Joy of the Gospel run contrary to idolatry of money, church practices

A copy of the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) by Pope Francis at a news conference at the Vatican on Tuesday. (CNS/Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis had some provocative things to say in his first major piece of writing, released this week as “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).

Along with a defense of traditional Catholic moral teaching, the Pope continues his argument about the reigning world system — the tyranny of the marketplace, writing,  of “ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” which he blames for the current financial crisis and attributes to an “idolatry of money.”

He also takes on the Church, and particularly pastors, for poor preaching that no one wants to listen to (more Scripture and more brevity would help, he writes), and calls for a new evangelization that is both more joyful and focuses more on the poor and warns of the dangers of  economic globalization and “spiritual worldliness.”

“We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts,” he writes. “Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”

The church’s message “has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary,” he writes. “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”

Inspired by Jesus’ poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a “church which is poor and for the poor.”

The poor “have much to teach us,” he writes. “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”

Charity. he says, is more than mere handouts, “it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor,” the pope writes. “This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”

Francis also criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?” He also cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

He also rules out the ordination of women to the Roman Catholic priesthood, although he does call for  “a more incisive female presence” in decision-making roles.

And on the issue of abortion, Francis writes the church’s defense of unborn life “cannot be expected to change” because it’s “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”

Posted from San Lorenzo, California, United States.

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How “citizens” plan to make Santa Cruz safer

The Nov. 27 Editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Boxes of syringes and hypodermic needles are regularly found when illegal campsites are rousted by police and park rangers. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file)

By its very name, makeup and purpose, the Santa Cruz Public Safety Citizen Task Force was never going to overturn the long-established underpinnings of the city’s cherished identity.

By including a multiplicity of viewpoints, from people of diverse backgrounds, and then hearing from public officials on topics relating to crime, public safety and the quality of life in Santa Cruz city and county, the task force was inevitably going to seek a reasonable middle ground.

So to those who have expressed mild disappointment that after six months, the 17-page report produced by the 14 voting task force members, was not somehow stronger or more drastic, well, that’s not how consensus comes calling.

In fact, it’s somewhat remarkable the report takes on difficult issues such as the needle exchange program, police staffing, Santa Cruz’s reputation for “tolerance,” the problems associated with a large homeless population, and a criminal justice system blamed for creating a revolving door between the County Jail downtown and the streets.

One of the more important aspects of the report we hope will be receive is for the city and county governments work far more effectively in concert. A “lack of collaboration and unified vision is partly to blame,” said members, for the considerable public safety challenges faced by the city, including the court system, needle exchanges, and the jail and homeless centers located just off the city’s main commercial district.

Among the recommendations to be presented to the Santa Cruz City Council Dec. 3 will be moving the controversial needle exchange program from the county’s Emeline campus and away from residential neighborhoods, asking the county Superior Court’s presiding judge to appear before the council twice a year to discuss the high rate of repeat offenders passing through the system, and improving lighting in discourage rampant illegal behaviors in areas highly impacted by transients and drug offenders such as the San Lorenzo River and Harvey West Park.

Critics are already taking issue with many of the recommendations, saying it’s not true there aren’t enough cops on patrol, or that harsher sentences will reduce the number of individuals reoffending. They also don’t believe relocating the needle exchange program, or insisting on a one-to-one exchange policy will do much to reduce the complaints about discarded needles being found throughout the city, including residential areas and beaches — or cut down on the number of drug abusers. They also don’t like how homeless people seem targeted or blamed.

One group of community activists wrote to the Sentinel taking on the task force for failing to support its assertions with cited facts, and for not comparing illegal behaviors in Santa Cruz to other cities of similar size.

Perhaps so, but the task force, formed after the murders of two police officers and other high-profile crimes and resident complaints, was not a law enforcement agency, an arm of government — or even scientifically or statistically credentialed. Some of members’ ideas will need funding; others, such as getting more at-risk youth involved in city-sponsored parks and recreation programs would probably take yet another tax increase.

