We are in the dog days, the end of summer period where Sirius, the Dog Star, is in ascendancy, and not much happens because it’s too darn hot. The U.S. Congress is kicking back at home in their districts, despite pleas that they “do something” about gun violence. New outrageous things nonetheless continue to happen, on what used to be a daily basis but now on an hourly basis. The media, print and online, is full of dire references to the mental state of the nation’s ruler, as he likes to think of himself. Shrinks from both Harvard and Yale have been enlisted to medicalize the analysis with scientific diagnostic terminology, but that’s grossly unfair to all those people conscientiously struggling to tackle their own normal mental illness with professional help. It seems more appropriate to use colorful ordinary language to describe Trump. Take your pick: crazy, nuts, loony, insane, and the favorite of the historically inclined literati, mad, which is associated with King George III, ruler of the colonies at the time of the revolution. George III’s reputation has had its ups and downs, but for significant periods of his life he’s acknowledged to have been, well, nutty. Many now see America’s Donald I in the same way.Mistah Trump, he nuts. Nevertheless, some of us are still trying, against all odds, to construct rational explanations for his aberrations. There must be a reason for what he does, right? 

Who wouldn’t want to buy Greenland, and if Denmark’s Queen doesn’t want to deal, no dinner with you, milady! And also, by the way, don’t let your nasty hired girl call America absurd. Remember, l'état, c'est moi. I am the state—an insult to me is an insult to all. 

The political question in all this is how Republicans, card-carrying members of what used to be called the Grand Old Party, continue enabling Trump’s continuing presence on the world stage. Or not really how, but why? 



Jim Fallows in The Atlantic goes over all this, not for the first time, in a response to just the last couple of days’ worth of bizarre behavior: “These are episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting.” 

Is it about the money? Are all those Republican senators keeping Trump in office simply because they and their corporate masters like the tax cuts and hope to profit from deregulation? Have they invested in oil stocks? 

The stock market’s reaction to Trump’s latest (today is Friday) caper, “ordering” U.S. businesses to abandon interaction with China, indicates that even corporate America is not pleased with whatever he seems to be doing. 

If we had a parliamentary form of government, in theory this would be the cue for a vote of no confidence. However a quick glance at Britain’s particular form of insanity, now stewarded by their own King George, Boris Johnson, suggests that it’s not that simple. 

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. 

Which puts us back (I know, I’m sick of it too) into the discussion of impeachment. The putative chief of state, the president of the United States, seems to be going full speed ahead over the cliff. What can be done to stop him? 

A recent poll suggests that more than half of a selected group of voters don’t think impeachment is a good idea. 

“A majority of Americans oppose impeaching President Donald Trump, according to a new poll by Monmouth University released Thursday. 

“The data point -- with 59% of those surveyed responding that Trump should not be impeached and compelled to leave office -- comes as Trump’s approval rating remains at 40% in the same poll.” 

This poll does not reflect the most recent round of wackiness. It was conducted from August 16 to August 20, and a lot has happened since then. 

Absent impeachment, where is the force powerful enough to prevent Donald Trump from destroying not just his own country but the whole world economy along with it? 

That might be the 2020 election, but we can’t be sure, can we? As we noted a couple of weeks ago, soft impeachment is underway in House committees already, but will it happen soon enough? 

It’s a puzzlement, as the king of Siam sang in the old musical. At the rate he’s going, perhaps King Donald will have himself crowned before then. 

One last thing to remember: the shrinks I've talked to about Donald Trump don't use terms of art like nutty or wacky. What I've heard them say is "narcissistic personality disorder", which is not enough to get him committed to an institution but plenty enough to disqualify him for the difficult job of being president of the United States.  

"A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they're not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them." 

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that deaths in San Francisco from taking fentanyl, which is a popular synthetic drug, increased from 2017 to 2018 by 150 percent. In fact, the increase in drug related deaths in the United States to over 70,000 annually is mainly due to the growing use of fentanyl. This drug was developed to relieve severe pain. Among those who benefit are terminally ill patients and those who experience serious pain after surgery. But its advantage, unfortunately, is for many recipients a disadvantage as well. The drug is very potent. Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more than heroin. But many who take the drug cannot physically tolerate such high doses. 

However, there is much more than the potency of the drug that kills. Very troubling has been the role of the pharmaceutical companies. For a long while the pharmaceuticals were falsely assuring the medical profession that there was no risk of addiction. As a result, many healthcare professionals have been over-prescribing the drug.  

Also, to make an easy and substantial profit while ignoring health and safety concerns, some manufacturers make fentanyl illegally in clandestine labs. Without notifying the public or any authorities, these merchants of death often mix heroin with fentanyl, which is much cheaper but more potent than other drugs. But many users think they are purchasing heroin without realizing they are also buying the much more powerful fentanyl, which has been responsible for many overdose deaths.  

