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Flash: Berkeley Post Office Protesters Evicted after 17 Months

Erin Baldassari (BCN)
Tuesday April 12, 2016 - 10:25:00 PM

After 17 months of camping outside a post office in downtown Berkeley to protest the privatization of public goods, demonstrators were evicted this morning, according to a postal inspector and protesters. 

Police arrived around 5 a.m. to rouse the sleeping demonstrators, said Mike Wilson, an organizer with the group Berkeley Post Office Defenders. 

Demonstrators had been camped outside the facility since November 2014 to protest the sale of the post office, Wilson said. In April 2015, a federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit blocking the sale of the building after the postal service took the property off the market. 

By the time the decision was reached, Wilson said the encampment had grown and the mission of the demonstration had morphed. Demonstrators were no longer merely protesting the sale of the building but were striving for a much loftier goal: to end the privatization of all public goods.  

"This strategy of privatization pops up in all kinds of services from water to energy to health care, you name it," Wilson said. "The fact that we were able to hold the site to distribute information and raise awareness, it seemed like we shouldn't just give that up because of the suspension of the sale of the post office." 

So the demonstrators stayed. They became better connected, developed relationships with local restaurants and bakeries that donated food, built a community garden, set up weekly Saturday morning coffee and water for hot chocolate, and distributed donated clothing and other goods, Wilson said.  

"All of this was to raise awareness of the importance of participating in society and in communities, not just hiring someone else to do it for you," Wilson said. 

The demonstrators also began offering services to homeless people who joined the encampment, referring them to city services, sharing food, and distributing socks and other clothing, Wilson said.  

U.S. Postal Service officials have been telling the demonstrators they cannot stay on federal property since November 2014, said postal inspector Jeff Fitch.  

"We've been stopping by and giving out leaflets, letting them know they could not camp out, and they have to move out," Fitch said. 

Wilson said they had been told repeatedly that the postal police had no intention of enforcing trespassing rules against them. But, as recently as April 2, Wilson issued a call to action, saying the postal service officials had issued "a serious threat to raid" the protest site. 

Fitch said the decision to remove the encampment came after receiving complaints from local businesses, post office employees, and "other entities." 

"We've been very patient," Fitch said. "There were no surprises." 

Police cited four or five people with federal misdemeanors for blocking federal property, though no one was arrested, Fitch said.  

Postal police and inspectors confiscated property from demonstrators this morning, but Fitch said it is being catalogued and would be available for protesters to pick up.  

Wilson said it was too early to say whether the demonstrators would attempt to re-occupy the site. If they do, Fitch said they would mostly likely face removal.

New: Missing Man Found in Berkeley and Identified

Jade Atkins (BCN)
Monday April 11, 2016 - 05:16:00 PM

A man has been identified after being found on a bench near the North Berkeley Library Saturday morning confused and in need of help, according to the Berkeley Police Department. 

William Cranor, 60, of Oakland was found by a resident at 11:30 a.m. near the library located at 1170 The Alameda. 

Cranor was missing out of Oakland and considered at risk, according to Lt. Alyson Hart. 

Police said when officers arrived to help, he was unable to tell them who he was and did not have any identification with him. 

Cranor was taken to the hospital for an evaluation and appeared to be well cared for.

Press Release: Can you help us identify this person?

From the Berkeley Police Department
Sunday April 10, 2016 - 11:11:00 PM

Alert Photo

On April 9th at about 11:30 am, a community member found a man sitting on a bench near the North Berkeley Library who seemed confused and in need of assistance. When officers contacted the man, the man was unable to tell them who he was and did not have any identification. The man was taken to Alta Bates Hospital for medical evaluation. Since that time, the Berkeley Police Department has not received any reports about the man being missing. The man appears to be well cared for and was wearing newer shoes—with minimal wear, but is unable to speak.

If you know who this man is, please contact the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5900. 

Case #16-20888. 

Berkeley Police Department
2100 Martin Luther King Junior Way
Berkeley, CA 94704 

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 510-981-5900

Flash: Berkeley Chorus Singin' in the Rain at the Farmers' Market.

Saturday April 09, 2016 - 03:41:00 PM

Shoppers at the Berkeley Saturday Farmers' Market were treated to a flash mob performance by the Berkeley Community Chorus. Mum was the word as the participants stealthily gathered in the rain before "spontaneously" bursting into Beethoven's Ode to Joy. For obvious reasons, added selections included You Are My Sunshine, Singin' in the Rain and Stormy Weather. Director Ming Luke is front and center in the video below, taken on the steps of the Veterans' Memorial: 


Honoree Speaks Truth to Berkeley City Council

Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:25:00 PM

On April 5, the Berkeley City Council honored author and Berkeley resident, Cecile Pineda for her 47 years as a cultural worker. The city proclamation read in part: "Whereas she has been and continues to be active in progressive political at the municipal, national, and international levels, where she reflects a need to address environmental, cultural, radical women's and internuclear issues."  

Pineda followed the city's whereases with a prepared acceptance speech: 

"I am quite happy to accept this honor from the City of Berkeley for my efforts as a cultural worker, especially from a council which recently passed a resolution urging the closure of a nuclear reactor—Diablo Canyon—which sits atop a fine network of connecting faults, a fact PGE knew as early as the 1960s but kept secret from the public till last year. 

"But if the Berkeley City Council is serious about honoring its artists, it must remember that the role of a true artist is to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.  

It must reconsider its draconian approach to homelessness; it must take responsibility for the library directors it appoints, insuring that 39,000 more books—books which are the commons of the citizens of Berkeley—have no more chances of walking out the library back door to be pulped.  

It must guard and preserve the lungs by which it breathes and moderates its climate by protecting the 600,000 East Bay Hills trees designated for the FEMA ax, and Monsanto’s herbicides.  

It must quit selling out its city block by flatland block to the vulture flock of developers who settle in for a killing; it must regulate rents now so that people unable to afford the new “market rate” apartment rents are not evicted from existing housing stock because of rising rents.  

It must provide affordable housing for those displaced by the stampede to build market-rate apartments; it must not permit the Zoning Adjustment Board ZAB to rubber stamp 18-story-high-rise projects without having so much as looked at the engineering report.  

It must understand that one of Berkeley’s last remaining cultural vestiges is the Shattuck theater; it must protect its citizens from gross incursions by the University of California; and it must learn to value its Black community by not displacing it under the veneer of gentrification.  

It must understand finally that the concepts of wise government go back to the 14th century where its effects are vividly laid out in the council chambers of the City of Siena by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, an artist whose work was deliberately commissioned by its citizens to remind the council it must govern wisely and well, in the interest of promoting a healthy society endowed with both compassion and civic responsibility. 

Thank you very much." 

The standing-room-only temporary council chambers erupted with cheers and clapping at frequent intervals throughout her speech.

Porch Thief in Berkeley?

Friday April 08, 2016 - 04:25:00 PM

Here's a video that shows a suspect taking a package from a front porch. Look familiar?  


East Bay Freeway Shooting Suspect Arrested

Bay City News
Friday April 08, 2016 - 01:57:00 PM

The California Highway Patrol has announced the arrest of a suspect in a freeway shooting that occurred on state Highway 4 in Pittsburg Friday. 

McCoy Tiasawn, an alleged gang member, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and booked into the Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez on $1.3 million bail, according to the CHP. 

Tiasawn's arrest came as part of an interagency operation targeting gangs suspected to be involved in a series of 16 gang-related shootings on freeways in Contra Costa and Alameda counties since November 2015. 

So far there have been 10 shootings on Interstate Highway 80, two on Interstate Highway 580, one on Interstate Highway 880, one on state Highway 242 and two on Highway 4, according to the CHP. 

Three of those shootings are being investigated as homicides. 

Officers from the CHP, Richmond Police Department and FBI worked with other allied agencies to arrest 77 suspects, many of whom are alleged to have gang ties. A total of 29 firearms have been seized so far, according to the CHP. 

Anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact the CHP's special investigations unit at (510) 622-4609.

New: Sanders Supporter Speaks

Sheila Goldmacher
Saturday April 09, 2016 - 02:46:00 PM

IT was hillary who started the shit throwing at Bernie and has increased her efforts. Sorry he lowered himself to respond to it at all. There is no way in hell this 82 year old progressive feminist will vote for her. I'm Bernie all the way. just saying.

Clinton's a Hawk, says Goldberg

Chris Gilbert
Wednesday April 13, 2016 - 12:25:00 PM

Perhaps the strongest reason to favor Sanders over Clinton is that Clinton is demonstrably a hawk. This is shown again in the recent Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine”, April 2016.  

Clinton consistently sided with those advisors who were in favor of aggressive action in Syria and Libya, while V.P. Biden and Defense Secty Gates, among others, who were more cautious. Obama fortunately took the more cautious path. In the case of Syria and its chemical weapons this proved the wisest as he subsequently negotiated with the help of Putin for Syria to get rid of them. Obama couldn’t bomb the weapons sites themselves for the collateral damage so any bombing wouldn’t have accomplished much except for escalating the war.  

But that he had said he would bomb and didn’t was unforgiveable to the “Washington consensus”, and Hilary subscribed to it fully. She subsequently said “If you say you are going to strike, you have to strike. There’s no choice.” But there is always choice. Circumstances change.  

Since a President is relatively constrained domestically but has much more freedom as “commander in chief”, how a candidate views international matters is of paramount importance. And Clinton has very much of a track record in this arena, not for the best

New: A Classic of Its Ilk

Jeff Hoffman
Tuesday April 12, 2016 - 01:04:00 PM

I'm sorry that Bob Burnett and Becky O'Malley are or have become so conservative that they support Hillary Clinton. Clinton is just another neoliberal corporate Democrat, and she's as much of a war-monger as any Republican. The idea that there's "a vast right-wing conspiracy" against her and Bill is laughable, since they're part of the right themselves. (Mainstream Democrats are center-right, and if you're going to write political columns you should know that.)  

Yes, the far right attacks Clinton with BS about emails and Benghazi when her real crimes are things like voting for the Iraq war and attacking Libya in the first place. But she certainly deserves to be attacked and criticized by anyone with any progressive values, and I for one will be happy to continue doing so. 

Additionally, Clinton is not honest or trustworthy, fundamentally or otherwise. She is a politician who will say whatever is convenient for her at the time: she voted for the Iraq war, now she says it was a mistake, etc. (as opposed to Sanders whose positions remain consistent). She would not even be giving lip service to progressive values if Sanders were not putting pressure on her and forcing her to do so. 

Burnett also makes the ridiculous argument that who Clinton takes money from makes no difference in her positions or actions. Really? So rich people and corporations just give politicians money for fun or out of the goodness of their hearts? I've got a great deal on a bridge for anyone who believes that nonsense. 

Burnett also repeats the deception about taking money from individuals who work in certain industries as opposed to the industries themselves. Clinton takes money from the industries, Sanders does not. That's the issue, not to whom individual workers donate. 

Finally, as to Sanders attacking Clinton, it was Clinton who first said that Sanders is not qualified to be president. Please at least get your facts straight and write honest comments instead of twisting the truth in the service of Clinton propaganda. 

