Libris abundus: Last month, the Oakland Public Library barely escaped Death by Budget Cut. Instead of closing seven of the fourteen branches, as first proposed, city pencil pushers nixed part-time jobbers and shortened business hours. Yet next year's budget for new books still faces a $1.3 million trim. Can you spell O-U-C-H?
So it surprised a few bookworms last week when fliers appeared in branches announcing the arrival of three hundred brand-spankin'-new hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- the largest onetime purchase of any title in the library's history. J.K. Rowling commands a rabid audience and encourages children to read, sure, but so does the National Enquirer.
"This was a decision we had to think about long and hard," says Leslie Rodd, the administrative librarian who oversees the children's reading list. "We knew some people would criticize us for choosing this book."
Or three hundred of this book.
Rodd says the library's book-buyers used money from a coffer of donations that can be spent at the executive director's discretion. Even after a hefty discount from the publisher, the city still paid $5,307 for the blockbuster book, copies of which were distributed evenly among branches last Saturday.
By comparison, the library's largest purchase in recent memory, at 150 copies, was John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. After a year on the shelves, however, the new editions of Steinbeck's classic haven't exactly provoked children and parents to wait in block-long lines just to put their names on a waiting list.
Potter, Rodd says, is a sure thing when it comes to attracting new customers. "We're responding to the fact that Harry Potter has revived the joy of reading in children," she says. "It was well worth it to make kids happy." -- Justin Berton
We the People's Lawyer: So Mayor Moonbeam wants to be attorney general? Jerry Brown sure isn't discouraging the rumors. He's admitted his interest in returning to the state capital as California's top cop to the Chron and KGO radio. We've also discovered that Brown reactivated his bar license last month so he can practice as a general attorney before he becomes attorney general. Seems a little premature, considering incumbent Bill Lockyer won't be termed out until '06. Why would Jerry possibly need to reactivate when he's still got, oh, three more years left on his mayoral watch? Here are some possibilities:
* Wants to appear as legal pundit on Fox News to talk about the Laci Peterson case and get closer to that sexy Greta van Susteren.
* Plans to represent his freedom-fry-eating aide de camp, Jacques Barzaghi, in next sexual harassment case.
* Wants to improve chances of becoming the next district attorney on Law & Order.
* Will finally show that dang city attorney who's the boss -- and it ain't Tony Danza.
* Plans to moonlight as an ambulance chaser: We the People's Lawyer.
* Wants to sue his hairstylist personally. That way, they'll both have fools for clients.
Alas, Jerry's flak, Erica Harrold, rudely disrupted our reveries by informing 7 Days the mayor indeed renewed with an eye toward the AG race, and adding that Jerry is in fact prohibited from practicing law while mayor. But to seize an astrological moment here, Mr. Mayor, let us suggest that attorney general may not be in the stars. Can you say "Rose Bird"? No matter. As an Aries -- the ram -- you should be making a bolder move, one more in line with your temperament. What if your old chief of staff, Gray Davis, gets recalled? Wouldn't you like to live in the governor's mansion again? Of course you would. You could even bring Jacques along with you. He doesn't really do anything around here anyway. -- Will Harper
Double dealing: Ace of spades: Saddam Hussein. Nine of diamonds: Vice President Taha Muhyi Al-Din Maruf. Three of hearts: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice?
Oops! Wrong deck.
By now, America is more than familiar with the "Iraq's Most Wanted" playing cards released in April by the US military and now marketed by any number of Web sites and retail outlets. Camo-wearing kids love 'em!
But if you and your pals want to play a legitimate game of war, you'll need a second deck featuring the other side. Oakland's very own Ruckus Society has come to the rescue with its "Know Your War Profiteers" playing cards, which take pungent jabs at administration figures from Colin to Condi to Rummy; corporate and military fat cats including British Petroleum CEO Lord John Browne of Madingley (seven of spades) and News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch (jack of diamonds); and world-governing bodies including the International Monetary Fund (ace of spades) and World Trade Organization (ace of clubs).
Compared with the sparse name-and-title format of the Iraq deck, Ruckus provides rich annotation. Consider the inscription for George W. Bush (The Joker): "His failings are no joke. As Texas governor, Bush executed a record 152 people. As president, he earned the US 'most hated nation' status. A failed oil exec, Jr.'s fraudulent election ushered in Endless War. You're either with him or against him. What's it gonna be?"
(Guess that would depend on whether you're playing with a full deck.)
Ruckus training director Mojgone Azemun and local activist Pratap Chatterjee may not have been the first antiwar cats to dream up this idea, but they were the first to act on it. According to Ruckus executive director John Sellers, the pair helped convene a volunteer team of researchers, techies, and graphic designers who worked overtime to select the key players, compile dossiers, design the cards, and slam together an impressive companion Web site (WarProfiteers.com), all in less than three weeks. "It was a monumental effort," Sellers says. "Traffic has just been insane. And now we're getting calls from reporters who want to do a story on our nine of spades or our two of clubs."