In fact, both the adverse impact of fentanyl and the low cost to produce the drug have encouraged some public officials to advocate its use for prisoners who have been sentenced to death. Fentanyl was used last year to execute a prisoner in Nebraska. Public officials in Nevada wanted to do the same but they were blocked by a judge. However, a public official in Ohio has been seeking to pass a state law that would allow the less expensive fentanyl to be generally used for executions rather than deciding to do so on a case by case basis. Among the official's motives is to increase the number of executions. 

To claim that drug overdoses can kill is no exaggeration. But it is a serious mistake to mainly blame drug users for their own demise. Many in the medical profession as well as drug manufacturers do not even inform those who use drugs of the serious risks they confront. Currently, a Santa Rosa neurologist faces murder charges for killing five patients by over-prescribing drugs. Incredibly, he often prescribed regularly the maximum dosage which included 300 pills per prescription! 

But charging one doctor is not enough. Other members of the healthcare profession as well as some manufacturers who are suspected of endangering the life and the well being of those who take these drugs should be investigated, and if appropriate they should be charged as well. 

Jane Ferguson, one of the most courageous and trusted reporters in the world, was on assignment in Gaza for the PBS Newshour and filed a most disturbing report. For the past several months Palestinians in Gaza have protested their appalling conditions along the border fence with Israel. For the most part the protests have been peaceful but international observers have reported devastating injuries inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli sniper fire. Many have suffered broken legs which appear to be a deliberate effort to inflict maximum pain and injury. A staggering seven thousand have been shot by the Israeli army while taking part in protests in the last 15 months. Dozens have lost a limb. 

On May 14, 2018, Gazans took part in a march of return to demonstrate for the right to return to their family's ancestral homes inside Israel, homes their forbearers were forced to flee when Israel was formed in 1948. The Gaza Strip has been under blockade by Israel since June 2007. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world, with nearly two million people packed into a sliver of land 25 miles long and five miles wide. Unemployment is at a staggering 52 percent, leaving young men helpless and desperate. 

Palestinians have long declared Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. That hope was dashed by the autocratic Donald Trump who “gifted” the city to Israel. Prior U.S. administrations stated unequivocally that Jerusalem would stay neutral pending final negotiations. During the peaceful protests 73 Palestinians were killed and 2,500 injured almost all in the legs. As lead surgeon in Gaza's main hospital, Dr. Adnan Al Borsh told Jane Ferguson that the hospital was overwhelmed unable to cope with all the injured. Lack of instruments, antibiotics and anesthesia intensified the suffering of the injured and resulted in complete fatigue of the medical staff, some of who were also shot and killed.  

It was the nature of the wounds that most disturbed Dr. Al Borsh. The bullets measured 1 centimeter on entry but exploded more than 15 to 20 centimeters on exit inflicting enormous damage shattering everything in their path forcing surgeons to amputate limbs. Doctors Without Borders surgeons made similar observations.  

Many of the snipers were recorded laughing while shooting at unarmed protestors. This massacre seemed to be a carefully orchestrated effort to terrorize the population to a state of impotence. As Israel’s largest supplier of military aid, America is complicit in these war crimes.  

Saleh Hijazi who heads Amnesty International in Israel and the Palestinian territories stated, “The willful cause of injury and death is a war crime and therefore Israel has violated international law.” In another damning report, the United Nations' independent commission of inquiry stated “the Israeli military sniping at protesters was unlawful and unjustified, and should be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. Unless members of Congress and the American public raise their collective voices and demand an immediate halt to all military and economic aid to Israel, these crimes will continue. Finally, we must demand Israel lift the siege of Gaza and end its suffocating occupation.

Donald Trump has achieved one record that few can ever match. Disdain for the truth. With a wink and nod to his “very fine people” racists and anti-Semites, Trump responded to multiple mass shootings, saying “sinister ideologies” of racism, bigotry and white supremacy” have no place here.” Leading the charge to pierce Trump’s obvious hypocrisy, Senator Bernie Sanders thundered – “we have a president who, tragically, is a racist, xenophobe, and a religious bigot."  

Sadly, Trump’s lies have become the new normal. Even many of supporters winced when said he was the “least racist person you have ever met – I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”  

Perhaps he has forgotten the younger Trump who foamed at the mouth denouncing the Central Park Five as “bands of “wild animals and crazed misfits” – never apologizing after they spent 6 to 13 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Trump never apologized. 

