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Cafe Babette's corner at BAMPFA
Cafe Babette's corner at BAMPFA


Press Release: Bicylist Seriously Injured in Berkeley Collision

Officer Jennifer Coats, BPD
Tuesday February 02, 2016 - 10:11:00 PM

BPD continues to investigate the injury collision that occurred at Fulton and Bancroft on February 2 at 4:57 p.m. The bicyclist, a 42 year old female, of Berkeley, is in critical condition receiving treatment at a local hospital. The driver, Berwick Haynes, a 47 year old male, from Sunnyvale, has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.  

Preliminarily we can say the vehicle and the bicyclist were both traveling south on Fulton from Bancroft. As they proceeded through the intersection the two collided. The bicyclist appears to have been dragged by the vehicle and was pinned underneath when it came to a stop. Berkeley Fire Department was able to raise the vehicle and pull her out. She was then immediately transported to the hospital. Based on the level of her injuries the Fatal Accident Investigation Team was called in. They are still investigating this matter and are trying to determine the primary cause for the collision.

New: Don't Blame The Minimum Wage

Harry Brill, East Bay Tax the Rich Group
Tuesday February 02, 2016 - 01:54:00 PM

In a recent article in the online newsletter, Berkeleyside, the caption reads "Mokka to Close. Minimum Wage a Major Factor". Mokka is a cafe on Telegraph Avenue, just two blocks south of Ashby Avenue. Since the minimum wage issue is on the agenda of the Berkeley City Council next week (Tuesday, 2-9), the timing of the article is unfortunate. You can bet your bottom dollar that the business community will be screaming how mandating higher wages is causing a tidal wave of bankruptcies. The Berkeley minimum wage will be increased from $11 to$12.53 an hour in October. As a result, the owners of Mokka question whether they would be able to operate profitably. Berkeleyside's reaction is to take the owners at their word rather than seriously evaluating whether higher wages are really their most serious problem.

Had the newsletter done so, it would have reached a very different conclusion. Mokka suffers two insurmountable problems. The lease expires in June. Afterward they were informed that the new lease will include a large increase in rent. Also, the owners would be required to sign a five year lease. I spoke with one of the proprietors who told me that such a long lease is too risky. Instead, they want just a one year lease. If the economy sours or other unanticipated developments occur, he would still be legally obligated to pay the rent for the duration of the lease.

Mokka's situation reflects the problem of small business generally. Too many local businesses are taking a beating due to the exorbitant increases in their rents. But it is wrong that they are attempting to retrieve some of the losses on the backs of low wage working people.  

Moreover, Mokka is competing with a nearby Starbucks, which enjoys a better location. As Berkeleyside acknowledges, the owners attempted to prevent Starbucks from moving in. The Berkeley City Council could have prevented it, but obviously decided not to. Too bad that the owners were not successful. On Sunday morning I checked both cafes. At Starbucks there was a line of customers. At Mocca only two customers. 

Why then are the owners mainly complaining about the minimum wage? They are not doing so, as they claim, that wages are their most important problem? Their dilemma is they cannot do anything about the competition from Starbucks and the impending rent increase. So they feel that it is futile to focus on what they cannot change. Rather, they believe that it is best to focus on issues that they might be able to influence. The proprietors of Mocca along with other members of the business community think that they have a chance to persuade the Berkeley City Council to defeat or at least limit proposed increases in the minimum wage.  

Advocates of a higher minimum wage rightly oppose poverty wages. On the other hand, that certainly doesn't mean that they want to put any employers out of business. But there is no hard evidence that higher wages force businesses to close. In fact, a general increase in purchasing power due to better wages is good for business and the local economies. In the long run, when businesses win battles to lower the standard of living, employers as well as employees are the losers.

Verismo Opera Presents Verdi's Otello in Berkeley on Saturday Night

Monday February 01, 2016 - 01:54:00 PM
Marsha Sims

This coming Saturday night the Verismo Opera company brings its performance of Verdi’s Otello to the intimate performance space of the Hillside Club in Berkeley, with Fred Winthrop as Otello, Eliza O'Malley as Desdemona and Michael Moran conducting. 

Otello is the story of a man who has defied convention by rising to the rank of general in the Venetian army despite his African ancestry and is now governor of Cypress. He has recently shocked the court by falling in love with and marrying the Venetian noblewoman Desdemona who had been thrilled by his heroic acts. 

It has long been a tradition to cast white tenors in the role of Otello and artificially darken their complexion. The Metropolitan Opera recently made headlines because they decided to abandon this practice in favor of using make-up that doesn’t change the skin tone of the actor. Although company members have always supported race-blind casting, it’s noteworthy that at the moment Verismo may be the only group in the world offering a tenor of African descent in the role of Otello. 

Not only does tenor Fred Winthrop “look the part”, but after 45 performances of this role he knows it backwards, forwards and inside out and delivers every line with the authority of someone who lives and breathes Verdi. Desdemona in this fully-staged production, sung in Italian with English supertitles, is Berkeley soprano Eliza O’Malley, with Michael Moran conducting the Verismo Chamber Orchestra. 

Verismo specializes in presenting affordable productions of classic operas in diverse locations throughout the Bay Area and northern California. The same cast will play in Otello at two Sunday 2 p. m. matinees at the Downtown Theatre, 1035 Texas St., Fairfield, CA 94533, on February 14 and February 28.  

Verdi’s Otello. Saturday, February 6, 7:30pm, Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94709 

Tickets $30 (general) $25 (seniors), $20 (students), free (under 12 yrs.)  

Buy tickets at the door, online from Brown Paper Tickets, or call (707) 864-5508.  

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Hillary & The Urn of Ashes

Conn Hallinan
Monday February 01, 2016 - 01:18:00 PM

“They sent forth men to battle.

But no such men return;

And home, to claim their


Comes ashes in an urn.”

Ode from “Agamemnon”, in the Greek tragedy The Oresteia by Aeschylus

Aeschylus—who had actually fought at Marathon in 490 BC, the battle that defeated the first Persian invasion of Greece—had few illusions about the consequences of war. His ode is one that the candidates for the U.S. presidency might consider, though one doubts that many of them would think to find wisdom in a 2,500 year-old Greek play.

And that, in itself, is a tragedy.

Historical blindness has been much on display in the run-up to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. On the Republican side candidates were going to “kick ass” in Iraq, make the “sand glow” in Syria, and face down the Russians in Europe. But while the Democratic aspirants were more measured, there is a pervasive ideology than binds together all but cranks like Ron Paul: America has the right, indeed, the duty to order the world’s affairs. 

This peculiar view of the role of the U.S. takes on a certain messianic quality in candidates like Hillary Clinton, who routinely quotes former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s line about America as “the indispensible nation” whose job is to lead the world. 

At a recent rally in Indianola, Iowa, Clinton said that “Senator [Bernie] Sanders doesn’t talk much about foreign policy, and, when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he really hasn’t thought things through.” 

The former Secretary of State was certainly correct. Foreign policy for Sanders is pretty much an afterthought to his signature issues of economic inequality and a national health care system. But the implication of her comment is that she has thought things through. If she has, it is not evident in her biography, Hard Choices, or in her campaign speeches. 

Hard Choices covers her years as Secretary of State and seemingly unconsciously tracks a litany of American foreign policy disasters: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, and the “Asia pivot” that has dangerously increased tensions with China. At the heart of Hard Choices is the ideology of “American exceptionalism,” which for Clinton means the right of the U.S. to intervene in other countries. As historian Jackson Lears, in the London Review of Books, puts it, Hard Choices “tries to construct a coherent rationale for an interventionist foreign policy and to justify it with reference to her own decisions as Secretary of State. The rationale is rickety: the evidence unconvincing.” 

Clinton is undoubtedly an intelligent person, but her book is remarkably shallow and quite the opposite of “thoughtful.” The one act on her part for which she shows any regret is her vote to invade Iraq. But even here she quickly moves on, never really examining how it is that the U.S. has the right to invade and overthrow a sovereign government. For Clinton, Iraq was only a “mistake” because it came out badly. 

She also demonstrates an inability to see other people’s point of view. Thus the Russians are aggressively attempting to re-establish their old Soviet sphere of influence rather than reacting to the steady march of NATO eastwards. The fact that the U.S. violated promises by the first Bush administration not to move NATO “one inch east” if the Soviets withdrew their forces from Eastern Europe is irrelevant. 

She doesn’t seem to get that a country that has been invaded three times since 1815 and lost tens of millions of people might be a tad paranoid about its borders. There is no mention of the roles of U.S. intelligence agencies, organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, and of openly fascist Ukranian groups played in the coup against the elected government of Ukraine. 

Clinton takes credit for the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot” that “sent a message to Asia and the world that America was back in its traditional leadership role in Asia,” but she doesn’t consider how this might be interpreted in Beijing. The U.S. never left Asia—the Pacific basin has long been our major trading partner—so, to the Chinese, “back” and “pivot” means that the U.S. plans to beef up its military in the region and construct an anti-China alliance system. It has done both. 

Clinton costumes military intervention in the philosophy of “responsibility to protect,” or “R2P,” but her application is selective. She takes credit for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, but in her campaign speeches she has not said a word about the horrendous bombing campaign being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. She cites R2P for why the U.S. should overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but is silent about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain to crush demands for democracy by its majority Shiite population. 

Clinton, along with Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s National Security Advisor, has pushed for muscular interventions without thinking—or caring—about the consequences 

And those consequences have been dire.. 