[Editor's note: If it's indeed a matter of fact, this writer's claim is rated "MOSTLY FALSE" by Politifact, sorry. Please at least get your own facts straight before you make ugly accusations of bad faith about other writers: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/apr/07/bernie-s/bernie-sanders-not-qualified-be-president-hillary-/] 

I couldn't care less who wins between Clinton or another Republican. Clinton and Trump would be equally awful in different ways, and while Clinton might not be quite as bad as someone like Cruz or Ryan, the difference would not be substantial on any major issue aside from abortion/birth control (a big issue, but unfortunately the only one with a substantial difference). Therefore, I fully support trashing of Clinton as much as I support doing so to a Republican. If Clinton wins the nomination, for which she has been anointed for years, I will be voting Green again as I always do. The only chance the Democrats have of getting my vote for president is to nominate Sanders, which is an extreme long shot for multiple reasons.

Who is Ted Cruz talking to?

Ron Lowe
Friday April 08, 2016 - 04:05:00 PM

How can a Republican so misread the American psyche as to think that his anti-abortion brand of extremism is acceptable to a majority of the electorate?  


Presidential candidate Ted Cruz was the first Republican to announce his candidacy, thereby putting a spotlight on himself; fortunately that light has illuminated the depth of his evangelical roots. His message is reminiscent of a preacher sermonizing on a Sunday morning.  

The separation of church and state is integral to the fabric of the American political system and is imperiled by the Cruz candidacy. Ted Cruz is the epitome of everything that is wrong with the Republican Party and would represent a backward step for the country if he gets any further than his current job as Senator of Texas.

Qualifications of Bernie and Hillary

Richard Phelps
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:28:00 PM

Clinton is eminently qualified to be President of a Corporate America. Bernie is the only candidate qualified to be President of an America that treats Main Street and peace in the world as its primary focus, not Wall Street and the military and prison industrial complexes. 

All the pundits think in terms of meritocracy not class consciousness and class loyalty. Clinton's loyalty is to the upper class and to gaining more millions for herself. Bernie's loyalty is to working people, the middle class and poor folks, he has never used politics to enrich himself, aka taking contributions from Wall Street, oil, big pharma etc.  

Yes, one needs to be intelligent and understand the world and both qualify. The most important qualification, to quote an old Union slogan, is "Which side are you on?" And folks there is only one candidate that qualifies for being 100% on the side of the vast majority of the people v. Wall Street and big corporations. Bernie Sanders!! And once you understand this there is nothing else to consider.  

Vote Bernie or get one of the four other corporate America first candidates. This is why Bernie gets treated so badly by all the establishment media, pundits and even the establishment non- profits, Congressional Black Caucus PAC with multiple corporate lobbyists on their BOD, and the Black establishment. The same Black Establishment that disavowed MLK Jr.'s stepping out of the racial justice box by adding stop the Viet Nam war and economic justice to his campaign. "Killer Mike" has said it many times, he supports Bernie since he is the only candidate who continues King's multiple issues agenda for justice.

Should Sanders Be Criticized For Opposing Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:21:00 PM

Bernie Sanders is being criticized for opposing Sandy Hook victims' efforts to sue gun manufacturers, saying that gun manufacturers and dealers generally should not be held responsible for criminal misuse of the guns they supply. Is this criticism of Sanders justified?  

Consider that in response to a spate of lawsuits against gun manufacturers, the NRA pushed for passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCA Act), which was passed in 2005. The PLCA Act shields the gun industry from liability for negligence. Sanders voted for the PLCA Act while Hillary Clinton voted against it.  

Under the PLCA Act, gun manufacturers could be held liable if a gun is defective. However, they could not be sued if the shooter killed or wounded someone. After all, killing and wounding are purposes for which the gun was made. Sanders recently defended the PLCA Act saying, "If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and that murderer kills somebody with the gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible?" There have been some calls for overturning the PLCA Act but given its past history, a Republican-led Congress is unlikely to overturn the PLCA Act. 

In 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to "keep and bear arms." It follows then that the manufacture and sale of guns must be legal too.  

Absent the PLCA Act, a gun manufacturer might be held liable if a gun it manufactured was used to murder someone on a strict liability theory. In tort law, strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent). The claimant need only prove that the tort occurred and that the defendant was responsible. The law imputes strict liability to situations it considers to be inherently dangerous.  

And absent the PLCA Act, the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings and other mass shootings would at least have their day in court, which would be a much needed spotlight on the business of gun manufacture in the U.S. 

Sanders should be criticized for voting for the PLCA Act but should he be criticized for stating what the current state of the law is?



Back off the dog whistles, Bernie, or we won't take you seriously any more, if we ever did

Becky O'Malley
Friday April 08, 2016 - 01:49:00 PM

Hey, Bernie, ever heard of “dog whistles”? Evidently not, or you wouldn’t be using dog whistles so eagerly in your revved-up attacks on Hillary Clinton in the last couple of days, or at least I hope you wouldn’t.

I see that my pagemate Bob Burnett has already done an excellent job of debunking the myths about Clinton which have been spread by the rightwing and unfortunately adopted by some of Bernie Sanders’ friends. (I can’t resist an apt cliché: “With friends like that, he doesn’t need enemies!”)

So I won’t have to go into the substance of these phony charges, but can concentrate on their tone, including Bernie’s own words, his own choice of dogwhistle vocabulary. 

First, for those of you who have missed the last 20 years of political discourse, what’s a dog whistle? It’s a metaphor, based on the fact that dogs are able to hear higher frequencies than humans, so it’s possible to call them with a high-pitched whistle that only dogs can hear.

By association, the term means derogatory comments which only some listeners, often the targets of the comments, can perceive.

Let’s take first, e.g., as a minor example, this report on Politico.com of what Bernie said:

"…I will not be hustling money from the wealthy and the powerful.”

No one should have to explain to a 74-year-old man that “hustler” is a term often used for female prostitutes, and is therefore an unfortunate choice of words to describe the behavior of a female opponent. You may disagree with Hillary Clinton, Bernie, but she’s not a whore.

Then there’s that even more loaded word, “qualified”. That’s a term that’s all too familiar to any American woman of a certain age or any non-white American. It might not resonate the same way with an old white guy like Bernie, of course. 

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends—perhaps many of my best friends—are Old White Guys like Bernie. They’re just not in a position to understand what it’s been like for women and minorities to challenge the gatekeepers on the road to achievement. 

For most of my adult life, “qualified” has actually meant “over-qualified”. When I applied to college in the late 50s, Stanford as a matter of policy admitted five men for every woman in their student body. Even though I got into Stanford and was offered a scholarship, I went to a women’s college, partly because studying some place where five out of six of my classmates were less “qualified” than me seemed boring. Young Hillary Rodham made the same choice a few years later. 

When I was living in Ann Arbor around 1970, I applied to the University of Michigan Law School. I was told by a dean that they’d never admitted a woman with small children and weren’t about to start then. Luckily I moved back to California and could go to law school here. 

In the 1980s and 1990s I partnered in a family enterprise, a high tech start-up in the speech technology market, with my computer scientist husband and adult daughter. This was not long after the big kahuna in the speech technology world, AT&T, signed a landmark consent decree to eliminate discriminatory recruiting, hiring and promotion practices against women and minorities. 

I soon learned that the best way of avoiding the mind-numbing banalities of the speech industry trade shows was to talk to the few black people who were there, because inevitably they were much smarter and more interesting that their white colleagues, because they had to be over-qualified to get their jobs, even when backed by the consent decree. Many had originally been hired at AT&T only because of the legal pressure. 

At the time I’d been admitted to the California Bar, and I’d been an award-winning investigative reporter while I was in law school. My daughter, who did most of our business in Asia, had a degree from Columbia in Asian studies and spoke Japanese. We were both very good at what we did, and the business was eventually a success, but I’m sure that if it hadn’t been a family enterprise our opportunities as women would have been much more limited. 

In the same way, Hillary Rodham Clinton has benefited from her partnership with an equally “qualified” man, but she’s gotten where she is today based on her own qualifications, which frankly on paper look a lot more impressive than Bernie Sanders’. 

Just a quick Wikipedia look with the eye of an experienced employer tells me that he’s never had a “real job.” He had the usual assortment of 60s and 70s pickup careers (carpenter, filmmaker….) consistent with his age and class. He was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, for a few years (~42,000 population, maybe a third the size of Berkeley) and has been a senator from his cute little adopted state (population about 650,000, cf. San Francisco, ~ 850,000). But he has had no substantial executive experience. 

Education? A year at CCNY, followed by an indifferent B.A. in Poli-Sci from the U. of Chicago and a bit of something-or-other at the New School. Wikipedia tells us he didn’t much like school. That’s it. 

Hillary’s “qualifications”, on paper? Too numerous and well-known to detail here, but let’s just say a much better education and several more responsible and demanding jobs. Look it up yourself if you don’t know. 

It was Bernie Sanders who brought up “qualifications”, perhaps because he was stung by Clinton’s admittedly Mom-ish observation that “he hadn't done his homework”. No one likes Mom to say that, even if it’s true. But to the country’s legion of women and non-whites who have been over-qualified all their lives yet excluded from almost anything they wanted to do, it’s a dog whistle, especially if comes from an Old White Guy like Sanders. 

Hillary is bolstered by the support of African-American voters, especially the over-qualified older ones who know that they could have achieved more on a level playing field. One of my closest friends, an African-American woman of a certain age (close to Bernie’s) made the front page of the New York Times because she drove a car full of her peers from Ohio to South Carolina to put Clinton over the top in that primary, and there are many more like her. 

So Bernie, don’t try to tell us about what it means to be “qualified.” You started it, and you’re on the wrong track. 

My local friends, many but not all Old White Guys, tend to like Bernie Sanders because he’s One of Us. Certainly no one in my circle would disagree with his goals—he’s a great salesman for good ideas whose time has come. A friend who lives in a college town in the enlightened part of the South (yes, there are such places) says that Bernie supporters there, both men and women of all ages, now describe themselves as radicals, but they actually missed out on the action in the 60s, as, of course, did his legion of youthful fans. I see the same thing among well-meaning Berkeleyans. 

And he’s cute, in that cuddly way that many Old White Guys, including some of my best friends, are. But it’s not all about cute now, if it ever was. Whatever Sanders’ qualifications are or were, he’s not going to win the nomination, and he needs to face that fact and adjust his course appropriately. 

The “qualified” category is not just binary, it’s a spectrum. It starts as “unqualified”, which includes all the Republicans in the race. Then there’s “qualified”, which both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton should have the good sense to concede applies to their opponent in the Democratic nomination race. After that, it’s reasonable to judge that Hillary is actually “over-qualified” for historical reasons, with a much better resume than anyone else in the race and a demonstrated capacity to learn and change when the situation requires it. 

Finally, there’s “disqualified”, which is the one that Bernie Sanders needs to watch out for, and quickly. He’s right on the edge of disqualifying himself from serious consideration as a contributor to the public forum at the moment. 

Bernie, if you can’t remember to play hard but play fair (sorry to sound Mom-ish) you don't belong in the game. 









Public Comment

New: Drones strikes fueling more rage

Tejinder Uberoi
Wednesday April 13, 2016 - 12:40:00 PM

Yet another drone carnage occurred just over a week ago. Afghan officials say at least 17 civilians were killed by U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan. The first strike hit the truck of a local elder killing the elder and 11 others. The second drone struck killed two people who were collecting their bodies. A third drone strike killed three more villagers who had rushed to see what had happened. Predictably, the Pentagon claimed there were no civilian casualties. This latest tragedy comes on the heels of a U.S. oversight office report which issued a damning indictment of Pentagon wastage. The report indicates that since 2002 $113 billion to reconstruct Afghanistan has largely been wasted. The report provides details of shoddily built structures, unsafe roads and hundreds of empty schools. U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, who was responsible for the report, said, "Fifteen years into an unfinished work of funding and fighting, we must indeed ask, 'What went wrong?'" The $113 billion exceeds more than the total the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. 

