Full Text



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Safeway Grocery Delivery is Potential Help for Disabled People

Jack Bragen
Thursday November 30, 2017 - 03:50:00 PM

Going to a grocery store is an experience I am barely able to tolerate, if at all. When I was nineteen and working for a janitorial service, cleaning and polishing supermarket floors, I was almost killed, when two gunmen held me captive (for about ten hours) overnight and robbed the store in the morning upon the arrival of the manager who could open the safe. That was more than thirty years ago and I am not certain of whether or not it explains my dislike of supermarkets. 

Also, because of my psychological and neurobiological limitations, I find it difficult to handle some environments. I am not very good at filtering. 

There are many reasons that disabled people may have trouble getting to a grocery store. Not all mentally ill people drive. Some have physical disabilities that prevent shopping at a supermarket. Some may have agoraphobia. Yet, we all have in common the fact that we need to eat. 

Then, there is Safeway dot com, with grocery delivery which is usually affordable and usually dependable. Their delivery fee is $12.00, you are not expected to tip the driver, and they will show up with your food pretty much whenever you'd like. 

It is clear that Safeway does this to sell groceries; there is no ulterior motive. There is no scheme to rip people off. 

My wife and I had difficulties when one driver failed to deliver about half of our food. On the receipt a number of items were scanned twice, while others were scanned but did not show up. We were charged full price.  

However, Safeway is determined to maintain their reputation. 

It took quite a bit of phone calling on the part of both me and my wife to obtain a refund, which as of this writing, is supposed to show up in a few days.  

My wife was not willing to give up and kept after them, which is the main reason why this worked. She ultimately called the Safeway corporate offices, which are not located in California. 

Safeway may need to overhaul their system that handles complaints. However, most of my experiences with this service have been good. 

My wife and I will try them again, after we are refunded, and I am guessing that they will get it right in the foreseeable future. 


Addendum: Safeway did refund the $65 for the botched delivery, as they had promised to do. Overall, I believe their service is very valuable, and I think there is a big market for products and services to be delivered.  

"It's Not a Guns Issue. It's a Mental Health Issue." But What If It's Both?

Gar Smith
Thursday November 30, 2017 - 03:44:00 PM

On Sunday, November 5, 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. Responding to yet another mass-killing in the US, President Donald Trump quickly moved to deflect growing public concern by claiming: "This isn't a gun situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level." (Try to imagine a politician responding to the Boston Marathon bombing by proclaiming: "This isn't a bomb situation. It's a mental health problem.") 

Across the US, anti-gun activists cringed at this analysis (some viewed the phrase "at the highest level" as an unwitting self-diagnosis by the reprimander-in-chief). Meanwhile, across the country, thousands of psychologists were also cringing. 

Once again, the "crazy gunman" meme had been unleashed in the mediastream, shifting attention from the weapons to the individual and suggesting that the solution involved controlling individuals, not their arsenals. Among those calling for a "national database of the mentally ill" was Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association. 

Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant and the author of four books on war and militarism, offered what seemed like a sensible interim solution to the epidemic of American gun violence: "I feel that gun buyers should have to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Disorder Inventory [because] most gun crime is done by people that would not pass this test." 

But here's the danger. The "crazed gunman" scenario instantly demonizes millions of everyday citizens dealing with a vast spectrum of mental challenges – most of which pose no risk of violence whatsoever. 

The concern is understandable. There are something like 300 million privately owned pistols, rifles and shotguns in the US today. At the same time, an estimated 26.1 percent of Americans over the age of 18—about one in four—have been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder. On its face, it seems like an explosive combination of statistics. 

Writing in Politico in the aftermath of the Sutherland massacre, psychiatrist Jonathan M. Metzel noted that "making gun violence about mental health is a crazy idea." As Metzel observed, "very little evidence supports the notion that mental illness in and of itself causes assaults." In fact, "many of the most common mental illnesses cause patients to withdraw from society, rather than violently attack it." 

A 2014 Vanderbilt University study found that "fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness." 

Clearly, many infamous mass-killers—Devin Kelley, Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, James Holmes—had troubling psychiatric histories. But they also shared other commonalities. For one thing, they were all white males. According to a Mother Jones magazine survey of 95 mass shootings in the US between1982-2017, white men committed 64% of the crimes. Of the 95 mass killings (defined as involving the deaths of four or more), 44 of the killers were white males. The average age of the killers was 35, though the youngest was just 11 years old. (African Americans committed close to 16% of the mass shootings, while Asians accounted for around 9%.) While Asian shooters were overrepresented (at more than 2.5 their percentage of the overall population), Latinos were notably absent. 

Behavioral Red Flags for Mass Killers 

As Metzel noted, if you set aside mental disabilities, there are many social signals and personal behaviors that prove "far more predictive of gun violence." These include: "Substance abuse, male gender, past histories of . . . domestic violence" and easy access to firearms. As the New York Times concluded: "[T]he only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is [our] astronomical number of guns." 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016 saw more than 33,000 gun-related deaths in the US (two-thirds of these gun-deaths were suicides). "Interpersonal" gun violence in 2016 killed about 11,000 Americans (up from 9,600 in 2015). 

American culture is intentionally saturated with images of violence. Our waking hours are filled with programmed assaults of conflict and combat glaring from the screens of our televisions, movie theaters, videogames, and iPhones. 

As former Special Forces soldier Stan Goff observes: "Guns are male icons." Possessing a weapon is considered "masculine" in that it confers an awesome amount of power. As Goff puts it: "It is an instrument with which you can take a life, in an instant, with the quarter-inch movement of a single finger." 

A 2015 National Institute of Health investigation of "Guns, Anger, and Mental Disorders" found a "co-occurrence of pathological anger traits and possessing or carrying a gun . . . with and without certain mental disorders." The NIH's National Comorbidity Study reported that "gun violence and mental illness are complex but different public health problems that intersect only on their edges" and that only "a very small proportion" of interpersonal violence was linked to serious mental problems like "schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression." 

As Alex Yablon reports in the Washington Post: "While their personalities may unsettle family members or acquaintances, mass shooters rarely meet the federal criteria for being deemed mentally unfit to purchase a weapon. A diagnosis or even an inpatient stay at a psychiatric hospital is insufficient. The background-check system blocks people from buying guns only if a court, board, commission or other lawful authority deems them mentally ill. People committed by family members aren’t flagged and may buy guns." 

Nonetheless, most states do not rate assaults as a felony and the federal background check permits individuals with violent histories to purchase guns. California is one of the few states that lists "assault" as grounds for denying a weapons purchase. 

Potential killers are routinely found to be profoundly alienated and withdrawn from normal social life. In a 2011 essay, criminologist James Alan Fox observed that "most mass murderers are clear-headed and deliberate" and that their journey to mass murder "typically involves years of disappointment and failure that produce a mix of profound hopelessness and deep-seated resentment." 

Criminologist Peter Squires believes that America's "individualistic culture" promotes mass shootings arguing that "many other countries where gun ownership is high, such as Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Israel . . . tend to have more tight-knit societies where a strong social bond supports people through crises, and mass killings are fewer."  

Politics and Bullets 

Is there a political bias among the perpetrators of gun violence? According to gun-toting musician Ted Nugent, there is. Nugent has posted a list that purports to show that "Not one NRA or Tea Party member, Republican or conservative" is associated with a long list of gun deaths dating back to the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln. According to the list (which has been circulating since at least 2012), Democrats were responsible for the attacks on president James Garfield, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and 14 mass-shootings committed between 1983 and 2015. 

However, when the fact-finding sleuths at Snopes.com put this claim to the test, it turned out that ascribing this curated selection of assaults to registered Democrats was "mostly false." The only case that rated as "mostly true" was alleged JFK assassin Harvey Lee Oswald, who proclaimed himself to be "a communist and a worker." Most of the people on the list appeared to have no political affiliation and "were not motivated by politics." 

Some recent incidents are more readable. Edgar Maddison Welch, the individual who opened fire inside Washington, DC's Comet Ping Pong (believing it to be the site of a secret child-sex-trafficking operation headed by Hillary Clinton), had been prompted by extreme right-wing conspiracy tales. Robert Dear, a gunman who opened fire on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility, was a consumer of absolutist pro-life proselytizing and Charleston Church shooter Dylan Roof was a self-admitted "sociopath" and white supremacist. 

It is an observable fact that many gun owners – especially those who see weapons possession as a right of citizenship granted by the Second Amendment and proudly claim membership in the NRA—share conservative Republican values. 

According to Psychology Today, a study from 1999 found that "those who believed that having a gun makes the home safer were more likely to be young, male, and affiliated with the Republican party; to have no children at home; to have finished 12 years or fewer of education; and to have low levels of trust in police for protection." 

And, in a 2015 Guardian article titled ""Gun Demanding: The Psychology of Why People Want Firearms," Dean Burnett wrote: "Gun ownership is more commong amongst those with right-wing views, so a stronger self-interest, authoritarian personality and mistrust of other groups may make a gun feel like more of an essential item." 

According to 2015 survey conducted by National Opinion Research Center (an independent research organization based at the University of Chicago) [https://apnews.com/85c182d0976f44b0a54780b7df8633bb], 32 percent of Americans homeowners possessed at least one gun, which tied a record low set in 2010. At the same time, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system showed an increase in the total number of firearms being purchased. That means more guns were winding up in the hands of fewer people. And who were these "special buyers"? 

As the Associated Press reported, the NORC poll revealed that "half of Republicans live in households with at least one gun, which is twice as high as ownership among Democrats or independents." 

At the end of the day, however, the actual political dimension of mass-shootings has yet to be successfully mapped. Snoops concluded that determining a shooter's political affiliation is difficult, at best. 

Combat Blowback 

In the wake of Devin Kelley's deadly rampage, the Air Force was heavily criticized for failing to alert the FBI and police regarding a record of domestic violence that should have blocked Kelley from purchasing weapons after his dishonorable discharge. 