Lying is part of his DNA. Remember his business failures rooted in deceit, Trump Airlines, Trump Beverages, Trump The Game, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Casinos. . .). Perhaps trump is right when he boasted that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue or someone on a crowded street and none of his supporters would blink. It is no wonder he refuses to release his tax returns which would likely expose him as a massive fraud and collapse his presidency like a house of cards.

As a human being with more than the typical vulnerabilities, I know that in several ways, I'm not very strong. When life becomes excessively demanding, or when events occur in my life that I find traumatic, the repercussions that follow include an increase in the symptoms of my psychiatric condition. 

Following a difficult event or series of events, assuming things settle down and I have some alone time, I'm left with the task of finding my way out of psychosis and other problems, not just with meds, but also through mindfulness techniques. 

I'm guessing that other mentally ill people have similar reactions to mine. I've also seen other mentally ill people go through stress, and some have reacted by having a complete relapse of their illness. 

When older, a psychiatric consumer no longer has the privilege to have an episode. The result of invoking one through noncompliance with treatment is sometimes fatal, and, at the least, an episode is devastating for the person's future condition and future life circumstances. To clarify, most of the time, mentally ill people don't decide they want a psychotic episode and thus stop taking medication. It is more like, stress gets the better of the individual and they deteriorate, and somewhere in the process of this, compliance goes out the window. 

Extreme stresses are poisonous to anyone, disabled or not. The stresses of losing a parent, a sibling, a spouse or an offspring, are hard to face. For someone with a life-changing mental illness, this kind of stress can quickly cause us to become ill. In some instances, the stress reaction is delayed by up to several months. 

An early relapse of my illness took place about a year after I'd quit medication AMA (against medical advice). I had decompensated part-way over a period of nine months. Then, there was a life-threatening armed robbery incident where I worked. (I was captive of two gunmen for eleven hours overnight.) 

Following the above incident, my condition worsened at a faster pace. Over a period of two more months, I became completely psychotic. But I continued to work at my job, in a manner that resembled autopilot. And I finally stopped showing up for work. Soon after, I was 5150'd at a gas station. 

Decades later, I had a friend who also, was a threat, because he could get violently out of control when having a manic episode, and he was twice my size. Yet, he was sensitive, and he was very politically conscious. Following the death of his mother and the 9/11 attack, his mania returned, and he became a dangerous man. Additionally, he may have lost his housing. Later, I was shocked to hear of his death from a heart attack. 

I don't know the exact circumstances of his death. He may have possibly died during a 5150 or may have died from exposure to outdoor high temperatures. I was never privy to this information.  

I've known one or two people who became ill following an ended relationship. Relationships are a challenge, and a breakup is stressful. It seems that those who have a strong desire for a relationship to the point where it is obsessive, are the least able to handle a relationship. The human drive to partner is a powerful instinct and has a lot of potential to disrupt the mind. Learning to handle relationships without becoming obsessive or destabilized is a significant accomplishment, not just for someone with a psychiatric disability. 

I've seen people become destabilized from work situations that were too hard, also from a major career loss. But also, trying to meet demands and expectations imposed by other people or by life situations, if those demands are too much, can trigger a relapse. 

People with psych disabilities should not be put into situations that are more than we can handle. We cannot handle as much stress or as many demands compared to non-afflicted people--that's just reality. The results of excessive expectations can be disastrous. We may seem strong on the outside, but we have vulnerabilities that others do not have. 

One of numerous reasons that I've chosen to self-publish my books rather than seeking a literary agent is that I don't have to do public speaking, I don't have to handle complex book contracts, and I don't have to do a myriad of other things involved in traditional publishing. There are other reasons that make traditional publishing impractical for me. But I find that self-publishing is very low-key and doesn't involve much, and this suits me. (The self-publishing I've done in the past seven years has yielded more receipts than my expenses.) 

People with psychiatric disabilities are better off keeping life relatively simple and straightforward. This is not to imply that we are incompetent. While many mentally ill people can't handle as much as a non-medicated, non-disabled person, many of us are fully able to live as adults.

The San Francisco Opera canceled the Plácido Domingo concert scheduled for Oct. 6. The company issued a press release saying the move to cancel the show comes in the wake of news of multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Domingo.  

The allegations against Mr. Domingo were made by eight singers and a dancer, all but one of whom spoke anonymously. They accused him of using his power in the opera world to try to pressure them into sexual relationships, including repeated, harassing phone calls; some claimed that they believed their careers had been harmed when they rejected him. 