It is time to call a halt to our Afghanistan misadventure which has costs precious Afghan and American lives, and squandered billions. We are paying a heavy price for giving a blank check to the Pentagon in the mistaken belief that they are keeping us safe and winning the nebulous ‘war on terror’. Civilian deaths are fueling much of the insurgency. 

Why neighborhood assemblies can win against corporate developers

Steve Martinot (with thanks to Hulda Nystrom, Kathy Horsley, and Phil Allen)
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:53:00 PM

The concept of neighborhood assemblies has been broached in the recent rise in neighborhood discontent and malaise. It presents the possibility of an alternate political structure, which becomes necessary when people are faced with a representationist system that is corrupt. It is not just that some of the officials in city government are corrupt; the representationist system is corrupt as a structure. It is both exclusionary of popular participation and hermetic in its policy making. It gets its hermeticism from its dual corruption, both as a structure and as a nurturing environment for personal corruption.

By corruption, I do not necessarily refer to monetary factors of gain, but more importantly to a betrayal of trust, an ignoring or refusal of responsibility to constituents, with a substitution of alien (corporate) interests for constituent interests. The confluence of the two factors, the structural and the personal, give the system its insularity, its hermetic resistance to public accountability, and neutralizing of constituent oversight.

In Berkeley, we see this corruption in city council’s prioritizing corporate interests over constituent interests – corporate development over affordable housing, gentrification over protection against dislocation. The need for an alternate political structure of governance is indicated as political medicine for that social illness.

As an alternate political structure, neighborhood asemblies would constitute a substitution of direct democracy for representationism.

But the question arises, with respect to the housing crisis and the impending gentrification at the hands of corporate developers, where would neighborhood assemblies get their power or clout?



What is a neighborhood assembly?  

A neighborhood assembly is a body composed of all the people from a certain self-defined contiguous unjerrymandered area of a city. It operates basically as a forum for people to discuss issues that beset them as neighbors and as a neighborhood. Ultimately, it is designed to make policy for that neighborhood by some form of consensus or agreement. Assemblies from adjoining neighborhoods can compare their respective decisions, and discuss how to work together. A federation of neighborhood assemblies would then constitute a local network for melding and harmonizing policy decisions made by different assemblies, for the purpose of molding common implementation. 

But where would a system of neighborhood assemblies get its power? In the case of trade unionism, for instance, union organizations get their clout from their power to strike, to stop production. The strike obstructs the transformation of the value of labor into capital, and thus interferes with the realization of investment profit. By striking, unions can force employers to negotiate, and to grant important demands. Though many unions have shown themselves to be corrupt, they all rely on their ability to stop production through labor solidarity as the source of their power. 

But what kind of economic value could a neighborhood assembly obstruct, in order to bring developers to negotiate? 

The need to do so is extant. The economic threat from high rise, high income housing is well known. The mere plans to develop huge market rate apartment buildings along principal arteries in the city will create a housing crisis by inducing rent increases (often a form of economic eviction), tax increases, and increases in the cost of living, all of which disrupt the economic infrastructure of the adjoining neighborhoods. The ultimate effect will be to produce inordinate dislocation of residents, forcing many to leave the city. Displacement is the hallmark of gentrification. What would benefit the existing neighborhoods would be affordable housing units, with green space and places for children to play together. What they will get, instead, will be insular buildings like those proposed for 1500 San Pablo, 2100 San Pablo, and 2747 San Pablo, and economic disruption. These buildings are the harbingers of what is in store, promising traffic jams, small stores forced to close, and fights for parking spaces. 

How can neighborhood assemblies stop this, if their only legitimate policy-making influence has been reduced to begging city council or commissions for slight modifications in massive architectural design? 


The factor of land values  

The answer lies in land values. Land has no intrinsic value. Whatever value it has is given to it by its surrounding society, by its social environment – and active neighborhood assemblies can be an important part of any neighborhood’s social environment. 

For instance, the land that is now Nebraska had no value before US expansion westward. The indigenous peoples did not believe in ownership of land. It was the establishment of railroads, commercial companies, and armies that provided the economic infrastructure for the land to have economic value. What is built on the land will have value only if society gives it value. For instance, a timber mill in the middle of downtown Berkeley would have no value because there would be no room to bring timber in or processed wood out. In short, the value of land depends on people, not the land itself. 

Where does the land value that the corporate developers depend on come from? It arises from two sources. First, there is the active support given by the society of corporations, which provides the economic infrastructure for it through banking, debt, stock markets and real estate markets. Its second source is the acceptance of or acquiescence to developer plans by the surrounding neighborhoods. 

It is with respect to land values that neighborhoods hold power. Corporate interests are based on land values. Developers focus on low income areas because the land values are lower there, promising greater profit. In that sense, developers look at low income neighborhoods as a “natural resource,” an area from which to extract wealth, with little regard for whether real people’s lives are disrupted or impoverished. 

But should a neighborhood figure out how to stop being a natural resource for corporate development, it could seriously obstruct the land values essential to corporate financing, and even diminish land values whose increase the developers count on. 

When neighborhoods organize, and form neighborhood assemblies, they provide an counterbalance to the so-called "rights" of the developer. The power to delay construction or occupancy, the power to disrupt or harass the plans of the developer, and the power to jam the permit process (in counterpoint to the impending traffic jams) are all things that would lower the value of the land. Blockages, blockades, block parties, and a collective sense of hostility to the building would have their effects. There are many ways a network of neighborhood assemblies could inform a developer that he might want to change his plans. If a developer suspects there is "ferment" in a neighborhood, or that there might be a hidden “hornet’s nest” lurking there, it will think twice about building, in order to avoid losing money (and especially resale potential). Developers must take all this into account. 

What would this do for neighborhood residential land values? It would protect them and their resale value, precisely because families wishing to settle in a neighborhood would be attracted to one that could defend itself against the economic disaster of gentrification. Residential land value stability and gentrification work against each other. 

Remember, land values are determined by the surrounding social environment. 


In summary, the power of neighborhood organization, of people acting together in solidarity, lies in a threat of economic disruption that might imply a possible loss of land value. 

People acting together in assembly can do many other things as well. They can establish their own autonomous zoning of their neighborhood, establish restorative justice procedures, set up tutoring services for their children, build debt and self-help cooperatives, create local clinics (important now that all the hospitals in Berkeley will soon be closed), insist that new construction projects hire local workers, and bring the city into dialogue with the people. 

We see the potential for such assemblies in the Community Council system that has been in effect in Richmond for the last 35 years. 

Thus, the neighborhood assembly can be at once a policy making body for a neighborhood, an administrative body for local needs (such as tutoring services, local clinics, and restorative justice procedures), and a center of struggle against corporate capital that seeks to use neighborhoods as a source of raw material for the production of its own wealth.

UC Plan to Cut Trees in Strawberry Canyon and Hills for Development Threatens Ecology

Merrilie Mitchell
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:16:00 PM

UC Berkeley has added an addendum to their 2020 Long Range Development Plan called the Hill Campus Fire Reduction Plan. The Plan seeks FEMA funding, and is known in the community as UC’s plan to cut East Bay forests and dodge a full Environmental Impact Report.

UC argues that the “addendum” is “minor with no significant impacts”. But the Plan would remove tens of thousands of trees in Strawberry Canyon and the hills above the campus to build housing and UC buildings.

Removing thousands of trees will decrease transpiration, rainfall, cooling shade, and dew, creating a drier, hotter, hills area, more DANGER for fire!

This Plan needs a full EIR to require alternatives--here are three: 

1.Create an “off peak”campus using existing buildings 

2.Build down or up in existing building footprints on campus 

3.Design “UC Satellites” in other cities where needed and affordable for intensive studies 

An Amazing Creature Lives Up In Our Hills. 

It’s called the Western Fence Lizard and it can prevent Lyme disease! It is found here, but not in other parts of our country. So in New York, or in Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease was discovered, the incidence of Lyme disease is 100 times more than here. This disease can be devastating. 

Deer ticks and tick nymphs carry Lyme disease and bite fence lizards. When a tick and as many as 20 or more tiny nymphs feed on a Western Fence Lizard the lizard’s blood deactivates the Lyme Disease spirochetes in the tick. This process immunizes the ticks so they can’t cause Lyme disease. 

We need a full EIR to examine the ecological treasures in the project area such as this little lizard. But logging, habitat destruction, use of powerful, persistent herbicides-- for ten years, could destroy these lizards, as well as permanently damage the environment up there. 

The basic rule of ecology “In diversity is stability!” should be respected so we avoid creating simplified environments maintained with toxic chemicals that sterilize soil, blow in wind, poison workers and wildlife, and contaminate runoff flowing all the way to S.F. Bay. 

The Western Fence Lizard is found along paths in the hills, in edge zones between forest and field, and along hillside neighborhoods where wisdom would want them to remain. 

If we use machines and herbicides in the hill area they will destroy Fence Lizards while most larger animals that carry Lyme disease ticks can move away, and may visit our backyards. 

Birds and bats living in the Project Area will likely lose their habitats and food supplies, or be poisoned by the herbicides. This would allow more insect pests to survive --mosquitoes, fleas, flies, Miller moths, for example. 

Hawks, eagles, owls, etc, will die from eating poisoned rodents and creatures, or may become unable to reproduce like the pelicans that ate fish containing DDT. We need to consider all these things and more, in a Full EIR. 

Rodents will multiply as hawks and birds of prey diminish, and carnivores, like fox and bobcats, move away. Few trees and more grasslands there will increase habitat for pests like ground squirrels, roof rats, and prickly weeds. 

I’m wondering--Are there any University women like Sylvia McLaughlin and her friends at UC Berkeley now who will help us stand up for the blue of the Bay and the cool green of our hills, and help us save our only planet?

The “Right to the City”: Who should control the process of urbanization in Berkeley?

Dr. James McFadden
Friday April 08, 2016 - 04:08:00 PM

Berkeleyside published the OpEd that I put together after Tuesday's council meeting.

Please share widely:

"The “Right to the City” is an idea proposed by Lefebvre that those who live in a city have a democratic right, a human right, to shape the process of urbanization.

"Unfortunately we seem to live in a world where private property rights, where profit rates, trump all other human rights. We seem to live in a time where the majority of our City Council believes the neoliberal notion that markets should determine all change -— that profit-driven decision making by the .01% must determine our future. This neoliberal exercise of power by the developer-investor class is anti-democratic. The backroom deals between the Berkeley City Council and for-profit-developers, deals that control Berkeley’s process of urbanization, are diametrically opposed to democratic rule and social justice."


The Panama Papers

Jagjit Singh
Friday April 08, 2016 - 04:06:00 PM

A document known as the “Panama Papers” has exposed the sordid details of how the rich and powerful hide their wealth by using tax havens to avoid paying taxes. It’s by far the largest leak in journalism history. The world’s fourth largest offshore Panama based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, set up a massive global nefarious scheme to service their clients. Last Sunday, journalists released 11.5 million secret files from Fonseca’s database. 