Meanwhile, it is a sad matter of record that soldiers who return from overseas combat are currently killing themselves with alarming regularity. Every year since 2008, around 200 veterans have used their personal weapons to commit suicide. 

World Beyond War founder David Swanson recently posted an intriguing piece of research that raises the possibility that, in the US, mass shooters are "disproportionately veterans." While admitting the difficulty of producing a definitive study, Swanson's review of 82 recent instances of mass-killings found that 34% of the shooters had served in the US military. Since veterans constitute 14.76% of the general population, that suggests that "veterans are more twice as likely to be mass shooters." 

And it could be getting worse. 

On November 15, Newsweek reported that the Pentagon, plagued by low enlistments, was loosening its recruitment requirements to accept anyone who suffered from "a history of mental illness, drug abuse and self-mutilation." (In a nod toward non-militaristic mellowness, the Army's new recruitment standard would also embrace marijuana users.) 

"The Weapons Effect" 

In 1967, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported on a series of University of Wisconsin experiments that suggested gun owners could be more inclined to violent behaviors. In fact, the "mere presence" of a gun, raised the level of apprehension and hostility among test subjects gathered in a room. The psychologists dubbed this phenomenon "the Weapons Effect." As Emeritus Professor of Psychology Leonard Berkowitz put it: “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.” 

Instead of mental health being the "cause" of gun violence (as gun supporters stoutly maintain), weapons were seen as an all-too-available "means" of expressing violent anger. "Pathological impulsive anger, as a personality trait… can become lethal when combined with access to firearms." In addition to such anger traits as PTSD and "intermittent explosive disorder," the NIH study identified some surprising co-behaviors that also linked to gun ownership. These included "pathological gambling, eating disorders, alcohol and illicit drug use disorders." 

The Strangulation Link 

In a 2014 report, the US Sentencing Commission identified another key "domestic violence" behavior shared by many mass killers: attempted strangulation. 

As the Washington Post reports, Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Patrick Kelley had strangled his wife. Omar Mateen, the gunman who targeted Orlando's Pulse nightclub, had attempted to strangle both of his wives. Cedric Ford, a man who fired bullets into 17 co-workers in a Kansas shooting spree, and Esteban Santiago, who gunned down five victims at the Fort Laundedale Airport, were both wife-stranglers. 

The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention characterizes strangulation as a "penultimate act" that makes homicide seven times more likely. According to TISP's Gael Strack, "Once the hands are on the neck, the very next step is homicide." 

Despite the fact that attempted strangulation is now ranked as a felony in 45 states, the link to homicide is not widely recognized by many police departments. (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has even argued that banning people convicted of domestic violence from buying weapons would be "unconstitutional.") 

Is America Psycho? 

In 2006, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Jenson raised an intriguing question: "Can a nation have a coherent character?" Turning to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Jenson went looking for a match for America's psyche and found "one category jumps out: Narcissistic Personality Disorder." A full decade before the electoral college appointment of Donald Trump, Jenson saw an America that foreshadowed the arrival of "the Narcissist-in-Chief." There are nine criteria for meeting the clinical definition of NPD: 

  1. a grandiose sense of self-importance.
  2. preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. believes he or she is special and unique.
  4. requires excessive admiration.
  5. sense of entitlement.
  6. interpersonally exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. lacks empaty.
  8. Often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
"This disorder is bipartisan," Jenson wrote. On both sides of the aisle, politicians never hesitate to call the US "the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the Earth." 

In February 1991, President George H. W. Bush defied US and international law an ordered the Pentagon to attack Iraq, claiming: "The US has a new credibility. What we say goes." 

In March 2003, President George W. Bush, announced the US would unilaterally invade Iraq a second time "and we really don't need United Nations approval to do so." 

This sense of entitlement is not limited to Washington, DC, Jensen noted: "Even if we swept the halls of Congress and the White House clean of every corrupt and cruel politician, the deeper self-indulgence of an affluent culture would be untouched." 

Jensen cited a 2002 poll that reported 48 percent of Americans believed their country enjoyed "special protection from God." (Coincidentally, a 2015 Gallup Poll reported that guns could be found in 42 percent of American homes.) 

At the same time, more than two million American adults are struggling with manic depression (aka bipolar disorder), experiencing severe mood swings, delusions of grandeur, and flawed judgment that can result in outbursts of uncontrollable rage. (This is not necessarily Apocalyptic news. The Mayo Clinic has shown that most mass-killers do not suddenly "snap": instead, they tend to carefully prepare their attacks over many weeks or months.) 

Could Gun Obsession Itself Be a Mental Disorder? 

One of the problems with narcissistic individuals (and cultures) is that when they encounter criticism or reproach, they generally react with anger and hostility. While Donald Trump can blow off his narcissistic steam by firing off a tweet mocking his detractors, if you're an unemployed Joe with a bad marriage and no Twitter followers, a gun may be the perfect replacement companion—always by your side, unquestioning, and ready to do your bidding. 

In 2015, an article on "The Psychology of Guns" in Psychology Today noted a "Freudian link between guns and potency" that provides "a way for someone to equalize power and overcome perceived oppression." In a 2014 Gallup Poll, 63% of Americans believed having a gun made the home safer when, in fact, the risks posed by weapons in the home were far greater than risks posed by criminal activity targeting the household. Despite this perception, research clearly has established that "having a gun in the home is associated with a greater risk of accidental death, homicide, suicide, and a greater risk especially of female and childhood death by firearm." 

In a 2014 essay, Thom Hartmann wondered aloud whether being a "Gun Nut" was "A Psychiatric Disorder." Hartmann offered the following description of obsessive gun-lovers: 

They are fanatical about guns and alleged gun rights. They see guns as their security planket, objects of worship, and the solution to most problems…. They imagine themselves as under attack when there is no political threat…. They often hoard guns and ammo….. They want to take pictures of their infants holding guns, or let their 7-year-olds play with Uzi's at gunshows. 

But when Hartmann turned to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, the closest match he could find for his "gun nut" personality was "obsessive compulsive disorder." 

The NIH's Comorbidity Study provides the first evidence of the link between individuals with "anger traits" (outbursts, smashing things, fistfights) and gun ownership. More than a third (36.5%) of the respondents with hair-trigger tempers admitted to owning guns. More than a quarter (25.7) admitted to owning 2 to 10-plus weapons.  

The NIH found that people with anger traits and guns "were more likely to be male, younger, married, and to live in outlying areas around metropolitan centers rather that in central cities." (That last category is a euphemism for "poor.") 

And the NIH noted a disturbing trend in these numbers: the more guns an individual owned, the more likely they were to carry them on the street and to use them in acts of violence. "People owning 6 or more guns were about 4 times as likely to be in the high-risk anger/carry group as those owning only 1 gun." 

Given these tendencies, excessive gun ownership can be seen as an expression of mental instability. The Second Amendment was not written to encourage citizens to amass deadly private arsenals. 

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had assembled a collection of 47 weapons, including the 23 that he managed to install in his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel before unleashing a burst of more than 1000 bullets that claimed 58 lives and wounded nearly 500. 

Such a prodigious collection of firearms and such a deadly outcome suggests a clinical condition. Excessive gun ownership could well be a diagnosable psychological malady. Perhaps it could be called Ballistic Aggressive Disorder/Arms-Hoarding Syndrome (BADAHS). 

Whatever you call it, gun violence in America is something that truly sets our nation apart. Something else that sets the US apart from the majority of the world's nations is our seemingly laissez-faire and class-based attitudes toward guns and gun violence. 

As Dr. Joe Pierre, writes in Psychology Today: "With all the concern about mass shootings in white American suburbia, where is the talk about how to solve the problem of inner-city youth violence, such as in Chicago where the gun-related deaths outnumber deaths by mass shootings by orders of magnitude? …. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, where are the calls to understand and prevent violence in at-risk youth and culture at large?" 

New: Turkeys in the White House

Tom H. Hastings
Thursday November 30, 2017 - 03:40:00 PM

Satire in the Time of Trump is becoming really tricky. Just when a satirist believes s/he has the kernel of a silly or outrageous extrapolative idea, this administration jumps in front of it and even outdoes it. From Saturday Night Live to stand-up comics to the Onion to Andy Borowitz, it’s getting dicier by the day. 

For instance, I was chuckling grimly to myself as Thanksgiving approached, creating an SNL bit in my mind where Trump overturns the pardons of last year’s turkeys by Obama. Hahaha, I thought, that would spoof Trump’s outrageous assaults on all that is decent in health care and environmental protection that Obama did via Presidential Findings. 

Then Trump actually said that he tried to overturn Obama’s pardons for last year’s turkeys. Trump thought that was darn funny. My blood ran cold. This man’s sense of humor must have been surgically implanted by a really stupid robot improperly programed in a middle school shop class. This is a fellow who believes his wit is the height of caps when he calls a foreign head of state short and fat or yuks it up with cops about brutality. 

I’m American, approximately Trump’s age and I’m a white guy so I’m feeling embarrassed and apologetic when I’m not feeling apoplectic at the snake pit into which we’ve cast ourselves. The Deadbeat Prez. It’s so rampant the makers of Embarrassmints cannot keep them in stock. 

Hurry, Mueller, please. Bring charges, snip the Putin Puppet strings, and strip this sorry excuse for a public figure of all title, wealth, power and comfort. Can you manage? Will my $5 donation help? I could do $10 if you could jam on the gas. I know my annual donations to worthy causes aren’t enough but on a percent basis I am confident they overtop Trump’s. You can have some of my zip ties; they make great handcuffs. 