For those unfamiliar with Domingo, he is a Spanish-born singer, conductor, and as of 2017, the general director of the Los Angeles Opera. His imposing physical stature, good looks, and dramatic flare made him one of the most popular tenors of his time. An aunt, uncle, and cousin had died in the September 1985 Mexico City earthquake; Domingo spent an entire year he singing in benefit events and dedicated the proceeds to relief for the survivors and to reconstruction projects. In 1990, he joined tenors José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti as part of The Three Tenors. 

Why did the SF Opera prejudge the veracity of the sexual harassment allegations by one named and eight unnamed accusers by canceling the concert? At least the Metropolitan Opera, where he is scheduled to sing two roles this season, said they would wait for the results of an investigation by the Los Angeles Opera before taking any action. 

Sexual harassment should not be ignored as it has for too long but in fairness, shouldn’t Domingo at least be given the benefit of the doubt until all the evidence, if any, is in.  

And what kind of behavior should be actionable? By actionable, I mean castigation in the media, forced resignation, job termination, and even legal action. Should there be a line drawn between boorish behavior and grabbing women "by the pussy," or should we continue the zero tolerance policy we seem to be on now? 

The Shady Ladies of Alcatraz When one of our window shades popped a pin, the question was: Repair or replace? When we took our lame shade to a shop on University, we were waved away by a proprietor who had neither time nor interest in solving our low-budget problem. So we pointed the car down Shattuck Ave and headed south to Berkeley's Alcatraz Shade—whose motto is: "Making you smile since 1954." We came away with smiles. The women who run the shop quickly sprang forth to rescue our sickly shade. A replacement pin was located, implanted in the roller, and we were quickly sent on our way. Less than five minutes; less than five bucks. They even tested the curtain for us in their backroom lab. 

And while waiting for our shade to pass muster, we were invited to amble over into an adjoining space packed floor-to-ceiling with rare and artsy memorabilia. We had just entered the Alcatrash Zone. 

Alcatrash (Note: no connection to Alcatrash, the Greek boy band) is worth a visit on its own. Especially if your thing is vintage clothing, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, and 33-rpm vinyl records circa 1940-1990 (including rare plates offering Pearl Jam, Marie Osmond, Malvina Reynold's Greatest Hits, and weirdly titled albums like "Do You Want to Kill Your Boss?")  

Want more outta-the-past wonderabilia? Check out the collection at the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center, at 2905 Shattuck Ave — nine blocks to the north. (Drop in at night and you can boogie to live music.) 

Reports from an unlikely news combo—Bloomberg and TASS (the Russian news agency)—reveal that Donald Trump's imposition of sanctions on Iran and Venezuela has been a boon for Russia, which reaped an additional $905 million in profits from oil sales between November 2018 and July 2019. 

Thanks to Trump, TASS chortled, "the demand for Urals [oil] in the Mediterranean region is at its historic peak." 

And this is why we need to see Trump's tax returns and review his investment portfolios. Is he invested in oil? Is he invested in Russian oil? Is he colluding with Putin's Petro Bros by excluding Iran and Venezuela? 

It just occurred to me that the familiar phrase "America's wars of choice" is little more than a euphemism for "naked imperial aggression." 

Under international law, the unjustified military invasion and conquest of a foreign nation is "the ultimate crime." 

For instance, when Washington decides to overthrow a democratically elected leader (as we've done in Brazil, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Panama, and Syria), the White House takes care to call it "regime change." 

But "wars of choice"? That phrase makes a military invasion sound like a pleasant interlude around a buffet table—What shall we grab next? A little nibble of Libya? A slice of well-baked Syria? A tasty tray of Yemenis? 

At this very moment, the Amazon Rainforest—the "lungs of the Earth"—is being consumed by more than 70,000 fires. 

On July 26, Harrison Ford issued a compelling message on behalf of the Extinction Rebellion: "If We Don't Protect Nature We Can't Protect Ourselves." 

Ford's plea is one of the most moving calls to action that I've heard since Al Gore cried out: "Can't you hear what Mother Nature is screaming at you?" 

As Ford says: "We are facing an emergency resulting from our toxic economic and political system. The way we relate to each other and to nature is destroying Earth’s capacity to sustain life." 

This is the very definition of greed and evil. Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland to gain access to the mineral resources now becoming accessible thanks to the melting of polar ice. One August 1 a new record was set when 12.5 billion tons of Greenland's ice melted and spilled into the sea on a single day. 

Across the Arctic, summer temperatures have risen 12-30 degrees above normal as glaciers collapse into the warming seas. Meanwhile, US corporate interests react with glee, pointing out that the loss of ice means more access to polar oil and coal—and more open sea channels year-round to facilitate the ships that will install the drilling rigs and haul away the mined minerals. Inevitably, these geographic opportunities will require that the Pentagon build new advance bases and send new warships to guard US interests in the region. 

