The weird American reality has spawned a line of great satirists: Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Paul Krassner, Molly Ivins, to name just a very few who have shredded the veneer of sanctimony from …
Musician, singer, Pepper Spray Times writer/editor, Fiddlers for Peace founder, poet, activist. Veteran of civil liberties and social justice movements, voted Best of the Bay 2001 by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Best Solo Performer …
The weird American reality has spawned a line of great satirists: Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Paul Krassner, Molly Ivins, to name just a very few who have shredded the veneer of sanctimony from many a pillar of culture and politics. In that same vein thrives Carol Denney, with roots in West Virginia, but for more than five decades a proud and prominent Berkeley troublemaker. Her bio would be an ample vita for four people: musician, artist, activist, and writer, but she wraps all of that into one slender frame.
Since the founding hours of People’s Park, Denney has been wielding the pen as a dart gun whenever targets popped up. In the mid 90s she began firing regular salvos monthly. At first she edited Hard Times — “It’s Free, and its’ Funny” — and then, under the nom de plume Grace Underpressure, she morphed that broadsheet into Pepper Spray Times.
She distributed the first issue dressed as a cop at a Berkeley City Council meeting where police use of pepper spray on demonstrators was at issue. Over the years she fought numerous battles to get the broadsheet and supporting flyers into public spaces. She’s been publishing Pepper Spray Times each and every month, and continues to do so (you can subscribe).
Her broadsheet resembles The Onion, except it’s funnier and hits harder. It reminds some readers of the Harvard Lampoon, but she’s coming from the street, not from an ivory tower. It has some of the same merciless slashery as Paul Krassner’s The Realist, but its mostly clean; you could count the number of sexual references over 25 years on one hand. There’s also a dimension of plain silliness that’s uniquely Denney: squirrels, trees, pumpkins, embryos, fish, scooters and other normally silent ones are all making hilarious statements through spokescreatures.
Now the full array of Hard Times and Pepper Spray Times is out in book format. Every extant issue of both broadsheets with introductions can be in your hand in paperback format, or on your screen as Kindle editions, under the title Pepper Spray Paradise.
All the print volumes are in letter size format: 8.5 x 11. The complete works come to 950 pages split into two volumes. Volume 1 covers 1995 through 2012 in 550 pages; Volume 2 from 2013 through November 2020, in 400 pages. Each volume contains an index of names — are you in it? — and topics.
The broadsheet is based in Berkeley and hits all the Berkeley issues, but Denney’s scope is far broader: national, global, and astronomical happenings are all in her crosshairs. It’s abundantly illustrated, with comics, photos, and sketches that are as funny as the texts. The pages flow by easy like the old Whole Earth Catalog (remember that?)
If the collected works are too much for you or your wallet, there is a sampler, titled Pepper Spray Picnic, at a slender 250 pages sans index. All three volumes can also be had as Kindle e-books, albeit without index, but with full color illustrations.
Ask your local bookstore to stock the paperbacks! Until then, you can get them delivered rapidly to your mailbox via you-know-who.com:
(These texts appear at the front of Pepper Spray Paradise Volume 1 and Pepper Spray Picnic)
Once upon a time, in a little town in the rolling hills of West Virginia, or perhaps it was the jagged mountains of Virginia, or perhaps it was Tennessee, or it could have been L.A., a snarky little girl was born, or maybe hatched. She would become Berkeley’s beloved Grace Underpressure, a cross between an investigative journalist and a chigger, uniquely skilled at getting under the skin of evil-doers of all stripes.
Well, kinda sorta beloved, perhaps. If she’s skewering someone you can’t stand, her brand of satiric reporting is a delight, but if she’s going after you, you just have to grin and bear it, don’t you?
She’s been at it for decades, it seems. Every little girl worth her salt wants to grow up to have her own newspaper, but only the advent of cheap copying in Grace’s lifetime made this dream possible for her.
he started out distributing copies of the Pepper Spray Times at Berkeley’s civic meeting extravaganzas, but at some point in the distant past she persuaded the doufless management of the Berkeley Daily Planet to tuck them into issues of the Planet, then available free at newsstands all over town (and worth what you paid for it.)