We’ve seen this country sink faster than a granite block in water and there is no bottom in sight. I have a friend who is one of the world’s top climate scientists and he is trying to convince us all to get busy. I have another friend—two friends, actually, who are heading to prisons for nonviolent resistance to climate chaos greatly exacerbated by the astonishingly poor decisions and inept presidential orders we have seen launching off the Oval Office desk. 

He fails to understand rudimentary science, basic morals, honesty, simple ethics, decent planning for the future of our nation, and all-around civility. Who raised this cringeworthy one? Does he have a daily quota of groups and individuals he intends to offend? 

It’s all I want for Christmas. Make us all grateful. Bring down this failed and dangerous administration. Quickly. His fingers may be tiny but they have been in all the wrong places and cannot get near the nuclear football. 

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is a scholar of civil resistance and PeaceVoice Director.

New: ECLECTIC RANT: Syrian war winding down — what’s next?

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday November 30, 2017 - 03:34:00 PM

On November 22, 2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin won the backing of Turkey and Iran to host a Syrian peace congress in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Sochi announcement also came a few days after Putin met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an indication that Assad had agreed to the idea.  

Thus, Russia appears to be taking the central role in a major diplomatic push to finally end the seven-year civil war all but won by Assad with Russia's backing. Syrian forces have reclaimed most of the country from Islamist militants and insurgents who had sought to topple Assad, including rebel groups backed by the U.S. and some of its allies. 

In October 2014, the Islamic State (IS), formerly ISIS, territory in Syria and Iraq was at its maximum. The radical Islamist group controlled land stretching from central Syria all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad including major cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Raqqa. By October 2017, the group has lost all of its major urban strongholds and is now confined to the sparsely-inhabited border territories between Iraq and Syria. 

Remember, in 2015, Putin directed Russia’s air force to intervene on the side of Assad in 2015, likely saving the government from collapse when it appeared rebels would threaten the capital. Russia remains a key sponsor of the Syrian government and has shielded it against sanctions and punitive resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.  

Meanwhile, on November 29, the UN will hold a new round of peace talks in Geneva. The Sochi peace congress, if it happens, will likely supersede any UN peace talks. 

The total death count in the Syrian war is more than 480,000 and the number of refugees who have fled the war in Syria now exceeds five million with millions more displaced internally.  

Syria's total economic losses so far are calculated at around $226 billion. The effects of the war will be felt for decades. It is estimated that even if the war ended now it would take 10 to 15 years for Syria’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) -- one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy -- to return to pre-conflict levels. 

After the Syrian war, Russia and Iran will have an enhanced presence in Syria and the Middle East. Iran has already signed large economic contracts with Syria, lucrative rewards for helping Assad in his fight against rebel groups and IS. 

It is unclear, however, what any peace agreement would look like. Ideally, it would call for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections, and transparent and accountable governance. Of course, the U.S. and the rebel groups want Assad out. But it looks like Russia will be the likely kingmaker and I bet when the dust settles, Assad will still be in control with continued Russian backing, and the U.S. and the rebel groups largely left on the sidelines. 

Stay tuned.

Sheltering Homeless This Winter

Thomas Lord
Tuesday November 28, 2017 - 12:57:00 PM

Some letters people are sending to the Berkeley City Council say, in part: 

> "the former Premier Cru building, purchased by the > previous council to provide emergency housing > for Berkeley’s large homeless population." 

I think there is some popular misunderstanding afoot. I say this on the basis of the tour the HAC took of these properties prior to their purchase. 

The intention of the purchase, when it was made, was: 

1. To use 1011 University as a City Council Chambers. On the tour, we discussed the kinds of renovations that would be needed. In the very long term, redevelop the site as housing. 

2. To honor the existing long-term contract with the culinary school at 1007 University. Eventually (in the very long term) probably to build housing *over* it. (The building has some historic elements and I believe was once a theater of some significance. I am not sure if it has any kind of landmark protection.) 

3. In the short term, to use the warehouse at 1001 University either as an emergency shelter, or for some other City purpose such as storage for public safety equipment. In the long run, redevelop the site as housing. 

Thus, the idea to use 1011 University for Chambers is not new and is not a deviation from the plans at the time of purchase. 

I have personally discouraged any Councilmember who will listen from using 1011 for a short term emergency shelter. It lacks heating. It contains just a single toilet. It has a large room with a prison-like panoptic architecture -- a central office looking over it. It has two separate, unobservable areas in which, were a vulnerable person to become isolated by a malevolent person, it would be quite bad. Worse, the vague idea mentioned by our guide as to use one of those side areas as a women's area. 

I suspect that the City might be able, for 2017-2018, to cheaply rent better space for an emergency shelter, spending less than it would spend trying to heat the 1001 warehouse and expand sanitary facilities. 

Personally, I really like the City beginning to think in terms of building a landbank although this is an awfully challenging building to start with (because of its paucity of short-term uses). Putting chambers there still seems sensible to me.

Use BUSD site for Berkeley City Council Meetings

Linda Franklin
Tuesday November 28, 2017 - 12:56:00 PM

I write to express firm opposition to the proposal that the City Council move its meetings to the former Premier Cru building, purchased by the previous council to provide emergency housing for Berkeley’s large homeless population. I think it would be a sad mistake to use even a part of this much-needed space for the entirely different purpose of city council meetings, even on a short-term basis. Berkeley voters made clear at the last election our concern that the council devise effective ways to house the homeless, especially over the winter. To spend a significant amount of money instead on constructing and fitting out a council meeting chamber would be a waste of money and an insult to the homeless and to all those of us who want our taxes used to provide housing for them. 

It's an appalling abuse of taxpayer dollars to build out two meetings room, so close to one another, at Premier Cru and BUSD. The BUSD board meeting space is closer to central Berkeley and would need only a modest investment to house city council meetings. The trial use of BUSD board space showed that it worked for the neighbors and for residents wanting to participate in city meetings. The BUSD space is accessible by bus, walkable from downtown, and has good parking. BUSD needs to work with the city to provide meeting space at a fair price, having earlier benefitted from the city’s provision of a meeting space for them. It would be very disturbing to see money misspent after Berkeley voters haver made clear our priorities.  

If a fair agreement cannot be made with BUSD, using a Senior Center for council meetings on an interim basis is preferable to squandering money on the Premier Cru property.

Berkeley City Council's Closed Session On Monday to Consider BUSD Contract for Council Chambers instead of $1.76 Million Remodel which would be a Bad Deal for Berkeley

Kelly Hammargren
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 02:26:00 PM

Berkeley City Council – Closed Session, Monday, Nov 27, 4:00 pm, 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, agenda: City Council negotiations with BUSD School Board regarding use of 1231 Addison, BUSD Board Room, public comment allowed on agenda item only https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx

Late into the night on November 14, 2017 after Susan Wengraf, Cheryl Davila and nearly every community member had left, Mr. Herrington, Director of Public Works, presented plans to spend an estimated $1,760,000 to remodel 1011 University (Formerly Premier Cru) for City Council meetings.

The City Council voted on the 14th to make one last ditch effort to work with the Berkeley Unified School District School Board (BUSD) to reach a price and terms to use the BUSD Board room at 1231 Addison Street for City Council meetings. Those negotiations will take place in a closed session Monday, November 27, 2017, 4:00 pm at 2180 Milvia Street Cypress Room with Dee Williams-Ridley, Jovan Grogan and Mark Numainville as the negotiators for the City. Public comment can be made before the closed session begins.

There is so much wrong with the proposal to remodel 1011 University for City Council Chambers that it has a stench about it that deepens as each layer is peeled away. Just for starters: 

  • 1/3 of the site purchased for affordable housing (1001, 1007 and 1011 University Avenue and 1925 Ninth Street) would be used for City Council Chambers.
  • Once new Council Chambers are built at 1011 University, it is improbable they will be demolished to build affordable housing.
  • The estimated cost for remodeling the 1011 University has already nearly tripled
  • The ongoing operational costs of 1011 University were excluded from comparisons to the cost of upgrading other City owned properties or renting other locations.
  • The site was purchased with a loan that must be repaid from the Worker’s Compensation Funds
  • The City Council vote for how to repay the loan has never been taken - it was proposed that part of the repayment come from U1 funds – the ballot measure for affordable housing
  • City Management and staff have been forging ahead with architectural plans to remodel 1011 University
  • South Berkeley has once again received short shrift. The South Berkeley Senior Center which is 0.3 mi from Ashby BART, convenient to AC transit, can seat at least 200 and could greatly benefit from audio-visual equipment for live-streaming was eliminated from discussion and consideration
  • The homeless are once again left flailing in the background as another potential temporary shelter slips away
City Management implied that BUSD is charging an exorbitant user fee for the space to be discussed at the Monday meeting. The cost to the City should be less than building out and operating a new space. The BUSD Board Room is already fully equipped and operational. It is reasonable for the City to pay the cost of turning on the lights and for employees to set up the room and clean up after the meeting is over. 

Shouldn’t we be using existing fully equipped space and telling our City leaders that we expect a full court press to get affordable housing built? 

You might just want to call and/or email all the parties involved to tell them you expect an agreement to be reached on the use of the BUSD Board Room for City Council Chambers. And, while you are at it – making those calls and sending emails, thank Kriss Worthington for getting the proposed project into the City Council agenda for all of us to see. 