Thus far, the revelations have incriminated 12 heads of state and a number of other politicians, their family members and close associates, including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, the son of Malaysian prime minister, the Saudi monarchy and the president of Ukraine. The prime minister of Iceland has already resigned and more heads are sure to follow. Relatives of at least eight current or former members of China’s top ruling body are also mentioned. In a desperate effort of damage control, Chinese news groups were ordered to purge all references of the Panama Papers. Panama’s “Snowden,” responsible for the leak, has not been identified, and has used an encrypted chat to communicate with the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the prime recipient of the leak. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spanning many countries set aside their usual competitive nature by printing their stories on the same day. This is journalism at its finest.

California's New Minimum Wage Law is Too Minimal

Harry Brill
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:44:00 PM

Governor Brown just signed a minimum wage bill that was enthusiastically greeted by many progressive organizations. Among the enthusiasts is the California Federation of Labor, which is the umbrella organization for California based unions. Unions are rarely ecstatic nowadays. In this instance, it is ecstatic about the new law, claiming it will lift millions out of poverty. But unfortunately, the labor federation's optimism is questionable. 

At first glance the very positive reaction seems justified. Several cities have adopted a $15 minimum wage law, including San Francisco and Emeryville. But California is the first state to do so. However, when you read the fine print there is little to get excited about. One of the clauses in the law gives whoever is the governor the right to cancel a wage increase if there is an economic downturn, which the law broadly defines. Governor Brown has vehemently opposed any hike in the minimum wage. But inserting this clause prompted him to change his mind. Since the economy is a bit wobbly now, the chance of it going south is much more likely than not.  

However, even the best possible scenario of the new law is problematic. Workers would not see a $15 an hour wage until at least 2022, which is six long years from now. For employees who work in small businesses (25 workers or less), they will have to wait an additional year, until 2023. These small enterprises make up over 90 percent of California's businesses.  

Those who defend the law argue that despite its limitations, it is better than nothing. Yes, it is certainly better than nothing. But "nothing" was not the only option. One SEIU local that crafted a better law has already qualified for ballot status in November. Not only would the $15 an hour be reached sooner. Also, there is no clause in the SEIU initiative that would allow a governor or any other public official to veto a scheduled wage increase.  

However, in deference to the legislature and governor, SEIU has agreed to withdraw its ballot measure. According to a recent survey by a research institute a substantial majority of Americans support a $15 minimum hourly wage. So is very likely that the SEIU ballot would have succeeded. It is too bad that the union decided to pull out. Still, we have to keep on plugging. Our effort to improve the standard of living for working people should never be compromised.

New: Who would you believe, The Union of Concerned Scientists or the EPA?

Russ Tilleman
Tuesday April 12, 2016 - 01:22:00 PM

The US government publishes fuel economy ratings for new cars, to inform consumers of what they can expect if they buy a particular model. For people who care about the environment, the EPA ratings can be used to estimate the global warming effects of buying and driving a particular vehicle. 

For gasoline-powered cars, the ratings are in miles per gallon, and the comparison between different vehicles is straightforward. A car that gets 20 miles per gallon does twice the environmental damage as a car that gets 40 miles per gallon. 

For electric cars, the ratings are in kilowatt-hours per hundred miles, and the comparison between different vehicles is also straighforward. A car that uses 40 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles does twice the environmental damage as a car that uses 20 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. 

When comparing a gasoline-powered car against an electric car, it gets a little more complicated. To simplify this process, a miles-per-gallon-equivalent can be calculated for an electric car. However, there is more than one way to calculate such an equivalent. The Union of Concerned Scientists uses one method, and the EPA uses a very different method that gives very different numbers. 


In their June 2012 paper "State of CHARGE Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings across the United States", Don Anair and Amine Mahmassani present "An Apples-to-Apples Comparison of EV and Gasoline Vehicle Global Warming Emissions". They define an MPGghg where ghg stands for greenhouse gases. 

They explain MPGghg by stating: "If an electric vehicle has an MPGghg value equal to the MPG of a gasoline-powered vehicle, both vehicles will emit the same amounts of global warming pollutants for every mile they travel." 

This definition makes sense, an electric car that gets 40 MPGghg does the same environmental damage as a gasoline-powered car that gets 40 MPG. 


On their website and on new car window stickers, the EPA rates electic cars with "MPGe:Miles per Gallon Equivalent 1 gallon of gasoline=33.7 kWh". 

This EPA version of MPGe gives very different numbers than the MPGghg of the Concerned Scientists. For the 2015 Tesla Model S, the EPA MPGe is 89 and the Concerned Scientists MPGghg average for the United States is 45. 


The EPA number is not an apples-to-apples comparison between an electric car and a gasoline-powered car. 

The EPA compares the thermal energy in a gallon of gas, how much heat it produces when it burns, to the electric energy that comes off the power grid. These are two completely different things. 

In generating electricity, about half the thermal energy in a fuel is lost. So it is no surprise that the EPA number differs from the Concerned Scientists number by a factor of 2. 


Any competent scientist would agree with the Concerned Scientists, that the Tesla Model S does the same environmental damage per mile as a gasoline-powered car that gets 45 MPG. And yet the EPA gives it a rating of 89 MPGe. 

For some reason, the EPA decided to provide an apples-to-oranges comparison. 

Yes, there is as much thermal energy in a gallon of gas as the electrical energy a Tesla uses to drive 89 miles. But the laws of physics make it impossible to generate that electricity from that gallon of gas. 

I will leave it up to the reader to decide if the EPA is lying to us, but I would say their calculations are very creative. 


As an Electrical Engineer, I can see no valid scientific reason for using the wrong MPG equivalent. 

However, I can see a possible political reason: Billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, is a major contributor to both the Democratic and Republican political parties. 

It is the duty of the EPA to give us accurate ratings, so that we can make informed decisions about our effect on the environment. But if the EPA used the correct MPG equivalent, who would buy a $70,000 Tesla that does more environmental damage than a $25,000 Toyota?


THE PUBLIC EYE:Stop Attacking Hillary

Bob Burnett
Friday April 08, 2016 - 10:18:00 AM

Amidst reports of Donald Trump’s meltdown, a significant news item went almost unreported: MSNBC noted that the number of FB1 agents working on the Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle is not “147” but “12.” The initial exaggeration was further evidence of the massive effort to demean and discredit Clinton. These attacks should stop. Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy. 

If you have followed Hillary Clinton’s career, you understand there have been few periods where there were not rumors of some sort of Clinton scandal; beginning, in 1992, with Whitewater and, most recently, Benghazi. In 1998, Clinton spoke of a ”vast right-wing conspiracy” against her and Bill. 

There’s continuing evidence of this conspiracy; although recently most of its energy has been directed towards President Obama – for example, claiming he is a Muslim. 

Over the past seven years, there have been three distinct attacks on Hillary Clinton. Since the September 11, 2012, attack on a State Department outpost in Benghazi, Libya, Republicans have accused Clinton of malfeasance. This culminated in an 11-hour hearing before a House Select Committee. Clinton got positive reviews for her deportment and refuted all charges. Unfortunately, the protracted investigation dragged down her approval ratings and opened up an email controversy. 

The right-win conspiracy rumbles on. In February, during a Republican presidential debate, Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused Hillary Clinton of “lying” to the four families of victims of the Benghazi attack. However, the non-partisan website, Politifact concluded: “There simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for Rubio or anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.” 

Recently, the conspiracy has focused on Clinton’s email. During the summer of 2014, the Benghazi investigation revealed that Secretary of State Clinton had handled some email outside the normal State Department system, on her own server. While this was not illegal, it was unusual and invited further investigation. Of course, this impacted Clinton’s approval ratings. Many Republicans believe that Clinton will inevitably be indicted; as do some Bernie Sanders supporters, who hope this indictment will lead to his winning the Democratic presidential nomination. 

The indictment won’t happen. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, and others, have concluded that it is unlikely Hillary Clinton will be indicted over her use of a private email server. Law professor Richard Lempert observed: “Based on what has been revealed so far, there is no reason to think that Clinton committed any crimes with respect to the use of her email server, including her handling of classified information.” 

But the relentless onslaught of the right-wing conspiracy has taken a toll. Over the past seven years, Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings have lost sixteen points -- from 56 percent to 40 percent. 

Now Clinton is being assaulted by the Sanders campaign. First there was the accusation that she’s a tool of Wall Street because she has accepted donations from individuals who are in the financial sector. Now the Sanders campaign has accused her of being a tool of the fossil fuel industry. About fossil fuel money, Politifact noted: 

In fact, people in the fossil fuel industry have given to both campaigns… Clinton's campaign has received $307,561 from people who work for oil and gas interests so far in the presidential race. Sanders has received nearly six times fewer dollars — $53,760.
On April 6th, Bernie Sanders said, “I don’t believe that [Hillary Clinton] is qualified” to be President because she takes special-interest money. 

Last week, the Mother Jones’ political correspondent, Kevin Drum wrote an important article about Hillary. He quoted another correspondent, Jill Abramson, who has covered Clinton for 20 years, who observed. “There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.” 

Drum concluded: “The truth is that regardless of how [Clinton] sometimes sounds, her record is pretty clear: Hillary Clinton really is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.” 

On April 6th, Politifact updated it’s “truth-o-meter” for statements made by each candidate. Bernie Sanders had a 50 percent rating for “true” or “mostly true;” Hillary Clinton had a 52 percent rating for “true” or “mostly true.” 

Recently, Nate Silver of 538 pointed out it is extremely unlikely that Bernie Sanders will get the Democratic nomination: Sanders would have to carry the remaining contests by an average of 13 percentage points. Feeding off this, Paul Krugman called on the Sanders campaign to quite depicting Clinton negatively: “The Sanders campaign needs to stop feeding the right-wing disinformation machine. Engaging in innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt is, at this point, basically campaigning on behalf of the RNC.” 

That’s the situation in a nutshell: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy. She’s probably going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The prospect of a historic Democratic landslide is in sight. The Sanders campaign must stop attacking her. 

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



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Data Corruption

Jack Bragen
Friday April 08, 2016 - 04:02:00 PM

A few delusions can do a lot of damage. No, I'm not talking of something you can see, like a wrecked car, a physical injury, or an overdrawn bank account--although these things can certainly take place. I'm talking about damage to the software that makes the human mind work.  

Paranoid and other delusions are usually created by brain malfunctions that doctors believe have physical causes. Medication provides relief from the worst of the overt symptoms for many of the afflicted. It works by means of changing the brain chemistry, which changes how the brain processes information. 

Medication can get one's mind into the ballpark of correct thought. Medication makes correct thought possible, but it is not an assurance of that. I find that while on medication, I still need to do a lot of work, cognitive work that is, to keep myself thinking with a good level of accuracy. Call it mental discipline; call it cognitive exercises, whatever you want to call it, it is necessary for me to correct errors in thought on a regular basis.  

In computer terminology, there is the term "data corruption." This refers to computer errors not created by viruses. Data corruption could, some of the time, be caused by a worn out hard drive (which is magnetic and has moving parts), by misreading a CD or DVD (dirt or a scratch on the surface of the DVD or CD can cause this), or, a computer error can come from other causes.  

However, I am stealing the term data corruption and using it to describe what happens in the mind of a mentally ill person.  