I met Grace during the first of many successive attempts on the part of Berkeley’s electeds to curtail the free speech of panhandlers and others by ordinance. We agreed then that the First Amendment was basically a good idea, and we’ve stuck to that through thick and thin for all these years, despite the attempts of a long string of officials, most of whom ran for office as progressives, to ignore it.
The Planet never could afford a comics section, which made the lavishly illustrated PST a great catch. When we could no longer afford a printed paper, the Pepper Spray Times became a monthly addition to the online edition. Then as now we maintained plausible deniability. We exercise absolutely no editorial discretion over its content, and we plan to keep it that way. We do read it, just for fun.
We’ve caught Grace masquerading around town in a variety of guises: singer/songwriter, op-editorialist, news reporter, opponent of smoking … you name it, she does it, mostly under another name. But only here, in this little book, will you find the real deal: the one, the only, Grace Underpressure, guaranteed to satirize all the foolishness we see all around us, and long may she thrive.
– Becky O’Malley, Publisher, Berkeley Daily Planet, August 2020
I love the Pepper Spray Times because it is the antithesis of the mainstream news and entertainment industry. The latter’s obsession with so called analysis, its incessant, empty commentary and its corporate ban on speaking the truth (done under cover of objectivity) makes me want to leap onto a table and scream “this is crazy, this is absurd, don’t turn over your thinking to these companies that just want your data!”
The Pepper Spray Times doesn’t waste its time screaming from a table top, ranting about the obvious. It takes charge of the absurd, the ridiculous, the sheer craziness of what is happening and constructs a different story that sticks with you and opens your eyes—like a good fairy tale.
The Pepper Spray Times is marvelously goofy, full of astute observations and random acts of comedy. Carol Denney writes and publishes the PST in the comforting and pleasing format of an old fashioned, small town newspaper. It has a beginning and an end and doesn’t flash disconnected, scary headlines at you 24/7. It actually covers local issues.
Denney has a way of zeroing in on truth, as she spins a story about trees that won’t fill out online surveys, or exposes the casual and offhand way we have allowed our political and social options to be guided “by background mechanisms and mathematical equations supplied by unknown parties.” If twenty years from now someone wants to understand how a whole society of relatively educated people allowed the algorithm to take over its decision-making on absolutely critical issues that had the potential to reverberate and constrain progress far into the future, they need not listen to commentators droning on and on about things they know nothing of, or read tedious analyses in scholarly journals, or even conduct surveys that require yes or no answers to every question because computers operate more efficiently that way. They will need only read one short article in the PST and they will understand why we doomed ourselves and generations to come.
Like all great satire, the Pepper Spray Times deftly uses humor to expose the stupidity and/or vices of those who hold the power. The PST does not squander any of its precious time, space, or ink laying out people’s stated positions or giving them an opportunity to explain what they really meant to say when they said what they actually said. Thus, when Mark Zuckerberg refused to consider his employees’ demand that he stop the publication of false political ads on Facebook, the PST reported that Zuckerberg thinks lies are informative then put the truth into Zuckerberg’s own mouth: “Political falsehoods may be inconvenient for elections, but they are hella lucrative.” When murals at Caffe Med were destroyed the headline in the PST was: “Caffe Mediterraneum Murals Knew Too Much.” The PST went on to explain why it was crucial to destroy the murals, which represent more turbulent times. “These [current University of California at Berkeley] students need a less disruptive environment. Imagine what would happen if they found out that the University of California used to be free.”