Just in case you have misplaced all that contact information here it is: 

School Board

Ty Alper (President) tyalper@berkeley.net 

Josh Daniels (Vice-President) JoshDaniels@berkeley.net 

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler (Clerk) BeatrizLeyvaCutler@berkeley.net 

Judy Appel judyappel@berkeley.net 

Karen Hemphill karenhemphill@berkeley.net 

City of Berkeley Negotiators

DWilliams-Ridley@cityofberkeley.info (510) 981-7000 

City Council

email to all and for inclusion in the city council record council@cityofberkeley.info 


Mayor Jesse Arreguin (510) 981-7100 mayor@cityofberkeley.info 

District 1 Linda Maio (510) 981-7110 lmaio@cityofberkeley.info 

District 2 Cheryl Davila (510) 981-7120 cdavila@cityofberkeley.info 

District 3 Ben Bartlett (510) 981-7130 bbartlett@cityofberkeley.info 

District 4 Kate Harrison (510) 981-7140 kharrison@cityofberkeley.info 

District 5 Sophie Hahn (510) 981-7150 shahn@cityofberkeley.info 

District 6 Susan Wengraf (510) 981-7160 swengraf@cityofberkeley.info 

District 7 Kriss Worthington (510) 981-7170 kworthington@cityofberkeley.info 

District 8 Lori Droste (510) 981-7180 ldroste@cityofberkeley.info 

Kale, Kale, Why So Much Kale, ( to the tune of Glorious Ale)

Carol Denney
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 03:50:00 PM


I went to a potluck in Berkeley one day

the tables all flowing with sumptuous display

but when I looked closer I gasped and grew pale

the casserole dishes were all filled with kale

Chorus: kale, kale, why so much kale

some farmers market must have had a sale

I'll eat radiccio, I'll try a snail

but let's have some boundaries

its constance confounds me

before every foundry makes statues of kale 


our foodies work hard to make sure we're well fed 

with locally sourced foods of which we're well read 

although brilliant qualities it has I fail 

to see the advantage of quite so much kale (chorus) 


I know vegetarians swear by this stuff 

but I'm here to tell you enough is enough 

I'd rather eat gravel topped off with oil shale 

than face one more potluck with nothing but kale (chorus) 


one used to encounter this vegetable scourge 

leavened such that one would not wish to purge 

but now it's a green which is used by the bale 

the wreaths come this solstice I fear will boast kale (chorus) 



Ale, Ale, Glorious Ale -learned from Alistair Brown, from Ian Robb 

When I was a young man, my father did say, “The summer is coming, it’s time to make hay 

And haying being over, don’t you never fear, To fill up your glass with a pint of good beer”. 


Chorus: Ale, ale, glorious ale, Served up in pewter it tells its own tale 

Some folks likes radishes, some curly kale, But give I boiled parsnips and girl(great) dish of taters 

And a lump of fatty bacon, and a pint of good ale 


Our MP’s in parliament, our safety to keep, We hope now we’ve put him there, he won’t sit and sleep; 

But they’ll all get my vote if they never fail, To bring down the price of a pint of good ale 


Now take all teetotalers, they drinks water neat, Well it must rot their gutses and give them damp feet; 

But if you’ll all take my advice then you’ll never fail, With broad beans and bacon, and a pint of good ale.


The Editor's Back Fence

Don't Miss Anything: Subscribe!

Sunday November 26, 2017 - 05:08:00 PM

If you're confused by the newly relaxed publication schedule, you can be sure to see new pieces as they are posted by adding your email address to our "subscription" list. All this means is that I'll send you a brief email containing links to new stories which you can click on. This list is never shared with anyone for any reason. And it's absolutely free!

To subscribe: write to subscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com.

To unsubscribe: write to unsubscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com.


Public Comment

Wiping the stain of capital punishment clean

Stephen Cooper
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 05:43:00 PM

Soon the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear a case with the potential to end this nation’s abominably long and freakish experimentation with the death penalty. That’s right, drum roll, please. Because, if it grants certiorari in Hidalgo v. Arizona – a case Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe describes as emblematic of “the problems with our [country’s] current capital punishment regimes” – America’s broken and vile ‘machinery of death’ can finally be trashed in the junkyard of our dark, wayward humanity.  

Since its reinstatement over forty years ago, the death penalty has soiled our justice system and collective moral compass with its racist, arbitrary, andtorturous application. Its ignobility and continued existence in the U.S. has not only drawn international opprobrium from human rights activists andreligious leaders, it continues to deny us a seat at the table of civilized, just, peaceable people around the world – whose countries long ago rejected capital punishment. 

So as Thanksgiving preparations thrust into high gear, take to Twitter, to Facebook, to the streets even, and make your voices heard. Tell the Supreme Court you’ve had enough of the state-sanctioned killing of overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately minority men and women – most of whom were condemned as famed death penalty attorney Stephen Bright long ago observed – because they had the worst lawyer, not because they committed the worst crime. Now is the time to declare: Enough of the shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent! Enough of its immense financial drain! Enough of its moral depravity! Enough torture! Implore the Supreme Court to wipe capital punishment’s bloody stain away. Forever. 

Wiping the stain of capital punishment clean

Stephen Cooper
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 05:43:00 PM

Soon the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear a case with the potential to end this nation’s abominably long and freakish experimentation with the death penalty. That’s right, drum roll, please. Because, if it grants certiorari in Hidalgo v. Arizona – a case Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe describes as emblematic of “the problems with our [country’s] current capital punishment regimes” – America’s broken and vile ‘machinery of death’ can finally be trashed in the junkyard of our dark, wayward humanity.  

Since its reinstatement over forty years ago, the death penalty has soiled our justice system and collective moral compass with its racist, arbitrary, andtorturous application. Its ignobility and continued existence in the U.S. has not only drawn international opprobrium from human rights activists andreligious leaders, it continues to deny us a seat at the table of civilized, just, peaceable people around the world – whose countries long ago rejected capital punishment. 

So as Thanksgiving preparations thrust into high gear, take to Twitter, to Facebook, to the streets even, and make your voices heard. Tell the Supreme Court you’ve had enough of the state-sanctioned killing of overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately minority men and women – most of whom were condemned as famed death penalty attorney Stephen Bright long ago observed – because they had the worst lawyer, not because they committed the worst crime. Now is the time to declare: Enough of the shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent! Enough of its immense financial drain! Enough of its moral depravity! Enough torture! Implore the Supreme Court to wipe capital punishment’s bloody stain away. Forever. 

60 Minutes Misses US Role in Yemen Crisis

Tejinder Uberoi
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 05:03:00 PM

60 Minutes is to be congratulated for focusing much needed attention on the plight of civilians in war torn Yemen. But was glaringly omitted in its segment was the role of the US/UK in creating the humanitarian crisis. 

It falsely portrayed the US as heroes for funding the UN food aid program. It went on to accuse the Saudis of bringing 7 million people to the brink of starvation by imposing a crippling blockade to prevent ships delivering food to the beleaguered people but conveniently forgot to mention that the US navy colluded with the Saudis imposing the blockade. Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes went on to say “This will be hard to watch, but 27 million people in Yemen pray you will not turn away”. 

I pray every American will be outraged by our government’s complicit role in Saudi Arabia’s war crimes. In order to enrich U.S. defense contractor’s the U.S. has sold billions of weapons to the morally bankrupt Kingdom. In addition, the U.S. continues to supply logistical support and refuels Saudi planes to ensure a non-stop bombardment of Yemen. In addition Yemen is suffering a huge cholera epidemic. To compound US egregious actions, Mr. Trump has given his enthusiastic endorsement of Mohammed Bin Salman’s attempt to ascend to the throne by accusing his rivals of corruption, a charge which is ludicrous given his own profligate spending, including the purchase of a yacht costing £452 million.

Israel declares war with AIUSA

Jagjit Singh
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 03:48:00 PM

Last Thursday the New York Times published a moving, tragic story of a Palestinian, Raed Jarrarov, who was denied entry into Israel to bury his father. 

His late father’s only crime was to be born a Palestinian - a man of a sterling reputation, a refugee, a civil engineer, a farmer and an entrepreneur. Jarrarov senior fled his home with his family in 1967 when Israel invaded the West Bank 

Raed visited his relatives in the West Bank in 2015 while working for a Quaker nongovernmental organization. He was anxious to visit his extended family in the city of Jenin but was prevented from doing so by the Israeli government. 

What apparently terrified Israel was Raed's position as advocacy director for the human rights organization, Amnesty International U.S.A. (AIUSA) which called on governments to ban goods from illegal Israeli settlements. This apparently was a red flag. 

Amnesty International is unequivocal in its condemnation of Israel’s settlement policy. Under International law, AIUSA considers Israel’s business activities in its illegal settlements a war crime.  

In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, the American Consulate General in Jerusalem refused to intervene on Raed’s behalf and was told the officials could not help. 


Save Net Neutrality

Ryan Duncan
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 05:47:00 PM

On December 14, the FCC will vote to roll back current Net Neutrality protections, including Title ii oversight over Internet Service Providers (ISPs.) This will not only allow ISPs more leeway in raising their prices, but it will also – and more troublingly – allow them to control your access to content on the internet. It will be at their discretion to decide which websites are available, which streaming services load faster or slower, and which news sources they will allow you to see. In effect, this will be the end of the free and open internet we have become accustomed to. 

Congress needs to step in and demand that the FCC abandon their plans to roll back these consumer protections. The goal of the FCC is to enforce America’s communications laws and regulations in the public’s best interest. The public spoke out in record numbers, with 98.5% of unique public comments supporting Title ii protections and strongly opposing the FCC’s plan to undo Net Neutrality. 

A free, open communication network is a utility meant to benefit us and should be governed as such. Net Neutrality and Title ii protections keep major ISPs operating in the best interest of the public. Everyone benefits from an open internet; open communication means free exchange of ideas, virtually unlimited access to news and knowledge and above all else, a freedom for everyone to express themselves on an equal footing, with equal voices and access across the globe. 

Rolling back Net Neutrality is anti-consumer. It is anti-innovation. It is anti-American. Make no mistake, major ISPs do not have the public’s best interest in mind. This is a clear example of Regulatory Capture – a governing body meant to act in public interest has turned to advancing the interests of businesses, which will invariably lead towards a slowing of innovation and an erosion of freedom. 