Indeed, we prefer to focus on the word “citizen” and consider members’ statements and recommendations as representative of the views, goals and solutions of concerned residents. We asked for these; they delivered.

In that light, we’d like to thank the task force members, who took on a tough and time-consuming job, and often engaged in unsparing, heated debate.

In that their conclusions are already under fire, just shows they took their mandate seriously.

Posted from San Lorenzo, California, United States.

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JFK: Tarnished legacy of martyred icon

The presidency of John F. Kennedy, which ended 50 years ago, has become the standard by which his successors are measured.

From the machinations of LBJ to the darkness of Nixon, to Carter’s moralizing, Reagan’s release of the safety net, Bush 41’s mangled syntax, Clinton’s adulteries, W’s detachment and WMD, and Obama’s dour isolation — they all fall short, as JFK, forever young, remains atop a shining hill in an era his widow insisted would be forever mythologized as Camelot.

Would Kennedy’s presidency, in a second term, have lived up to the hagiography many Americans cherish? Dying young, dying tragically, dying with so much work ahead of him leaves little resolution, but continuing fascination.

John Kennedy was the first television president — so cool, so witty and self-deprecating with the press, beautiful wife, kids, family that seemed like royalty.

It was an age that wasn’t innocent, but in retrospect so appears, without wall-to-wall media, Twitter rumors, YouTube videos of embarrassing moments.
Heroes then, now, have feet of clay. JFK was in Texas those fateful November days to shore up re-election political support.

But if voters truly knew what was going on inside and outside the White House, Kennedy probably would have been a tough bet in 1964.

The president we long ago learned was engaged in numerous sexual affairs — as his wife, Jacqueline, was well aware.

To deal with Addison’s disease and back pain, he was taking powerful drugs that today would raise questions not just about the chemicals, but whether his health would permit a fully engaged second term.

And policy decisions made in the Kennedy administration were troubling.

Vietnam, despite the best and brightest presidential advisers, was spinning out of control — just weeks before Kennedy died, South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem was murdered in a coup the U.S. was aware of beforehand.

Segregationists in Alabama were preventing black school children from attending white schools and turning dogs and fire hoses on freedom riders. Kennedy was reluctant to bring the federal government into the situation, perhaps worried about how it would cost him votes in the Deep South, although he finally did order in federal troops.
Cuba, which had gone communist during the administration of JFK’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, had become an obsession.

After the humiliation of 1961’s botched Bay of Pigs invasion came 1962’s Cuban missile crisis, precipitated by the desire of Cuban leader Fidel Castro to strike back at the U.S. and prevent further moves to take down his regime.

Even after the threat of nuclear war passed, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and others in the administration were recruiting a gallery of nefarious characters to kill Castro.

Castro to this day continues to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, a Castro sympathizer and avowed Marxist, did not kill Kennedy.

Even though news accounts continue to blame right-wing elements in Dallas and elsewhere for creating a political atmosphere that would lead to Kennedy’s murder, Oswald was a left-wing zealot, probably aware of the administration’s efforts to take down Castro.

Consider that Castro gave an interview to the Associated Press in Havana before the assassination where he seemed to say Kennedy’s life was at risk: “I know the Americans are trying to kill me and if this continues there will be retribution.” The story ran in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Oswald read the Times-Picayune avidly while in New Orleans. That helps explain why the Cuban leader knew right away after hearing of the assassination he would be blamed.

Did Castro’s agents somehow encourage Oswald to carry out his scheme? Castro has said no, that when Oswald visited the Cuban embassy in Mexico City the month before he killed Kennedy, the Cubans considered him a provocateur.

Castro has agreed with wrong-headed conspiracy theorists that rogue elements in the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans somehow put together the plot.

Like many Americans today, Castro has wondered what could have been with the young president, what could have happened had he not been cut down in Dealey Plaza.
We know more — just as we’ll never know.