Generally speaking of people, there is no rule that says our thinking is going to be accurate, mentally ill or not. The ones with accurate thinking are usually those who are able to reflect a lot, and to do some form of correction of errors. Such a person is likely considered to have a scientific mind. Zen practitioners are more likely to think accurately because they have trained their minds to work better. Doctors and scientists have been trained in "the scientific method" and this can be used as a mental set of tools that can produce clearer thinking.  

The human brain, because of the fact that it is a biological thing and because of the magnitude of information that it must process, is always going to have some level of error.  

When the human brain is ill, especially with a disease such as schizophrenia, by definition, there will be a lot of processing that is not accurate. I am fortunate that I have learned ways of thinking more clearly than I have in my past. This progress did not come quickly or easily.  

I have to periodically identify and negate delusions in a way vaguely analogous to someone pulling weeds in a garden. I did not have this ability very much when I was in my twenties, although at the time I thought I did.  

Would it be accurate to say either you have clarity or you don't? Not necessarily. If someone sincerely wants better thinking, he or she can work toward that. If you have schizophrenia or a similar condition, it doesn't mean that you ought to give up on your mind. You can be mentally ill and in treatment, and you can have a very good mind. Achieving that is more of a feat compared to someone who is unimpaired and who has been given advantages, such as high level college courses and the opportunity to interact with academic people.  

If you are mentally ill, don't give up. Things can be accomplished or achieved if you do the necessary work.  

Arts & Events

Keeping It Wild: The San Francisco Green Film Festival

Gar Smith
Wednesday April 13, 2016 - 12:36:00 PM

Various SF and Berkeley screenings from April 14 - 20, 2016

San Francisco's Green Film Festival is back with its sixth annual selection of illuminating environmental cinema. This year, the Festival's theme is "Keep It Wild" and the SFGFF delivers with 70 internationally acclaimed films and screening venues that span the Bay, from SF to Berkeley.

The Festival has attracted more than 90 filmmakers and guest speakers who will be on hand to reflect on pressing environmental issues and solutions. According to the festival organizers, "Audiences will be inspired to move beyond their theatre seats, with tangible ideas and connections to take positive environmental action."

There are far too many films to write about. Some highlights follow. A complete calendar of screenings can be found online here.




The Festival will make its home at the Roxie Theatre from April 15 through 19. Opening Night is set for the Castro Theatre on Thursday, April 14, and the festival returns to the Castro for its closing night on April 20. Other Green Screens will light up in SF— at FestHQ (518 Valencia), the Koret Auditorium (SF Public Library Main Branch;), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts—and in Berkeley—at the Goldman Theater (David Brower Center, 2150 Addison), and the Banatao Auditorium (Suturdja Dai Hall, UC Berkeley Campus). 

The festival kicks-off at the Castro with Oscar-nominated (Gasland) director Josh Fox's latest film. How to Let Go of the World is one of several Green Fest films that were completed in the aftermath of the December 2015 climate deal in Paris. Fox's documentary takes the audience to 12 countries on 6 continents, as Fox asks people—from the Amazon to Samoa to the smog-choked cities of China—an existential question: "What is it that climate change can't destroy?" Amazon Watch will be co-hosting the opening night screening and was involved on-the-ground in the filming of Fox's journeys through Ecuador and the Peruvian Amazon. 

Josh Fox will be in attendance for the San Francisco Premiere of the film and will be joined by Amazon Watch Executive Director Leila Salazar-Lopez for a Q&A after the screening. Thursday, April 14 at the Castro Theatre at 7:30pm  


An American Ascent, the Centerpiece presentation, comes from directors Andrew Adkins and George Potter, whose cameras follow nine African Americans on a pioneering journey to the top of Mount Denali, America's highest peak. Scott Briscoe, a Bay Area climber and star of the film, will be on hand for the San Francisco Premiere. Sunday, April 19 at the Roxie Theatre at 8:30pm. 



The festival will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Hollywood's classic wildlife flick, Born Free. Film star Virginia McKenna, whose Born Free Foundation is dedicated to protecting Africa's wild lions, will be in SF to receive the 2016 Inspiring Lives Award at the screening. Wednesday, April 20 at the Castro Theatre at 6.30pm

The Green Film Fest winds up with the World Premiere of San Francisco director Mark Decena's Not Without Us, a moving first-hand account of the Paris Climate Summit with seven grassroots activists from around the world who convened in Paris to push world leaders to stop catastrophic climate change. Unfortunately, the COP21agreement was not strong enough to assure the climate can be stabilized, so the question becomes, "Ultimately, is it up to us?" Decena will be at the Castro to accept the 2016 Green Tenacity Award, along with international activists from the film. Wednesday, April 20 at the Castro Theatre at 9.15pm

Bay Area Films and Filmmakers 

The Festival will showcase 13 film shorts from Bay Area filmmakers, including Trailhead (directors Emily Fraser, Henry Wiener) celebrating Oakland's wildlife trails; Camel Gastrolith (director Chris Jordan) a gut-wrenching investigation of plastic litter inside a camel's stomach; Fight for Areng Valley (director Kalyanee Mam) documenting the struggle of the indigenous people of Cambodia's Areng Valley to defend their spirit forests; and 5 Blocks (directors Robert Cortlandt, Dan Goldes), a work-on-progress on the evolution of San Francisco's central Market Street. 


An Acquired Taste. World Premiere. Vanessa LeMaire-Workman in person. Don't expect to be spoon-fed by this documentary as a new generation of Bay Area locavores decides that the best alternative to factory farms, is to return to traditional hunting and gathering. Squirrel pies, anyone? Saturday, April 16 at the Roxie Theatre at 3:30pm. 

Some Added Highlights 

Nature's Orchestra. A San Francisco Premiere. Director Stephen Most in person. Follow famed musician and acoustic scientist Bernie Krause as he journeys to the Arctic on "soundscape expedition" to record increasingly rare natural sounds that are vanishing from the planet forever. After the film, there will be a Soundscape Ecology Walk through the Yerba Buena Gardens. Saturday, April 16 at the YBCA at 4:00pm. 

Of the Sea. Mischa Hedges in person. Featuring local SF fishers with representatives from Real Good Fish and Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. Struggling against complex regulations, rising costs, and competition from corporate fish-farms and cheap imported seafood, Bay Area fishers and entrepreneurs are exploring new paths to secure the future of local and sustainable busineses. Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 3:00pm.  

Parrots, Pelicans, and People: Oh My! For fans of Judy Irving's beloved film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The program will include clips from Irving's films and an extended conversation with the director and the audience. Sunday, April 17 at 518 Valencia at 3:30pm. 

World Premiers 

Freightened. French director Denis Delestrac (SAND WARS) has engineered a daring investigation into global impacts of shipping freight by ship. With 90% of the West's food and consumer items sourced from overseas, container ships have a major (but largely hidden) impact our the global economy and environment. Saturday, April 16 at the Roxie Theatre at 5:45pm.  

I Am Chut Wutty. Cambodian environmentalist Chut Wutty was murdered after defying threats and intimidation during his investigations of much-feared logging syndicates and rubber plantations. What lies ahead for his friends who are still fighting to defend their forests? Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 6:00pm. 

A River Between Us. San Francisco Premiere. Jason Atkinson in person. The mighty Klamath River runs from southern Oregon to Northern California, past rival communities that have fought over the river's water for more than a century. Can a renewed push for compromise lead to the largest river restoration project in US history? Saturday, April 16 at Roxie Theatre at 1:00pm.  

The Anthropologist. San Francisco Premiere. Daniel Miller in person. An engaging study of two incredible women: cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead and environmental anthropologist Susie Crate. The lives of both are illuminated by their daughters' memories. Their observations of how societies react to stress and disruption are especially relevant today. Tuesday, April 19 at Roxie Theatre at 6:30pm. 

The Babushkas of Chernobyl. San Francisco Premiere. It may come as a surprise but the contaminated "Exclusion Zone" surrounding the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor is still inhabited by "a defiant community of women [who] continue to scratch out an existence on its toxic land." Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 8:00pm

The Burden. San Francisco Premiere. The Pentagon is the world's largest consumer of oil—and a major produce of climate-changing Greenhouse Gases. Forward-looking members of the military are calling for a transition to clean energy but an intransigent Congress remains a well-oiled machine in the clutches of the Carbon Cartel. Followed by a discussion with the Truman National Security Project. Monday, April 18 at the Roxie Theatre at 6:30pm


Catching the Sun. San Francisco Premiere. Shalini Kantayya in person. This film investigates the growth of clean-energy alternatives with profiles of trainees at a solar jobs program in Richmond, CA and interviews with a Chinese CEO and SF Bay Area community activist Van Jones. Winner of the 2016 Best Feature Award. Saturday, April 16 at the Roxie Theatre at 8:30pm

Containment. San Francisco Premiere. How do we secure toxic radioactive wastes for 10,000 years? No country on Earth has solved this intractable problem. The filmmakers travel from New Mexico to Fukushima to interview the people who are desperately trying to find a solution to protect future generations. Saturday, April 16 at the Roxie Theatre at 6:00pm


Dear President Obama. West Coast Premiere. Jon Bowermaster in person. Actor and producer Mark Ruffalo narrates this appeal to the President to put an end to the dirty, polluting, and quake-producing process of "fracking" for buried oil. The film includes little-known contamination incidents that have occurred in California. Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 5:30pm; and Monday, April 18 at UC Berkeley at 6:00pm. 

Ice and the Sky by Luc Jacquet (March of the Penguins) has its California Premiere in Berkeley with a stirring profile of climate-change pioneer Claude Lorius, a noted glaciologist who was among the first to sound the alarm about global warming. Monday, April 18 at the Roxie Theatre at 8:30pm; and Tuesday, April 19 at the David Brower Center at 7:00pm. 

Topophilia is a filmmakers' overview of the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Using time-lapse photography to capture stunning images, the film documents the calamitous collision of industrial plunder and nature. Saturday, April 16 at 518 Valencia at 4:00pm. 

Saving Mes Aynak. San Francisco Premiere. Brent E. Huffman in person. 

A 5,000-year-old Buddhist city in Afghanistan faces demolition to make room for a Chinese-owned copper mine. Afghan archaeologists, trying to save the ancient cultural site, not only have to battle against the Chinese, but also the Taliban and local politicians. Saturday, April 16 at the Roxie Theatre at 3:45pm  

The True Cost examines the impacts and consequences of the imported clothes we wear. Who really pays the price for the West's bargain-basement shopping sprees? Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 1:30pm.  

Two Short Film Mini-festivals 

The Festival will be showcasing 40 new, international shorts (including seven world premieres) in two dedicated shorts programs: KEEP IT WILD and SURF SHORTS. There also will be a short before every feature screening. Also included are winners from the Festival's Climate Action Film Contest and shorts created in our Youth Media Workshop. This program includes Nature RX winner of the Green Film Fest 2016 Best Short Award. Sunday, April 17 at the Roxie Theatre at 1:00pm. 


Surf Shorts. Dive into the world of the women surfers who are creating a new global wave-riding culture. These films catch a diverse swell of coast-smashing waves from San Francisco's fabled Ocean Beach (Inside the Mind of Sachi Cunningham), to Mexico's Baja, California (La Maestra) to (improbably enough) the Persian Gulf to meet Iran's tradition-breaking female surf-goddesses (Into the Sea). Friday, April 15 at Roxie Theatre at 9:00pm. 