Information is power. Rolling back Net Neutrality will limit our access to information and hand control of the modern free press over to major corporations seeking to advance their own agendas and pocketbooks. A developed society must never impede free access to information or the free exchange of ideas. We should be urging innovation and development to thrive, not limiting our ability better ourselves. 

Our elected officials must step in to protect the people they are meant to represent. Regardless of where you stand politically, we can all agree on the need to share ideas freely. Millions of people told the FCC exactly that during their public comment period, a point that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is choosing to ignore in favor of the four major ISPs. Congress must step in and demand that the FCC put an end to their efforts to erode our freedom, ensure Title ii oversight is kept in place and get back to protecting public interest. We are calling on Congress to step in and enforce the voice of the people.

Free Speech for ALL?

Gene Bernardi, SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Liberty Defense)
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 04:23:00 PM

Chemerinsky, Dean of UCB Law School, as well as Chancellor Carol Christ, have violated Dean Chemerinsky’s admonishment that, as said by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the best remedy for the speech that we don’t like is more speech. 

Instead of “more speech”, a very unbalanced array of speakers was accommodated this Fall semester during which a so-called “Free Speech Week” took place. Dean Chemerinksy made possible, by waiving an eight week notice requirement, for the use of Boalt Hall’s Booth Auditorium for speaker Alan Dershowitz who believes Black Lives Matter is “an anti-Semitic group” that is “endangering the fairness of our legal system”. 

Chancellor Christ paid $9,000 rent for Zellerbach Auditorium making possible an elegant platform for far right speaker Ben Shapiro. In contrast to this mollycoddling, in preparation for “Free Speech Week” the department of anthropology was asked to change the date of their already scheduled (Sept. 25) annual event at which they host a distinguished speaker. The Anthropology Department faculty and students felt their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and hear a speaker was being violated. 

Furthermore the U.C. Administration took actions repressive of the “more free speech” Chemerinsky advocates for countering far right hate speech, when it issued an edict forbidding counter protesters to meet on the public UCB’s Oxford Street Crescent Lawn where it had been announced to take place. This was an August 27th protest against the alt-right group expected that day at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park. 

Again, on September 24th, counter protesters were denied access to peacefully assemble and speak out in counter to hate speech monger Milo Yiannopolous by barricades placed yards from, and preventing access to, the Home of the Free Speech Movement, the Sproul Hall steps, where Yiannopolous spoke.


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Some Useful Self-Assessments

Jack Bragen
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 04:20:00 PM

If you drive an automobile under the influence of medication, and/or fatigue, this can create a lot of trouble for you. It is a separate offense from the improper use of a controlled substance. You could be taking prescribed medication, yet, if it can be shown that it impairs your driving, you could still be in for a lot of trouble.  

If you take a "benzo" you had better wait about eight hours before you get behind the wheel. If you take other medications, you had better be certain that they do not affect driving. 

The above is one type of self-evaluation or self-assessment. If you come to the conclusion that you shouldn't be driving, you may have to miss an appointment, you may have to displease someone, but you will still have your life and you will still have your liberty.  

I have driven while on antipsychotics for more than thirty years. I am adapted to them, and they do not usually affect my driving. If I am fatigued in combination with this, I will often stay home rather than going somewhere, including when there is pressure put on me to be somewhere.  

When someone is pressuring you to do something that you can't reasonably do, it is your responsibility not to cave to that pressure.  

Another category of self-assessment pertains to work. Self-assessment concerning working a job is a mix, and is a bit more complex than the driving self-assessment. This is because those who work in the mental health treatment systems may underestimate your capabilities. However, you or someone hypothetically helping you could overestimate your capabilities.  

When I was twenty years old, I lived at a "halfway house" in Hayward. In my chart, a counselor wrote that I had not yet accepted that I "can't work." Over the next several years, I obtained training in electronics, and I worked several jobs in television repair, and was also self-employed in television repair. I also worked at other jobs with a decent amount of success. 

When my illness worsened, I decided to cut my losses. The work attempts had become futile, and I could no longer meet the demands of the types of work I was trying to do.  

It is not considerate of others to take a job in which you can't meet the demands. It costs the employer, and it can be bad for your profile. It also promotes a negative cycle of getting jobs and quitting them. I had this problem at one time. I decided I wasn't doing anyone any favors by accepting jobs. 

A combination of age, burnout, and being heavily medicated for more than thirty years makes me unable to meet the demands of most employment.  

Someone intelligent said that "the definition of insanity is where you continue to do the same thing and expect different results."  

There are other types of self-assessment as well. For a person with a mental health diagnosis, there is the realization of needing treatment. Not everyone needs treatment for a mental illness. However, if the experience of doing without treatment hasn't ended up well, you might want to consider taking care of the disorder with the treatment that is probably being offered.  

Sure, some are misdiagnosed. How do you know if you've been misdiagnosed? I can't answer that. You need to look carefully at the pros and cons of accepting treatment versus not accepting treatment. If you are too impaired to reasonably do that, then you already have your answer.  

There is no law written on stone tablets that says your psychiatrist is correct or incorrect. You should evaluate this with the evidence available. However, if you are already delusional, this self-assessment will not be accurate.  

The insight that we have a psychiatric condition and need to take meds doesn't usually come easily. Many persons with a psychiatric diagnosis can not accept this. There are many reasons for this. I believe it is normal not to like the idea that you are ill. 

We ought to weigh how bad a psychotic, manic, or depressive episode can be; also how it is a threat to your and other people's lives; also that your family probably goes through a very rough time in trying to help you. 

Youth doesn't last forever, and neither does the "luck" that might allow us to survive the dangers of having a psychotic episode.  

It is important to remember that there is hope. Many people with psychiatric disorders have workable and worthwhile lives. If we accept the treatment, it can allow better health and retaining basic liberty. From there, we can accomplish things--whether that is a job (part time should be an option) school to get some type of degree, or anything else that can be realistically accomplished. Many people with mental illness lead very productive lives.  

In your self-assessment, you should acknowledge both your abilities and the areas that need work. What you're good at will often coincide with your interests.  


A reminder that my new book "Understanding People with Schizophrenia," is available at LULU.COM, and will soon be available from other venues. To make it easier to find, click here. 

THE PUBLIC EYE:Ten Reasons to be Thankful

Bob Burnett
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 04:09:00 PM

Even though we're struggling through the darkness of Trump Year One, Americans have much to be thankful for. Here are ten political reasons to give thanks. 

1. The Resistance: Trump took office on January 20th and immediately met an active resistance thanks to Indivisible and many similar groups. January 21st saw a massive "Women's March on Washington" with far larger crowds than those at Trump's inauguration. 

On January 27th Trump signed his first broad-brush immigration order, the so-called "Muslim Ban." This was immediately met with nationwide protests. Indeed, each of Trump's initiatives have been met with widespread organized resistance. Trump had promised to repeal "Obamacare" immediately but his efforts were thwarted due to prolonged protests. 

2. Angry Women: While Trump has dominated each news cycle, a persistent secondary theme has been women taking political power. (At least in California) much of the resistance leadership is composed of women. they've led the efforts to save Obamacare, protect immigrants, and (recently) thwart draconian tax cuts. 

In early October, the New York Times published an explosive expose about movie producer Harvey Weinstein; multiple women alleged harassment by Weinstein. This opened the floodgates resulting in a torrent of stories alleging that prominent American men have assaulted women in Hollywood, the halls of Congress, everywhere. 

The flood of women talking about sexual abuse is a landmark event. This will likely end with women, en masse, turning away from Trump - who has been accused of sexual abuse by at least 14 women -- and the Republican Party. In 2018, we'll see a female political tsunami. 

3. Sanctuary Providers: Trump has not only led a savage crackdown on immigrants but promulgated intolerance and related violence. (There's been an upswing of hate crimes since his election.) 

In the face of Trump's politics of white supremacy, there have been many brave Americans who have provided shelter and support for those who are being persecuted for their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or just because they "look different." 

4. Environmental Activists: Trump took the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and, in general, led an assault on climate science. His Administration appears to be controlled by the fossil-fuel energy. 

In the face of this unprecedented onslaught, environmental activists have stood up to Trump, and his lackeys, at every turn -- even sending an alternative team to the International Climate Talks in Bonn, Germany. 

5. Gun-Control Advocates: It's been a terrible year for gun violence, culminating in the October 1st Las Vegas massacre where 58 were killed and 489 injured. Trump and the Republican Party continually respond that the answer is more guns; they are beholden to the gun lobby. 

Meanwhile, commonsense gun-control advocates, such as former Congressman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, have led a determined push for reasonable gun control. 

6. California: Throughout 2017, I've continually given thanks for being fortunate enough to live in California. It's not just that the Golden State is a great place to live, overwhelmingly blue, and has a booming economy. Californians actually care about the environment and the creation of a fair economy. 

7. Robert Mueller: Like many in the resistance, I've held out hope that the day would come when Donald Trump would stand in open court and be revealed as a mendacious thug. Since May, this hope has rested on the broad shoulders of Robert Mueller, the Department of Justice special counsel charged with investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. So far there have been three indictments -- of the low-hanging fruit, as it were -- that indicate Mueller's investigation is on track. 

8. Tom Steyer: During the past year there has been a lot of cocktail party conversation about impeaching Trump but only one prominent liberal has "put his money where his mouth is," Tom Steyer. Steyer is running a $10 million ad campaign calling for impeachment (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/10/28/tom_steyer_trump_has_met_the_boundaries_for_impeachment_american_people_in_great_danger.html ): "This president has met the basis for impeachment through already obstructing justice in the emoluments clause." 

9. Republican who stood up to Trump: One of the biggest disgraces of the year has been the unwillingness of Republican members of Congress to stand up to Donald Trump. No matter how outrageous Trump's behavior, the Washington Republican orthodoxy looks away. Except for Senators Corker and Flake who have called Trump out. (By the way, neither Senator is running for reelection in 2018.) And, when it appeared the battle to save Obamacare was loss, Republican Senators Collins, McCain, and Murkowski stepped up. 

