The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.
The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.



Toni Mester
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 11:31:00 AM
Ken Alexander at Work

Over the holidays, I spent some time at the movies, catching up with the Golden Globe nominees to better share in the fun. But for great cinema, nothing beats the Pacific Film Archive, which is the best screen in Berkeley for quality of projection, sound, sightlines, and programming by astute curators. An attentive audience ensures a reprieve from date night muttering and the rustling of popcorn bags, and their appreciation of fine art often elicits applause at the end of the credits, when the house begins to empty, as it should. The price of a museum member ticket is $7 for the first film of the day and $5 for the second, and the cost of membership is quickly reimbursed for the avid cinephile. Upcoming series include perspectives on Ida Lupino, Liv Ullman in Ingmar Bergman films, Sergei Eisenstein and his contemporaries, and much, much more. Lucky us. -more-

Public Comment

The U.S. in Iran

Jagjit Singh
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:00:00 PM

Oh, how our political pundits love to waggle their fingers and lecture autocratic rulers on democracy that we have done so much to undermine. Like the US (Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, .) the Iranians have squandered their precious resources fighting proxy wars and impoverishing their people. -more-

What Is Your History Worth?

Carol Denney
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 06:57:00 PM

A conversation about the potentially imperiled view between the campus and the bay is happening right now. And there is still time to be part of it.

When city planning happens, it can seem small. It can even seem boring. Your extra six inches of roof height can block sunlight to my garden, which is no small matter to me and my tomatoes.

But the issue at stake in this case is decades of generations who have carefully planned the preservation of the iconic view of the Golden Gate from the Berkeley hills, a view so powerful that it's been celebrated by successive generations of artists, architects, planners, students, city and campus workers, residents, and visitors from all over the world.

The leading lights of voices for the preservation of historic landmarks spoke Thursday night at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on behalf of a petition to preserve Campanile Way, not just a setting one can see from the marina up to the campus as well as the hills above but also an irreplaceable, unforgettable view from either direction. The most compelling voices included former commissioners, architects, and historians who recognize, as have hundreds of petitioners, that it is our generation's obligation to honor the extraordinary efforts of previous generations to preserve the amazing intersection of both built and natural elements represented by this landmark petition. -more-

Stop an Impending Global Crisis

Mark Altgelt
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:35:00 PM

West Antarctica, Greenland and Arctic ice is melting because more than 90 percent of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed into the oceans and warm ocean currents are rapidly melting exposed ice.

In West Antarctica warm ocean currents 4,000 feet below sea level are carving canyons 30 miles long and 600 feet high at the base of three glaciers which is accelerating their unstoppable slow motion cascade into the Amundsen Sea.

When they are gone the ocean currents will begin dislodging and breaking up the West Antarctica Ice Sheet that is twice the size of Texas and two and half miles thick. That could take a thousand or several hundred years and would eventually raise sea level 14 feet. -more-

Puerto Rico: The High Toll of Being Colonized

Harry Brill
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:30:00 PM

An important indication that a government is disinterested in the basic needs of a population is almost always reflected in its statistics. An uncaring government underestimates the extent of a problem that really should have been and still should be addressed. Puerto Rico's recent major Hurricane, Maria --- shouldn't it be named Hurricane Trump! -- killed according to the official count 64 people. President Trump praised the low number of deaths, although he objected that its officials were asking the U.S. Government for more resources. He criticized local officials for wanting "everything to be done for them”. -more-