One reason the PST is different from a lot of satire I have seen is that Denney rarely takes the obvious road. In a piece about PG&E’s claim that a wildfire was started by natural causes rather than PG&E’s negligence Denney does not fall back on blaming “mother nature” as a way of mocking PG&E’s claim that they are blame free. Instead she creates the character of the “unrepentant Circle of Life” who stands defiant in the courtroom, handcuffed and refusing to be remorseful for starting the wildfires. This brings forth a wonderfully real image of an entity that knows exactly what it’s doing and is quite amenable to doing evil things for profit. It takes the wind out of the usual claim that dear, old, unpredictable mother nature was at it again, creating havoc, but without malice. [I can’t remember where I was going with this…]
– Kathleen Vanden Heuvel, Head Librarian, Berkeley Law, September 2020
Bob Nichols asked me to be part of the Hard Times. He was a stagehand at Zellerbach Hall, and the most independent, incisive political mind I’d ever encountered. A Political Science major at UC Berkeley, I was used to roomfuls of mostly men posturing pointlessly over hypothetical idiocy. Bob was all about the streets. He was a musician like me, and saw firsthand how developers would roll into the political mix with the same formula: knock down affordable and single room occupancy housing and build high-end condos, pay off politicians, and walk away laughing while the arts and working class community struggled. It was criminal to us how the local leadership ate it up. But it was also comic.
Bob worked with the best. He knew Eddie Monroe, an artist on Telegraph Avenue who could paint and draw anything, and got the Hard Times masthead from him. He found David Kamola, a local graphic designer, who managed the visual elements we had no head for, and he and I wrote the copy. Natalie Drest was my monthly assignment; a fashion take on politics. The rest was a free-for-all about what we thought mattered or what we could get the fuck done given the madness.
Bob wasn’t just in charge. He was the master of the hard tone he felt imperative to use given the systematic monetization of everything we valued. Bob, as a straight man, had come across the bay to support the White night riots because he knew it mattered. He worked his tail off to make sure women had an entry into Zellerbach’s previously male-only workplace. He gave me his hard hat to wear to defend UC’s failed effort to turn People’s Park into a sports facility. And there was nothing that he couldn’t make funny.
At some point he quit wanting to put out the paper. It was a lot of work, all unpaid and unsung, but I remember being annoyed when he quit publishing the Hard Times a few years before he died. I wanted to keep going, and accidentally stumbled into the moment when it made sense to go forward by producing a fake newspaper called the Pepper Spray Times for a hearing about the use of pepper spray by the Berkeley police. I thought it wise to dress as a police officer and hand the attendees at the hearing a copy of something that recommended pepper spray as good for one’s complexion.
I never stopped publishing the Pepper Spray Times. Part of my incentive was the natural comedy brewed by the productive combination of local corruption, a comatose citizenry, and the free-flowing lunacy all around us. Long may it reign. There are a few circumstances proving that speaking humor to power is effective in changing policy. But the most important goal, to me, is that someday, somehow, the working class hold the wheel.
– Carol Denney, AKA Grace Underpressure, Editor, Pepper Spray Times, September 2020
Musician, singer, Pepper Spray Times writer/editor, Fiddlers for Peace founder, poet, activist. Veteran of civil liberties and social justice movements, voted Best of the Bay 2001 by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Best Solo Performer by the 2002 East Bay Express readers’ poll. Honoree of the 2003 City of Berkeley Commission on the Status of Women for civil liberties activism, 2004 honoree by the City of Berkeley for homeless advocacy, 2009 Oldtime Spirit Award winner from the Augusta Music Heritage Festival, curator of the Deep Poetry Project. Innovative guitarist and English concertina player, original and traditional songs. Voted Best Female Artist at PirateCat Radio in SF in 2010. Nominated to the Revolutionary Poets’ Brigade by former poet laureate of San Francisco Jack Hirschman in 2010. Inventor of the chairapillar. Restored the right for the Berkeley community to post fliers in BART Plaza in Berkeley in 2014.
CDs, ‘The Rich Will Never Be Poor,’ ‘The Cruel Lullaby,’ ‘You Are Spending Too Much Money on Your Hair,’ ‘The Riley Boys,’ ‘A Toast to the Union,’ ‘Unless of Course You Die,’ and ‘Because We Upon This Earth Are One,’ include support from banjomeister Jim Nelson, guitarist Nina Gerber, mandolinists Radim Zenkl and John Wetzel, and fiddlers Brian Theriault and Kerry Parker.
Denney was the author of the comic cardboard saws (inscribed ‘I Came, I Saw…’) which inspired the UC Regents $250,000 civil suit against her. The regents argued that her stage props and songs were responsible for People’s Park’s unrest in 1991. The Regents declared her a public figure in 1992 so that she could not sue them for defamation. Responsible for Berkeley’s smokefree bus stop law in 2004, and one of the California-wide coalition members who successfully campaigned for a smokefree UC campus, which became a reality in 2014.