Read Editor Don Miller’s recent column on Lee Harvey Oswald

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Sentinel will adopt new digital subscription model

A new subscription model that charges for frequent access to digital content was announced Monday by Digital First Media, including the newspaper group that publishes the Sentinel, as the company joins other news organizations in the quest to generate more revenue from its online and mobile offerings.

Digital First CEO John Paton announced the transition in a blog post Monday. “We need more gas in the tank if we are going to complete this journey of print-to-digital transformation,” he wrote.

The Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn. will become the first Digital First property to transition to the new model this week. With the exception of The Salt Lake Tribune, the remainder of the chain’s 75 daily newspapers will roll out subscription packages through January 2014. The Sentinel expects to adopt the new subscription model in mid December.

The all-access metered model will allow non-subscribers a set number of free articles per month. Subscribers will receive access to print, digital and multiple mobile products for tablets and smartphones.

Non-subscribers who now read these papers online for free will be given limited access and will need a digital or print subscription for continuous access. Occasional online readers probably won’t see much difference, but frequent online readers will be presented with a pop-up registration window. Previously, content on most Digital First sites was available free. Individual papers within the company had experimented with paywalls and other revenue generators, such as asking consumers to fill out surveys before accessing content, but neither approach had the desired results.

Surveys trimmed online traffic while traditional paywalls failed to generate significant revenue, Paton wrote.
Paton has been a vocal critic of paywalls in the past, calling them “a stack of pennies” in an industry swapping print dollars for digital dimes. He said he still doesn’t think subscription models hold all of the answers to the news industry’s financial woes.

“I do think long-term they can restrict audience growth, and that’s something we’ll have to be careful about,” he said in an interview. Still, he sees them as “a good, strong business initiative” in the short-term.

Paton said one of the reasons he held out for so long was that paywalls seemed too easy a solution to the digital media problem and one that could stymie innovation.
Digital First Media is among the last of the major U.S. newspaper companies to shift to a subscription strategy. Gannett Co., the largest local news chain in the country, already has implemented a subscription model at all of its newspapers except for USA Today.

“Paywalls are becoming the default for American newspapers,“ said Ken Doctor, a consultant whose work focuses on the transformation of the consumer media industry.
Publishers find paywalls allow them to increase prices for print consumers, providing a revenue bump without significantly cutting subscription volume. “If you execute well, you can usually keep 85 percent plus of those readers in that new program and get a bump in new revenue,” Doctor said.

About 40 percent of American newspapers will require some type of payment for online content when the Digital First Media transition is complete, Doctor said.

“People have received it far better than anyone expected three years ago,” Doctor said Monday. The result has been an increase in circulation revenue that had been drifting downward for several years, he said.

“Circulation revenue for the country as whole went up 5 percent last year, which in the U.S. meant half a billion dollars. I expect another 5 to 6 percent increase in circulation revenue this year because of this.”

Doctor called new subscription model “a building block of a new strategy. It’s what I call the revolution of reader revenue.”
Under the newspaper industry’s traditional model, he said, the reader contributed 20 percent of the revenue and advertising 80 percent. Today, that model is about 30 percent reader and 70 percent advertising. The New York Times now gets 56 percent of its revenue from readers and only 44 percent from advertising and other sources, he said.

“So we’re moving into this age of reader revenue, and this is part of the model. It doesn’t mean that advertising is not important, but it’s of lesser importance going forward. And it makes the connection between the journalist and the readers clearer.”

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Nightmare on Elm Street: 50 years later, JFK’s motorcade still makes the turn

Kennedys Riding in Dallas Motorcade

Fifty years after, the motorcade still makes that fateful turn, from Houston onto Elm Street.

Dealey Plaza.

Just a few minutes more and its onto the Stemmons Freeway and the trip to the Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon speech.

It will never change, will it? We’ll never get away from that moment frozen in time, never run the film in reverse.

John F. Kennedy still is riding in the incoherently open limousine, tanned, grinning, waving at the crowd, as Jackie, in her eternal pink wool suit with the pill box hat, smiles at his side.