How can it be that there are people (read: "men") who look at the collapse of Nature and only see opportunities for short-term profiteering? We speak of Mother Earth for a reason. But let us reimagine this calamity through this metaphoric lens. 

Imagine if Mother Nature were your own mother. Imagine that you discovered her lying beaten and bloodied on the road. She has been attacked and is suffering. She needs comfort, aid and protection. So how do you respond? 

If you are someone who is concerned about human suffering and the survival of the natural world, you stop what you are doing, try to staunch the bleeding, and call for an ambulance. 

And if you are an oil company CEO or Donald Trump? You first look both ways to see if anyone is watching, then you drop trou and ravish her. 

The GOP wants to drive California Dem. Adam Schiff from office. As chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff has been dogged in his pursuit of Donald Trump's dirty secrets. Now, not one but two Gopsters are circling and eyeing Schiff's seat. One of the would-be Schiff-shafters recently displayed a Trumpian affinity for poor grammar. In a tweet directed at "Fellow Conservatives" he wrote: "Schiff lives under the false illusion [as opposed to a "true illusion"?] that there's 'direct evidence' of Russian collusion by the Trump campaign, but fortunately, most already Americans know the truth." 

Just received a message from Our Revolution, the group inspired by Bernie Sanders. An August 15 fund-raising email notes that "thanks to the incredible on the ground organizing of our 600 nationwide groups . . . . more than 180 Our-Revolution-endorsed candidates have been elected to office over the last three years, and we have helped pass 50 successful ballot initiatives at the same time!." 

"Now, thanks to our hard work over these last three years, we stand on the precipice of a complete progressive takeover of the Democratic party." 

"Standing at the door" or "standing at the beginning" would have been fine but "standing on a precipice"? If you want to move boldly forward, the last place you want to be standing is "on a precipice." (The image calls forth the dire warnings that a clash of the Dems' Progressive Left and the Monied Mainstream could destroy the party's chance to win in 2020.) 

"Since the dawn of time, Republicans have been threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, and up until now, they have never succeeded. Now, Trump and his administration just threw women under the bus with their bogus gag rule. 

"On Monday, Trump’s dangerous gag rule went into effect and defunded any health clinic that provides patients with abortions or even just referrals for abortion services. 

"Rather than give in to Trump’s reckless attack on women’s health that violates medical ethics and puts women in danger, Planned Parenthood refused the government’s Title X ransom money and will continue providing women with a full range of health services — including abortions. 

"Planned Parenthood stands to lose tens of millions of dollars and they need our help to fight back. Will you split a donation between Planned Parenthood and me to help us end Trump’s gag rule and make sure women everywhere get access to the care they need?" 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is one of Don Trump's worst nightmares. Team Bacerra takes well-earned pride in being able to say, "We've sued Donald Trump more than 50 times!" 

Becerra's gone after the Orange Pumpkin for human rights violations and social justice outrages. He's filed 27 suits challenging Trump's environmental outlawry—most recently, an August 13 proposal to strip pollution regulations from coal-burning powerplants. Bacerra sees the bigger picture: "Floods are increasing, wildfires are more severe, and glaciers are melting." And he names the guilty: "The President's attempt to deny science, truth and clean energy isn't just foolish, it's unlawful." 

But what makes Becerra unusual is how he goes straight to the public to solicit funding for his campaigns. He's a public figure, after all. He's not the ACLU, or the UFW, or MoveOn. 

It must be legal, but it still feels a bit dicey being asked to write out checks to an elected official who's made a career out of trampling on Trumpdom. 

On the other hand, what could be more empowering than to invite plain, ordinary citizens to indulge in a power fantasy that you might call "Pretend You're a Lobbyist." 

For more than 30 years, Berkeley poet and author Jack Foley has been a stalwart voyager on KPFA's airwaves. The long-time host of the broadcast, Cover to Cover with Jack Foley, was recently honored for his decades of service to the world of words. In honor of his years with the Pacifica station, Foley was presented with a plaque and plaudits. Foley recently shared this note: 

"This plaque, awarded me by Marquis Who’s Who, was donated to KPFA. Thanks to the good offices of station manager Quincy McCoy, it is displayed prominently at the station.  

"I have produced programs on KPFA since 1988; at no point was I happier than I was today when I saw the plaque on the wall. Thank you, Who’s Who; thank you, KPFA, thank you, Quincy." 

I recently came across a short poem by Brian Bilston. It deserves to be set to music. Here it is (lyrics slightly edited). 

Every year the Grand Finale offers a new crop of Merola singers the opportunity to strut their stuff on the grand stage of the War Memorial Opera House. For the young artists this is a thrill. For audiences, too, it is often a thrill to discover the opera stars of tomorrow. Indeed, on Saturday evening, August 17, the 2019 Grand Finale offered the chance to hear quite a few opera stars of tomorrow.  

