computer people to convert an e-book to PDF and distribute copies without paying me.

Arts & Events

Company Wayne McGregor or The Question of Meaning in Dance

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean and Kathryn Roszak
Friday January 22, 2016 - 12:40:00 PM

On Saturday evening, Jan. 16, I (James Roy MacBean) attended a much anticipated dance event by the London-based Company Wayne McGregor, a group that formerly went under the name Random Dance. For this event, held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre under the aegis of San Francisco Performances, I was accompanied by local dance choreographer Kathryn Roszak, who had indicated she would enjoy contributing occasional reviews of dance events to Berkeley Daily Planet. After the performance, Kathryn and I launched into a dialogue about the piece entitled “Atomos” we had just seen. I began by asking her how she would situate the boundary-crossing mixed media explorations of Wayne McGregor within contemporary dance. 


Kathryn Roszak: 

Wayne McGregor is in demand with major ballet companies yet his initial background is almost entirely in modern dance. In fact, his impetus to dance came from seeing John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. He studied ballroom, Latin American, and disco. That background surprisingly won him the appointment that launched his career – Resident Choreographer with the Royal Ballet in London. This appointment positioned McGregor as an important choreographer in the ballet world alongside Christopher Wheeldon, Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, and Alexander Ratmansky. It should be noted that there are quite a few brilliant women choreographers, but they have yet to receive the prestige commissions routinely offered to this particular group of men. 

Apparently, McGregor was originally noticed as a dancer for his remarkable speed and flexibility, and these characteristics are present in “Atomos.” His dancers launch into fast, intricate movements that feature sudden, unexpected extensions. Like many current ballet choreographers, McGregor’s movement inventions are relentless. He’s also known, however, for edgy collaborations with visual artists, specialists in technology, and contemporary composers, as we see in “Atomos.” 


James Roy MacBean

Once Kathryn had answered my question about how to situate the work of Wayne McGregor in contemporary dance, she in turn asked me how I liked what I had just seen. I began by observing that at a running time of 69 minutes the show was much too long. To my mind it would have been better at half that time. Secondly, I noted that there was way too much of the same thing, over and over again. There was little variety, it seemed to me, in either the admittedly stunning dance movements themselves or in the emotions they expressed or elicited in us. On this issue, the dominant emotion throughout the piece, from the opening group grope to the duos, trios, solos, and line dances, seemed to be anxiety, perhaps resulting from an attraction/repulsion syndrome toward others. The dancers repeatedly writhed in angular gestures that spoke more of anxiety than of eroticism, tenderness, or any other human emotion. Thirdly, I found the use of 3-D images, provided by Ravi Deepres, mostly gratuitous and even downright distracting. When the dancers performed front and center with 3-D images projected on five or six screens situated at varying depths of the stage-space, one simply didn’t know where to look, at the dancers or at the screens. The one exception was a brief segment when the dancers left the stage, presumably needing a rest from their extra-ordinarily strenuous workout, while the screens offered black-and-white 3-D filmed images of the dancers performing vigorous writhing gestures during which their arms and hands seemed to reach right out into the audience. 

As for the musical score by Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, heard by an over-amplified recording, it seemed a bit of this and a bit of that. I heard snippets that reminded me of bland electronic music, insipid imitations of Eric Satie’s works for solo piano, Minimalism, watered-down imitations of the drone-like sonorities of Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, and the kind of spooky ambient muzak one hears on KALW’s “Hearts of Space” program. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that the composers consciously modeled their score after any or all of these sources. I only maintain that they created a score that seems to me to be all over the musical landscape in watered-down fashion. In short, the music, while not intrusive, was hardly engaging. All told, I found the dancing very impressive. But, to me, as a complete work, “Atomos” was largely disappointing. However, let me ask you in turn how you responded to “Atomos” by Wayne McGregor. 


Kathryn Roszak: 

In “Atomos” McGregor creates wonderfully inventive movement. The dancers attack this piece with full commitment and vigor, and they are a joy to watch. I was struck by the opening knot of dancers clothed in Studio XO’s skin-revealing costumes and bathed in Lucy Carter’s atmospheric lighting. “Atomos” has what I would call a Sixties vibe, the self-conscious desire to be ”new,” even if only retrospectively. Dancers unfold into teams moving in complex patterns, always partnered by the lighting, which gives limbs now a green hue, now a red hue. There were lovely groupings that had an almost archaic look – frenetic movement for entangled duos and trios, plus some unusual lifts with a partnered dancer curving around the mid-point of another dancer’s torso. 

McGregor’s choreography may be stunning in the moment, but little sticks in my memory. There were very few indelible choreographic images. McGregor’s choice of music may offer a key to this lack of strong images. He states that he used the music for the dancers’ warm-ups; and the music has an ambient, “spacey” quality that lacks substance. None of the movement in “Atomos” left an imprint on my memory the way the choreography of Paul Taylor or George Balanchine does. Their works have a refined power and depth that was missing here and is essential in a full-length, 69-minute work. McGregor’s movements, while endlessly innovative, eventually become a blur and only sustain interest through the dancers’ eloquent execution. I’d single out the powerful Jessica Wright, the elegant Anna Nowak, and the honest commitment of Caterina Carvalho. The use of 3-D images, as you noted, were often distracting and added little to the work, except for the black-and-white images in which the dancers seemed trapped inside the screens while struggling mightily to get out. 

James Roy MacBean: 

Finally, I have to raise the question of meaning. In his review of “Atomos” in The San Francisco Chronicle, Alan Ulrich found himself searching in vain for meaning in this work. Where does one look for meaning in a work of modern dance? Take Mark Morris’s “L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed Il Moderato,” for example. What meaning is there in that piece other than the sheer joy of lively dance movement set to Handel’s joyous music? One could argue, I suppose, that the terms “Allegro, Penseroso, and Moderato” derive from rhythmic markings, although Handel uses them to indicate humors, i.e., the cheerful man, the thoughtful man, and the moderate man. Thus these terms entail different types of dancing for each rhythm or humor. This might be a way of pursuing meaning in that piece. To take another example, in the work of my daughter, Los Angeles-based choreographer Arianne MacBean, one looks for meaning in the complex relations between the spoken word, music and dance movement. However, where does one look for meaning in “Atomos” by Wayne McGregor? And what meaning, if any, does one find there? 


Kathryn Roszak: 

Everything used to be so much simpler. Now choreography like McGregor’s is often overwhelmed by technology; and it’s even overwhelmed by the incredible technique of today’s dancers. It’s like being in a candy shop; and the choreo-graphers want to eat all the candy. But it’s too much, and it simply gives us a sugar high. There’s a buzz, but it’s superficial. “Atomos” started off well. I liked the first section, with its clear group architecture and great dancers. But the piece went on far too long and became tedious. It needed editing. Perhaps McGregor needs the dance equivalent of theater’s dramaturge, a person who works on the overall shape of the piece. 

Apparently, “Atomos” is Greek for the ‘indivisible’ nature of biological cells replicating and eventually undergoing cell death. McGregor likes to work on weighty subjects, and he collaborates frequently with computer scientists, biologists, visual artists, and even literary scholars. He’s clearly a thoughtful artist. However, the meaning of his work, and of “Atomos” in particular, remains elusive.