10. Real Christians: Over the past year, conservative evangelical Christians have been an important segment of Trump's base -- which has held steady at about 38 percent of the electorate. Writing in the Washington Post, Liberal evangelical Christian Jim Wallis (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/a-year-into-trumps-presidency-christians-are-facing-a-spiritual-reckoning/2017/11/17/551dc318-cafd-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?) calls attention to this moral inconsistency: "Christian compromise with Trump and his ilk has put faithful Americans at ... serious risk. Central to the health of our society is for American Christians to rescue an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith from the clutches of partisan abuse, and from the idolatry of money, sex and power. " 

My thanks to everyone who spoke truth to power. "The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice." Resist. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Voodoo economics is back

Ralph E. Stone
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 04:16:00 PM

On November 16, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a tax overhaul bill.

The U.S. Senate has their own bill. The Senate Finance Committee approved a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul proposal after four days of markup. The vote was 14-12, along party lines. Earlier, Senate Republicans added a controversial provision to the bill, repealing the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, to help raise revenues for tax cuts, which would result in 13 million fewer Americans being covered by health insurance.

With a straight face, House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the House tax overhaul: "And you can’t escape the fact that people own businesses, and if you’re lowering the tax on those businesses, you’re lowering the tax on those [individual] people. But that’s the whole point of all of this and that’s where I think this sort of left-wing rhetoric misses the point, which is: Do you want American businesses to grow and thrive and stay in America and to be competitive, or not? And that is really the simple question.”

The overhaul is nothing more than supply-side economics long favored by Republicans whereby tax cuts to top earners are said to result in more business investment. Lowering taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, the theory goes, fuels a benevolent cycle that ultimately leads to higher wages and a stronger economy. This was pejoratively called the "trickle down" theory under the Reagan administration or "voodoo economic economic policy" as former President George H.W. Bush called it.  

However, half of the proposed cuts would go to the top 1%. There’s little, if any, historical evidence to support the notion that tax cuts for high-income earners and large corporations will trickle down to average Americans. The government would lose revenue by passing these tax cuts without any clear offsetting economic benefits. To make budgets add up, Congress would have to accept larger deficits (estimated at $1.5 trillion) -- historical abhorrent to Republicans -- or force spending cuts on vital programs in health care, education, retirement and social services. 

The tax cuts means $1.5 million less revenue for the next decade. Remember when Paul Ryan warned of the dangers of deficits, “The facts are very, very clear: The United States is heading toward a debt crisis. We face a crushing burden of debt which will take down our economy — which will lower our living standards.” During his presidential campaign, Trump said he would pay off the national debt in eight years. 

And don’t forget the massive deregulation under Trump and the Republicans imposed on Wall Street banks could lead to a repeat of the devastating 2008 financial crisis. Clearly, self-regulation does not work as the Wall Street banks will push the boundaries to the limit knowing they will likely be bailed out by the federal government. 

Remember Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations considered the “bible of capitalism.” Smith argued that rational self-interest and competition led by an "invisible hand" can frequently lead to economic prosperity. But Smith warned that a business-dominated political system would allow a conspiracy of businesses and industry against consumers, with the former scheming to influence politics and legislation. Thus, he stated that any law or regulation of commerce should be looked at favorably. In other words, private vices may be turned into public benefits, but there is a place for regulation of the marketplace. 

Republican proponents of supply-side economics remember the former part of Smith’s argument, but not the latter. 

Under the overhaul, the income equality between the wealthy 1% and the rest of us will increase and the economy will suffer in the long run.

Arts & Events

Updated: Lianna Haroutounian’s Sparkling Recital at Herbst Theatre

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 02:57:00 PM

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who recently took local audiences by storm at San Francisco Opera in the title-roles in Puccini’s Tosca (2014) and Madama Butterfly (2016), returned to San Francisco for her first USA solo recital on Saturday afternoon, November 25, at Herbst Theatre. Presented by Friends of Lianna Recital Committee, this program brought together not only friends and admirers of Lianna Haroutounian but also a large proportion of our Bay Area Armenian community. It felt like, in many ways, a family occasion, all the more appropriate coming as it did over the Thanksgiving weekend when families gather together. Our local Armenian community gave Lianna Haroutounian a very warm and admiring welcome. 

After studying at the Armenian National Conservatory in Erevan, Lianna Haroutounian continued her training at Le Centre de Formation Lyrique de l’Opéra Bastille in Paris. Her international debut came in 2013 when she stepped in at short notice at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, to sing Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi’s Don Carlo with Jonas Kauffman and Ferruccio Furlanetto under conductor Antonio Pappano. For an international debut, you could hardly do better than this! Since then, Lianna Haroutounian has graced the stages of Frankfurt Opera, the ABAO at Bilbao, the GNO at Athens, and Teatro San Carlo in Naples, as well as her aforementioned San Francisco Opera performances, which received rave reviews, including mine. (See Lianna Harounian’s website where my reviews are posted.) 

Already well-launched on a major operatic career, Lianna Haroutounian made her USA solo recital debut in this San Francisco program. Accompanied here by pianist Tamara Sanikidze, Lianna Haroutounian opened the program with little-known songs by Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini. The Rossini songs, written during his Paris years, were full of bravura and wit. By contrast, the Bellini songs, probably written in the 1820s, were, alternately, soft and sweet or dreamy yet melancholy and dramatic. Lianna Haroutounian’s performance of these Bellini songs made me wish to hear her sing some of Bellini’s great opera roles for soprano. I believe she has the technical breath control to navigate Bellini’s extremely long melodic lines. Indeed, Lianna Haroutounian seemingly has the perfect vocal technique to sing almost anything in the 19th century repertoire, as was evidenced in this recital. She has sumptuous tone in the lower register and scintillating high notes executed with natural ease without any register break between chest notes and high notes. Her vocal technique is impeccable. 

After her opening songs by Italian composers, Ms. Haroutounian launched a set of songs by beloved Armenian composer Soghomon Soghomoyan-Komitas (1869-1935). These Komitas songs, utterly unfamiliar to me, were a revelation. In their use of folk songs and folk rhythms, they reminded me of French composer Canteloube’s lovely Chansons de l’Auvergne. After hearing Lianna Haroutounian sing these songs by Komitas I can hardly wait to hear more of this Armenian composer!  

Next on the program were Russian works. Two songs by Tchaikovsky, a cradle song, soft and lullaby-like, plus a dramatic one, were artfully rendered by Ms. Haroutounian. Then she sang a lyrical piece entitled “The Dream” by Rachmaninoff plus a more dramatic piece by the same composer entitled “I wait for you.” The singer was at her best in Rachmaninoff’s luxuriant melodies.  

After intermission, pianist Tamara Sanikidze performed Chopin’s Nocturne, No. 20. This was very delicately and expertly rendered. Then Lianna Haroutounian returned to sing a set of Italian and French arias. First were two arias from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea. The first, “Ecco respiro appena,” was dramatic; the second, “Poveri fiori,” was anguished and poignant. Next came an aria from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, followed by one from Gounod’s Faust, in which Marguerite sings of seeing herself in a mirror wearing jewels given her by Faust.  

As encores, Lianna Haroutounian was generous to the extreme. She offered first a song by Dvoràk. Then came the lovely aria, “Lontano,” from Catalani’s La Wally. This was followed by a lovely religious piece from the Armenian Easter mass, sung a capella. To close the recital, Lianna Haroutounian sang the aria “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. 

What a treat it was to hear Lianna Haroutounian in this recital! After hearing her live in San Francisco Opera’s performances of Tosca and Madama Butterfly, this recital gave us hints of what new material we might expect from this great soprano. Moreover, her performance of songs by Armenian composer Komitas opened up a whole new area for me to explore. I can’t say how delighted I was by this wonderful recital by one of the world’s leading vocalists, Lianna Haroutounian. 



GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN WEST: Another Half-Cooked Turkey from John Adams

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 02:05:00 PM

Two days before Thanksgiving, San Francisco Opera unveiled the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, the new opera by John Adams it commissioned in partnership with Dallas Opera and Dutch National Opera. Whatever one’s expectations might have been, Girls of the Golden West turned out to be a real turkey, a half-cooked one at that. I caught the second performance of this turkey on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and black indeed was my mood after sitting through three and a half hours of this bloated, self-indulgent opera from a composer who merely recycled all his familiar—and often irritating -- musical tics. Bouncy propulsive rhythms repeated endlessly in minimalist fashion and overly percussive orchestration get old fast.  

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: John Adams may be the most over-rated composer in today’s world. To me, his works are built mainly on pretence. They are not meritorious but meretricious; that is to say, they claim to strike a pose of musical innovation and progressive politics, yet endlessly repeat tired formulas of musical minimalism and equivocate on most of the political issues they evoke. And yet, for god only knows what reason, John Adams continues to garner accolades wherever he goes. At the close of the opening night of Girls of the Golden West, John Adams was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal. What this says about our local opera company I hesitate to say. 

Working in tandem again with librettist-director Peter Sellars, the Adams-Sellars team presented in Girls of the Golden West a collage – mish-mash might be a better term – of disjointed scenes involving stick-figure characters drawn from various chronicles of the California Gold Rush days of 1849. The opera opens with a character named Clarence, sung here by bass-baritone Ryan McKinney, who is clad in buckskin, wielding first a gold-miner’s pick, then a rifle which he points ominously at the audience as he sings something to the effect that “Never has the world seen such an assortment of men from all nations gathered together in one place.” Here, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, he sings, there are Mexicans, Chinese, Frenchmen, Chileans, Peruvians, Americans and Native Americans. They’ve all come in search of gold. All these diverse men don’t always get along with one another, however. But that comes later in this overlong Girls of the Golden West. 