It’s her first political trip of an up-and-down presidency not quite three years old, and so far, the trip is going well.

The night before, she and Jack show up at Houston’s Rice Hotel for a meeting of LULAC, the League United of Latin American Citizens, where she startles the crowd and the Mexican band on stage by speaking to them, in her always breathless whisper, in Spanish.

The next morning, Friday, Nov. 22, the couple leaves Fort Worth, where they’ve spent the night at the Hotel Texas. The Kennedys take a 13-minute flight on the silver-and-blue Air Force One, decorated by Jackie, to Dallas’s Love Field — even in 1963, politicians were aware of the press and public impact of an airport arrival.

Guided by aides and Secret Service agents, the Kennedys are joined by Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie in the limo for the ride through Dallas. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and his wife Lady Bird, ride in a separate car.

The route has been well publicized in the local papers. Social media is 40 or so years away. But the press — mainly TV and print — is out in force, trailing the motorcade in their own bus as it rolls through Dallas.

But then Lee Harvey Oswald — we’ll always know him by the three names, even though he was only “Lee” to his Russian-born wife, Marina, his mother, Marguerite and his brother Robert, along with friends and co-workers — already knows all that, doesn’t he?

Lee is waiting, waiting … this time, he will matter. This time, he will make a difference.

He’s only 24 years old and already he’s survived a misshapen and fatherless childhood, a controlling and self-centered mother, a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps that taught him to be a marksman but ended with a dishonorable discharge, a decision at age 15 to become a Marxist (Lee is always quick to point out that doesn’t mean he’s a “communist”), then, in 1959, his strange odyssey to the Soviet Union.

The Soviets don’t know what to make of the young man, and consider booting him out. But after he slashes his wrist and is found in a Moscow hotel bathtub, they let him stay, sending him to Minsk, where the security apparatus can keep an eye on him.

Lee gets a job at a radio factory. Meets a Russian woman and marries her. They start a family.

Disillusioned he decides he wants to return to the U.S.

Always, always believing he’s intended for some greater purpose.

As a returned defector, he comes to the notice of the CIA and FBI, but no one takes him that seriously. Lee begins to advocate for Fidel Castro’s Cuba and tussles in New Orleans with anti-Castro Cubans. All this as Kennedy’s presidency is marked by the botched Bay of Pigs invasion into Cuba, then the missile crisis, as the U.S. and Soviets stare one another down over the USSR’s decision to install land-based missiles on the island. Kennedy and many others in the top levels of government think nuclear war is imminent. Finally, the Soviets blink and both sides back down.

Lee, meanwhile, returns to Dallas-Ft. Worth. His marriage is on the rocks, but there are two small children now.

On April 10, 1963, he makes his next move to change history — attempting to kill right-wing Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker. He fails again, his rifle shot from outside a window narrowly missing the general who is sitting at a desk in his Dallas home.

He had purchased the rifle, an Italian-made 6.5 mm caliber Carcano along with a telescopic sight, by mail order for $19.95 plus postage just a month before, using the alias “A Hidell.”

In late September, in an attempt to get to Cuba, he travels to Mexico City by bus. On his return, he is hired to work at the Book Depository.

Catching a ride with a co-worker this morning, Nov. 22, he carries a long package. Curtain rods, is how Lee describes the package.

A few hours later, Lee is holding the mail-order rifle, in his sniper’s perch in a sixth-floor storeroom of the Book Depository. It’s 12:30 p.m.

His time is now.

The motorcade turns onto Elm. The rifle pokes out the sixth-floor window.

The first shot misses. The bullet will never been found.

Down in Dealey Plaza, Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder begins to film, using his 8 mm Bell & Howell movie camera. Zapruder waits atop a concrete pedestal along Elm Street, as his receptionist Marilyn Sitzman prepares to steady him from behind.