Call Lethal Injection the Vile Torture It Is

Stephen Cooper
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:43:00 PM

In a New Year’s Eve display of liberal newspaper death penalty abolition harmony – buoyed by the release of the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) annual report evidencing another year in the long-observable trend of capital punishment’s disuse and disfavor in America – both the Washington Post and New York Times’s editorial boards published opinion pieces arguing for an end to what the Times called a “cruel and pointless” practice; one that is “savage, racially biased, arbitrary,” and which “the developed world agreed to reject...long ago.”
On her well-followed Twitter account, intrepid anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean opined that the Times “opened the New Year with a bang: a full-throated exhortation against the death penalty. The editorial hit all the right notes.” While I hardly disagree with Sister Helen on anything concerning death penalty abolition – and, despite all the truthful and pointed invectives the Times’s editorial board did skillfully use to highlight capital punishment’s moral depravity – I still preferred when newspaper editors used the word ‘torture’ to describe to the American people what lethal injection really is.
For example, take the column titled “Lethal Cruelty” published by the New York Times’s editorial board over a decade ago, in April 2006: Its final paragraph, a frustrating-beyond-belief marker of the meandering, snail pace of the abolition movement in the United States, concluded: “But even justices who think the Constitution permits capital punishment should find that lethal injections that torture prisoners in the process of killing them are unconstitutional.” (Hello Justices? Hello!? Any Justices at home and awake at the high court? As Martin Luther King, Jr., once judiciously declared: “The time is always right to do what is right,” which the Supreme Court can and should do immediately by “[w]iping the stain of capital punishment clean.”)
It is precisely because of its stinging, far-reaching legal, historical, ethical, and moral implications – especially in the putative “land of the free and home of the brave” – that I respectfully submit it is increasingly more important for anti-death penalty writers to use the word ‘torture,’ as a censure, to describe the barbarity of lethal injection. Other than genocide and atrocity, perhaps no other single-word descriptor is capable of generating the same level of opprobrium, righteous indignation, and negative international press coverage as the word ‘torture.’ A not very humble example is a column I published in the Hill last year, at about this same time, called “Alabama's torture of Ronald Smith spotlights unequal justice under law.” (Others include an opinion I published a few months later in Alabama’s Montgomery Advertiser – not only about Mr. Smith’s patently botched execution, but about all of Alabama’s volatile executions by lethal injection – called “Is Alabama hiding that it tortured its citizens,” “Alabama’s Human Guinea Pigs: Burning People Alive on Death Row,” and, most recently in the series, “Alabama's ‘Baghdad Bob’ of Death Row.”)
Nevertheless, notwithstanding my hyper-technical, terminology-centric complaint about this year’s version of the Times’s perennial plea for death penalty abolition, it was a darned sight better than the Washington Post’s overly rosy outlook. Despite leading with the appropriately morose title, “[a]nother year in death,” the Post’s piece irrationally extols the significance of DPIC’s annual report, insipidly informing its readers there is “cause for celebration” because “[n]o matter the reason, it is heartening to see the country become steadily more humane.”
Horse hockey. Each and every year since the death penalty’s reinstatement over forty-five years ago, stern-faced state officials, particularly in the South, regularly trot out, for extra pay, withered, weakened, beaten-down – dying even – old men (and much more rarely, women) to torture them to death. This occurs many years, sometimes even decades, after their crimes of conviction. As I have written elsewhere decrying the “unacceptable racial bias [that] persists in capital punishment”: “[s]ometime soon in the 31 states that have not abolished the death penalty, leaders at the highest levels of state government, men and women – mostly men and mostly white – will hold private, closed-door meetings, in which they will discuss the most secretive, most cost-effective, most media-friendly way to go about killing one, or more of its citizens.”
And there’s nothing – not a damn thing – humane or celebratory about that.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

The Peril We All Face Due To Human Folly

Jack Bragen
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:54:00 PM

Soylent Green was a 1973 movie starring Charlton Heston, loosely based on the 1966 science fiction book "Make Room, Make Room!" by author Harry Harrison. The movie explored the effects of unchecked population, it predicted global warming (in 1973) and it concluded with the uncovering of a secret, that the ocean was dying, and with it, everyone would die.

Thus, human beings have known of global warming for more than fifty years. It was too inconvenient for us to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Worse yet is how human beings treat our oceans. We've used them as a sewer, a garbage dump, a nuclear testing ground and nuclear waste sight, a platform for military battles. And worse. Recently there was the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, which released large amounts of radioactive material into the ocean. Additionally, we had the BP oil spill disaster in Gulf of Mexico. -more-

Force and Violence in a Can

Steve Martinot
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:32:00 PM

Pepper spray. (Oleoresin capsicum or OC). During Redwood Summer, back in the 90s, people went north in an attempt to keep the old growth redwoods from being killed (aka logged). A group of young people chained themselves in front of a timber industry office with their hands in pipes so their ties together could not be broken. The cops, seeing these protesters sitting there defenselessly, daubed pepper spray in their eyes – causing unimaginable pain, and ruining the eyesight of two of them. [] -more-