The Green Film Fest Awards 

Best Feature Award: Shalini Kantayya, CATCHING THE SUN 

Best Short Award: Justin Bogardus, NATURE RX 

Green Tenacity Award: Mark Decena, NOT WITHOUT US 

Inspiring Lives Award: Virginia McKenna, BORN FREE 

Young Filmmaker Award: James Tralie, ESCAPE VELOCITY 

The Audience Award will be voted by Festival attendees and presented at the Closing Night Wrap Party. 

Ticket Information 

General Admission $15; Students, seniors and disabled adults $14; Members $13. Tickets for receptions and parties are individually priced. Free events are set for FestHQ (518 Valencia) on April 16 & 17 and at San Francisco Public Library Main Branch on April 19. See the Box Office for details.

New: A Profoundly Moving DAS LIED VON DER ERDE

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Wednesday April 13, 2016 - 12:31:00 PM

“A symphony in songs” is how Gustave Mahler once described what would have been his ninth symphony, a numerical designation he superstitiously avoided, calling this work Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). In 1907-8, Mahler had only recently seen his four-and-a-half year-old daughter die, and he himself had been diagnosed with a severe heart condition. Thus, he turned to a collection of German translations of 8th century Chinese poems, all dealing with earthly pleasures mingled with the melancholy of human mortality. Mahler chose six of these poems and set them to music, summoning all he had learned in composing his previous symphonies and song-cycles. Thus, Das Lied von der Erde achieves an almost miraculous condensation of Mahler’s unique musical sensibility, his sardonic laughter in the face of emotional pain and loneliness. Alas, Mahler did not live to hear this work; it premiered in Munich under Bruno Walter on November 20, 1911, six months after Mahler’s death. 

Under the lead of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony presented four performances of Das Lied von der Erde, April 6-10, at Davies Hall. Singers for these performances were mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and tenor Simon O’Neill, who alternate in singing the work’s six songs. The opening song, Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow), was sung by New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill, who was making his San Francisco debut in these performances. Mahler’s writing for this song is very difficult, for it is set at the high limits of a tenor’s voice, almost as if it were sung in falsetto as in Peking opera. O’Neill handled this difficult music quite masterfully. Based on a poem by Li T’ai-po, an 8th century poet born in Szechwan, this song urges us to drink plenty of wine in order to endure the “rotten trifles” of this earth during our short stay here. A ghostly vision of savage ferocity is that of an ape sitting amidst the tombstones in a graveyard, set to frenzied music by Mahler. A repeated refrain, Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod (Dark is life, as is death, is frequently repeated, each time on a higher pitch than before. “What do you think,” Mahler asked his friend Bruno Walter after the latter had read the score of this opening song. “Is it bearable? After hearing this, won’t people want to do away with themselves?” 

The second song, Der Einsame im Herbst (The Lonely Man in Autumn), based on a poem by Chang Tsi, lowers the temperature after the ferocious opening song, as muted violins offer a soft background against which the oboe sets forth a wispy, plaintive song. Sung here by Sasha Cooke, this song was a model of restraint until the moment when the singer launches an impassioned plea to the Sonne der Liebe (The Sun of Love), asking “Will you never shine again and softly dry my bitter tears?” The third song, Von der Jugend (Of Youth), set to a poem by Li T’ai-po, offers Mahler’s greatest use of the pentatonic scale and Faux-Asian coloration, including the use of a triangle. Here the composer evokes the shimmering musical image of reflections on the surface of a garden pond where an arched bridge leads to an island on which stands a pavilion where friends sit drinking and talking. Yet the image is a mirrored, inverted one, suggesting, perhaps, that beneath the surface of this civilized setting lies a hint of human mortality. It was beautifully sung here by Simon O’Neill. 

The fourth song, Von der Schönheit (Of Beauty), again set to a poem of Li T’ai-po, paints a musical picture of lovely young girls picking flowers at the water’s edge, then casting yearning eyes at the handsome young men who ride by on horseback. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke lent her multi-colored tonality to this lovely yet evanescent song. Next came Simon O’Neill singing Der Trunkene im Frühling (The Drunkard in Spring). This song, yet again by Li T’ai-po, praises wine as a welcome escape from the woes of life. In drunken bliss, the singer hears a bird chirping away, and a violin and flute evoke this birdsong. “Is it all a dream?” asks the singer. “Who cares? Let me be drunk.” 

Der Abschied (The Farewell), the work’s sixth and final song, is almost as long as all the other songs combined. It is set to music from two poems by different 8th century authors, Mong Kao-Jen and Wang Wei, who, as friends, addressed their poems to one another. Der Abschied opens with a deep tolling above which we hear a plaintive oboe. Suddenly, the singer, here Sasha Cooke, exclaims, O sieh! Wie eine Silberbarke schwebt/Der Mond am blauen Himmelsee herauf (Oh look! Like a ship of silver the moon floats in heaven’s blue lake. In this lovely outburst, singer, clarinets and cellos have almost the exact same melody simultaneously. The singer’s personal feelings become more impassioned when addressing the absent friend, wishing they could spend this lovely twilight together. Here Mahler introduces a mandolin to evoke the singer’s lute.  

There then intervenes an Orchestral Interlude between the two inter-related poems. This is an inspired funeral march, perhaps the finest of many Mahler composed. The fact that it is a funeral march once again suggests that humans are mortal and death awaits us. Then begins the final song’s second poem, which recounts a leave-taking between friends. But this is no simple farewell. Rather, it has all the suggestiveness of a final leave-taking, as one friend speaks of all the misfortunes he has undergone in this life. Now, he says, he intends to wander in the mountains until his appointed hour. He will never stray from his proper homeland. Here Sasha Cooke’s voice took on an almost otherworldly sheen as she sang of everlasting Spring, where everywhere and forever the earth is green and the skies are blue and bright. “Ewig … ewig …” she sings, repeating “Forever” over and over as trumpets softly echo her invocation of eternity over a soft melody of mandolin, harps, and a celesta. This ending to Das Lied von der Erde always brings tears to my eyes; and it strangely resonates for me with the final voice-over words of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Pierrot le fou, as the camera pans over the Mediterranean Sea blending on an indiscernible horizon-line with the sky – Elle est retrouvée. Quoi? L’éternité. Non. C’est la mer allée avec le soleil. (It is rediscovered. What? Eternity. No. It’s the sea gone off with the sun.) 

Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde was preceded on this San Francisco Symphony program by a sensitive reading of Franz Schubert’s Symphony in B minor, known as the “Unfinished.” Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas opted for generally slow tempos which highlighted the softer passages, while he also brought out the dynamics of Schubert’s writing by emphasizing the contrasts between the soft and slow passages and those that rang forth with more force and energy. It was an inspired reading of this great symphony. 

Too Late: A Wild Who-Dunnit Filmed in Just Five Scenes

Gar Smith
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:33:00 PM

Opens at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in San Francisco, April 8

Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino!

Put a bird on it, Alejandro González Iñárritu!

There's a new film on the horizon that combines the Tarantino's crazed character studies with Iñárritu's sweeping cinematic bravado. It's a film like no other.

Too Late is a film noir set in Los Angeles. But given that it's a blood-garnished detective tale shot in Technicolor rather than black-and-white, let's agree to call it a film rouge.

Too Late, director/screenwriter Dennis Hauck's debut film makes movie history.

Hauck admits the film began as a stunt; a directing challenge. Even before the script was written, Hauck had a "what if?" moment. What if you shot a complete feature length film without a single edit? Could it be done? (The average feature has 5,000 edits.)




There are a number of famous "long takes" in movie history. There is the eight-minute opening scene in The Player, the six-minute "car attack" in Children of Men and the dinner scene in 4 Months 3 Weeks And 2 Days. But none are as long as what director Hauck has managed to pull off. 

The effect of a long take is special. Most films portray a "mediated reality" composed of edits, close-ups and long shots. With Too Late, the audience actually shares five unblinking 20-minute "extended realities" with the actors, spending serious "social time" with the people on screen. You can easily wind up feeling you experienced exactly what the actors experienced (minus the bruises). It's as close to real life as reel life gets. 

While Iñárritu's Birdman appeared to be a single-take narrative unfolding in real time, there were, of necessity, some "hidden" cuts that bound the film together. Even Hitchcock's Rope was a clever composite of five- and ten-minute scenes. 

But there are no convenient short cuts in Too Late. The publicity packet underscores this with the following boldfaced statement: "No hidden cuts were used in the making of this movie." 

Hauck decided to shoot the film in 35mm Techniscope, a format that provides reels capable of filming up to 22 minutes of action at a time. (The standard 35mm format only accommodates an 11-minute reel.) For Hauck's feature-length film, that translates into five reels. 

So Hauck's challenge was two-fold. First, to write a script that was divided into five chapters of equal length and then, he had to shoot a feature film that had only five "scenes." 

He could have taken an easy path and—like Hitchcock in Rope—staged most of his story indoors, in a single dwelling. Instead, Hauck took the story outside—bigtime. Too Late's chapters each begin in wildly different settings: the overgrowth of Hollywood's Radio Hill; in the kitchen, bedrooms and open-air patio of a high-rise condo; in an outdoor drive-in-turned-live-boxing-arena; in streets and alleyways leading from a seedy bar to a late-night music club. 

At the center of the story is a scrawny private investigator named Mel Sampson (the estimable John Hawkes). In the first 20-minute chapter, there is a murder but we only barely glimpse Sampson when he arrives at the scene, literally "too late." The case will haunt him as he rummages through LA's underground haunts (and his own broke-hard life) hunting for clues. 

The five chapters slip back and forth in time, hiding clues that will bring surprises and shocks later in the proceedings. 

The script is a rich one for the actors. The characters approach one another warily, but with a challenging confidence. The exchanges are sly, coy, conniving, and emotionally hyper. In another history-making turn, one of the actors (Vail Bloom) plays most of her role undressed from the waist down. 

While actors playing the two low-rent drug-dealers always manage to sound like actors, most of the performances are alive with raw emotions and laser-like nuance in the many tense, one-on-one encounters. The conversations are so land-mined and "tactical" that you might find yourself wondering: "Would I be glib enough to survive in this parallel universe?" 

Among the notable performances we have Crustal Reed (known to many as the lead in MTV's "Teen Wolf") as Dorothy. In this film, Dorothy is the ingénue—but she's an ingénue who also is a stripper. A waif who can down a fist-full of ecstasy as if they were Gummy Bears. 

Dichen Lachman delivers another striking performance as Jill, an exotic dancer who finds herself hustling customers in a strip club in the third reel and, in the forth reel, dressed in a bikini work-outfit while she runs a run-down projection booth at an outdoor gladiator competition. 

Hollywood vet Robert Foster (whose career spans 50 years and more than 100 films) delivers as a gruff man-of-suspicious-means. Brett Jacobson is both cheery and eerie as Skippy Fontaine, exactly the kind of "forest ranger" you don't want to run into in the woods. 

Natalie Zea is initially confusing as Dorothy's too-young mother. Hauck introduces her as a woman with the body language of a teenager. She "grows into" the role once Mel shows up to grill her about her past life and a shared secret. 

But throughout the twists and turns of the plot and the romantic and violent collision of the characters, the award for "best supporting player" goes to the unseen production crew and the camera operators who somehow managed to Stedycam their way through five extremely choreographed 20-minute dances that led them down dirt paths, up allies, through bedrooms, and into bars without missing a camera angle or stumbling into the actors. 

To give just a hint of what Hauck has imagined—and his crew has managed to deliver—consider just the opening minutes of the first 20-minute "take." 