Afghanistan: Somewhere around 220,000 Afghans have died since the 2001 U.S. invasion, and millions of others are refugees. The U.S. and its allies have suffered close to 2,500 dead and more than 20,000 wounded, and the war is far from over. The cost: close to $700 billion, not counting the long-term medical bill that could run as high as $2 trillion. 

Libya: Some 30,000 people died and another 50,000 were wounded in the intervention and civil war. Hundreds of thousands have been turned into refugees. The cost was cheap: $1.1 billion, but it has created a tsunami of refugees and the war continues. It also produced one of Clinton’s more tasteless remarks. Referring to Gaddafi, she said, “We came, we saw, he died.” The Libyan leader was executed by having a bayonet rammed up his rectum. 

Ukraine: The death toll is above 8,000, some 18,000 have been wounded, and several cities in the eastern part of the country have been heavily damaged. The fighting has tapered off although tensions remain high. 

Yemen: Over 6,000 people have been killed, another 27,000 wounded, and, according to the UN, most of them are civilians. Ten million Yeminis don’t have enough to eat, and 13 million have no access to clean water. Yemen is highly dependent on imported food, but a U.S.-Saudi blockade has choked off most imports. The war is ongoing. 

Iraq: Somewhere between 400,000 to over 1 million people have died from war-related causes since the 2003 invasion. Over 2 million have fled the country and another 2 million are internally displaced. The cost: close to $1 trillion, but it may rise to $4 trillion once all the long-term medical costs are added in. The war is ongoing. 

Syria: Over 250,000 have died in the war, and four million Syrians are refugees. The country’s major cities have been ravaged. The war is ongoing. 

There are other countries—like Somalia—that one could add to the butcher bill. Then there are the countries that reaped the fallout from the collapse of Libya. Weapons looted after the fall of Gaddafi largely fuel the wars in Mali, Niger, and the Central African Republic. 

And how does one calculate the cost of the Asia Pivot, not only for the U.S., but for the allies we are recruiting to confront China? Since the “Pivot” took place prior to China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, is the current climate of tension in the Pacific basin a result of Chinese aggression, or U.S. provocation? 

Hillary Clinton is not the only Democrat who thinks American exceptionalism gives the U.S. the right to intervene in other countries. That point of view it is pretty much bi-partisan. And while Sanders voted against the Iraq war and criticizes Clinton as too willing to intervene, the Vermont senator backed the Yugoslavia and Afghan interventions. The former re-ignited the Cold War, and the latter is playing out like a Rudyard Kipling novel. 

In all fairness, Sanders did say, “I worry that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences may be.” 

Would Hillary be more inclined toward an aggressive foreign policy? Certainly more than Obama’s—Clinton pressed the White House to directly intervene in Syria and was far more hard line on Iran. More than the Republicans? It’s hard to say, because most of them sound like they have gone off their meds. For instance, a number of GOP candidates pledge to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran, and, while Clinton wanted to drive a harder bargain than the White House did, in the end she supported it. 

However, she did say she is proud to call Iranians “enemies,” and attacked Sanders for his remark that the U.S. might find common ground with Iran on defeating the Islamic State. Sanders then backed off and said he didn’t think it was possible to improve relations with Teheran in the near future. 

The danger of Clinton’s view of America’s role in the world is that it is old fashioned imperial behavior wrapped in the humanitarian rationale of R2P and thus more acceptable than the “make the sands glow” atavism of most the Republicans. In the end, however, R2P is just death and destruction in a different packaging. 

Aeschylus got that: “For War’s a banker, flesh his gold.” 



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


Press Release: Sophie Hahn Announces Run for Berkeley City Council District 5

From the Sophie Hahn Campaign Committee
Monday February 01, 2016 - 10:41:00 AM

Today, dedicated community leader and Zoning Adjustments Board member Sophie Hahn announced that she will run for Berkeley’s 5th District City Council seat. A passionate community advocate, Sophie has spent her career working to advance Berkeley’s values of equity, opportunity, education and the environment, and to make Berkeley a better place for all. 

“I am excited to be running for City Council, and am eager to roll up my sleeves and work full time for Berkeley – a community I have been devoted to my entire life. I draw great inspiration from the outstanding people of District 5 – and all of Berkeley - who are at the forefront of imagining and creating a better world. Ensuring that our City continues to build on its excellence will be a central pillar of my campaign.” 

Sophie grew up in District 5 and has raised her three children less than a mile from her childhood home. She graduated from Berkeley High in one of the first cohorts to attend elementary through High School in Berkeley’s recently integrated schools, launching her life of engagement and advocacy by working to desegregate extracurricular activities. 

Sophie served as Chair of the City of Berkeley Commission on the Status of Women before being appointed to the Zoning Adjustments Board, where she has been a strong and consistent voice for affordable housing, green building and sustainable transit. As Co-Chair of the 15th California Assembly District Environmental Task Force and an elected member of the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group’s Executive Committee, she is deeply involved in local efforts to address climate change and achieve environmental justice. 

“It’s important to elect leaders who really understand - and treasure - the people, places and institutions that make Berkeley such a unique and wonderful place. I will work hard to ensure that our neighborhoods, parks, libraries and schools continue to thrive. Downtown has started a come-back, thanks to investments by small business owners, arts organizations and restaurateurs. Supporting these enterprises while improving streetscapes and encouraging new development are key to the Downtown’s continued success. I look forward to championing these and other issues of importance to District 5 – and to all of Berkeley – on the City Council.” 

Sophie earned a BA in American History from UC Berkeley and a JD at Stanford Law School. After practicing law for several years, she went to work for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and studied labor relations and human resources. Sophie co-founded, grew and eventually sold a small manufacturing and wholesale business with accounts throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her experience as a small business owner fuels her commitment to meeting the needs of Berkeley’s local and independent businesses. Sophie served for many years as President of the King Middle School PTA and Chair of the School Governance Council, and chaired the Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s North Berkeley Committee, raising the funds necessary to renovate Berkeley’s beloved branch libraries. She now serves on the Public Library Foundation Board, as well as on the Council of the Bancroft Library Friends at UC Berkeley. 

Sophie can be reached at www.sophiehahn.com


Christopher Adams
Friday January 29, 2016 - 10:58:00 AM
Cafe Babette's corner at BAMPFA
Cafe Babette's corner at BAMPFA

The new Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive is not a neutral building. Two friends, one an architecture historian, the other the son of an architect, have already challenged me to defend it, and it hasn’t yet opened. After a preview visit, I give it an A, with a few caveats that keep it from A+.

Much of the credit for the design must go to its director, Lawrence Rinder, who worked with the design team from the beginning. Clearly he set out to make the new museum everything its predecessor was not. The old Berkeley Art Museum on upper Bancroft Way, completed in 1970 to a design by the Bay Area architect Mario Ciampi, remains an icon of its period of brutalist architecture[i], but its design continually frustrated its directors and curators. Set back from the street mid-block , the windowless concrete walls gave no hint of the treasures within. The Pacific Film Archive was housed in a small theater accessed from a garden path off Durant Avenue. The largest galleries, in great concrete cantilevers fanned out from the central entry, had few walls for hanging pictures and high southwest-facing windows which frustrated efforts at effective light control.

The new Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive largely succeeds in correcting these shortcomings. Its new location is highly visible, across from the west entry to the UC campus and on the east side of downtown Berkeley. Its name is outlined in large metal letters on the building’s south façade and abbreviated to BAMPFA (no slash or hyphen) on publications and other signs. The art museum occupies a complete reconfiguration of what was once the UC Press Building, an Art Deco office building and attached saw-tooth roofed factory which housed the printing plant. The film archive occupies a new structure north of the old printing plant, and this addition forms the most visible, and potentially controversial part of the total design. The film archive theater’s exterior sheathed in curved zinc-coated planks resembles a giant silvery pastry bag which narrows as it flops over the old printing plant, and at its “nozzle” end forms a canopy over the new museum entrance on Center Street. Windows along the sidewalks next to both the old and new structures offer glimpses of the activities inside. 

Despite its shortcomings the old art museum on Bancroft might have been retained had it not been determined that its concrete structure did not meet seismic safety codes. The old building was braced with awkward steel brackets under the cantilevered galleries while a search began for a new site. The former UC Press Building in downtown Berkeley, which had been closed, was identified as the site for the new BAMPFA. Preservationists rallied to save the building which was built in 1939 and made history when the founding charter of the United Nations was printed there in 1945, and it was designated a City Landmark in 2004. The University however, went ahead with plans for demolition, and in 2006 selected the Tokyo firm, Toyo Ito & Associates, to design a new building on the site. Rinder joined BAMPFA as director in 2008 when it became obvious that the scope and design of the Ito scheme was well beyond the anticipated fundraising. In 2010 the University announced the old building would be “repurposed” rather than demolished and selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architects from New York, as new design architects. They were teamed with the San Francisco firm, EHDD, whose history of adaptive reuse goes back to the Cannery on San Francisco’s north waterfront. 

The new architects had designed an art museum, but their fame resulted from their design of the High Line, a linear park on the abandoned elevated tracks of an industrial railway on the lower west side of Manhattan. Their most recent project in California is the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, a box made of curved white shapes that has some superficial resemblances to the Ito design for BAMPFA which had been abandoned in 2009. But the two projects in the firm’s past which may have had the most influence are their redesign of a part of Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York City and their aborted design for the Hirshhorn Museum on the Mall in Washington, DC. 