He begins filming as the President’s limousine turns onto Elm Street in front of the Book Depository. The next 26.6 seconds are captured on 486 frames of Kodak Kodachrome in what will become the most infamous home movie ever made.

In the film, the President and his limousine pass behind a road sign. Emerging, JFK clutches at his throat. Gov. Connally soon begins to turn, grimacing. He too is hit.

About five seconds pass.

A third shot rings out and the right side of the president’s head is blown off.

Jackie crawls out onto the back of the limousine, trying to retrieve her husband’s missing brain and skull matter. The limousine races off with Secret Service Agent Clint Hill hanging onto the back.

And pulls into Parkland Hospital. The president is all but dead. Two priests are called in, to administer the last rites.

Absolute chaos, mixed in with shock and horror, reigns. Finally, the dead president’s body is placed in a coffin and, almost by force, removed from Parkland and transported back to Air Force One, then almost immediately, after Johnson is sworn in as president, back to Washington D.C., away from the madness or, as LBJ initially thought, even a plot to bring down the entire government. A botched military autopsy would follow and forever haunt a murder investigation that continues today.

At the Book Depository, Lee quickly departs, leaving the rifle behind and three spent bullet cartridges.

After a visit to the rooming house where he has been staying, he moves out on foot. In his flight, he uses his pistol to shoot and kill a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit, then runs into a movie theater, where police find him, dragging him out before any more shots can be fired.

In the ensuing days, Lee is questioned by Dallas police, paraded before the press, answering questions, describing himself as a “patsy.”

Then, against the backdrop of the state funeral for the fallen president — as about 300,000 people in person and countless millions on TV watch a horse-drawn caisson carry Kennedy’s flag-covered casket from the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state — Dallas police announce they will be moving Lee Oswald to the county jail.

The press gathers.

Just before Lee is brought out, local strip club operator and former low-level gangster Jack Ruby shows up. Most of the Dallas cops know Ruby as a police groupie. He’d been hanging around since Lee’s arrest, so who would question his appearance this day?


It’s 11:21 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 24. Ruby moves forward, his pistol aimed at Lee’s midsection and fires from close range. Lee loudly groans and collapses.

The ambulance carrying the accused assassin speeds off, eerily pulling into the same emergency bay at Parkland Hospital where JFK’s limo had arrived just 48 hours before.
Lee’s condition is just as hopeless as the President’s had been and at 1:07 p.m. he is pronounced dead.

The next day, JFK is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. That same day, Nov. 25, six newsmen will carry a plain casket into a nondescript graveyard, where Lee Oswald is buried, as his wife, children and mother look on.


For too many years, I allowed myself to be captured by thoughts that history could not change because of the twisted intentions and actions of someone thought to be as insignificant as Lee Oswald, that some greater forces had to be in play.

A conspiracy.

What else could explain … Vietnam. The murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Race riots. Charles Manson. The drug culture. Watergate.

It all started on Elm Street.

About a decade ago, I finally made peace with these tortured thoughts and gave up trying to make sense of an event that not only changed the 1960s and the course of history, but that spawned a distrust in government and leaders that continues to our present day.

The truth? Ah, said Pilate, what is truth? Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down himself and with him went any ultimate explanation for what happened on Nov. 22, 1963.

But, there are no phantoms waiting in the shadows, behind the picket fence, above the grassy knoll.

The collision of flesh, blood and human nature will have to do.

Even as, a half century later, the motorcade still makes its fateful turn.

Posted from San Lorenzo, California, United States.

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Obamacare vs. the Affordable Care Act: Which is better?

Grrrr. Down with Obamacare!

What we need in this country is … affordable health care.

You say what? There’s another new health care law, the Affordable Care Act? We’ll take that one rather than the socialistic, anti-business, high-cost … Obamacare.

Earlier this week, on the day the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, was officially rolled out, TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel sent a camera crew to ask people whether they preferred the ACA or its shorthand moniker. Most of the people interviewed said they liked the Affordable Care Act, but were highly skeptical of its evil twin, Obamacare.