The initial print run in May was five hundred, but the response was so great that the decks were gone in a matter of days. A 14,000-deck second run is expected this week. "We wanted it to be a tool for folks to be more aware and organize around, and to expose these hawks and conquistadors and the nefarious affairs they are organizing around," Sellers says. "We also wanted to come up with a product that was fun and engaging and didn't take itself too seriously."
Ruckus, however, is serious enough about its antiwar principles that it won't simply sell the cards; it doesn't want to generate taxes that subsidize the war effort. Instead, the nonprofit is dealing decks out to donors, one for every $10 contribution. Sellers says the cards will also be available through indie bookstores, which still must donate to get the cards, but may then sell them retail to the public.
And what about the games, man? Don't the activists ever sit down for a few hands? "We've played war around the office," Sellers admits, "and another game we consider fitting: liar's poker." -- Michael Mechanic
Lights, camera, picket! It was a surreal Wednesday morning last week on the set of The Assassination of Richard Nixon, a feature film starring Sean Penn that's been shooting in the East Bay since May. Outside an abandoned West Oakland storefront made over to look like Black Panther Party headquarters -- complete with piles of sandbags stacked against the windows and signs advertising free breakfasts for children -- a lighting crew was figuring out how to flood the interior with fake sunshine. Actors in boots and black berets milled around, while former Black Panther David Hilliard stopped by to gauge the authenticity.
The mood on the set was edgy, especially after a green SUV pulled up to the curb and disgorged a posse of Teamsters reps from local chapters in San Francisco, the East Bay, and Los Angeles. Labor tensions on the set had been escalating ever since the production company objected to attempts by ten non-union crew members to join the Teamsters at their San Francisco office. According to Teamsters secretary-treasurer Van Beane, those crew members, mostly young and new to the film industry, were getting only $100 for sixteen- to eighteen-hour days, and had no health benefits or pension plan. The bad feelings were exacerbated by rumors that although the union had agreed to work at a reduced rate on what was supposed to be a low-budget film, the film's budget had overshot the $7 million mark and was now considered by the union to be a major feature, changing the rules of engagement.
Sure enough, just as the workers were clearing the set for action, the union crew members staged a walkout into the street, where they formed a picket about fifty strong. A strike in the midst of filming is highly unusual, and it produced a kind of mellow confusion for those who suddenly found themselves standing around with nothing to do. The actors in their Panther gear wondered aloud whether or not they should join the strike; Teamsters on the line were seen raising the Black Power salute; and production company employees were overheard grousing about how they'd have to traverse what they considered a dangerous neighborhood now that the van drivers were refusing to work. "Take a buddy," one worker hissed as a colleague set off on foot to run an errand. "Take two."
Penn, meanwhile, respected the picket line by simply staying in his trailer.
The strike worked: Within the hour the production company had agreed to give the ten crew members back pay, and those workers are now eligible to receive health and pension programs through the union. "It's the first time all these local unions stood side by side to send a message to an employer," Beane says. "That message is you have to be treated decently and like a human being."
All power to the movie people. -- Kara Platoni
On a roll: We're proud to report that the Express has taken second place for general excellence in its circulation range (50,001 to 100,000) in the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards -- a national competition considered second only to the Pulitzers in the feature-writing realm; it was the only weekly honored for general excellence. In addition, Kara Platoni was a finalist in the arts and entertainment category for her cover story on National Novel Writing Month ("It Was a Dark and Stormy Month," December 19, 2001), bested only by the Washington Post.
Platoni also recently received a John Swett Award from the California Teachers Association for coverage of education in the Golden State. She was honored for her story about embattled former Hayward Unified superintendent Joan Kowal ("Wayward Unified," December 4, 2002).
At the East Bay Press Club awards dinner on Friday, the Express won five first-place awards, eleven in all. We swept the profile-writing category: Platoni took first place for her profile of drug chemist Sasha Shulgin ("2C-T-7's Bad Trip," May 1, 2002), Justin Berton was second for his depiction of ex-bank robber Joe Loya ("Confessions of the Beirut Bandit," October 30, 2002), and Will Harper scored third for his treatment of a controversial political journalist ("The Unreal David Brock," May 15, 2002). Chris Thompson won Best Series for his two-part cover feature on Black Muslim patriarch Yusef Bey ("Blood and Money," November 13 and 20, 2002) and also Best In-Depth Feature for his story about Acts Full Gospel Church ("Preaching Prosperity," April 24, 2002). In criticism, Lisa Drostova won second place for her theater reviews and Kelly Vance took third for his local film coverage. Best Page Design went to art director Mark Gartland for our September 11 anniversary cover. And contributor David Hollenbach topped the illustration category for his June 26, 2002, cover art. Finally, photo contributors Chris Duffey ("Bum Rap," November 6, 2002) and William Mercer McLeod ("Homeland Insecurity," July 31, 2002) tied for third in the portrait photo slot for their respective cover shots. -- Michael Mechanic
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