At Lincoln Center the architects literally sliced off a corner of the building and installed a wall of glass, opening the view of passersby on Broadway into the lobby of what had been an almost hidden concert hall. At the Hirshhorn, a 1970’s art museum in the shape of a giant stone donut, the architects were asked to make a space for temporary exhibits and social gatherings. Their solution was a kind of giant balloon in the middle of the donut which could be inflated to convert the donut hole into a high dramatic space for special events. Washington, DC is a notoriously difficult place to propose anything the least avant garde, and the project went nowhere. However, I suspect that the concept of the Hirshhorn balloon has subliminally influenced the BAMPFA “pastry bag”. Good ideas often get recycled. 

To repurpose the old printing plant the architects completely disassembled the old saw-tooth roof and excavated a new floor below which houses a series of simple, almost austere galleries, with white sheetrock walls and, with one exception, polished gray concrete floors. The one exception is a gallery with a warm red-orange floor made of end-cut Douglas fir blocks, which harkens back to the industrial floors of the old printing plant but without the patina of machine oil and silvery glints of linotype shards. Gallery lighting is entirely artificial and controllable. In the upstairs gallery natural light can enter through the rebuilt saw-tooth roof. This gallery is similarly finished with white sheetrock and polished concrete floors. Most of the gallery walls on both levels can be rearranged with minimal reconstruction for different kinds of exhibits. 

The two levels are connected by a two-story performance space which opens directly from the museum entry. Here Paul Discoe, a local craftsman, has built a stunning set of bleachers from boards milled from the Canary Island pines which were cut down to create the site of the PFA theater. On the wall north of the bleachers and easily visible to passersby on Center Street is a huge and whimsical mural created by the Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie, inspired by Chinese literary gardens. These murals will be replaced every six months. 

PFA screenings will take place in the 233-seat Barbara Osher Theater, which from the outside forms the dramatic “pastry bag,” and a 28-seat theater located near the front of the museum. The walls and seating of both theaters are entirely black. Seating is generously spaced and steeply raked to assure spectators a good view. 

The project’s design architect Charles Renfro said that the building was intended provide “wandering flow,” “surprises,” and a way for the visitor to “get lost in space and thought,” but in fact the building is distinguished by clearly defined paths. A visitor enters from Center Street into a long corridor which rises above the second floor, where the Café Babette is located, and leads directly to the Osher Theater. The ceiling of the corridor and the café above are painted a bright red-orange which the architect says is intended to be “fleshy” as befits an interior, building or animal. Whatever its intent, the brilliant color, so in contrast to the white galleries and the black theaters, aids in keeping a visitor oriented. The galleries in the level below are also linked by a ramped corridor, which opens to give glimpses (“surprises”?) to galleries which are not directly connected. Lower level space under the theater houses the film archives and study center. Horizontal windows by the sidewalks above form skylights for these spaces and create a sense that the bottom of the theater (the “pastry bag”) is floating. In fact careful observation shows that there are sturdy steel columns for necessary seismic bracing that echo the steel framing of the old printing plant now carefully restored above the upper gallery. 


Some Caveats

The new BAMPFA succeeds in being open and welcoming. What I call the “pastry bag” clearly links the film archive architecturally to the art museum and gives it equal billing. Despite the “wander(ing)lust “ of its designers, the building has a clarity of organization and way-finding that museums often lack. Viewed from across the street the silvery “pastry bag” makes the old Art Deco offices, newly painted bright white, stand out as they never did before. What’s not to like? 


Well, the café for one thing. Not the food which, if as good as the samples offered at the press opening, will be excellent, but the location. Maybe in some future renovation the museum will put the book store, now facing the sunny side of Center Street, upstairs and move the café down so that it can offer seating on the sidewalk, like the very successful café at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. At the moment the museum has chosen to put the café in a tube-like space on the second floor, which terminates in an awkward triangle cantilevered over the entry. The only connection to the activity of the Center Street sidewalks is through a window, which also provides a dramatic view to the west and the bay, a view soon to be lost as high-rises approved or soon-to-be approved close the skyline along Shattuck. 

The saw-tooth windows. The great north-facing windows of the saw-tooth roof are mostly covered in semi-transparent fabric. Perhaps this is inevitable for preservation of the art on display, but it is a loss for the architecture and for anyone who remembers the grandeur of the space when it was occupied by clacking machinery and busy printers. 

The LED screen. On the exterior of the theater, at the bottom of what I call the “pastry bag,” is a huge LED screen which can be used to project movies toward a small grassy plot at the corner of Oxford and Addison. For the architects this is another “window” to open the museum to the public. To me it looks more like a billboard that will dangerously distract drivers on busy Oxford Street. I also wonder if in an era of constantly changing technologies, especially in electronic media, it makes sense to devote an entire exterior wall to something which may soon be obsolete. 

Parking is my last caveat. The University demolished a three-level structure to build the BAMPFA. A few blocks south they have closed a large surface lot to build an intercollegiate swimming stadium. The parking demand did not go away, and it’s doubtful those who parked in the lost spaces will go to the new and hideously ugly parking structure on Gayley Road, a steep half mile away. The city keeps approving new downtown luxury housing projects with little or no parking, under the fantasy that every tenant will use BART and no one will own a car. Maybe the exterior LED screen can project a virtual reality parking garage. 


Opening Celebrations

The hoopla surrounding the opening of the new Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive approaches a level more typical of a class reunion or a major football game. A temporary pavilion as wide as the new museum will house the opening gala. The University has twice bought full-page ads in the New York Review of Books, to publicize the building and the opening show. Kicking off opening events, Charles Renfro, one of the building’s architects spoke to a large crowd about the design on Wednesday. The press was welcomed Thursday morning, and events large and small will follow through the weekend for donors, students, museum members, and on Sunday, a free opening for the general public. The inaugural exhibition titled Architecture of Life features over 250 objects, from a newly acquired painting by Gustave Caillebotte (on view in March) to webs woven by real spiders (artists not on view) and wooden bowls by the late, great Berkeley woodworker, Bob Stocksdale. The BAMPFA website is bampfa.org



Christopher Adams is a retired Berkeley architect. 

[i] The term “brutalist” in reference to architecture is often misunderstood. The term derives from the French béton brut meaning raw concrete and was coined by the British architecture historian (and onetime UC Santa Cruz professor) Reyner Banham to describe the style of buildings using this material.  



BART to Ask 20% Affordable Housing at Stations

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday January 29, 2016 - 04:50:00 PM

BART enacted a policy to have 20 percent affordable housing at future residential developments at its stations as it moved forward with a new development in East Oakland intended to have 100 percent affordable housing. 

The new policy does allow for exceptions for developments where affordable housing is "infeasible," but developers would need to return to the BART board to explain why they would be unable to include the mandated affordable housing to be granted an exception. 

So far developments at BART stations, such as the Fruitvale Transit Village in Oakland, have mostly included about 30 percent affordable housing, according to BART officials. But at some stations, securing the necessary funding for affordable housing has been difficult, such as for a project underway at the Millbrae station, where developers could only accommodate 17 percent affordable housing. 

The new policy, introduced by Director Zakhary Mallett, passed 6-3 at the BART board meeting today, with directors Gail Murray, Robert Raburn and Thomas Blalock voting against it. 

Murray said she found the policy too inflexible, potentially scaring away potential developers, and said BART could bring in more income if it were open to building market rate housing. 

She said she worried that when asking taxpayers for more funds, "not maximizing the assets we have will send the wrong message." 

Raburn said he was in support of the affordable housing requirements, but wanted to wait until BART develops a comprehensive policy for development, expected later this year. 

"I hate coming back and trying to sweep up after something that frankly is not comprehensive," Raburn said. 

Earlier in the meeting the board moved forward with a plan to build a new 110-unit housing development on 1.32-acre BART-owned lot at the Coliseum station in Oakland. Half the project would be affordable housing units and the other half would be workforce housing for people employed as nurses, teachers or in similar jobs, BART officials said. 

The project is mainly publicly funded, including through $9.6 million in tax credits, $4.9 million in state cap-and-trade funds and a $12 million loan from the city of Oakland. The Oakland City Council approved the loan earlier this month with a provision it would be forgiven so long as the project maintains its affordable housing guarantees. 

City Councilman Larry Reid, who helped secure the city loan, said the area around the "incredible jewel" of the Oakland Coliseum has the greatest opportunity for development in the city outside of downtown. 

Reid also serves on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority and said today that he's still working on securing another one-year lease there for the Oakland Raiders to buy time to move forward with development plans with the Raiders, the Oakland A's, or both. 

By moving forward with its development, BART is helping to "shape the future of deep east Oakland for a lifetime," Reid said. 

The project's developer is UrbanCore Development, LLC, a firm that raised controversy last year with a plan to purchase a city-owned parcel near Lake Merritt for the construction of a market rate residential high-rise. The City Council shelved the sale when a leaked memo revealed they were advised it was likely illegal under state law. 

Speaking at the BART meeting on the Coliseum development plan, UrbanCore CEO Michael Johnson said, "Without the combination of public subsidies, this project could not move forward." 

BART has been seeking to develop its land around the Coliseum station for the last 15 years. Initial discussions with the city began in November 2000 and they entered an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Oakland Economic Development Committee in July 2004 but progress stalled for years at a time after that. 

It is the first of several intended steps in developing the area around the Coliseum station with further housing and retail. 