A recent CNBC poll confirmed that more Americans oppose Obamacare than oppose the Affordable Care Act. But the network poll also found more Americans support Obamacare than the Affordable Care Act.

How could this be? Well, CNBC polled two different groups — using “Obamacare” for one and “Affordable Care Act” for the other. The results depended on whether people support or oppose President Barack Obama. Then again, 30 percent of the people polled didn’t even know what the Affordable Care Act is, but when asked about Obamacare, only 12 percent said they didn’t know what that was.

None of this makes any rational sense at all, since we’re talking about the same law — one that has been debated and discussed for nearly four years and was one of the main issues in the last presidential election. But we live in a time when information is becoming just as polarized as our politics. What we know and feel is colored more by personalities and media attention than the substance of something as hugely significant as health care insurance.

So what can we take from this? That people are comically misinformed — or even worse, willfully ignorant of what their government is doing, while filling their minds with lowbrow entertainment and social media?

If that’s so, we shudder to think what Americans would say if asked to explain the relationship between the government shutdown and the ACA/Obamacare, much less the Oct. 17th debt ceiling vote.

In recent weeks, the federal government has gone to decent lengths to explain the law and to let Americans know just who it affects, what the various levels of insurance offer, the cost, and how to start enrolling. The Sentinel has published numerous FAQs and other explainers about the law. Still, there’s a vast sea of wrong ideas about Obamacare. Such as:

Undocumented immigrants are going to get coverage (they aren’t).

People over 65 are going to have sign up for a new form of insurance (nope. If you’re receiving Medicare, nothing changes).

The government is going to force people to use the health insurance exchanges (while it’s true those who choose to go without insurance face increasing fines, most people with existing insurance can stay where they are).

None of this to say there aren’t a host of reasonable objections to the law, but clearly, neither party can rightfully claim they have the American public on their side in whether the health care law, under either name, will proceed, much less succeed.

There is one group of Americans, however, who do know most of what’s in the Affordable Care Act — our elected, and paid, representatives in Congress. What’s truly scary, is not misinformed or uninformed Americans, but the reality that these representatives cannot effectively negotiate solutions.

There’s a reason so many Americans have tuned out and turned a deaf ear to what is coming out of Washington.

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To Bard or not to Bard: Shakespeare bids adieu?

Actors perform in the Shakespeare Santa Cruz staging of 'The Taming of the Shrew' in the festival's trademark Stanley-Sinsheimer Festival Glen at UC Santa Cruz this summer. (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

Everything is personal, even Shakespeare.

Sunday night, my wife and I attended the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of “Henry V” in the festival redwood glen. Chilly, as usual in a Santa Cruz night, but a warm and inviting production, with great acting and staging. That “Henry V”  — the third in a trilogy of plays about the Henrys and how Prince Hal would become a warrior king with a conscience — is eminently accessible seemed to delight the small, but seemingly sold-out, crowd that enthusiastically applauded the cast and artistic director Marco Baricelli — who took on the narrator’s role, albeit in modern dress — to great effect in the production. There were none of the gimmicks or over-the-top modernizations that have sometimes made SSC productions painful to sit through. It was just a professional, and passionate, play that left us thankful we live in a community with a top-notch university able to offer so much.

Poll: Should Shakespeare Santa Cruz be saved?

All the more stunning the next afternoon to learn that UCSC was shutting down Shakespeare Santa Cruz after this season. Here is the Sentinel editorial about this sad turn in the plot:

We can’t help but mourn in advance the impending curtain call for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, even if the reasons to end the theater troupe’s 32 years of performances are perfectly understandable.

The announcement Monday by UC Santa Cruz arts dean David Yager that Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s chronic financial problems have reached a point of no return came as something of a shock to the arts community, even if they’d had years to prepare themselves for just such a possibility.