Among the “can’t miss” category I noted, in no particular order, mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, tenor Brandon Scott Russell, soprano Chelsea Lehnea, mezzo-soprano Cara Collins, soprano Anna Dugan, baritone Jeff Byrnes, tenor Victor Starsky, and, well, the list could go on and on. One thing that impresses about the 2019 crop of Merola singers is the uniformly high level of vocal mastery. Among the 18 scenes from different operas performed in this year’s Grand Finale, there was hardly a scene that didn’t reveal at least one opera star of tomorrow; and often there were several!  

Opening the program was the post coital bedroom scene from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with Cara Collins as Octavian and Anna Dugan as the Marschallin. Both singers were in top form, with Cara Collins wondrously singing Wie du warst/How you were, and Anna Dugan returning the compliment. Next came an excerpt from Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani featuring baritone Laureano Quant and tenor Victor Starsky, both of whom were excellent. Then we heard mezzo-soprano Brennan Blankenship in a harp-accompanied aria from Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, another excellent performance. Soprano Anne-Marie Macintosh sang a lovely aria from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Next came a surprise highlight, tenor Brandon Scott Russell singing the Prince’s aria Vidino divná, presladká from Antonin Dvorák’s Rusalka. An excerpt from Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites featured two opera stars of tomorrow, soprano Amber R. Monroe as Madame Lidoine and mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Mère Marie. 

An excerpt from Mozart’s Così fan tutte was beautifully sung by soprano Esther Tonea and tenor Michael Day accompanied by Andrew King on harpsichord. Another surprise highlight ensued with soprano Chelsea Lehnea holidng forth as Queen Elisbeth in Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda while two courtiers, tenor Salvatore Atti as Leicester and bass-baritone Rafael Porto as Lord Cecil, pressed rival claims. To close out the first half of the concert, baritone Jeff Byrnes gave a ringing interpretation of Germont’s aria “Di Provenza il mar” in an effort to persuade his son Alfredo to forget Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. 

Throughout this Grand Finale conductor George Manahan led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and director Greg Eldridge staged each scene. One might mention, in passing, that in the aforementioned scene from Verdi’s La Traviata Greg Eldridge made the highly questionable move of having Germont père drag in Alfredo’s sister as a mute presence in the father’s efforts to win back his wayward son. In all the myriad performances I’ve attended of La Traviata, never has Alfredo’s sister been seen on stage till now. Oh well. Finally, one might mention that the entire Merola Grand Finale was staged on the ship-like set of San Francisco Opera’s forthcoming production of Billy Budd designed by Christopher Oram.  

After intermission, the second half of the program got underway with soprano Elisa Sunshine as a vivacious Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment, aided and abetted by bass-baritone Andrew Dwan as Sulpice. Next came an excerpt from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, gorgeously sung by soprano Anna Dugan and tenor Victor Starsky. These two singers even held their own against a full-out fortissimo from the orchestra! Then, in a scene from Otto Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weber von Windsor, baritone Edward Laurenson and bass-baritone Rafael Porto hammed it up as, respectively, Fluth and Falstaff. Next we heard soprano Hyeree Shin as a bright-voiced Sandrina in the aria “Geme la tortorella” from Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. Then came what may well have been the vocal and dramatic highlight of the concert —mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and baritone Tim Murray as Hamlet in a gut-wrenching scene from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. Bass Stefan Egerstrom made a brief appearance as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Then came an excerpt from Jacques François Halévy’s La Juive, followed by the forest scene from Verdi’s Falstaff, featuring soprano Patricia Westley as a bright-voiced Nannetta and soprano Esther Tonea as Alice Ford. Mezzo-soprano Edith Grossman then sang the role of Hélène and tenor Nicholas Huff was Paris in an excerpt from Jacques Offenbach’s La belle Hélène. To close out the 2019 Grand Finale all the Merolini joined together to sing the fugal final chorus of Verdi’s Falstaff, with its famous punch line, “Tutto nel mondo è burla/The whole world’s a joke.” All I can say is, when the joke is as beautifully sung as everything was in this year’s Merola Grand Finale, Viva la burla! 

Every year the Grand Finale offers a new crop of Merola singers the opportunity to strut their stuff on the grand stage of the War Memorial Opera House. For the young artists this is a thrill. For audiences, too, it is often a thrill to discover the opera stars of tomorrow. Indeed, on Saturday evening, August 17, the 2019 Grand Finale offered the chance to hear quite a few opera stars of tomorrow.  