Achieving Better Results in Working with Adults and Older Adults with a Mental Health Concern

Sally Douglas Arce
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:48:00 PM
Freddie Smith, M.P.H. Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, and Colette Winlock, Executive Director, Health & Human Resources Education Center in Oakland , engaged in conversation at the Isolated Adults and Isolated Older Adults Conference that took place in Berkeley on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016
Lala Doost
Freddie Smith, M.P.H. Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, and Colette Winlock, Executive Director, Health & Human Resources Education Center in Oakland , engaged in conversation at the Isolated Adults and Isolated Older Adults Conference that took place in Berkeley on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016

On Jan. 22nd, more than 100 people gathered in Berkeley for an all-day event to learn about innovative ways to provide care for adults and older adults with a mental health concern. The conference, presented by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, featured speakers and workshops with a focus upon improving mental health outcomes for Alameda County residents – isolated adults (ages 18 – 59) and isolated older adults (age 60 and older). 

Berkeley residents T. Anne Richards, M.A., and Margot Dashiell, M.A., M.S., co-directed the Culture of Inclusion (COI) Project at the Lakehurst Hotel from July 2014 through July 2015. The aim of the COI Project, a project of the Public Health Institute, was to build community and create a sense of belonging among the residents of a 110-room hotel in Oakland. The hotel itself provides only a few small areas where residents can congregate and these areas are not conducive to socialization with the exception of an outdoor smoking area. COI provided a common area where residents could sit, relax, have coffee, read, and participated in an array of programs that were a meaningful shift from the isolation of being alone in their rooms. The programs included art, yoga and a song circle, where every person in the circle has an opportunity to lead, suggest or request at least one song.  

Richards and Dashiell found several effective approaches to reducing isolation. “Our idea was to go within a residency and deliver programs that were physically engaging, spiritually engaging and provided an environment where people could interact with each other in a positive way,” says Richards. The activities took place at the hotel and included serving congregate lunches, an art program, music activities, yoga and outings. “The outings were a big plus,” Richards says. “Going to the Oakland Art Museum, the Berkeley Botanical Garden and other places meant a great deal to them.” 

The COI project had two goals – 1) to determine how in-reach efforts reduce social isolation and improve quality of life for lonely and secluded adults and older adults with serious mental illness and 2) to connect participants with volunteer opportunities that are interest- and skill-level appropriate and that include peer coaching. One program participant went on to live independently and work. Although the program ended last summer, one volunteer continues to serve twice a month at a food program in Oakland. For each of these COI Program participants, these are big strides given where each of them were when they entered the program. 

In regards to the man who volunteers at the food program, Dashiell says “As a result of the praise he’s received for his contribution to the food pantry, we noticed a big lift in his self confidence.” Of note is the fact that lunch at the program and a stipend facilitated his acceptance of the assignment. People living on a below poverty SSI income have limited funds for necessities and transportation. 

Richards and Dashiell hope others will replicate the model in large residential complexes. “There is a profound human need served by meaningful activities and community building,” Dashiell says. “Well thought out in-reach programs are needed, not only because they improve quality of life, but also because they contribute to improvements in mental health.” 

More than 2 million adults – about 8% of the population – are affected by potentially disabling mental illnesses each year in California. (from http://prop63.org/about/prop-63-today) Thanks to the Mental Health Services Act, Alameda County programs have received funding to provide care to some of the hardest to reach men and women in the county. 

In 2004, voters approved Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, and in 2005, it went into effect. The Innovation Grants fund learning projects. The Round Three Innovations Grants Program funded 18-month projects for two target populations, isolated adults and older adults; and LGBTQI2S with mental health concerns. The learning projects received funds through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), a 1 % tax on incomes over $1 million. The MHSA emphasizes transformation of the mental health system while improving the quality of life for people living with a mental illness. Innovation is an MHSA component that funds learning projects. Alameda County BHCS has implemented a grant program to implement 18-month pilot projects for community members to develop innovative mental health approaches. 

The Reaching In Project, designed and conducted by CJM Associates, has provided three 12-week workshops for family members and loved ones of someone who has a mental illness and is isolated, followed by six months of support from a peer or family wellness mentor. “Having a supportive community around the person with the illness and the family has proved to be invaluable,” says James Mensing, J.D., Ph.D., Vice President, CJM Associates. “We give family members an opportunity to work with their own feelings and experiences in a safe environment. Family members learn how to talk with their loved one about his/her symptoms in a non-judgmental way and try out different strategies for reducing isolation. 

Project Asian Outreach trained six individuals to be peer mentors and conduct home-based outreach. A bilingual clinician and peer team-up to reach Chinese and Korean-speaking older adults in their homes to build relationships, make connections to helpful community resources and mental health resources, as well as help seniors overcome cultural stigmas about mental health. The work with isolated seniors took place primarily in Oakland, with a few reaching to San Leandro, Union City and Fremont. The peer mentors would get to know the isolated older adults and engage them in culturally responsive activities, such as Chinese calligraphy, Cantonese opera and Mahjong. Through these pastimes, the peer mentor and person developed rapport and had conversations about emotional stressors, while breaking through social isolation. 

“There is an ongoing need to serve isolated adults and encourage them to be engaged in their interests and with people,” says Esther Chow, MSW, Project Director/Prevention Services Manager of API Connections, Asian Community Mental Health Services. “This is especially true for monolingual Chinese and Korean speaking older adults.” Studies of elderly people and isolation have shown that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. 

Karyn Tribble, the Deputy Director of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services and who holds Masters degrees in both Social Science and Science and a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology, spoke at the end of the day. “Our department staff wants to find ways for some of these innovation projects to continue,” she said. 

For information about the Innovation Grants, contact Linda Leung Flores at LLeungFlores@acbhcs.org 

Marvin Lipofsky
September 1, 1938 – January 15, 2016

Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:33:00 PM
Marvin Lipofsky in his studio in Berkeley, CA, in 2003.
M. Lee Fatherree
Marvin Lipofsky in his studio in Berkeley, CA, in 2003.

Marvin Lipofsky, 77, renowned San Francisco Bay Area teacher and sculptor who worked with glass, died of natural causes at his home in Berkeley on Friday, January 15, 2016. Mr. Lipofsky was born and raised in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where his parents Henry and Mildred Lipofsky owned a small department store. He earned his BFA in Industrial Design, 1957-1962 at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, followed by an MS and MFA in Sculpture, 1962-1964, University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

Mr. Lipofsky was among the first students to work with Harvey Littleton, the celebrated founder of the American Studio Glass movement, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Immediately upon graduation, he was hired by the University of California, Berkeley to build and direct its glass program, where he taught until 1972. Teaching full-time, he developed the glass program at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) in Oakland where he remained until 1987, when he left to work full time in his studio in Berkeley until his death. 

In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, Lisa & Steve Valenzuela, Mr. Lipofsky is survived by his grandchildren, Briana & Antonio, his sister & brother-in-law, Barbara & Richard Marsh, and his good friend, Jeanette Bokhour. 

Mr. Lipofsky’s work was prized for its rhythmic forms and complex concave and convex shapes, which suggested both abstract and organic sources. Glass was his chosen medium of artistic expression. A consummate colorist, and fine artist, Mr. Lipofsky took great advantage of the chromatic possibilities of working with hot glass. He was dedicated to honoring the artists who worked with him and the places where he made his work. 

Celebrated for his working method, Mr. Lipofsky regularly traveled to glass workshops around the USA and the world (he visited 30 foreign countries, including Bulgaria, China, Israel, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, and from coast to coast in the USA; he taught over 300 workshops around the world), where he gathered the raw material for his pieces, worked with local sculptors and their students in their hot shops, observed local communities and traditions, and then returned to Berkeley to assemble his final objects. Mr. Lipofsky functioned as an ambassador for sculpture in glass, often naming the groups of works that resulted from his voyage for their place of origin, for example, the Stockholm Series (1989) and the Kentucky Series (2000). 

Mr. Lipofsky’s work was widely exhibited and collected. It is included in the permanent collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Oakland Museum of California, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the St. Louis Museum of Art, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Renwick Gallery (National Museum of American Art) Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D.C., and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, among many others. The recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Glass Art Society in 2009, he was also the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California in 2003. A founding member of the American Studio Glass movement, he was the most influential glass artist in California. Marvin Lipofsky was a formidable character and leader in the close knit community of glass artists and collectors, within the USA and internationally. He will be greatly missed. ­­



Time to Save the Coast--Again

Becky O'Malley
Friday January 29, 2016 - 03:50:00 PM

The recent death of Berkeley’s beloved Sylvia McLaughlin, one of the three women who are honored for saving our equally beloved San Francisco Bay from being filled in by Berkeley speculators and their cronies, prompted me to think about what it might mean to aspire to a life well-spent. Sylvia lived more than two decades past my current age, well after she saved the Bay, and she made good use of her extra time in a variety of ways.

Of course, in a real sense the Bay will never be saved. Or rather, Saving the Bay is a continuous struggle, and will never be a fait accompli, because “the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”—that is to say, speculators will always be after our public treasures.

There are several good organizations currently engaged in watching over the Bay itself, so I won’t spend much time on that here. Instead, let’s take a look at trouble now threatening an organization often credited with having been inspired by Save the Bay, the California Coastal Commission. 

That’s one I know pretty well, because I was assigned to cover its early meetings, around 1976 or so, by (I think) the San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper. I reported on the ultimately futile attempt to prevent a nuclear power plant sited at lovely San Onofre in Southern California from being expanded. Recently, I’ve had the bittersweet experience of being able to say “I told you so” when that plant started to fall apart. 