Part of Free Radio Berkeley’s original clandestine crew, spending two years as ‘Laura Drawbridge’ co-hosting ‘Thinking Globally, Revolting Locally’ with Stephen Dunifer. Denney also wrote, produced and performed with the Jolly Roger Comedy Troupe, micropower radio’s premiere comedy team. She was a featured actor in George Coates’ 1999 and 2002 productions, the ‘Mock City Council’ playing the City Attorney, and is also the creator and editor of the satirical newspaper, Pepper Spray Times.
Featured writer at the Centre for Political Song, Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. First female frycook at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, a hard-fought victory over gender-based work roles.
Organizer for ‘Fiddlers for Peace’ in response to the threat of war.
Regularly featured in the Bay Area at the Freight and Salvage, Strings, San Francisco’s LaborFest events, folk festivals and, of course, picket lines and demonstrations, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the California Urban History Compendium, and columnist Alexander Cockburn. A unique voice.
Would you like to hear a song? ‘It’s Better Not to Sail’, written in March 2006, recorded by happy accident in Rodney Freeland and Ann May’s living room in Raccoon Hollow, with Rodney on mandolin and Ann on guitar. We hope you will contribute to our “Save the Dinosaurs” fundraising campaign; your dollars can make a difference. “Please, sir, can I have some more?” More shameless self promotion disguised as biographic history, which is how history works anyway.
Carol Denney’s bake sale for bankrupt utility PG&E made the San Francisco Examiner’s front page January 23, 2001.
Author Norman La Force (Creating the Eastshore State Park: An Activist History) was honored with the Sylvia McLaughlin Environmental Stewardship Award at the 30th anniversary celebration of CESP (Citizens for the Eastshore State Park) today, Nov. 7 2015. State Senator Loni Hancock presented the award; see video below.
Also honored were Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley, and Pat O’Brien,former General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. Congresswoman Barbara Lee led off the event with a keynote address.. Special certificates of thanks went to Patricia V. Jones, the retiring Executive Director of CESP, and to Robert Cheasty, CESP Board President. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond presented the award to Tom Bates. Former Parks director Nancy Skinner presented the award to Pat O’Brien.
Beginning in 1933, when the Nazis took power, tens of thousands of German Christians — baptized, confirmed, and church-going — received official letters informing them that they were now classified as Jews. For the Nazis, “Jew” was a race, not a faith. Nazi functionaries digging in church baptismal records had turned up a parent or grandparent who had belonged to a synagogue, and so the descendant was stamped a part or full Jew.
When they were suddenly made Jews, these Christians fell between two chairs. The official Protestant church, captured by the Nazis and often even more rabidly anti-Semitic than the Nazis themselves, drove them out and delivered them to persecution. But the synagogues did not know them, and the ongoing local and international aid efforts to help members of the Jewish congregations did not include them. Typical was the fate of Paul Heinitz, who suffered a perforated ulcer in 1942. The ambulance driver refused to take him because as a Jew, Heinitz could not be treated in a Christian hospital, and as a Christian, he could not be treated in the remaining Jewish hospital, either.
Suddenly Jews focuses on the efforts of a Protestant clergyman, Heinrich Grüber, to organize assistance to this doubly marginalized community. With the backing of a breakaway splinter from the official church, and always under the eyes of the Gestapo, Grüber put together a relief agency to help these victims emigrate, and to render other assistance where possible. Their work under nightmarish conditions makes a gripping story. Hundreds of individuals owe their lives to the Bureau Grüber’s work. For their service, Grüber and many of his associates were carted off to concentration camps, where many were murdered. Suddenly Jews includes an honor roll of those who worked on the aid effort.
The author, Prof. Hartmut Ludwig, is on the faculty of the Humboldt University in Berlin. He is a widely known authority on the 20th century German church and has numerous publications on this topic to his credit. Suddenly Jews was his 1988 PhD thesis, expanded on the basis of new sources in 2009, and updated by the author for this American edition. I have edited the original to highlight the dramatic story at its heart and make it readable for a nonspecialist American audience.