Among the “can’t miss” category I noted, in no particular order, mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, tenor Brandon Scott Russell, soprano Chelsea Lehnea, mezzo-soprano Cara Collins, soprano Anna Dugan, baritone Jeff Byrnes, tenor Victor Starsky, and, well, the list could go on and on. One thing that impresses about the 2019 crop of Merola singers is the uniformly high level of vocal mastery. Among the 18 scenes from different operas performed in this year’s Grand Finale, there was hardly a scene that didn’t reveal at least one opera star of tomorrow; and often there were several!  

Opening the program was the post coital bedroom scene from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with Cara Collins as Octavian and Anna Dugan as the Marschallin. Both singers were in top form, with Cara Collins wondrously singing Wie du warst/How you were, and Anna Dugan returning the compliment. Next came an excerpt from Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani featuring baritone Laureano Quant and tenor Victor Starsky, both of whom were excellent. Then we heard mezzo-soprano Brennan Blankenship in a harp-accompanied aria from Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, another excellent performance. Soprano Anne-Marie Macintosh sang a lovely aria from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Next came a surprise highlight, tenor Brandon Scott Russell singing the Prince’s aria Vidino divná, presladká from Antonin Dvorák’s Rusalka. An excerpt from Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites featured two opera stars of tomorrow, soprano Amber R. Monroe as Madame Lidoine and mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Mère Marie. 

An excerpt from Mozart’s Così fan tutte was beautifully sung by soprano Esther Tonea and tenor Michael Day accompanied by Andrew King on harpsichord. Another surprise highlight ensued with soprano Chelsea Lehnea holidng forth as Queen Elisbeth in Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda while two courtiers, tenor Salvatore Atti as Leicester and bass-baritone Rafael Porto as Lord Cecil, pressed rival claims. To close out the first half of the concert, baritone Jeff Byrnes gave a ringing interpretation of Germont’s aria “Di Provenza il mar” in an effort to persuade his son Alfredo to forget Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. 

Throughout this Grand Finale conductor George Manahan led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and director Greg Eldridge staged each scene. One might mention, in passing, that in the aforementioned scene from Verdi’s La Traviata Greg Eldridge made the highly questionable move of having Germont père drag in Alfredo’s sister as a mute presence in the father’s efforts to win back his wayward son. In all the myriad performances I’ve attended of La Traviata, never has Alfredo’s sister been seen on stage till now. Oh well. Finally, one might mention that the entire Merola Grand Finale was staged on the ship-like set of San Francisco Opera’s forthcoming production of Billy Budd designed by Christopher Oram.  

After intermission, the second half of the program got underway with soprano Elisa Sunshine as a vivacious Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment, aided and abetted by bass-baritone Andrew Dwan as Sulpice. Next came an excerpt from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, gorgeously sung by soprano Anna Dugan and tenor Victor Starsky. These two singers even held their own against a full-out fortissimo from the orchestra! Then, in a scene from Otto Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weber von Windsor, baritone Edward Laurenson and bass-baritone Rafael Porto hammed it up as, respectively, Fluth and Falstaff. Next we heard soprano Hyeree Shin as a bright-voiced Sandrina in the aria “Geme la tortorella” from Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. Then came what may well have been the vocal and dramatic highlight of the concert —mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and baritone Tim Murray as Hamlet in a gut-wrenching scene from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. Bass Stefan Egerstrom made a brief appearance as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Then came an excerpt from Jacques François Halévy’s La Juive, followed by the forest scene from Verdi’s Falstaff, featuring soprano Patricia Westley as a bright-voiced Nannetta and soprano Esther Tonea as Alice Ford. Mezzo-soprano Edith Grossman then sang the role of Hélène and tenor Nicholas Huff was Paris in an excerpt from Jacques Offenbach’s La belle Hélène. To close out the 2019 Grand Finale all the Merolini joined together to sing the fugal final chorus of Verdi’s Falstaff, with its famous punch line, “Tutto nel mondo è burla/The whole world’s a joke.” All I can say is, when the joke is as beautifully sung as everything was in this year’s Merola Grand Finale, Viva la burla! 