I also watched horrified from the sidelines in 1996 as development interests who had been greedily attempting to get Commission approval for building projects on sensitive coastal lands tried to get the fierce 25-year executive director, Peter Douglas, fired. An upswell of public protest from environmental groups stopped that one, but now they’re at it again. 

Douglas died in 2012, but before his death he groomed a successor, Charles Lester, who by all accounts has been just about as tough, if not as feisty, in protecting the California coast from those who hope to devour it for profit. 

And as a reward for his effort, some of the commissioners, who are appointed by diverse political officeholders, are after his job. The most aggressive of them are the four appointed by Governor Jerry Brown—yes, that Jerry Brown, the same one who supports fracking, digging evil water tunnels through the Delta, and Jerrymandering the route of a proposed high-speed train to pay off political friends. Why am I not surprised? 

Lester has refused to go gracefully. He’s insisted on confronting his foes in public at the next Coastal Commission meeting, on February 10 in Morro Bay. After a hearing in public session, the commission can go into closed session and fire him with 7 out of 12 votes, or 6 out of 11 if someone’s absent. 

A long list of environmental organizations have now signed an open letter supporting Lester to the powers that be who appoint the commissioners, including Jerry Brown and Resources Secretary John Laird, a former Santa Cruz Assemblymember. You can read it here

What can you do about it? Why should you do anything? 

Well, those of us who are the heirs of this beautiful state left to us by Sylvia McLaughlin’s generation now must assume the responsibility of protecting our inheritance. She and her colleagues were part of a generation of intelligent well-educated public spirited women who had the time and the personal security to look after the public good, but that time’s passed. 

(A similar woman was my St. Louis cousin Ann Carter Stith, who was just a few years behind Sylvia at Vassar. Her 2005 obituary noted that “She was a fearless advocate for education, for prison reform, for clean government. She was appointed to local task forces, to community agency boards, even to federal commissions.” And also, in her copious free time, she raised five children distinguished in their own right, among them a daughter who became Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and two law professors.) 

But these days when we’re in our prime adult years we often feel too busy with mundane paying jobs to take up crusades like these, though a few brave souls manage to do it anyway. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work for the public good after retirement. 

In this situation, if we can spare just a few minutes a day, we can try our darndest to call public attention to the attempted “Coup at the Coastal Commission.” Writing’s always useful: letters to the public officials who appoint the commissioners, to the commission itself, to “the editor”, op-eds…. lots of choices. 

We can support the long list of environmental organizations that have come out in this letter for Charles Lester, and let them know that we appreciate it. And it might even be possible to send a delegation to the California Coastal Commission meeting on February 10. Thanks to at least 40 years of effort on the part of advocates for conservation, Morro Bay is still quite a nice place to visit—enoy it while you still can. 


There’s been some coverage of this impending debacle, though not enough, in a variety of publications throughout the state. Here are links to some informative pieces which can fill you in on the background: 











Public Comment

New: Dr. Lester, You Have Arrived!
And what we can do to protect the California coast.

Janet Bridgers, Earth Alert, www.earthalert.org
Tuesday February 02, 2016 - 10:56:00 AM

There may be no better indicator that the executive director of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) is doing his job than for the governor and his commission appointees to try to sack him. 

Charles Lester, Ph.D., the powerful agency’s executive director, is now faced with a personnel hearing at the February 10 commission meeting in Morro Bay to discuss his dismissal. He was informed by letter. No reason was given. Dr. Lester requested a public hearing and has made no public comment. 

Lester succeeded Peter Douglas as executive director of the CCC, when Douglas retired in 2011, after 25 years at the helm. During his tenure, Douglas successfully faced multiple attempts to oust him. Few believed Lester could approach the level of fierce dedication that Douglas brought to the job. 

Lester has now proved this wrong. He has demonstrated his ability to lead the agency, particularly with the recent release of the Sea Level Rise Guidance Document, a document two-and-a-half years in the making, and a starting point for the state to deal with the immense challenges that sea level rise will pose to the coast. The document was highly praised by commissioners, and is a solid indicator that the man with the difficult job of administering the Coastal Act is doing it well. 

The opposition to Lester is said to be led by Governor Brown’s appointee Wendy Mitchell, and his ouster could lead to a political hack replacing him. 

The irony here is that the Coastal Act of 1976 passed and was signed into law by Governor Brown during his first administration. It would not have passed the California Senate without last-minute lobbying by Brown himself. Numerous insiders have told me there is little affection for the commission from the governor who can take major credit for its existence, since the Coastal Act’s passage was required to reaffirm Prop. 20, passed by voters in 1972. 

The independence of the CCC has grated on more than one governor. Gov. Deukemejian campaigned against it, and drastically cut its funding once elected. Governor Wilson took a shot at ousting Douglas when the Republicans took over the Assembly, but that attempt failed in the face of overwhelming public support for Douglas. . A similar outpouring is what is needed now to support Charles Lester. 

Hey, there’s a reason the California coast does not look like the Jersey shore or Miami Beach! It’s because, for 44 years, many projects (though not all) that would restrict coastal access, destroy views, or negatively affect wetlands and water quality, have been denied by the commission. Should the California public allow that to change, so that the rich and famous, or large corporations, have the greater say? 

Does the coast actually belong to the people of California, or the wealthy few who can afford coastal real estate? Shall the future of the coast of California be determined by commissioners who more devotedly serve major energy and development interests, such as Wendy Mitchell, among whose clients is PG&E, infamous operator of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant whose relicensing will soon be before the commission? As a private citizen, she does not answer to the public. 

What can the average beachgoer or surfer do to help prevent the dismissal of Lester? 

First, one can call the governor’s office, or visit it online to make a comment. 

The following coastal commissioners are elected officials. 

Martha McClure, Del Norte County Supervisor 

Erik Howell, Pismo Beach Councilman 

Roberto Uranga, Long Beach City Councilman 

Steve Kinsey, Marin County Supervisor 

Carole Groom, San Mateo County Supervisor 

Greg Cox, San Diego County Supervisor 

If you know anyone who lives or works in one of these districts, ask them to call as a constituent, stating opposition to Lester’s dismissal. 

If you can possibly make it to the Morro Bay hearing, please do so. 

Other options are writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, or making a donation to one of several nonprofit organizations fighting the ouster. These include Surfrider Foundation and The Sierra Club, although numerous smaller groups will send representatives and will need to cover travel expenses. You can also share social media posts and tweets from these groups. 

Do something! Do it now! 

To learn more about Charles Lester, see Earth Alert’s 2012 interview with him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YknxMPWLkz4 

Shhh, It’s An Official Emergency

Carol Denney
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:52:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council officially affirmed that Berkeley has a shelter crisis in the quietest way possible at its Tuesday, January 19, 2016 council meeting. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli requested that “Declare a Homeless Shelter Crisis in Berkeley”, an action calendar item, be added to the consent calendar instead, the place where non-controversial items can be grouped together for quick passage without the need for changes or discussion. There were no objections. 

Any city council representative could have removed it; the item had come from District 7 Kriss Worthington’s office and had been booted from meeting to meeting since before the holidays. Worthington is one of the few on the Berkeley City Council who has consistently responded to the need for low-income housing and resisted the criminalization of poverty in the many years he has represented District 7, the area on the southside of the UC campus. 

Perhaps the critical mass of people shivering in doorways, behind dumpsters, under freeway overpasses and in parks has finally stuffed a sock in the “we do enough for the homeless” song Mayor Tom Bates usually sings in the face of any suggestion that Berkeley should do more. Most of the Berkeley City Council loves that song, a song sung by other city councils which flutter their fans over the common refrain that doing anything more should wait until there's a “regional” approach to housing, federal or state funding, etc. 

It tempts the creative among us to draw a comic of a scruffy guy shivering on the street corner holding a sign that says, “Waiting for a regional approach to homelessness- please help.” 

It might be considered hypocritical for a council majority which spent the summer hammering its way relentlessly toward another anti-homeless law fondly known as the “two square foot law” to even acknowledge a “Homeless Shelter Crisis” in light of decades of bluster about having enough “services” and just waiting patiently for that regional approach thing. 

But don’t stop watching, if you’re paying enough attention to read this far. Emergency declarations can be useful; they can free up otherwise occupied funding or dissolve restricted zoning which might otherwise complicate the use of empty buildings for shelters, of which Berkeley has plenty. 

But emergency declarations can also be abused. People can be forced off the street, as happens all over the country whether it is officially recognized or not. When New York Governor Mario Cuomo issued an executive order to force the homeless off the streets in cold weather, New York Mayor de Blasio sniffed that the city “already has the ability to forcibly remove homeless New Yorkers who are in imminent danger,” [1] an observation affirmed by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who stated flatly that the transit police had been doing it since the early 1990’s. 

Berkeley does it, too. If the Berkeley police want you off the street you’re gone; maybe to John George for a psych evaluation, maybe for a three day stay in Berkeley’s own city facility, maybe down to North County or maybe off to Santa Rita. An enormous amount of public money, not to mention police and emergency medical staff overtime, is spent fulfilling the Downtown Berkeley Association’s dream of having the streets cleared of anybody too scruffy or with a few too many belongings to fit into their Disneyland dreamscape. 