What narrative thread there is in this opera is supplied by a character named Dame Shirley, which was the nom de plume of an educated woman from Massachusetts named Louise Clappe, who chronicled the life and landscape of the California mining camps in a series of letters originally published in 1854 in a new literary magazine out of San Francisco, The Pioneer. In the role of Dame Shirley, soprano Julia Bullock had the unwelcome job of singing large chunks of Louise Clappe’s descriptive prose in a drab parlando style. However, while this provides a bit of narrative continuity it also is often irritatingly redundant. When Dame Shirley spends four or five minutes describing the interior of her rustic cabin and another four or five minutes describing the local hotel, the audience may get restless, given that all this time is wasted describing in words what we can see with our eyes in the sets designed by David Gropman.  

Musically, the experience of listening to Girls of the Golden West can be something of a grind. In one long segment in Act I, a journey undertaken by Dame Shirley in a wagon, we are in for a long and bumpy ride. Indeed, John Adams writes music for this wagon ride that recycles his propulsive, repetitive minimalist rhythms and augments them with frequent jerks and bumps that bounce the audience around almost as much as Dame Shirley gets bounced as she rides in the wagon. Later, a male chorus of gold miners sing a bouncy ballad about the life of a gambler who loses his gold at the betting tables in the bars. It’s a simple, rollicking bit of music that includes repeated choruses of da du da du da du. This wordless bit of nonsense epitomizes the music of John Adams, full of pretence yet empty. 

Act I of Girls of the Golden West seemed to go on forever. One small highlight, as it were, was Dame Shirley’s parlando description of watching a small group of Indian women at work gathering acorns. One young girl of about 16, she sings, had a lovely, open smile. Even the prematurely aged older women had fine legs, she observed. Peter Sellars opted to adorn this bit of music with projection of a photograph of a Native American woman by Edward Curtis, but the photograph was neither of a 16 year-old girl nor did it show anything but the unsmiling face of an older Indian woman. In a thoroughly disjointed opera, there was in this instance even a disjointed relationship between what was sung and what was seen.  

One central character was a roistering gold miner named Joe Cannon, sung here by the brassy tenor Paul Appleby. In the course of this opera, Joe repeatedly gets drunk, repeatedly lusts after women, repeatedly gets run out of town and moves on to continue this life of a gold miner. However, a Chinese prostitute named Ah Sing, performed here by Korean-born soprano Hye Jung Lee, takes a liking to Joe and considers him her likely ticket to marriage and respectability. Obviously, this isn’t a wise decision. Musically, Hy Jung Lee’s voice repeatedly shrieks in a way that reminds me of Peking opera sopranos. To our western ears, this is not exactly a pleasant sound.  

Meanwhile, a pair of young Mexican lovers, Ramón and Josefa, work the gambling tables at the hotels. Josefa, a Mexican beauty, is there to attract the men. Ramón is there to deal the cards. When off-duty, they take a walk in the woods. Ramón recalls how nervous he was when first courting Josefa. It’s a tender memory they share about their warm and tender love. Ramón is excellently sung by baritone Elliot Madore. Josefa is beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges.  

To close Act I Dame Shirley sings of a ‘coronation dinner’ prepared for her by Ned Pears, her mulatto wagon-driver cum servant, who affectionately calls her his Queen. There seems to be an erotic element in their relationship, though whether it’s one limited to Dame Shirley’s appreciation of the dignity and grace of this handsome half-breed or goes further than that, one can’t say. And, oh, by the way, Dame Shirley has a husband, named Fayette. He appears in the opera as a complete non-entity who neither says nor sings a word. With a husband like that, what woman wouldn’t feel an erotic attraction to a handsome half-breed like Ned Pears, sung here by bass-baritone Davóne Tines? 

In Act II things get troublesome. The miners leave off work to get drunk in celebration of the Fourth of July. A local theatre company offers Shakespeare’s MacBeth with Dame Shirley as Lady MacBeth. The miners throw money, nuggets and gold dust onstage in appreciation of highbrow culture. The famous dancer Lola Montez, played by Lorena Feijóo, performs a long, tedious “Spider Dance,” aimed at diverting the drunken miners. When the dance is done, the American miners start attacking the Mexicans, Chileans and Peruvians, whom they lump together as ‘Greasers’. A midnight mob of men bearing torches and haranguing foreigners reminds us today of the Charlottesville, Virginia, torchlight mob of Alt Right, Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. Then the mob turns on the Chinese, shouting “get out, yellow-skins, get out!”  

Ned Pears, the handsome half-breed, confronts Clarence and sings, “The Fourth of July is yours, not Mine.” Until the hypocrisy of white Americans is ended, he sings, dark-skinned Americans will never feel included. This impassioned song, derived from a speech by anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass, reminds us today of Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem. The prejudices of the Gold Rush era are still with us today, this opera reminds us in what may be its single virtue. For his dignified protest, Ned Pears is grabbed by a mob of white miners, who, for the moment, at least, are persuaded not to kill him by Dame Shirley’s pleas for Ned’s life. Nonetheless, Ned is roughly taken away, never to be seen again. 

Joe Cannon now bursts into the cabin of Ramón and Josefa, and at gunpoint takes Josefa away and tries to rape her. She pulls a knife and in self-defense kills Joe. A mob gathers to enact vigilante justice. They beat Ramón mercilessly before Josefa’s eyes, then enact a hasty trial of Josefa. She remains dignified and unrepentant. They condemn her and hang her.  

As Dame Shirley prepares to leave the mining camps for San Francisco, she takes a last fond look at the sublime Sierra Nevada landscape. Julia Bullock beautifully delivers this songful paean of praise to the California natural world, as this tedious, overlong Girls of the Golden West finally comes to a close. 

Updated: Overview: Why I Find John Adams’ Operas Half-Cooked

James Roy MacBean
Friday December 01, 2017 - 04:54:00 PM

In reviewing a few days ago the latest opera by John Adams, I headlined my review, “Girls of the Golden West: Another Half-Cooked Turkey by John Adams.” It occurred to me, however, that in reviewing a disjointed opera that went on for nearly three and a half hours, I might well describe it as over-cooked rather than half-cooked. Nonetheless, I decided that “half-cooked” was a more apt characterization of John Adams’ operas. In the present article I’ll delineate why so many of the works by John Adams, especially his operas, seem to me half-cooked. 

Let’s start with the first opera by John Adams – Nixon in China (1987). In this opera Adams teamed up with librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars. Seeing Nixon in China when it first came out, I found it both pretentious and distressing. Nixon, of course, was an easy target. Writing stiff, awkward music for James Maddalena to sing as the stiff, awkward Richard Nixon may have worked as a way of musically characterizing Nixon, but, nonetheless, it was bad music. Likewise, Adams’ goofy repetitions of Nixon’s ‘news’ reports from his trip to China struck me as both a facile way of sending up Richard Nixon and anything but good music. Further, in the bit of music most often re-played from Nixon in China – “The Chairman Dances” – I found this glib foxtrot a most uninteresting bit of repetitive minimalist rhythmic opportunism. “The Chairman Dances,” as Grammophone editors put it, was “minimalism’s eternal um chum,” or endless ostinato. On the whole, I found Nixon in China almost devoid of serious musical interest. 

Next came The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). Once again, Adams teamed up with librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars in this opera based on the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise-ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian militants who sought to draw attention to the dire plight of Palestinians under oppressive Israeli occupation. During the course of their hijacking, they toppled overboard an elderly American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair. The Palestinians rationalized this barbaric act by pointing out that in supporting Israel American Jews were complicit in the stark oppression of the Palestinians.  

There is a great danger, obviously, in trying to create an art-work, perhaps especially an opera, out of yesterday’s news. Operas generally deal in universals and are meant to be relevant for a long time, eternity perhaps. This said, I welcome attempts to go against the grain. Giuseppe Verdi, of all people, went against the grain when in 1853 he set La Traviata in the very recent past, i.e., in Paris of the 1840s; and, moreover, he dared to create a character, Violetta, clearly based on a famed contemporary courtesan, Marie Duplessis. As you might expect, the opera world was shocked by Verdi’s La Traviata when it was first performed. Now, of course, La Traviata is rightfully considered one of the world’s finest opera’s. 

Could it be that in creating operas based on current events such as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams hoped that going against the grain might win him accolades from the liberal intelligentsia? If so, he gauged correctly where Nixon in China is concerned, for it played into the liberal intelligentsia’s disdain for Richard Nixon. However, where The Death of Klinghoffer is concerned, Adams’ gamble was lost immediately. The Death of Klinghoffer barely opened before it was roundly excoriated from all sides. Music critics, like myself, criticized it for its crude, simplistic music. Others, like Abraham Foxman of the Los Angeles-based Anti-Defamation League, launched a campaign against it by claiming that it was anti-Semitic. As progressive Jewish friends of mine confided, with considerable regret, this was a tactical ploy very insidiously utilized by Foxman to label as anti-Semitic anything offering a somewhat accurate report of Palestinian positions. By this ploy one discredits any even-handed reportage of the Arab-Israeli conflict by alleging that it stems from prejudice against Jews. (By the way, the term anti-Semitism is a misnomer, for Arabs and Jews are both Semitic peoples. In more ways than one, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a fight, albeit an unequal one, among brethren.)  

In any case, musically, the only moments I found worthwhile in The Death of Klinghoffer were the choruses. For the rest, this opera, like Nixon in China, struck me, and not only me, as mere notes and sketches for an opera that might someday be written. But served up as the finished product these operas seemed only half-way there. In short, they struck me as half-cooked. 