The bottom line is that in a time when UCSC has struggled to offer a full complement of classes and keep its expenses in line, SSC has continued almost in a midsummer night’s dreamworld where the difference between revenue and expenses would somehow be rewritten or upstaged in a deft stroke of the pen.

Isn’t that what happened five years ago, when the university, realizing it could no longer support SSC, was ready to dim the stage lights on the celebrated theater company?But Santa Cruz, the community, rallied and was able to raise enough money to keep Shakespeare Santa Cruz alive.  But apparently, that reprieve was not accompanied by an acknowledgement a new fiscal discipline would need to be imposed.

According to the university, nothing much changed, financially, as SSC’s cumulative debt increased an alarming $500,000 in the fiscal year that just ended, to a total of nearly $2 million. And that figure becomes even more dramatic considering UCSC contributed $250,000 to Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s operating budget and expenses during the year. Without that contribution, SSC’s expenses would be $750,000 over revenues, which include ticket sales, sponsorships and donations.

Yager acknowledged that the timing of his announcement was awful — SSC’s final week of the summer season concludes this weekend, but that it was better to inform all parties sooner than later, although we have to wonder considering the size of the deficit, why it was allowed to get worse.

But no longer. This time, Yager said, there will be no second life for SSC. After years of trying to find a way to keep SSC running, the prospect of choosing between cutting arts classes and continuing to prop up the theater group was no choice at all.

It’s a painful loss.

For many Santa Cruz County residents, their main interaction with UCSC has been Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Many families made the summer plays an annual outing, and the holiday plays — this season’s will proceed — always seemed to draw a contingent of delighted younger theatergoers and older audience members. At the same time, 32 years is a lot of plays, a lot of Shakespeare — and the audience for SSC isn’t getting any younger, especially since a post-literary generation might not have the same appreciation for Elizabethan drama and comedy, no matter the staging or modern retellings.

What’s also sad is that this year’s summer season — featuring the Bard’s “Taming of the Shrew” and historical piece, “Henry V” — have drawn nearly universal praise, much to the credit of SSC’s artistic director for the past five years, Marco Baricelli, who took on the narrator’s role in “Henry V.”

Baricelli told the Sentinel he was surprised to be told about the impending demise of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, but that the decision won’t affect this summer’s final performances. “The work is the work,” said Baricelli. “At least we’ll have that three hours a night on stage to pour our hearts and passions into.”

Parting would be such bittersweet sorrow.

Or, as his father’s ghost would implore Hamlet, “Adieu, adieu, adieu! remember me.”


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Len La Barth

At the Sentinel, we called him, “Ballgame.”

I think because Len La Barth was a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies’ fan — and reminded us in his take-no-prisoners style of newspapering and competing of Lenny Dykstra, a hard charging Phillies outfielder who would eventually fall from grace, in baseball and in life.
Len La Barth, whom I hired as a Sentinel editor back in 1999, was declared legally dead this week.

He disappeared March 5; his truck was found March 14 near the Golden Gate Bridge and inside were two notes that law enforcement authorities said indicated he had taken his life.

From what I’ve heard, sadly, Len was on a spiral downward for a while, after losing his job in May of 2012 as editor in chief of the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, a job he’d taken in 2006 after his years at the Sentinel.

His wife, Sukhjit Purewal, also a journalist, filed a petition with the Sutter County court for the declaration, which was necessary, she said, to settle financial affairs and help her to move on in raising their daughter.

His wife, and friends, said he had expressed suicidal thoughts in the past. And Len was known to hit the bottle when he was down –a frightful combination to be sure.

But some of this is I’ve only heard from his friends.  Who but God can truly know the thoughts of a man?

We really didn’t stay in touch that much after he left the Sentinel.  I last saw Len three years ago at a newspaper event in Los Angeles, where we had fun playing off the awards our papers won for news coverage. I still have the photo on my phone of Len and I holding the plaques. He’s smiling in the photograph.

