News & Notes 

Riders jury: Black is, black ain't; A cloaked coalition; Accessorized enlightenment, and enlightened artists.

Twelve steps to acquittal: Trials are often won and lost during jury selection. Remember former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, he of the famed "Twinkie defense," who shot and killed popular gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone? White arguably beat the murder charge thanks to a conservative jury, says one local legal eagle. And author Jeffrey Toobin argues that O.J. Simpson essentially secured his acquittal when prosecutor Marcia Clark ignored advice from a jury expert and didn't keep female African Americans off the Simpson jury.

Judging from the pale complexion of the twelve-member jury in the racially charged Riders police-misconduct trial, the defense team got the best crew, demographically speaking, that it could have hoped for: Nine of the jurors are white, two are Asian American, and one is Latina. Nope, there's not a single African American in the main box, even though the 2000 Census reports that fifteen percent of the county's population is black. However, two of the alternates, who could be promoted from their understudy roles during the long trial, are black women. The alleged victims in the case are primarily young black men with criminal records, while the three defendants are either white or Filipino American. The fourth accused cop, who remains a fugitive, is Latino.

During the pretrial machinations, defense lawyer Mike Rains, attorney for ex-Oakland police officer Chuck Mabanag, tried twice to get a venue change by arguing that his client and the other two cops couldn't get a fair trial in Alameda County. Earlier this year Rains told the Express he feared that because of the length of the trial, which is expected to last three months, he'd be stuck with government workers and "the chronically unemployed." Although details about the jurors' backgrounds were unavailable before deadline, 7 Days recognized a gray-haired white female juror as a chronically employed university librarian.

The current jury was whittled a couple of weeks ago from a group of a hundred prospective jurors, which had about ten to fifteen African Americans. Assistant District Attorney David Hollister, who insists he's happy with the result, acknowledges that the defense team used its peremptory challenges to excuse those prospective black jurors. Nonetheless, William Rapoport, attorney for ex-OPD Officer Jude Siapno, told the Oakland Tribune, "It has nothing to do with the color of their skin."

Tell it to the rioters. -- Will Harper

You've got sleaze-mail: As the debate over public power intensifies, thousands of East Bay residents have received an interesting bit of mail in recent weeks. Labeled a "ratepayer survey," the mailing is in fact a diatribe against the proposal that the East Bay Municipal Utility District take over PG&E's transmission grid and get into the business of supplying electricity. Arguing that such a move would cost the district $2 billion, the mailing's authors, a group calling itself East Bay Consumers, Labor, and Businesses, plead with us to "remind the East Bay MUD Board of Directors that 'water and electricity don't mix.'"

So who or what exactly is East Bay Consumers, Labor, and Businesses? Good question. The group doesn't appear to have an Internet presence and, unlike most political organizations, it isn't registered with the Secretary of State. The mailer offers no contact information beyond a PO Box. But examine that mailer a little more closely, and you'll notice that the prepaid postage bug contains the name "Media & Associates." That's interesting. M&A happens to be a Sacramento-based political consulting firm headed by one Kevin Reikes, and Reikes just happens to a spokesman for -- drum roll, please -- why, what the ... it's Pacific Gas and Electric!

Reached by phone, Reikes wouldn't offer much in the way of specifics. "Yes, we've certainly done work for PG&E, the state legislature -- we've done work for an order of nuns in the East Bay," he says. "It's really all over the place."

If Reikes' connection to PG&E is incidental, then simply disclosing who belongs to this unlikely coalition could clear up the matter. Unfortunately, Reikes refuses to name its members. "It's a coalition of Bay Area businesses, consumer groups, and labor groups," he assures us. "My client said we are not releasing anything to the press until we have the survey back. They're not going to do anything till then."

Except perhaps to mislead the public with anonymous screeds. -- Chris Thompson

Om money padme hum: After investment banker John Abbott bought the Berkeley-based Yoga Journal in 1998, it grew from a nonprofit zine into an influential consumer glossy magazine with 272,000 subscribers. But it seems the publisher's Western marketing techniques may be stepping on spiritual toes.

Yoga Journal also runs national conferences, which account for a third of the company's average $10 million annual revenue, and hook attendees willing to pay from $750 to $895 to contort with yoga's rock stars. Sign up a friend, and you'll pocket up to $75. The conference marketers crow to potential exhibitors that Yoga Journal's audience is eighty percent female, middle-aged, and well-educated, with an average household income of $93,500. "This is your chance to market your products and services exclusively to the movers, shakers, and influencers in the growing yoga community," they beckon. "Exhibitors in past years have experienced great success with this very captive audience."

Booth space for mats, music, bolsters, slings, straps, eye bags, tea bags, trail mix, tapestries, and more is booked for next week's conference in Colorado. Aura cameras, anyone? Get 'em at the show! Is all this accessorizing of yoga disrupting the spiritual message? "I don't feel it harms the essence of the practice," Abbott says. "Are there things on the fringe we don't approve of? Probably."

Some longtime yoga practitioners, such as Arianna Lindemann, believe that as yoga becomes an increasingly big business, the magazine has been focusing on glamour rather than the ethical essence of the practice. And while the magazine's circulation testifies to its popularity, many yogis feel the junk should be filtered out. "Among the silly, glitzy ads, I find a lot of real value," one says sarcastically. "As Money magazine is to the financial community, Yoga Journal is to the yogic community." On the business front, some rivals have also accused Abbott of less-than-spiritual tactics. Competing yoga conference organizer Jonny Kest told Business 2.0 magazine that Yoga Journal initially refused his ads, then scheduled its own conference within fifty miles and a couple weeks of Kest's annual Midwest Yoga and Wellness Conference, which took place near Chicago last June. (Ads for competing events pack the current issue of the magazine, however.) Abbott says he cut a single ad from Kest about three years ago, until its image of a naked woman was removed. Kest was unavailable for comment.

Abbott does confess that he once planned to stop offering discounted ad rates for national conferences like Kest's, but says he backed off in the face of protest from yoga teachers, studios, and students. "To my knowledge, there's no one we've ever refused to advertise," he says. "I could be mistaken. In this field there's a real heightened sensitivity to anything touching on ethics. It's not like we're writing about cars."

Anne O'Brien, a former Yoga Journal conference director, says if accessories and star-studded conferences help spread yoga to the American masses, so be it -- even if all you really need is a body and a place to sit. Her memory is a bit better than Abbott's: About two years ago, she says, the magazine decided to ban competing conference ads, but then reversed its policy, a decision she says she applauded. "You can run a profitable business in accord with yoga's ethics," she says. "It's challenging, but possible." -- Sandy Brundage

Don't halve a cow, dude: The San Francisco Chronicle ran a short Associated Press piece last week about how British artist Damien Hirst had to publicly apologize after making inappropriate comments about 9/11. But the best part of the story had nothing to do with September 11: "Hirst, considered one of Britain's best young artists, is perhaps best known for cutting a calf in half and floating it in a tank of formaldehyde," AP noted. Now what does that say about the future of the arts in Britain? -- Michael Mechanic

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