You might see an abandoned shopping cart with a few belongings in it – some books, some socks, some useful tools or bundled belongings and wonder about it for a few seconds. And it might mean that someone was offered a warm, cozy room in a house in exchange for keeping up the yard or helping out around the place and left a few things behind for the next guy. 

But it might also mean that some impatient neighbor made a call and some city staffer or officer caught someone shipwrecked by circumstance on a really bad day. The Department of Justice way off in Washington has caught on to the way cities spend money pointlessly circling people in need through jails and hospitals and is tiptoeing toward insisting that housing, actual housing, be the obvious solution through its remarkable August 6, 2015 Statement of Interest and the Housing and Urban Development guidelines for grants. It might seem like a moral point, but it is also a practical matter; public funding should simply not be wasted on pointless, ineffective criminalization which often makes matters worse. 

Maybe the Berkeley City Council is finally listening. Maybe it finally did a little math and realized that you could not only house people, you could put them through college with what we’re spending on criminalizing the poor. It’s a brand new year, anything is possible. But the community of conscience which consistently and reverently presses for the recognition that housing is a human right knows this moment well. An emergency declaration, long overdue, sounds good. Let’s make sure it is used in a sensible manner to help ensure that everyone has a place to call home. 



[1]New York Daily News, January 5, 2016 


Donald Trump

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 29, 2016 - 04:49:00 PM

Donald Trump has started the new year with a big bang with his comment,“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.?” – meaning most of his supporters embrace anarchy and the rule of law? 

In a race to the bottom, the Teflon Trump, spews his outrageous comments to the hungry media which repeatedly regurgitates them as entertainment value to its readers and viewers. Thus, Trump gains free publicity and – yes, more support playing to a segment of an angry population frustrated that their American dream is rapidly fading. 

Not surprisingly, the founder of Palintology, a new language harking from the “paleontology era”, Sarah Pain, has endorsed her hero, shrieking “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, O.K.? Well, Trump, what he’s been able to do, which is really ticking people off, which I’m glad about, he’s going rogue left and right, man, that’s why he’s doing so well.” Small wonder that Stephen Colbert, preparing a rendition of Palin on The Late Show, had to first fry part of his brain that formulates sentence structure with a Taser gun.

My Take on the Presidential Race As It Stands

Jack Bragen
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:27:00 PM

Here is my five cent analysis of the race for the White house. If you don't like it, your money will be refunded. 

Politics is largely the art of manipulating the public's perceptions. Once name recognition is established, the next step for politicians is to convince voters that they are the solution. In order to do this, the public first must be convinced that a problem exists. 

This is not hard in the case of wealth inequality. This preexisting issue is a fertile bed on which a politician such as Bernie Sanders can put a political platform. And it is obvious that the megacorporations have skewed the playing field of business and the economy such that economic opportunities have become limited for an ordinary citizen. 

Trump's platform is built on the public perception that the U.S. has become weak. He paints himself as the tower of strength who, if elected, will restore strength to the U.S. This resembles the campaign of Ronald Reagan. 

(It is believed that Reaganomics, primarly consisting of the "trick down" concept, is responsible for the dramatic increase in homelessness that occurred during and after his Presidency.) 

So, if you are a politician, first you get name recognition, then you formulate an existing or imaginary problem and paint yourself as the solution to this. This is why Sanders and Trump are doing so well, and why Clinton had better watch out. 

Hillary Clinton represents building on the successes of the Obama Administration. This does not have as much pull with the public. However, Hillary Clinton is also backed by Bill Clinton, who is still enormously popular. Many have wished Bill could have somehow stayed in office. 

Hillary needs to do more than paint herself as a continuation of the Obama Administration. She should give specific plans for how she is going to make things better for ordinary citizens, by outlining a specific economic policy that will bring money into the pockets of millions who are doing without, and she needs to outline a specific plan of how she intends to combat international and domestic terrorism. 

When Bill Clinton first campaigned, he had a specific plan that he laid out which included increasing taxes, eliminating the government deficit, and saying that government could "do more" to help citizens. Under Clinton's economic policies, the government deficit was turned into a surplus, and the economic environment was good for entrepreneurs, who in droves created Silicon Valley startups. 

Martin O'Malley, on the other hand, does not have the same name recognition that Bernie Sanders has created for himself, and that Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump have already established. 

I feel that Trump would be gravely dangerous to elect. I am not clear how Bernie Sanders is going to realistically accomplish that which he is promising. I am wholeheartedly in favor of Hillary Clinton, and this is a strong personal conviction.

Dark Money

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 29, 2016 - 04:48:00 PM

In her new book, “Dark Money”, New Yorker reporter, Jane Mayer, explores how the Koch brothers and their fellow right-wing billionaires have poured money to elect Republican ideologies to shape public policy. Mayer traces the history of the family fortune beginning with industrialist, Fred Koch, the Koch’s father who built an oil refinery in Nazi Germany which was personally approved by Adolf Hitler. The fuel from the refinery was used on German warplanes. 

The Koch brothers expanded their family fortune amassing a combined aggregate of about $82 billion. They plan to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 presidential and congressional races. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United landmark decision which removed limits on campaign spending, the Kochs and others such as Mellon banking and Gulf heir, Richard Mellon Scaife, chemical tycoon John M. Olin, electronics magnates Harry and Lynde Bradley have leveraged their business empires on candidates who will serve their corporate interests with the safe knowledge that the source of their donations will be kept secret. The “dark money” is also used to fund right-wing think tanks, university endowments, research to favor their right-wing agenda such as Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy. Koch Industries has recently been cited as the single biggest U.S. producer of toxic waste. 

Funding from the corporate conglomerates, “The Kochtopus” is conditional on signing on to a pledge denying climate change. A staggering 156 members of Congress have already signed on to the pledge.

The Real Cost of War

Leo Lieber
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:34:00 PM

Saturday, Jan. 17, marked 25 years since the 1991 launch of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. A quarter- century later, the U.S. is still bombing, a devastating war rages in Syria, and the countries of the region are overwhelmed with the largest refugee crisis since World War II. It is a grim legacy. 

We need to start acknowledging the real human cost of war and stop exaggerating potential threats as an excuse for more military solutions. We must end our involvement in the fighting, offer assistance to the victims, speak to all the parties involved and address the root cause of the despair and anger.

Please Think

Romila Khanna
Saturday January 30, 2016 - 02:24:00 PM

Guns are fine so long as mine are fine.
It is okay for the rich to avoid taxes
But the poor will be taxed because they have less.
It is okay for us to throw bombs on others
But it is not OK if others bomb us.
Who allows the gun manufacturer to supply guns to the gun show?
Those who love gun sales ignore the moaning of those who lose their loved ones. 

We are worried about the unborn child, eager to extend the life of the unborn.
Every day so many die of gun shot wounds.
We make no effort to extend those lives.

February Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Monday February 01, 2016 - 02:49:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


THE PUBLIC EYE: It’s Inequality, Stupid!

Bob Burnett
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:43:00 PM

As Bernie Sanders presidential campaign has gained momentum, Sanders has come under attack from Democrats and Republicans. Some mock Bernie’s identification as a “Democratic Socialist,” while others lament his supposed policy deficiencies. The critics miss the point. Sanders is running to call attention to a national emergency: the influence of money on politics, and economic inequality in general.

In the last twenty years, Democratic presidential candidates have run on the basis of their policies (“bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq,” “implement national healthcare”). In contrast, Republicans have run on the basis of personality. (In 1992, George W Bush won because he was more likable than Al Gore.)

In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency because of his charismatic personality, his slogan “change we can believe in,” and enough detail on major policies to keep his critics at bay. In 2016, Hillary Clinton is running a similar-style campaign based upon a slogan, “Hillary for America,” and detailed policy positions. In contrast, Bernie Sanders is focusing on a single issue, money in politics. At the conclusion of the January 17th Democratic Presidential debate, Sanders explained: 

Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American… what we have got to do is create a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of young people and working people into the political process. To say loudly and clearly that the government of the United States of America belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.

As Sanders has closed in on the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, she and her surrogates have attacked his policy positions. During the January 17th debate, Clinton attacked Sanders’ healthcare proposal saying, “There are things we can do to improve [Obamacare]. But to tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate I think is the wrong direction.” Her attack was supported by Paul Krugman who noted, “the virtual impossibility of achieving single-payer,” 

Sanders’ proposal must be taken in context. In his opening remarks, Sanders said: 

Our campaign is about… thinking big. It is understanding that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we should have health care for every man, woman, and child as a right. That we should raise the minimum wage to at least 15 dollars an hour, that we have got to create millions of decent paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. So what my first days [in office will be] about is bringing American together to end the decline of the middle class, to tell the wealthiest people in this country that yes they are gonna start paying their fair share of taxes, and that we are going to have a government that works for all of us and not just big campaign contributors.

Recall that when Barack Obama took office, he was confronted by a financial crisis – the Great Recession of 2008. Obama had run on a different set of issues – withdrawing troops from Iraq, universal healthcare, energy independence… -- but shifted focus in response to a national emergency. Bernie Sanders regards money in politics/economic inequality as a comparable national emergency. 

Sanders is not alone in this assessment. Early this year, Paul Krugman wrote about Twin Peaks Planet: “It is now obvious that income and wealth are more concentrated at the very top than they have been since the Gilded Age.” University of California Economics Professor Robert Reich concurred: 

Surely 2016 is a critical year. But, as the reformers of the Progressive Era understood more than a century ago, no single president or any other politician can accomplish what’s needed because a system caught in the spiral of wealth and power cannot be reformed from within. It can be changed only by a mass movement of citizens pushing from the outside.