It opens with Dorothy walking alone on Radio Hill and borrowing a phone from two talkative idiots she meets on the trail (our drug dealers). As she starts to dial the phone, the camera glides away from her face to show the city sprawled below and stretching to the horizon. As the phone rings and rings, the camera ever-so-slowly zooms in on the blocks below until zeroes in on one particular building. At this point, the film goes split-screen to show a woman stepping out on the balcony. She picks up the phone, speaks with the young woman miles away on the hill, and hands the call to a man who, in the next reel, turns out to be our detective. Dorothy asks to meet. He agrees. We see him (still in real time) rush downstairs and climb into his car. As the car pulls out, the camera pulls back until we are once more on the hilltop. 

Dorothy's story continues while the detective is making the steep drive from his apartment to the hilltop rendezvous. The camera, meanwhile, is making 360-degree sweeps of the landscape as the plot continues to unfold. A major event occurs but it has to be timed so that, when the camera turns to the right, we have to see the detective's car on the dirt road, about to arrive at the scene. 

Oh, and in the middle of all this activity, Hauck even throws in a crane shot! (Look for signs of a crane crew in this reel. You won't see it.) 

There are lots of remarkable details at work in Too Late. In the third reel (which begins with a perfectly meta voice-over), we see Jill, in her projection booth, expertly switching and hand-winding reels of 35mm film. In one particularly remarkable moment, Mel recovers from a shooting by grabbing a bottle of whiskey. He takes a big swallow and then pours the rest on his wound, producing what appears to be a brief jet of hot steam. 

Hauck, along with his cast and crew (high praise to camera operators Joseph Arena, Michael Alba, Cedric Martin and Sergio De Luca) had to shoot several "takes" of each 20-minute "chapter." Hauck admits that it was hard to get a perfect take. It was even harder to choose from the various renditions. Each version had unplanned "moments of magic" that the others missed. No reel was perfect. (In one of the final reels, there is a camera move that just looks wrong. Several critics at the press screening noticed it.) 

At another point, a conversation takes place between Mel and a member of Dorothy's family. For some reason, Hauck chose to seat them at opposite ends of a living room. As a result, the camera has to take long swoops from one side to the next. This has a distancing effect that reminds viewers that what they are watching is an artifice: there is a hidden cameraman swinging his lens back and forth and we are only watching a movie. 

On the other hand, there is a scene where the camera has to follow an argument that breaks out between four characters on a sun porch that works perfectly—with the camera swiveling feverishly from one face to the next, trying to keep up with the rising emotions—right up to the shocking and bloody conclusion. 

Note: Because of the unusual 35mm format, Too Late can only be projected in a limited number of movie houses. Until we can schedule a screening at the new Pacific Film Archive (one East Bay venue that can project 35mm Techniscope) making a trip to San Francisco would be worth it. And you can stop for a beer at the Alamo Drafthouse at the same time.

SF Conservatory of Music Does DON GIOVANNI

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:48:00 PM

In two performances, Friday, April 1, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 3, at 2:00 pm, San Francisco Conservatory of Music presented Mozart’s great opera Don Giovanni. Casts were the same for both performances, and both were led by conductor Scott Sandmeier. I attended Sunday’s matinee and was delighted by the overall strength of the singing, but especially by the outstanding vocalism of soprano Evelyn Shreve as Donna Anna. Shreve’s limpid tone, clear diction, and admirable technique wrought majestic moments of coloratura singing in the role of the woman who, sexually assaulted by Don Giovanni in the opening minutes of the opera, then spends the rest of the opera crying out for vengeance. Of course, Donna Anna also devotes considerable time to fobbing off the insistent demands of her fiancé, Don Ottavio, that they marry as soon as possible. In most Don Giovanni productions I’ve seen, Don Ottavio is the weak link among the opera’s characters, but not here. Tenor Kevin Kyle Gino was a strong, utterly determined Ottavio, and his famous aria “dalla sua pace la mia dipende (“on your peace my own depends”) was beautifully sung. In this production, unlike most, the strongest point was the pairing of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, both brilliantly sung here by Evelyn Shreve and Kevin Kyle Gino.  

As for the production itself, let’s start with the set. Designed by Steven C. Kemp, a single unit set for the whole opera featured an off-kilter gilded doorframe atop a red carpeted stairway leading downstage. A second door was at stage right, presumably leading backstage. On the garishly colored left wall was a roll-up door like those found on shops in a bazaar. There were also cubby holes at each front corner of the stage where characters could make quick exits if necessary. Finally, to make the stage-set all the more garish, there were jumbles of sculpted plastic limbs, mostly female legs, it seemed, strewn every-which-way on either side of the off-kilter doorframe. These sculpted limbs were lit in either an icy blue or a cream coloring. Perhaps these limbs were meant to suggest Don Giovanni’s many female conquests all piled up in a heap once they’d been had, so to speak. Or perhaps that wasn’t it at all. Were they even female legs in the first place? Nothing was clear. They were mostly a distraction to the eye. 

Director Jose Maria Condemi opted to have various characters walk onstage during the overture. This was a mistake. An especially big mistake was an orange-wigged hussy in short-shorts. Who in the world was she? Later, in the opera’s final scene inside Don Giovanni’s house, this mysterious female was joined by two more orange-wigged hussies, who were absent-mindedly pawed by Don Giovanni as he ate his dinner and dealt with Donna Elvira’s last-ditch attempt to save his soul. Okay, we get the point. Don Giovanni numbers a few floozies among his conquests. But why stage three of them as identical floozies, as if to say that Don Giovanni cares nothing about each individual woman he seduces? That goes very much against the grain of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto, which stresses that Don Giovanni loves variety in women.  

Let’s move on from the set and staging of this Don Giovanni, and let’s turn to the pairing of Don Giovanni and his sidekick-servant Leporello. The don was sung here by baritone Jarrett Porter, and Leporello was sung by baritone Jason Andrew Schilder. A more unlikely pairing one could hardly imagine. Jarrett Porter is a tall, lanky fellow with long dark hair, and he looked like a hippie. Jason Andrew Schilder is a stocky fellow with short hair who looked for all the world like Oliver Hardy. To make things worse, director Condemi opted to costume Leporello in shorts that looked like lederhosen and high black socks, with suspenders over his shirt. So utterly dissimilar were this Don Giovanni and Leporello that their Act II business of exchanging clothes and fooling Donna Elvira made no sense at all, for in this production no one could possibly believe that Jason Andrew Schilder’s Leporello looked anything like Jarrett Porter’s Don Giovanni even when wearing the don’s clothes. Oh well. Let’s get down to their singing. As Don Giovanni, Jarrett Porter was vocally adequate. While a bit lacking in power and immediacy, Porter at least demonstrated good vocal technique and fine Italian diction. As for Schilder, his Leporello was largely a disappointment. However, in the famous catalogue aria Schilder rose to the occasion and sang out with power and conviction. He was also forceful in his moments of indignation and his attempts to quit Don Giovanni’s employ. The rest of the time, however, Schilder mumbled and grumbled his way through the opera playing the buffoon, his voice parodying Leporello’s character rather than expressing it.  

In most productions of Don Giovanni, the character of Donna Elvira stands out as a highlight of the opera. With her violent mood swings, from sworn revenge against Don Giovanni to abject willingness to take him back if only he’ll have her, Donna Elvira is literally torn apart by the different strands of music she sings. In the role of Donna Elvira, this production featured a mezzo-soprano, Corinne Rydmann, rather than a soprano. While Rydmann was technically sound, her mezzo-soprano simply couldn’t express the full range of Elvira’s wildly fluctuating emotions. Rydmann sang well, and she has a fine voice. I look forward to hearing her in other roles more fitted to her mezzo-soprano voice. As Elvira, however, although she sang the music well, Rydmann’s performance didn’t fully capture the neurotic extremes of Elvira’s character. 

As the perky peasant-girl Zerlina, soprano Sabrina Romero gave a bright-voiced, nuanced performance. One could sense she was wavering in her duet with Don Giovanni where he sings “La cì darem la mano” (“There we’ll be hand-in-hand), and Zerlina picks up the melody and starts singing to his tune. After a few moments of acknowledging to herself that her resolve is weakening, she eagerly accepts his come-ons and sings out enthusiastically, “Andiamo!” (“Let’s go! “). Only the intervention of Donna Elvira prevents Zerlina from being yet another of Don Giovanni’s conquests. Meanwhile, Zerlina’s fiancé, Masetto, here sung by baritone Justin Scott Bays, is justifiably indignant at Zerlina’s apparent betrayal of him on their wedding day. Vocally, Bays was a strong Masetto, resentful and distrustful of his Zerlina, but soft as putty when she turns her charms on him.  

Finally, the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father, was forcefully sung by bass Robert St. John, who wore a military officer’s jacket for his opening death-struggle with Don Giovanni and wore an all-white outfit complete with white face-paint for his appearance at the end of the opera as the mortuary statue of the deceased Commendatore. Conductor Scott Sandmeier led the Conservatory Orchestra and chorus in a taut performance of Don Giovanni. However, I wonder whose decision it was to leave out a very important line in Act II. When Leporello is bribed by a gift of money to remain in Don Giovanni’s employ, he asks one thing only. That Don Giovanni give up women. Missing was Don Giovanni’s response that “Women are as necessary to me as the food I eat and the air I breathe.” That line says a lot, and I regret that someone chose to leave it out of this production. 

Dogtown Redemption:Two Special East Bay screenings at Oakland's New Parkway Theater

Gar Smith
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:42:00 PM

Saturday, April 9 at 3 PM; Sunday April 10 at 1 PM.

Dogtown Redemption is a remarkable documentary that offers a gritty yet intimate portrayal of a group of social outcasts usually dismissed as "poachers"—those nameless individuals glimpsed, if at all, on the margins of the urban landscape.

Most people look away when a poacher is at work. Some react with anger and threaten to call the police. Only a few would take time to get to know these people. Dogtown Redemption takes us down the third path, revealing the common humanity of these "disposable" people—the lowest members of urban society—poor, afflicted, suffering and homeless. This film takes us deep inside the rambunctious world of these feral entrepreneurs who stalk the back allies of the dumpster-diving/shopping-cart economy.

Dogtown Redemption deals both with the process of redeeming bottles and cans for cash but also focuses on the redemption of lives and souls. In its latter half, the film becomes a wrenching emotional experience. But hang on: the anguish will be balanced by moments of transcendence.  



West Oakland in the Lens 

Dogtown Redemption is flush with familiar landmarks. We see poachers picking through the trash outside an Office Depot and pushing carts past Emeryville's Pixar Studios. The cinematography is outstanding, filling the screen with images that are beautiful, intimate and sometimes shocking. 

When someone we've been rooting for relapses into drugs, the camera is there to catch the post-midnight sweats in excruciating close-ups, along with the sight of the needle as it digs into a vein on a tattooed forearm. This isn't the kind of movie where people fall asleep in fields of flowers. Instead, we watch as people sprawling exhausted in piles of urban debris. 

At the center of the film—and the local street economy—stands the Alliance Metals recycling plant—one of the few thriving businesses left in the blighted neighborhood. 

"I am the redeemer," says the owner, Jay Anast. "I redeem the money to the person who walks in. Where else but in America can you make $100 a day picking up stuff off the streets?" 