SB 827 (Skinner, D-Berkeley) will destroy local land use control

Becky O'Malley
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 02:12:00 PM

State Senators Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) are again lusting after our remaining affordable neighborhoods on behalf of their developer patrons, who are fronted by the astroturf YIMBYs:

As reported by Liam Dillon in the L.A. Times:

“A dramatic increase in new housing near transit stations could be on its way across California under new legislation proposed by a Bay Area legislator. Subject to some limitations, the measure would eliminate restrictions on the number of houses allowed to be built within a half-mile of train, light-rail, major bus routes and other transit stations, and block cities from imposing parking requirements. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, said the state needs the housing to address affordability problems, maximize recent multi-billion-dollar transit investments and help the state meet its climate change goals.’
Here’s a link to the bill, authored by Scott Wiener and co-authored by our own State Senator Nancy Skinner:

SB 827, as introduced, Wiener. Planning and zoning: transit-rich housing bonus.

Transit-rich is the new buzz word in the title, and how ironically apt it is. This bill effectively removes all local planning controls in areas served by transit, opening up enormous swaths of our historically low-income urban neighborhoods (think southwest Berkeley) to gentrifying market rate development.

And no, it won’t make the current residents, especially renters, rich—but it will certainly make rich developers richer. That's who get the housing bonus.

This plan doesn’t seem to have been reported in the Bay Area press as yet, but Damien Goodmon, founder and Executive Director of Los Angeles’ nonprofit Crenshaw Subway Coalition, already has their number. He’s posted a stinging denunciation of the bill’s backers and its effect on low-income residents on the organization’s web site. I was intending just to link to it, but so much of the analysis also applies to the urban East Bay that I’ll quote most of it: -more-

The Editor's Back Fence

Skeptics and Sex

Becky O'Malley
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 12:50:00 PM

In the last few months I’ve done a couple of pieces expressing a certain amount of skepticism about some reported cases of sexual misconduct: Setting All Kinds of Limits and Sexual Sins: Are Contrition and Redemption Possible?

It turns out that there’s a magazine for that. A Planet reader sent me a link to an interesting opinion essay, I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too by Carol Tavris, which was published in a publication I’d not been familiar with, eSkeptic. It’s the online newsletter of The Skeptics Society, whose announced goal is to “Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.” Tavris recounts another author‘s difficulty in finding a publisher for a defense of due process even when there are allegations of sexual transgressions. Some of the publication’s articles also appear in print as Skeptic Magazine.

The latest issue of eSkeptic features a book review, by Frederick Crews, a well-known Berkeley writer who is the author of several books and numerous articles about the weak scientific underpinnings of recovered memory theory and Freudianism, of The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment, by Mark Pendergrast. The book’s topic is even more explosive than sexual misconduct of men toward women: a pederasty conviction which the book’s author views as a miscarriage of justice. It seems that where sex is concerned, the rules about admissible evidence and statutes of limitations which usually apply in criminal prosecutions go out the window, especially if juveniles are the alleged victims. -more-


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Dispatches Awards for 2017

Conn Hallinan
Monday January 01, 2018 - 07:09:00 PM

Each year Dispatches From the Edge gives awards to individuals, companies and governments that make reading the news a daily adventure. Here are the awards for 2017.

The Reverse WEBBY Award to the Colsa Corporation based in Huntsville, Ala, a company that runs the multi-million dollar WebOps program for the U.S. Defense Department. WebOps, according to Associated Press, employs “specialists” who “employ fictitious identities and try to sway targets from joining the Islamic State.” But the “specialists” are not fluent and used the Arabic word for “salad” in place of “authority.” Thus the governing body set up by the 1993 Oslo Accords became the “Palestinian salad” (tasty with a light vinaigrette).