Bernie Sanders is not running a campaign based upon personality or a list of policy positions. He is running for president because he believes the US has a national emergency; 

Let’s be truthful. Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy… we have got to do is create a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of young people and working people into the political process. To say loudly and clearly that the government of the United States of America belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.

Sanders is right. We are facing a national political crisis because of economic inequality. We must address this before we address a laundry list of other important issues. That’s why we need “a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy.” 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: What is Normal?

Jack Bragen
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:46:00 PM

I had never heard the word "normalcy" until George H. W. Bush spoke it when running against Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton played saxophone, and admitted to smoking marijuana, but said, "I did not inhale."

When mentally ill, you are not considered "normal."

What is that? Is normal when the NRA uses intimidation on members of Congress so that weapons of mass destruction, namely assault-type firearms, will be in the hands of anyone and everyone who wants them? Is normal obliterating the functioning government of Iraq, believing that its citizens would accept a U.S. "installed" government? Is normal living in a neighborhood where it isn't safe to go out at night, or during daylight hours, or at any time, and where it isn't safe even to remain in one's own roach-infested home?

Is it "normal" to shun people because of them having a psychiatric disability, one that at times affects behavior?  

Society in the past twenty years has really changed. We live in an atmosphere of surveillance, suspicion, paranoia, and life imitating both fiction and the delusions of schizophrenic people. Beliefs that once were considered paranoid delusional are now widely accepted by most people as facts of life. The line between fact and fantasy has blurred.  

Someone who suffers from cancer isn't thought of as "abnormal." Often such a person is considered "brave" and receives all manner of sympathy and "get well" wishes. However, someone with a psychiatric illness, which they didn't cause, is considered depraved, "an animal," crazy, and a lesser form of human.  

Mental illness affects behavior. People are intolerant of those whose behavior doesn't meet the expected "norms."  

Persons informed about mental illness point to lack of insight into one's condition, considered one of the symptoms that many people experience who are schizophrenic. But what about the lack of insight of people who are uninformed about mental illness, and who believe people with mental illness are "crazy" or "a psychotic." Society doesn't have enough tolerance toward persons with psychiatric diagnoses.  

Are people with mental illness "abnormal"? This is yet another way of propagating hate.  

Many people love to have a good scapegoat. I experienced that when I was in a car accident the day that followed my father's ashes being dumped just past the Golden Gate Bridge. I was distracted by my intense grief and by my wife talking on her cellphone. Citizens who showed up at the scene of the accident, to help, concluded that I was texting. The driver of the other vehicle wanted to start a fistfight with me.  

What is normal? Is normal being a bodybuilder who takes steroids and builds up muscle to the extent that of not looking human? Do we really need to have a great "six pack of abs"? Is it normal to own a billion dollars while others can't afford to feed themselves? 

I have news for you; people with mental illness are normal people with a commonly occurring neurobiological condition. Most mentally ill people are good, considerate individuals. We deserve a fair shake in life, a chance at the pursuit of happiness, promised by our Constitution. When employers discriminate against us, when social circles exclude us, when we are criminalized and presumed to be up to no good, it hurts us.  

In the old days, people pinned buttons on their shirts that had slogans, such as the "win buttons" of President Gerald Ford, which stood for "Whip Inflation Now." A different organization entirely, a self-help group of mental health consumers, had a button that said, "Why be normal?" Too many people are too concerned with not appearing as though they lack any defects or differences. However, we do not all have to be the same. 


Here is a reminder that my new release, a memoir titled: "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle" is now available on Amazon.

EATS, SHOOTS 'N' LEAVES: The New Official City of Berkeley Anthem™

Richard Brenneman
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:54:00 PM

Yep, there’s no more fitting anthem for the City of Berkeley, California, than this little video offering from Berkeley music blogger 6VIDEO9.

For six years we toiled as the land use reporter for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet til shortly before the paper folded, laying off its paid journalists but still active as a website.

Despite its reputation as a city of the radical Left, Berkeley has a political system devoted to gentrification and the construction of massive apartments catering to upscale tenants, while less monumental erections serve as hives for UC Berkeley students, who are forced to pay their rent to corporations run by investment bankers, massive real estate holding companies, and the occasional UC Berkeley professor.

The reason the city allows the demolition of existing buildings is due in part to the city’s largest landowner — an owner exempt from property taxes and development fees — the University of California. 

And the pressure comes from a decades-old decision to stop building student housing for undergrads, rendering students objects of corporate prey. And to cover the coast of soaring rents and ever-increasing tuition rates, they become prey for another clutch of predators, the banksters who force them into indentured servitude to cover the costs of their student loans. 

The city government and its police, fire, ambulance, and other services depends in part on funds from it’s share of real estate taxes, and in part on funds from real estate development fees, which serve as the basis for the budget of the city planning department. 

Oh, and it’s a former city planning executive who spun through the revolving door and emerged as a [shock!] real estate developer who is spearheading what will be the largest upscale apartment highrise of the 21st Century, with images of the ex-planner and his project featured prominently in the video. 

Mayor Tom Bates is also included, his image shown under a Bates Hotel header. Bates is a developer-turned politician, and a former UC Berkeley football star who campaigns are mainly funded by folks from the real estate trade, from builders and owners to those who earn their money from commissions on building and land sales. 

And with further ado [or adieu]: 


Editor's Note: This originally appeared on Eats, Shoots 'n' Leaves. 

Arts & Events

Around & About--Music: Berkeley Symphony Performs Lutoslawski & Beethoven Concerti

Ken Bullock
Friday January 29, 2016 - 04:45:00 PM

Following two very diverse concerts opening the 2015/16 Berkeley Symphony season, featuring works by two prominent contemporary female composers, Russian-born Sofia Gubaidulina and Finnish-born Kaija Saariaho (who attended and commented from the stage on the performaqnce of her piece 'Laterna Magica'), music director Joana Carneiro has programmed another intersting juxtaposition of works for the Symphony's third (and next-to-last) program of the season, "Majestic," for 8 p. m. next Thursday evening, February 4: two concerti, Beethoven's final piano concerto, No. 5 in E-flat major, the "Emperor,"and Concerto for Orchestra,:the first work by Witold Lutoslawski to be noted in the West. 

'Concerto for Orchestra,' the premiere of which in Warsaw, 1954, marked the culmination of the composer's period of harmonically reworking folkloric and popular melodies into "Neo-Baroque" compositions rather than Post-Romantic quoting of folk music, points forward from the time Lutoslawski concentrated on popular forms of music to evade charges of formalism that had been leveled at his First Symphony in the late 40s, to his increasingly experimental work that began in 1958 with his Musique Funèbre,commemorating the 10th anniversary of Bartók's death, and developing through the 1960s with Lutoslawski's own version of the 12-tone system and his "controlled aleatory" pieces in answer to John Cage's chance compositions.  

Piano soloist for the Beethoven concerto, Conrad Tao, is also a composer, former violinist and was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2011. 

The Symphony is offering a 20% discount on each ticket order with the addition of the code: MAJESTIC16. 

8 p. m.-10 p. m., Thursday, February 4. Zellerbach Hall, UC campus (near Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way). $15-$74. berkeleysymphony.org or 841-2800 x 1..

The Method in Mad Men

Toni Mester
Friday January 29, 2016 - 12:37:00 PM

When my brother and I were pre-teens, our parents took us to visit Uncle Larry in the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue in New York City. At that time, the mid-50’s, Lawrence W. Mester was managing editor of several Luce magazines including House and Home and Architectural Forum.

As the humble country cousins, we were wonder struck by the sleek modern office and bustling staff that our uncle commanded. After showing us around, he stood in a central space, spread his arms, and asked, “Now children, what do you think created all of this?” a rhetorical question that he immediately answered with one emphatic word: “Advertising!”

I recalled this incident recently while watching the series Mad Men, which supposedly takes place in an ad agency in the Time-Life Building, although the business is sometimes referred to as “Madison Avenue” and was mostly shot on sets in Los Angeles. The historical accuracy and detail of these reconstructed interiors, from the Eames chairs to the abstract paintings, frame the main story and its 92 episodes, which span the 1960’s. 

The creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, was born in the middle of that tumultuous decade, so his acclaimed revival of the times, its transformative events and maxed out energy, was based on research and imagination. Survivors of the 1960’s each remember a different version of that epoch, now recognized as a cultural revolution. I was a senior in high school when John Kennedy was elected, a college student during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his assassination, and a welfare case worker in Brooklyn when Dr. King and Bobby were killed. 

Weiner references these and other memorable events, such as Vietnam and the first moon landing, as guideposts but does not attempt realistic history. Rather, Mad Men succeeds as a satiric entertainment of notable artifice, an expertly dramatized and drawn-out 20th century Trollope novel like The Way We Live Now

Originally aired on the AMC Network from 2007 to 2015, the complete series is now available on DVD at both Five Star Video stores in Berkeley. 


I started watching Mad Men in October while farm sitting in the foothills with nothing better to do after a day of exhausting chores than plop down and follow the shenanigans of Don Draper, the complex main character who fascinates even though he’s not particularly likeable. In fact, he’s a charlatan, having stolen an identity from a soldier whose dog tag he changed for his own during combat in Korea. 

I’m not giving much away here, because Don’s phony persona is the premise of the entire series, and it’s established in the initial episodes. But I’ll try not to spoil too many surprises for anyone who has not yet watched the series. 