America's streets may not be paved with gold but, if you are really poor, desperate and determined, streets paved with trash can mean cash in your pocket. 

When it comes to "urban mining," plastic containers and glass become a form a currency. Anyone can be a poacher: no advanced degrees or training is required. Still, the fact remains: this is the sub-basement of the US labor market and the people struggling to maneuver their top-heavy carts into Alliance's shed may walk out with a ticket for a day's labor that reads: "$11.02." 

Meet the "Mustangs" of Dogtown 

Director Amir Soltani and co-director Chihiro Wimbush have captured sympathetic profiles of several of self-proclaimed Dogtown "mustangs"—people whose lives were disrupted by bad breaks and abuse followed by extended bouts of drugs and drinking. During the course of the filming, some of the scavengers improve their lives. Others wind up in hospitals. Some will die, leaving their partners bereft. 

Jason, a former gang member and one of Dogtown's top scavengers, covers up to 15 miles per "shift" and finishes the day dragging more than a half-ton of debris—"800 pounds of glass, 50 pounds of cans, 200 pounds of plastic"—over the asphalt roads to the Alliance trash-mill. 

Jason has learned how to lash several carts together to balance the load. His rattling convoy of cast-off collectibles typically takes up as much road space as a compact car. When it comes to "raking in the money," Jason is the top dog on Dogtown's alleys. As Jason puts it: "One way or another, the street's gonna pay me." 

Heather is a tender-voiced, sweet-faced former teen hooker who found redemption in Jason's company. (They are one of many interracial couples in the film who have forged bonds of support on the hard streets of Dogtown.) 

While some of Oakland's street people are mind-twisted, angry and spiteful, others are generous spirits with surprising backgrounds. 

Landon, a tall, lean man with a weathered face was once a minister. The crack epidemic pushed him from the pulpit to the garbage pits but, when he speaks, his articulate voice and calm, measured tones evoke echoes of Barack Obama. During the filming, Landon suffered a vicious assault that could have killed him. Instead, his life takes a turn that can honestly be called "miraculous." 

Frederick Griffing II is a local painter who has worked the streets of Oakland for 40 years. Fred is homeless. His "gallery" is the trunk of his car. His friend and fellow-scavenging partner is Hayok Kay ("Miss Kay"), a Korean woman in her 50s. 

Miss Kay, in her younger days, was the lead drummer for Polkacide, a wildly popular '80s punk-polka band. The filmmakers managed to find some old videos of Hayok as a beautiful and vibrant young musician performing on stage before a large crowd of fans. That life may be far behind her but Miss Kay still clutches her drumsticks and occasionally pauses to beat out snappy riffs on the rough ridges of the city's cement surfaces. 

The Church of Plastic Bottles 

The recycling center draws in West Oakland's poor like nothing else in the impoverished neighborhood. But critics and suspicious neighbors question whether this is really helping the poor. Some argue that Alliance is disturbingly reminiscent of a plantation economy. While Anast comes across as a humane and likable character who really seems to care about his clients, you're still stuck with an uncomfortable reality: Here's a carpet-bagging white guy who is benefiting from a business that profits off the backbreaking labor of the desperately poor. The profit margin for the plant's owner is quite likely larger than the split that goes to scavengers who provide the raw materials for the operation. 

Some neighbors insist that the income from recycling doesn't help the poor buy food and clothing. Instead, they argue, it "just winds up supporting the local drug economy." 

Former US Congressmember and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums appears on camera to provide a quick history of the black immigration that brought people from the South to the Bay. Dellums recalls his childhood in Black Oakland, back when the neighborhood was a flourishing collection of prosperous black-owned businesses—bakeries, pharmacies, barbershops, cafes, and clothing stores. 

"Recycling is nothing new," Dellums notes. In the '40s, poor people were doing the same kind of marginal labor, collecting fruit at "ten cents a bucket." But those jobs are gone now, says Dellums. "Today the fruit they have to pick are cans off the street." Poor people don't vote, Dellums says, and "if people don't have the capacity to push the levers of power, then we don't talk about them." 

The Camaraderie of the Streets 

At one point, the filmmakers track down the Jason's middle-class parents and, in their clean, well-kept living room, they pull out old family photos showing Jason as a beautiful child, surrounded by evidence of a loving childhood. But Jason was blindsided by a secret shame he couldn't share with his parents. And then, speed and the streets claimed him. 

Family connections can be skewed out on the streets. As one elderly couple explains from inside a bundle of blankets gathered on a sidewalk, they've been living on the streets for 14 years and keep in touch with family via cellphone. The children have no idea their parents are homeless. 

The film is so rich in character, personality, conflict, and history that it begs the question: how did the directors, producers and film crew manage to find the time, energy, and commitment to document—and experience—the lives of all these homeless strivers? Here's the answer: They spent seven years on this project. 

The End of the Road 

Eventually, neighborhood complaints gave rise to demands that Alliance Metals have its business license revoked. At a community meeting in the Oakland City Council Chambers, Jason gives a galvanizing presentation when he steps to the microphone. Suddenly as charismatic as Leonardo DiCaprio, his plea for supporting the recycling community has Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan nodding her head in enthusiastic agreement. 

The next day, however, the Oakland Police swarmed the recycling center, blocking scavengers from entering and busting the operation for having 17 pounds of contraband wiring stamped "PG&E." On camera, Councilmember Nancy Nadel swears it's "not a vendetta," but on the street, people suspect it was a "sting" operation. 

The City would eventually act to shut down Alliance Metals. It is now set to close in August 2016. 

Hollywood could not have scripted a more complex and emotionally taut cast of characters. In most cases—and against all odds—their storylines somehow wind up at a place that's in the neighborhood of a "Hollywood" ending. 

With one tragic exception. 

Around & About--Theater: Modern Times Theatre Co. of Toronto Performing Bahram Beyzaie's 'The Death of the King' at ODC in San Francisco

Ken Bullock
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:37:00 PM

A theatrical event of the first magnitude: Modern Times, the critically acclaimed theater troupe from Toronto , will perform the great Iranian playwright and pioneer filmmaker Bahram Beyzaie's masterpiece 'The Death of the King' ('The Death of Yazdgerd') in a translation by Modern Times director Soheil Parsa next week for seven performances at the ODC Theater, 3153 -17th Street (at Shotwell, near South Van Ness), Wednesday April 13 through Sunday the 17th, 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with 2 p. m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, and a 5 p. m. evening show Sunday. 

Beyzaie, Parsa, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford Dr. Abbas Milani and members of the cast will participate in a talk-back after the Saturday matinee. 

Beyzaie, widely credited as the founder of modern Iranian theater, a unique blend of historical Iranian performance styles, other Asian theater and some influences from European theater, has realized his art through theater and his pioneer filmmaking (his first film, 'Downpour,' 1971, was shown in a print restored by Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Pacific Film Archive two years ago--as well as his ongoing research and teaching (here at Stanford), Soheil Parsa being a former student. 

When Shotgun collaborated with Oakland's Iranian theater Darvag to produce 'Death of the King" (as 'Death of Yazdgerd') over as decade ago, I thought the play to be the best by a living playwright I ever reviewed. I haven't changed my opinion. (That review is in the Planet's online archive.) 

And I was fortunate enough to interview Beyzaie at Stanford three years ago, a very down-to-earth and brilliant conversationalist, with Dr. Milani adding much to the occasion. 

The play, inspired by a single line in an old Persian history concerning the fate of the last pre-Islamic Shah of Persia after losing in battle with the Arab conquerers, concerns a Miller and his family, threatened with hanging for treason, telling and acting out divergent stories of how the body of the King came to be found in their mill--in this sense a little reminiscent of Akutagawa's 'Rashomon,' made into a film by Kurosawa--but also dealing by infrrencr with this key moment in the history of the Middle East and Central Asia--and all that's come of it, down to today. 

Beyzaie's film, 'The Death of Yazdgerd,' is excerpted on YouTube and available on subtitled DVD. 

Tickets are $35 for evenings, $25 matinees with discounts for Stanford students and staff. 


Around & About--Music: Gil Shaham Plays Bach's Complete Solo Violin Works to David Michalek's Films at Zellerbach Thursday April 14

Ken Bullock
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:31:00 PM

Renowned violinist Gil Shaham will perform J. S. Bach's complete solo violin works, six sonatas and partitas (BWV 1001-06), to films by photographer and videographer David Michalek, 8 p. m. Thursday April 14 at Zellerbach Auditorium on the UC campus, a program co-commissioned by CalPerformances as part of the Berkeley RADICAL series. 

After 30 years of privately listening to, studying and playing Bach's solo violin works, Shaham recorded them complete only last year. 

Michalek will appear before the concert for a conversation about the collaboration with CalPerformances' Rob Bailis. 

Tickets are $36-$86 at calperformances.org or 642-9988 or at the door. For discounted tickets: calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php

Meetings and Events for Berkeley:Week of April 11 – April 17, 2016

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday April 10, 2016 - 03:01:00 PM

Monday, April 11, 2:30 – 3:30 pm, Agenda Committee, 2180 Milvia 6th floor. Agenda link: Planning for April 26 City Council worksession and regular meeting, complete packet 162 pages http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/Agenda_Committee__2016_Index.aspx

Tuesday, April 12 – no announced city meetings

Wednesday, April 13, 7:009:00 pm, Police Review Commission, 2939 Ellis Street, South Berkeley Senior Center, 5:30 pm Subcommittee on crowd control, Agenda link: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Police_Review_Commission/Commissions/2016/PRC%20Pkt.%2004-13-16.pdf

Wednesday, April 13, 7:00 – 10:00 pm, Homelessness Commission, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda highlights: Storage personal belongings, Funding Berkeley Food and Housing Project, rental subsidies, appointment to Human Welfare and Community Action Commission, Tiny House, YEAH, Agenda Link: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Housing/Commissions/Commission_for_Homeless/4-13-16%20HomelessCommissionAgenda.pdf

Thursday, April 14, 7:00 – 11:30 pm, Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers, all listed are new hearings with staff recommending approval for all

· 2597 Telegraph – 4 story 10 unit townhouse, new for ZAB, reviewed by DRC, on consent,

· 2700 Bancroft – new wireless facility, on consent,

· 2424 Warring – Frat house, modify lawful group living increase bedrooms from 33 to 35, add roof deck, letter opposing roof deck, noise, loud parties,

· 2367 Shattuck – change use from former pool hall to full restaurant, bar, live entertainment, waive parking for 2nd floor construction, letter of concern about parking demand.

· 1950 Addison – demolish 2 story office building, construct 7 story, 107 unit housing, 68 parking, 75 bicycle, 1912 Addison requests modification of plans, increased setback with green space between buildings, 1912 is small 2 story building with 20 studio apt,

Agenda Link: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Planning_and_Development/Zoning_Adjustment_Board/041416_ZAB_Agenda.aspx

Friday, April 15, 9:00 am, Harold Way lawsuits, Case Management Conference with Judge Frank Roesch, 1221 Oak Street, Administration Building, 3rd Floor Department 24, expect schedule for 2211 Harold Way lawsuits to be set, open to public

Saturday, April 16, 9:30 am12:30 pm, City Sponsored Adeline Corridor: Creating a Community Vision, 2939 Ellis Street, South Berkeley Senior Center, Complete Streets 101: Placemaking, Mobility, Parking, Agenda link: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_Land_Use_Division/2016_4-16_Agenda_Complete%20Streets%20101.pdf