The paperback edition is available now for online purchase at this link. A Kindle e-book edition is also now immediately available here. To order it via your bookstore, the ISBN is 978-1517109912; the short ISBN is 1517109914.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it took several villages and more to create this park — the Eastshore State Park. Now the park stretches along the east side of San Francisco Bay from Richmond to Emeryville. Thirty years ago it was only an idea. The land was part garbage dumps, part toxic landfill, and most of it was privately owned by the Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad and allied private interests had very different ideas than a public park. They wanted to fill the bay almost out to Alcatraz, to build shopping centers, an airport, navy base, hotels, luxury condos. Author Norman La Force, whose history of the struggle to build the park appears in book form today, compares it to the Thirty Years War. He writes:
This was a political Thirty Years War for the shoreline. Indeed, the analogy to the Thirty Years War is apt for as with that conflict, it was fought for a time in one place, then stopped, to be fought again later or in a different location. It also represented a conflict between two different belief systems that would determine the fate of the communities involved. In the case of the East Bay Shoreline, the difference was between the belief, on the one hand, that the waterfront should be used for private development that would enrich the private owner and provide tax revenues to the cities along the shoreline, and the belief, on the other hand, that the shoreline should be held for the public with three objectives in mind. One was that the waterfront should be for public use and enjoyment. The second objective was to protect and preserve precious environmental and ecological resources that faced destruction from various development plans if they were not saved. The third objective was to retain the beauty of the open waterfront of the Bay.
La Force was uniquely positioned to write this history. Beginning in the early 1980s he was a leading member of the local Sierra Club chapter, one of the key organizations in the ever-shifting coalition of groups that advocated for the park. His is, without apology, an activist’s history. It is meticulously researched, it exposes weaknesses as well as strengths, but it burns with the fire of passion to get this park made.
The story of this prolonged war — it actually took closer to 40 years than 30 — is too complex to summarize here. Read the book. Suffice it to say that at one time or another it convulsed Emeryville, Berkeley, and Albany, and played out on a statewide level in Sacramento. La Force’s book names dozens of organizations and many dozens of individuals who played a role; they’re listed in the book’s Index.
As La Force says in his conclusion, this effort
demonstrated what individual citizens could accomplish with perseverance and by organizing and using membership organizations to accomplish their goals. …. If the citizens’ effort to create the Eastshore State Park teaches anything, it is to show that individuals can make a difference and to demolish the shibboleth that an individual’s voice in public affairs does not count. The history of this effort also shows how important it was to build and create organizations and coalitions of groups and individuals to achieve the goal of creating the Park. Alone or singly one person could not have accomplished much, if anything, but organized with others and with people willing to take on leadership roles, much could be accomplished…. Success in creating the park also required a diversity of character traits and leadership methods. Each leader brought a different set of leadership skills to the effort, all of which were important when put together in a collective effort to achieve the common goal. No one method would have made success possible by itself…. Another important element in the success of this campaign was perseverance. At any one point, people could have just given up. Had that happened, no park would have been created.
La Force wrote this text in 2001-2002 as a manuscript that circulated among a few. Now, on the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee for the Eastshore State Park (CESP), it is being published as a paperback and also as a Kindle e-book. It’s a well-written account, filled with concrete detail and with names and places. It will resonate with everyone who played a part in these decades of effort, and it will educate many who today enjoy the benefits of the park without knowing the passion and sometimes heartbreak that went into it.
Were you active in this movement? If so, your name may be in La Force’s seventeen-page Index. Click here to view it.
I happened across La Force’s manuscript while researching the history of Cesar Chavez Park. Some pirate book sellers were offering purloined copies of the manuscript online at prices like $99. I contacted La Force, and with his agreement, I formatted the pages as a book, cleaned up typos, added the index and cover, and published the result. I was pleased to be able to use two of my photographs of the Berkeley Meadow for the cover.
Creating the Eastshore State Park by Norman La Force is available as a paperback online at CreateSpace.com or amazon.com or as a Kindle e-book . If you attend the 30th anniversary brunch of CESP on Saturday Nov. 7 (2015), you can pick up a copy at a discount, but supplies are limited.