Played by John Hamm, Don Draper has two tickets to ride, the first being his classic Cary Grant-like good looks, described once as “a matinee idol.” The women he attracts complicate his already compromised identity and further loosen his grip on authenticity. A natural born philanderer, he nevertheless gets married twice and has numerous affairs and one-night stands. And true to his upbringing in a whore house, he pays for sex one way or another. 

His second asset is a quick intelligence that intuits what other people want, a survival instinct honed to high art. Hamm’s face reveals an actor playing an actor, especially when he presents his advertising ideas to clients in meetings that are scripted and rehearsed. 

The controlling conceit about Don Draper is that he was raised in a house of prostitution and now works in one, an industry of whores. He and his colleagues pimp corporate goods: cars, airlines, drugs, chemicals, cosmetics, hosiery, tobacco, fast food, and much, much more. The companies and their products are all familiar household brands; the dramatic intrigue comes from watching the inner workings of the agency, how the advertising “creatives” dream up narratives and slogans to sell products while their main medium changes from paper to television.  

All the while Don, his friend and partner Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery) and colleagues smoke and drink. The amount of alcohol they consume is staggering, and every season I expected Don to walk into an AA meeting and start to dry out. But he always comes back from being drunk until he hits the bottom. That’s the basic trajectory of the show: the descent of an impulsive alcoholic. Like the film Sideways, Mad Men treats addiction as satire to maintain the comedic mode. 

Alcoholism is no joke. In an instance of life imitating art, Hamm had to put himself into rehab in order to finish the show, calling the main character, “a pretty dismal and despicable guy.” Given the abuse of alcohol in our society, especially binge drinking among the young in this university town, some impressionable viewers might actually see Don Draper as a role model rather than an anti-hero. One never knows. Smoking is judged more explicitly because Sterling Cooper represents tobacco companies when the U.S. Surgeon General issued the first warning, and one character gets lung cancer and a terminal prognosis. Not all the characters survive their bad habits. 

The volume of money that flows through the office of Sterling Cooper and into the pockets of the partners is also staggering; getting rich motivates, unites, and corrupts them, as they vie for corporate accounts worth millions. The cash trickles down to the mini-skirted secretaries who arrange their hectic work schedules and hedonistic adventures. Nobody has any job security, and the words “You’re fired!” echo Donald Trump’s gag line in The Apprentice. Whether that reference is intended or not, Mad Men shows how narcissism, so evident in the campaign of the leading Republican candidate, infected the blood of corporate culture. 


There is little violence in Mad Men, which makes it relaxing as well as fun. The office is full of droll characters, forever strategizing and never at peace with themselves or each other. The witty dialogue surprises and delights. The costumes are magnificent, especially for the women. While Don usually sports a simple dark suit, his parallel character Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) wears ever fancier outfits as she moves up the ladder. No office worker of the 1960’s could afford such clothes, and never the same dress twice. But what the hell: that’s television. 

The direction and editing are top-notch with skillful changes of scene. The orchestral music composed and directed by David Carbonara is so subtle as to be hardly noticeable, except for the haunting theme behind the introductory credits, while each episode ends with a different pop song that provides an emphatic and often ironic wrap. I’ve been watching telenovelas to improve my Spanish comprehension and find that the music is slathered on so thick that I often can’t hear the language. 

Despite being written and directed by a coterie of colleagues, including some of the players, a uniformity of ironic tone pervades, a testament to the guiding hand of Weiner. The series has garnered so many awards that they aren’t worth mentioning. In so many ways, Mad Men sets a high technical standard for the industry. 


I could make the case that Mad Men is essentially a feminist drama because the central focus is on social relationships between men and women with an emphasis on the power imbalance. Some attention is given to racism and homophobia, but gender roles get top billing, especially how perceptions of the other change over time and how dishonesty and false expectations destroy trust. I had more sympathy for Peggy, Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Megan (Jessica Paré) in their struggles to achieve respect and equity in the work place than for any of the male characters, and the role of Don’s first wife Betty (January Jones) was also written with depth and sensitivity. 

The treatment of children is notable as we watch the young actors grow with their characters, including a boy portrayed by Weiner’s oldest son. The role of Don’s daughter Sally is handled brilliantly by Kiernan Shipka in a career making performance. If there is any optimism in Mad Men, it resides in the imagined future of the children. 

Class differences are neither obscured nor sugar-coated. From the first episode, we know about Don’s impoverished background, and the arc of his character reveals the psychological imprint of childhood trauma and deprivation. Many episodes play up class contrasts including real estate, status, and culture. 

Watching Mad Men over a four month period before and after a surgery was the perfect diversion. Although it depicts men in his world and time, my Uncle Larry would not have approved of Don Draper nor found his story compelling. He and my father were dutiful family men whose own early adulthoods were influenced by the Great Depression. They didn’t smoke, drink, or sin, and their earnings went to support their wives and educate us children, imparting their old-school values and self-discipline by example. 

The great benefit of getting old is developing a lived understanding of history; distance creates detachment and irony, sometimes mistaken for wisdom. Through experience, we learn to differentiate and evaluate practical and fictive narratives. Watch Mad Men primarily for its entertainment value as social satire, not as a cautionary tale on vice and the theme of Radix Malorum est Cupiditas nor as a revelation of the corrupt advertising machine, although it delivers all of the above.  


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley.

American Bach Soloists Perform Bach Cantatas

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday January 30, 2016 - 02:22:00 PM

When Johann Sebastian Bach took up in 1723 the post of Thomaskantor (Cantor at St. Thomas Church) in Leipzig, (this post having been offered first to Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner, both of whom declined), he had his work cut out for him. Bach took on musical obligations to four Lutheran churches in Leipzig as well as to the city’s town council, plus occasional responsibilities to the University of Leipzig. During Bach’s first year in Leipzig, he premiered such remarkable works as the Magnificat, the Sanctus in D Major (which would become a part of the Mass in B minor), the St. John Passion, and the cantatas Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!) and Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life). These two cantatas formed, respectively, the opening and closing works performed by American Bach Soloists on Saturday evening, January 23, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. In between these cantatas, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, 2016 Recipient of the Jeffrey Thomas Award, was featured in a transcription for solo violin of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Bach’s Concerto for Violin in E Major. 

Hearing these Bach cantatas in the 21st century can be a grating experience, given the harrowing admonitions of a work such as Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! The opening chorus of this cantata commands listeners to prepare for the end of the world. In this apocalyptic vision, sinners are told in no uncertain terms that no one can hide from the final Judgment. All they can do is “Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!” The words and the music of this cantata are designed to strike mortal fear in us. Granted, the middle section of this cantata paints a glowing portrait of the righteous ones flourishing in Heaven. But the closing section returns to the harsh notes of fear and dread. Baritone Mischa Bouvier was outstanding in the Bass recitatives and aria in this cantata, and soprano Mary Wilson gave her customary excellent rendition of the soprano aria. Tenor Derek Chester and countertenor Jay Carter turned in fine performances in their recitatives and arias, and the American Bach Choir provided excellent choruses. Music Director Jeffrey Thomas’s conducting was crisp throughout, with a somewhat florid approach to the final chorus. 

Following this cantata, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova performed a transcription for solo violin of Bach’s well-known Toccata and Fugue in D minor. In this transcription, one hears many similarities to Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin; and the work’s angular spareness now leaves a wholly different impression than the grandiose arrangement by Leopold Stokowski (as heard in Disney’s 1940 animated film Fantasia). Tatiana Chulochnikova gave a technically superb rendition of this work. 

After intermission, ABS returned with Tatiana Chulochnikova to perform Bach’s Concerto for Violin in E Major. This is a thoroughly ingratiating piece that probably dates from Bach’s early years as court Kapellmeister at Cöthen (1717-23). In Program Notes for this performance, Jeffrey Thomas and John Butt maintain that the overall structure of this work mirrors the hierarchical court life, with the ritornello constantly reminding us of the dominant position occupied by the prince, while the violin must play a subservient role at first and can only assert a relative freedom once its subservient place is established in the overall order. As part of this hierarchical order, one notes an unobtrusive but utterly necessary bass line running throughout the work. As for the solo violin part, it was admirably played by Tatiana Chulochnikova. 

The final work on the program was the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. The text of the opening chorale (proclaiming that every element of one’s being must bear witness to Christ) strikes yet another harrowing admonition. Lutheran Christianity seems to be a very demanding “All or Nothing” proposition. But the all-encompassing nature of devotion to Christ is here mirrored in the diversity of instrumentation throughout this piece. A tenor Recitative, sung by Derek Chester, is accompanied by violins and a viola. A countertenor Aria, sung by Jay Carter, is accompanied by an oboe d’amore (played by Debra Nagy). A soprano Aria, sung by Mary Wilson, is accompanied by a violin solo (played by Concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock). A tenor Aria in Part Two, sung by Derek Chester, is accompanied by a cello (played by William Skeen). An alto Recitative, sung by countertenor Jay Carter, is accompanied by an oboe da caccia (played by Debra Nagy). These instrumental accompaniments are immensely rich and varied, as though all the instruments, like all the elements of one’s being, were giving witness to Christ. The work’s final Chorale, elegantly led by conductor Jeffrey Thomas, reiterates in flowing music that Jesus shall remain the heart and soul of a true worshiper’s life.  

This program was repeated Sunday, January 24, in San Francisco, and Monday, January 25, in Davis.