News and Notes

Blackout at Berkeley rep, gold medals at the 2012 olympics, red ink at the San Francisco Chronicle

Wouldn’t you really prefer A Christmas Carol? Is the National Endowment for the Arts punishing the Berkeley Repertory Theater for producing politically relevant shows? That was the question on everyone’s mind this weekend after the New York Times reported that acting NEA chair Robert Martin “delayed” a $100,000 grant to the Berkeley Rep. The theater was in the home stretch to receive the grant to produce a new play by Tony Kushner, the renowned author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning AIDS magnum opus Angels in America. Unfortunately, Kushner’s latest work, which was written before the attacks of September 11, is titled Homebody/Kabul and tells the story of a British woman who vanishes while traveling in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Suddenly, a decision on whether to award the grant has been suspended until later this month. Perhaps it will be decided by a military tribunal.

Barbie in a burqa: For plenty of American feminists, the Barbie doll is a patriarchal tool of oppression that tells little girls, “This is what you’re supposed to look like when you grow up.” But what about in Afghanistan? Do they have Barbie wearing a beekeeper-like burqa? Not exactly. But check this out: On December 9 the owner of Gaia, the defunct New Age bookstore, is making a comeback at developer Patrick Kennedy’s recently completed Gaia Building in downtown Berkeley. 7 Days readers will recall that Kennedy originally intended Gaia to occupy the ground floor of his seven-story complex before financial difficulties appeared to scuttle those plans. Now, Gaia is returning, and, to celebrate, owner Patrice Wynne is holding the Gaia Reborn Crafts and Gifts show featuring “traditional” Afghan women crafts. Among them: children’s dolls wearing burqas. One irritated recipient of Gaia’s e-mail announcement grumbled disbelief that Wynne would hock dolls wearing the symbol of female oppression under the Taliban. “I can’t think of anything more un-PC.” Not so, Wynne protests. In fact, she explains, she got the dolls from the Feminist Majority Foundation. The foundation uses the dolls, which Wynne describes as historical artifacts, as a teaching tool around the world about the oppression of Afghan women. “With an enlightened teacher,” she argues, “these dolls will show how women were forced to dress.” Maybe we here in the United States can do the same with Barbie.

The rest of the story: Last week, we reported that several members of the Berkeley Housing Authority’s Residents Council complained that the city had failed to pay them their requisite monthly stipend of $80 — and that since many councilmembers are SSI recipients, that money means a lot. Berkeley city officials didn’t return our phone calls by press time, but now they’ve given us their side of the story: that the Residents Councilmembers themselves are responsible for the delay. The Residents Council has only been meeting for a few months, and councilmembers are still trying to establish some basic ground rules about how often they meet, the scope of their responsibilities, and their relationship to the Housing Authority. In order for councilmembers to receive their stipend, city officials claim, the councilmembers had to formally vote to approve the stipend arrangement — which they didn’t do until October. But now that they have, the checks are in the process of being cut, and the cash is retroactive to March.

We’re golden: It’s time to start thinking about the Olympics again. No, not the 2002 Salt Lake City games. We’re talking about the 2012 games, which a group of planners called the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee are already trying to bring to your backyard. So far, it’s working. Last month, the Bay Area made the cut as one of the four locations being considered for the US bid, and last week San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown signed on to make San Francisco the official host city, although the games would be spread out throughout the East Bay and the rest of the region, with some events taking place as far away as Sacramento. It’s a second try for the Bay Area to snag the Olympics; San Francisco made a failed bid for the 1996 summer games.

The committee’s nearly 700-page bid includes a number of Bay Area-esque touches: promises that we’ll serve organically grown snacks at the concession stands, build a system capable of recycling 95 percent of the trash generated by the games, and have a zero-car policy. “We’re a 100 percent public-transit Olympics,” says committee spokesman Tony Winnicker. “There will be no public parking, to force the use of mass transit and bicycles, stuff like that.”

The plan also calls for the East Bay to host a number of big-ticket events: the basketball preliminaries and finals at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, soccer games at the Coliseum, weightlifting at the Kaiser Auditorium, basketball preliminaries and handball finals at Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion, and soccer preliminaries at Memorial Stadium. Visiting US Olympic Committee officials touring the Berkeley facilities earlier this year apparently liked them so much that they hinted that the committee should consider shifting volleyball, another well-attended sport, over from the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The planning committee also intends to use Cal’s dormitories to house judges and athletes’ families. Let’s hope that by 2012 the dorms aren’t still so overcrowded that the judges have to sleep in the gym.

It “only” gets worse: The San Francisco Chronicle has announced the most bitter phase in its declining fortunes. Buffeted by a drop in advertising revenue that has afflicted the entire newspaper industry, Chron publisher John Oppedahl announced last week that the paper will eliminate 220 jobs, or almost nine percent of its workforce. Employees hired after July 27, 2000 will be axed, in order to comply with the terms of the paper’s promise not to fire holdovers from the days when San Francisco had two daily newspapers of consequence.

News of the Chron‘s bloodletting has certainly unnerved many of the paper’s employees, as made clear by the tone of Oppedahl’s memo announcing the cuts. “Chronicle ad revenue for this year has dropped dramatically, with total ad revenue down 20 percent,” he wrote. “Revenue from the dot-com category is gone, high-tech is down significantly, and recruitment classified has dropped more than fifty percent. Market indicators predict that the current economic conditions will continue to deteriorate. The need to reduce our workforce was one we hoped to avoid. However, the long-term health of our company requires us to go beyond the cost-saving efforts we have taken so far this year. … This will be a difficult time for all employees. We will strive to handle this process as smoothly as possible and work to provide support to the affected employees as well as the rest of the Chronicle’s workforce.”

When the Chron announced the news via its business pages, the report prompted an irate response from one of its own former employees. Former copy editor Joshua Beach fired off a letter to the editor of Jim Romenesko’s media news Web site. “While there may be few things worse than receiving a phone call notifying you that you’ve been laid off from a job you’ve strived for years to attain, it was painful to read news reports that used the word only,'” Beach wrote. “As in, the layoffs will only’ affect people hired after July 27, 2000. When writing about anyone’s career, passion, and life, the choice of one word to somehow marginalize the subject says unfortunate things about the lack of compassion from our journalistic comrades, whose time to be the next only’ could be just around the corner.”

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