From Trash to Treasure, my photo book celebrating the beauties of Cesar Chavez Park, is now available as an e-book for Kindle.
Hats off to amazon.com customer support, who walked me through the process of getting this photo book into the proper format. You can feed Kindle a PDF file for a book that consists mostly of text, but it gags on a book that’s 99 per cent photos, like From Trash to Treasure. However there’s a solution. The Kindle Kids Book Creator is a utility tailormade for gobbling up graphic-intensive PDF files and turning them into books readable on the Kindle platform, on whatever device you run it on — Android, Apple, PC, Fire, or Paperwhite — but only in black and white on the Paperwhite. So now you can enjoy the splendors of this park on your hand-held electronic device, in addition to your handheld paper device a/k/a book.
Coming in October ’15: Creating the Eastshore State Park, an Activist History by Norman La Force.
The Eastshore State Park was the result of the work of many people over the course of close to 40 years. As a citizen effort it demonstrated what individual citizens could accomplish with perseverance and by organizing and using membership organizations to accomplish their goals. Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) provided a unifying organization for bringing together many different groups and points of view so that a common vision could be agreed upon and then articulated to the public and to public officials. Once only a dream, the Eastshore State Park today stretches for 8.5 miles and contains 2,000 acres of uplands and tidelands along the waterfront of Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Albany and Richmond.
Author Norman La Force became chair of the Sierra Club’s Shoreline Park Task force in 1983 and worked shoulder to shoulder with all the leading park activists throughout the decades of work that it took to establish the Eastshore State Park. He was present at all of the key meetings and played a leading role in the pivotal decisions that ultimately led to success. His memoir names and acknowledges the contributions of many dozens of these individuals and of the numerous organizations that played a role in the effort. This is an insider’s account that no one else could have written. It vindicates the role of activist individuals and groups in accomplishing change, and holds valuable lessons for everyone concerned with public parks in our time. La Force continues as an activist in the Sierra Club, CESP, and related organizations.
Suddenly Jews is the story of baptized, church-going Christians who one day in early 1933 found themselves classified as Jews by the Nazi authorities, because their ancestors had belonged to a synagogue. The sudden Jews were between a rock and a hard place. The synagogues did not know them, and the official church did not want them. In this perilous time, a fraction of the church split with the official church and set up an agency to try to help – the Bureau Grüber, named after the courageous and resourceful pastor who founded it.
In 1961, Pastor Grüber was the only German called as a witness in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. He testified:
One evening I arrived very worn out in the Kurfürstenstrasse, and there I had the impression that the accused [Eichmann] had had, if I may say so, a good day. Perhaps he even took pity on me. I don’t know if the accused remembers this incident.
He said, ‘Why are you bothering with these Jews, anyway? No one will thank you for this work. Why all this big fuss for the Jews?’
I answered him, ‘Do you know the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho?’ And then I said, ‘Once there was a Jew lying on this road, who was the victim of robbers. And then someone came along who was not a Jew and he helped him. The Lord whom alone I obey says to me, “Go thou and do likewise.” That is my answer.’
Hartmut Ludwig is Professor of Church History at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He specializes in the church of the 20th century and is the author of numerous articles and books on the topic.
Translated and edited by Martin Nicolaus. Available in print and as a Kindle book in late September ’15.
The growing demand for an abstinent recovery pathway free of the twelve-step model drives the growth of LifeRing support groups. How Was Your Week is a comprehensive handbook for people who are considering starting LifeRing in their community. It’s also a useful reference for people already leading LifeRing meetings. How Was Your Week is based on thousands of hours of experience in face-to-face and online LifeRing meetings and includes the voices of dozens of experienced LifeRing group leaders (convenors). This updated and expanded version of the first (2003) edition adds two more chapters, many more suggestions and hints, and a first-chapter summary for the reader in a hurry.
The fastest way to get the paperback is to order it from LifeRing Press, http://lifering.org. You can also get it from amazon.com but it will take longer as amazon has to first get the book from LifeRing Press before shipping it to you.