Worth Noting and Showing Up: The last Berkeley evacuation fire drill is Sunday. City Council is still officially on vacation, however, the Agenda Committee meets Monday to plan the September 10 City Council meeting. The agenda is packed as you see below.Sunday, August 25, 2019High Risk Fire Area - Wildfire Evacuation Drill, 9am – 10 am, neighborhood Berkeley-Contra costa to the east, Spruce to the west, Codornices Park to the north and UC Berkeley to south. For more details on Wildfire Evacuation Drills and to sign up go to link https://www.cityofberkeley.info/City_Manager/Press_Releases/2019/2019-07-23_Sign_up_for_City-led_wildfire_evacuation_drills_in_August.aspx 

Agenda and Rules Committee, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conf Room, Agenda Planning for Sept 10 Council Meeting (full packet 526 pages): CONSENT: 1. Recess item - Reject all bids for John Hinkel Park Improvement Project – Negotiate in Open Market, 5. Increase contract by $175,000 to $541,004 with Konica Minolta Business Solutions for annual renewal, maintenance and updates thru Sept 18, 2024, 6. Updated Commissioners’ Manual, 7. $600,000 for On-call graphic design contracts, 9. $12,590,000 Formal Bid solicitations RFP, 10. P.O. Aramark Uniform Rental and Laundry Service, $468,067 thru Jan 4, 2022, 11. $828,170 to Toshiba Managed Printed Services for citywide print and copy services for 3 yr coverage, 12. $85,721 to Berkeley Drop-in to operate homeless storage locker program, 13. $159,000 Dental Health Services to BUSD thru June 30, 2022, 15. $100,000 for consulting services to ensure implementation of Easy Does It audit findings, 16. State Minimum Wage Increases – Camps Classifications, 17. Berkeley Minimum Wage Increases 18. Increase to $200,000 doe Computer Hardware and Software, 19. Add $99,700 for total $303,960 Geographic Technologies Group for Geographic Information System Master Plan contract Sept 14, 2016 – June 30, 2021, 21. $360,000 for 2 yr contract for portable toilets, with option to extend for 3-12 month periods thru Sept 30, 2024, total amount not to exceed $900,000, 22. $192,000 with Rincon Consultants, Inc. for Southside Initial Study and EIR for period of 16 months, 24. $250,000 to DC Electric, On-Call Electronic Traffic Calming Devices Maintenance Project, 25. Increase contract by $473,835 total $38,944,818 with C. Overaa & Co. for Center St Parking Garage, 26. Increase by $50,000 to $234,500 for On-Call Consulting with Northgate Environmental Management, 27. Game day Towing, 28. Agreement with East Bay Regional Park District for Tilden Park, 29. Green Infrastructure Plan Adoption, 30. Live Animal Sales disclosure requirements, 31. Provision of Wheelchair Charging for Homeless, 33. Outdoor Public Warning System, 35. 1281 University RFP for residential development for 50% on-site at 50% AMI or below, 36. 2019 Bi-annual report on Funding for Housing Programs, 39. Support AB 18 – Firearms Excise Tax. 45. Voluntary Time Off for City Employees on Statewide Election Days, ACTION: Public Hearing Municipal Finance Authority Bond for Berkeley Way Affordable Housing, 47. Public Hearing CA Municipal Finance Authority Bond Financing for Berkeley Way HOPE Center, 48. Residential Parking McGee and Rose, 49. Preferrential Parking fee increases, 50. Wage Theft Program, 51. Funding Street Rehab, 52. a.& b. Health Study on Health Disparities and Mortality of Berkeley Homeless, 53. a.&b. Analysis of Increasing Inclusionary Housing over Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee, 54. a.&b. Utilization of 1281 University for RV dwellers, 55. a.&b. Expansion of Adeline Corridor Plan to include in private component housing for extremely low-income persons, 56. Traffic Circle Policy Recommendations, 57. Open Doors Initiative: City Worker and First Time Affordable Homebuyer Program, 58. Decriminalizing Entheogenic Plants, 60. Waiver of Fees for South Berkeley Plaza and Public Art Program, 61. Negotiations to purchase People’s Bazaar, 62. – 66. Budget referrals street repairs (Derby), lights (Sacramento/Oregon), crossing signals (Ashby/Fulton, Shattuck/Prince and Otis), 67. Status Traffic Mitigations Dwight/California, 68. Expand Automatic Gass Shut-off valve requirements, 69. Resolution on UN Rights of the Child, 70. Game Day Parking 

Referred Items: 2. Discussion and Direction Regarding Revisions to City Council Rules of Procedure and Order, 3. Scope of Performance Evaluation of City Manager, 

Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 5 – 6 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain/Extreme Heat Cancels 

Commission on the Status of Women, 6:45 – 9 pm at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, Agenda: 5. Presentation by Erin Scott, Executive Director, Family Violence Law Center, 8. Update Equal Pay Independent Audit, 10. Paid Family Leave Ordinance, 14. Demographics Berkeley Women 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Commission_on_the_Status_of_Women_Homepage.aspx 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period https://www.cityofberkeley.info/planning_and_development/land_use_division/current_zoning_applications_in_appeal_period.aspx 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Committee_and_Regional_Body_Appointees.aspx 

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 

When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY 

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