Let’s move on now to consider Doctor Atomic by John Adams, an opera I saw at its premiere in San Francisco in 2005. In Doctor Atomic, Adams worked for the first time without Alice Goodman as librettist, a task taken over for this opera by director Peter Sellars. Doctor Atomic purported to tell the tale of the making of the Atom bomb the Americans dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II. The bomb-making project was headed by nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who figures as the central protagonist in the libretto fashioned by Peter Sellars. Of course, in a group of brilliant, high-powered men working on the bomb project at a secret desert site in Los Alamos, Oppenheimer had his share of antagonists. John Adams’ opera features, in addition to Oppenheimer, the ego-centric Edward Teller, a concerned General Leslie Groves, and an idealistic Robert Wilson, all of whom occasionally sparred with Oppenheimer. In Doctor Atomic, the Peter Sellars-John Adams team focuses on the nervous weeks and days up to the first test explosion of the atomic bomb, a process given the sobriquet The Trinity Project.  

In this three-hour long opera, John Adams writes much music that once again recycles the minimalist ostinatos of his earlier operas. Here too, in Doctor Atomic I found these lengthy, musically repetitive passages boring in the extreme when they weren’t downright irritating. (To be fair to Adams, I am equally unimpressed by the minimalist music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Nor am I impressed by the eccentric music of Charles Ives, another composer Adams cites as having influenced him.)  

However, at the end of Act I of Doctor Atomic, in a scene where Oppenheimer reads aloud to his wife, Kitty, the Holy Sonnet XIV by British poet John Donne (1572-1631), which sonnet inspired Oppenheimer to give the nuclear test project the name of The Trinity Project, John Adams wrote music that, for once – and perhaps for the only time -- struck me as intensely moving. Hearing baritone Gerard Finley sing the words of this John Donne sonnet at the premiere of Doctor Atomic in San Francisco was a moment I’ll never forget.  

The opening words, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” were delivered like hammer-blows set to highly percussive music. In this sonnet, John Donne, who was both a devout Christian and a notorious womanizer, likened the getting of religion to a woman being violently raped; and he dared to imply that the woman should be grateful to receive the holy seed. I credit librettist Peter Sellars for understanding how this ultra-masculine notion of Christianity fitted in perfectly, albeit frightfully, with the all-male fraternity of nuclear physicists busily working on the most powerful weapon of mass-destruction the world had ever seen. It’s about an act of violence conceived and carried out by men to be used against innocent women, children, and civilians. But I also credit John Adams with creating extraordinarily moving music for the reading of this sonnet.  

In fact, I congratulated John Adams in person at the War Memorial Opera House during the intermission that ensued at the close of Act I of Doctor Atomic. I added that I was all the more impressed at being won over by this music because of the fact that I had intensely disliked his earlier operas. At this, John Adams blanched and refused to accept my congratulations, as if unable to hear any criticism or to appreciate how far he had to go in winning my heartfelt congratulations for the music I had just found so movingly apt. What this personal encounter says about the ego of John Adams I’ll leave to others to contemplate. Suffice it to say that the remainder of this three-hour opera, like everything leading up to the John Donne sonnet, seemed to me utterly unremarkable and boring. Once again, if a three-hour-long opera can only offer four or five minutes of music that is inspiring, while all the rest is boring if not downright irritating, it too deserves to be called half-cooked. 

Before moving on to discuss the latest opera by John Adams, Girls of the Golden West, I’d like to say a word or two about his 2015 oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, which was given a semi-staged production by San Francisco Symphony this year in February. For this oratorio Adams worked once again with Peter Sellars, who this time gathered texts of all sorts and from many different eras that might conceivably shed a feminist light on both the Christian Gospels and our current highly provocative gender politics. Peter Sellars is good at this sort of thing. His collages generally offer multiple vantage points on issues that were once topical and are now topical once again, and Sellars illuminates the connections between then and now. The question remains, however, whether out of these collages of disparate material the composer John Adams can create music that moves us.  

In The Gospel According to the Other Mary, I found the answer to this question to be a resounding “NO!” In attempting to place his music in parallel with the magnificent Passions of J.S. Bach, John Adams only succeeded in revealing the vast gap between himself and Bach. As I said in my review of The Gospel According to the Other Mary (in the February 23, 2017 issue of Berkeley Daily Planet), I observed that whereas Bach, in his Passions, can make even an atheist share in the grief and anguish of Christ’s death on the cross, John Adams, himself an atheist or at least an agnostic, (he has acknowledged he is no church-goer and adheres to no religious doctrine), offers here only a pastiche of affectations of emotions. Ultimately, in spite of one lovely musical moment involving a poem by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi in which a paean of praise is sung to the Jewish Passover, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, like the early operas by John Adams, simply left me feeling empty. It too seemed half-cooked, pretentiously striving for far more than the limited powers of John Adams could possibly achieve.  

So let us turn, finally, to Girls of the Golden West, the John Adams-Peter Sellars opera that just premiered in San Francisco on November 22, 2017. For once, I am far from being alone in critiquing this John Adams opera as shallow, dull, and self-indulgent. Nearly every local review of Girls of the Golden West has been overwhelmingly negative. Moreover, they have criticized this opera in the very same tones that I, unlike most media reviewers, have criticized Adams’ earlier operas. While I am gratified that Joshua Kosman, music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, upbraids Girls of the Golden West for the same reasons I do, I am dismayed to read in his review (of November 23, 2017) that Kosman alleges that Adams’ earlier operas were “such masterpieces as Nixon in China and (on balance) Doctor Atomic.”  

As I have detailed above, I find that neither Nixon in China nor Doctor Atomic, much less The Death of Klinghoffer, could reasonably qualify as successful, fully realized operas, much less masterpieces. To me, I emphasize, they were irretrievably half-cooked. In his review of Girls of the Golden West, Kosman goes one step further that I completely disagree with. He attributes to the absence of Alice Goodman as librettist the “central, defining catastrophe in Adams’operatic career.” Everything I have said above about the two operas on which Alice Goodman served as Adams’ librettist ought to be sufficient to show you how vehemently I reject this assertion. I acknowledge that Alice Goodman did remarkable work in making the libretto of Nixon in China palatable, and I also acknowledge that in the much more challenging task of making the libretto of The Death of Klinghoffer at least somewhat palatable (though not to the Abe Foxmans of this world), Alice Goodman deserves quite a bit of credit. However, if you have understood anything of what I have written above in this article, you will notice that I am so far from claiming Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, or even Doctor Atomic as masterpieces, that it would be more accurate to say that I consider them all half-cooked failures. To my way of thinking, there is no break between earlier John Adams and later, post-Alice Goodman John Adams. The early and more recent operas by John Adams all suffer from the same, endlessly repeated flaws. They are all, as it were, half-cooked. As I said in my review of Girls of the Golden West, John Adams may be the most over-rated composer in today’s world. In this article, I have attempted to show why I think this is so. 

NOTE: Some previous editorial errors have been corrected.

The Berkeley Activist's Week:
Nov 26 - Dec 3

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 01:47:00 PM

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am back on track with a new modem/router and functioning wifi - that is until the FCC takes away Net Neutrality with the expected vote on December 22. There will be a national day of demonstrations for Net Neutrality on Thursday, December 7.

The December 5, Berkeley City Council Agenda is now available for review and response. Agenda key items:

  • Item 15. 2nd dwelling unit/ADU for homeless,
  • Item 23. Surveillance Technology Ordinance.
  • Item 25. Significant Community Benefits


Day by Day, 11/26 - 12/3:


Sunday, November 26, 2017 

No demonstrations posted 

Monday, November 27, 2017 

Tax the Rich rally – Monday, Nov 27, winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater, signs and song to oppose the GOP tax bill, support Net Neutrality 

Berkeley City Council – Closed Session, Monday, Nov 27, 4:00 pm, 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, agenda: City Council negotiations with BUSD School Board regarding use of 1231 Addison, BUSD Board Room, public comment allowed on agenda item only https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx 

Community Environmental Advisory Commission Stormwater Infrastructure Subcommittee, Mon, Nov 27, 6:30 pm, Au Coquelet Restaurant, 2000 University 


Zero Waste Commission, Monday, Nov 27, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: Donation unsold food, food donation hub 


Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, Monday, Nov 27, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center at San Pablo Park, NO POSTED AGENDA on Website 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017 

Berkeley City Council - Regular Meeting, Tuesday, Nov 28, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, agenda: affordable housing items 21, 22, 26. Item 21 Pipeline Report contains status charts of all housing projects proposed and approved since 2014. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Eviction/Section 8/Foreclosure Committee Meeting, Wednesday, Nov 29, 5:30 pm, 2001 Center St, Law Library, 2nd Floor 


Civic Arts Commission, Wednesday, Nov 29, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: action item Festival Funding Guidelines 


Thursday, November 30, 2017 

Stop Funding Climate Change Rally at Wells Fargo Headquarters in San Francisco, Thursday, Nov 30, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, 464 California St, SF, hosted by SF Sierra Club 


Zoning Adjustments Board, Thursday, Nov 30, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers 



  • 1330 Summit Road – construct new 3,950 sq ft 3-story single family residence on vacant hillside lot, on consent
  • 2072 Addison St – demolish 1-story commercial building, construct 7-story mixed use restaurant ground floor, 66 dwelling units, 29 parking spaces, on consent
  • 2210 & 2212 MLK Jr Way – expand and convert existing 2-story to 3 dwelling units when 2 allowed, 1 parking space when 3 required, staff recommend approve



Friday, December 1, 2017 

No posted City meetings 

Saturday, December 2, 2017 

Bay Resistance Team Training, Saturday, Dec 2, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, 360 14th St, Oakland, CA, https://350bayarea.org/event/bay-resistance-team-training 

“Stand With Puerto Rico” Fund Raiser Event in Oakland, Saturday, Nov 2, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2044 Franklin St, Oakland, East Bay for Everyone Office multiple sponsors, http://wellstoneclub.org/ 

Sunday, December 3, 2017 

No demonstrations posted