Runner up is the military’s Special Operations Forces (SOFs) that botched a raid in Yemen last February that got a Navy SEAL killed and destroyed a $75 million MV-22 Osprey aircraft. Desperate to show that the raid gathered valuable intelligence, U.S. commanders published a video on how to make explosives that they say were captured during the raid. Except the video was 10 years old and all over the Internet. The raid also killed several children, but the Trump administration called it “a success by all standards.” -more-

ECLECTIC RANT: Congress, hands off Social Security

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:23:00 PM

Both my wife and I receive Social Security benefits. Yes, we are of that certain age. We pay taxes on part of our benefits. Luckily, we do not depend on these benefits to totally meet our daily retirement living expenses. Instead they supplement our employment retirement income. Many senior citizens, however, rely only on Social Security benefits to survive. -more-

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Method of Retasking the Mind

Jack Bragen
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 07:00:00 PM

Most people, I have observed, are generally unaware of what it is they are trying to do.

Some examples: What comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I'm not angry!" or, "I'm not jealous!"? What comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I don't do it for the money"? And, what comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I can take it or leave it"?

The human mind is constructed in a such a way that we may have a blind spot that may prevent us from understanding our own motives. This is so for a non-afflicted person's mind as much as it is for someone with a psychiatric diagnosis. -more-

Arts & Events

San Francisco Early Music Society Presents VAJRA VOICES

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:02:00 PM

In a series of concerts throughout the Bay Area designed to ring in the New Year, the vocal ensemble Vajra Voices, led by their founding Director Karen R. Clark, performed medieval music ranging from ca. 1150 to 1377. I attended the Berkeley concert on Saturday evening, January 6, 2018, at St. John’s Presbyterian Church. Presented under the auspices of San Francisco Early Music Society, the concert featured selections from such musical and literary luminaries as Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Perotin (organist at Cathedral Notre Dame ca. 1200), and Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377). -more-


The Berkeley Activist's Weekly Calendar, January 7-14, 2018

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:17:00 PM

The first Berkeley City Council meeting of 2018 is January 23rd. You can get a heads up by looking at the planned agenda under Monday’s Agenda Committee Meeting. Agenda items are listed that warrant scrutiny and response. An email sent to will be distributed to all the Council Members and the Mayor. You can, of course, always address each Council Member and the Mayor Individually. The final agenda for January 23rd should be posted this coming Thursday, January 11. -more-

Back Stories



SB 827 (Skinner, D-Berkeley) will destroy local land use control 01-06-2018

Happy New Year, just like the Old Years 01-01-2018

The Editor's Back Fence

Skeptics and Sex 01-07-2018

Public Comment

The U.S. in Iran Jagjit Singh 01-07-2018

What Is Your History Worth? Carol Denney 01-06-2018

Stop an Impending Global Crisis Mark Altgelt 01-07-2018

Puerto Rico: The High Toll of Being Colonized Harry Brill 01-06-2018

Call Lethal Injection the Vile Torture It Is Stephen Cooper 01-07-2018

The Peril We All Face Due To Human Folly Jack Bragen 01-07-2018

Force and Violence in a Can Steve Martinot 01-07-2018

Guam's Military Perspective: Let The Public Be Damned Harry Brill 01-01-2018

Judicial Appointments Jagjit Singh 01-01-2018

January Pepper Spray Times By Grace Underpressure 12-31-2017


SQUEAKY WHEEL: The Analog Age Toni Mester 01-07-2018

BART Fares Up Again Dan McMenamin (BCN) 01-01-2018

Berkeley Marijuana Dealers See New Year's Day Rush Janis Mara (BCN) 01-01-2018


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Dispatches Awards for 2017 Conn Hallinan 01-01-2018

ECLECTIC RANT: Congress, hands off Social Security Ralph E. Stone 01-06-2018

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Method of Retasking the Mind Jack Bragen 01-06-2018

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Extraterrestrials Jack Bragen 01-01-2018

ECLECTIC RANT: 2018 and Trump is still president Ralph E. Stone 01-01-2018

Arts & Events

San Francisco Early Music Society Presents VAJRA VOICES Reviewed by James Roy MacBean 01-07-2018

The Berkeley Activist's Weekly Calendar, January 7-14, 2018 Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition 01-06-2018

Young Beethoven in Concert Reviewed by James Roy MacBean 01-01-2018

The Berkeley Activist's Weekly Calendar Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition 01-01-2018