Len was a Philly guy visiting the West Coast when he happened to respond to a Sentinel ad in the newspaper trades looking for a news editor. He was working as a local news editor for a suburban Philly paper at the time. We hired him based on phone interviews. I still remember when he showed up in January of 1999 to start at the Sentinel. Dressed in a suit, he had an East Coast edginess that many in our newsroom found, um, amusing at the time.

Len did well at the Sentinel — he became our features editor for a while, and served a solid stint as city editor. He played softball, aggressively, on the Sentinel team for years. Loved to go out to sing karaoke. Lived in Seacliff by the beach. Loved music and movies and baseball — and most of all, journalism and newspapering.

He joined me at church a couple of times as well.

He embraced the digital age, even serving as the first online news editor for the Sentinel, and was a frequent blogger and social media poster.

When Len lost his job as editor at the Appeal-Democrat, he emailed me to put in a good word for him on a job reference.

It was the last time I heard from him. In an unforgiving market for newspaper guys, he hadn’t found anything.

I can’t even imagine what he felt he had lost.

He was 50 years old when he disappeared.

Lenny Ballgame.

See you someday.

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Stop and frisk: Is it worth it?

Summer has brought another outbreak of violence in Santa Cruz County — a tourist shot by a robber in San Lorenzo Park, a gang-related killing on Santa Cruz’s Mission Street, a shooting in the Seabright neighborhood also attributed to gangs, and a female gangster shooting a man with former gang ties at the entrance to Ramsay Park in Watsonville

Arrests were made in the three gang-related shootings. In the Mission Street killing, suspects were arrested in part through video surveillance and cooperation from the victim’s family. In the Murray Street gang violence, arrests came after the CHP followed and finally halted a speeding car. And in the Watsonville shooting, the woman was arrested within seven minutes after witnesses spotted her car leaving the crime scene.

The San Lorenzo Park shooting remains unsolved.

We’ve written extensively in the past about gang violence and crime that comes from the prevalence of hard drugs in the community — and the challenges for law enforcement to deal with issues that can appear overwhelming.

Public safety is the No. 1 issue in Santa Cruz County today, dwarfing the uneven economic recovery. We often hear in online comments or letters to the editor, that punishment needs to be more of a deterrent and policing needs to be stepped up in terms of heading off violence before it occurs.

Both are complex and controversial policies and not easily implemented. And this debate is making national headlines as well.

On the issue of locking people up, especially for drug-related crimes, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder this week proposed making the federal justice system fairer by changing the system of mandatory minimum sentences. Holder, who wants to sidestep Congress and also save money on prison costs, said he has instructed federal prosecutors to, when appropriate, tweak charges filed against lower level nonviolent offenders so that their sentences won’t be as draconian.

California already has been dealing with spiraling prison populations and costs by releasing nonviolent offenders into county custody. One of the suspects arrested in the Seabright shooting was on “community supervision” in Santa Cruz County after having been deemed by the state to be a non-violent, non-serious, non-high-risk sex offender.

The other crime-related story was the decision by a federal judge in New York regarding New York City’s stop-and-frisk program, credited with the city’s plummeting crime rates. Judge Shira Scheindlin said the program violated the constitutional rights of minority citizens and the city was “deliberately indifferent” to cops illegally detaining and frisking minority residents.

The judge did not strike down the program — only require the city to demonstrate it doesn’t discriminate against Hispanics and African-Americans and that constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure are upheld. Under the Fourth Amendment, police can legally stop and detain a person only when they have a reasonable suspicion the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Stop and frisk is a strategy that encourages NYC cops to stop and question mainly minority citizens first and to provide the reasons afterward.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is leaving office soon, dismissed the ruling and vowed to appeal. The city has steadfastly defended stop and frisk as justified because minority citizens in certain areas of the city demonstrably commit more crimes.

So here’s the question: Should police keep citizens safe, especially in minority neighborhoods or crime ridden areas, by aggressively stopping and detaining potential suspects? The key is whether there is a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. We’d like to know more about just how police and courts make this definition.

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