Letters for April 1 

Readers sound off on Berkeley High's small schools, Yelp, graffiti, and cougar bait.

"Small Schools, Big Debate," Feature, 3/11

Fire Rachel Swan, Pt. II

Rachel Swan is easily the most racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, agoraphobic person to ever write for your newspaper. She is probably not a vegetarian. She has obviously never read The Pedagogy of the Oppressed all the way through. Or maybe she just read the Cliffs Notes. She has ruined the careers of countless aspiring rap artists, stymied the reform efforts at Berkeley High, and hurt a lot of people's feelings. She is a threat to our community and our fragile ecosystem. Didn't we ask you to fire this miscreant last year? What, may I ask, is taking so long?

When I first picked up your recent cover story, "Separate and Unequal in Berkeley's Small Schools," I was expecting an in-depth, longitudinal study of three decades of efforts to revamp the old factory-model high school system. You may remember the alternative schools of the 1970s and subsequent abolition of AP curriculum, because, frankly, to borrow your phrase, it is unequal. You may remember back in the day when we had classes on ice cream sculpture, or the rather arcane underground hip-hop school we launched in 1998 which covered everything from representations in graffiti to the discourse of Tupac Shakur. We've taught classes on Pagan rituals and on an endangered folk language from a quaint little mountain village in Nevada. Surely you've never heard of it. We diversified the reading curriculum to make it more great-booksy — specifically, the great works of Cossack literature. We even at one point had a highly specialized and little-known classics department, which taught everything from Plato to Euripides. By graduation, some kids could declaim parts of The Iliad by heart. And the ones who couldn't at least knew never to fuck with anyone named Medea.

None of this rich history was covered in your article, which leads me to believe not only that Rachel Swan cut corners in the research process (Um, hello? Why wasn't I interviewed?) but that if you actually met her in person, she'd probably turn out to be, well, pretty ignorant.

This article does not pass the test.

Susan Hossgross, Berkeley

Bring Back God

I write to note a grave omission in your recent cover story, "Separate and Unequal in Berkeley's Small Schools." You must realize by now that the problem is not curriculum per se, but the elimination of tried-and-true educational methodologies. The real problem with the modern education system is that it lacks both God and corporal punishment. This is why we fell behind the Russians in the first Cold War. A more astute and comprehensive article would have looked into the perfidiousness of modern high school textbooks, which gloss over many details of both the Vietnam and Iraq wars, in addition to the large body of evidence suggesting that our planet has indeed been visited by at least one extraterrestrial race since the 1970s. I attribute this to a government cover-up being carried out on behalf of textbook companies, many of which are government and/or corporate-managed, for which much of the proofreading and editing is outsourced to companies in India and Japan.

In short, the best way to rectify our education system is to bring God back into the classroom, being that we are a Christian nation.

R. Usurious, Walnut Creek

"Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0," Feature, 2/18

Can I Buy You Dinner?

Your story, "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0" was riddled with errors. In fact, I'm amazed that you would stoop to such a new low in journalism. The suggestion that "rogue" sales reps may have been responsible for telling small business that if they advertised with us then we would hide negative reviews about them is a bald-faced lie. The truth is Our Small Business Revenue Enhancement Program is a company-wide initiative. In fact, it was just one set of ideas we rolled out to make Yelp more profitable. I'm afraid that our other programs will have to remain confidential for now because of proprietary reasons. I'm sure you understand.

The reason we invented these "enhanced revenue techniques" is that Internet advertising revenues are virtually nonexistent, and creating a business model based on them was a stupid idea. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or a liar, or both. Unfortunately, we bought into the hype.

But we all know that no one reads your pathetic little rag. So this letter will probably be ignored, much like your stories. And if it does get picked up, I'm sure our friends in the MSM will have our backs. The fact is that people's love for the Internet blinds them to the truth. Indeed, our business model depends on it.

Anonymous Yelp employee, San Francisco

Yelp Saves

I just want to say that your Yelp stories have been way off base. I love Yelp. It's on the cutting edge, and I think you're just jealous. I travel a lot, and Yelp has saved my ass on more than one occasion. Its helpful reviews tell me where to eat. Yes, I've had to endure some truly awful meals, but overall, it's been a rewarding experience. I particularly love how instantaneous it is. It sure beats having to spend a few minutes looking up a review written by some "food expert" who is paid to write professional critiques. I prefer to trust anonymous reviewers, because I think people are much more likely to be honest if they don't have to put their names on positive reviews. So, leave Yelp alone.

Nicholas Blanke, Oakland

"The Great Graffiti War," Feature, 3/25

More Silver, Please

I can't believe that you would go after a good man like Jim Sharp. Sure, he's a little, you know, off. But he's a hero — and an underrated artist. In fact, after my garage door was hit by graffiti thugs last year, Mr. Sharp happily spray-painted the entire thing silver. We loved it so much that we asked him to do our whole house that color. We now have the first "Space Rocket" on our block. The grandkids absolutely adore it. So, please leave good people like Mr. Sharp alone, and write more about those rich developers who want to ruin our beautiful city.

Gertrude Coot, Berkeley

"I Was Cougar Bait," Feature, 2/11

More Sex, Please

I would simply like to state that this wantonly salacious piece is the best thing I have read in the Express in a long time — probably since that "Sex on Craigslist" piece a year or so back. Frankly, the Express needs more sex. Savage Love is nice, but it is not enough — after all, it presents the voice of only one so-called sexpert. Dan Savage has an interesting perspective and sometimes wonderful advice, but being a straight man, I find myself yearning for a different view on sex within the pages of your newspaper. I do recall a recent piece titled "Behind the Big Black Penis" which I read with much interest, only to find that it didn't deal much with sex. Instead, it was a story about a book on race and masculinity. A fine topic to be sure, but not quite what I was looking for. The same goes for the story "Butting Up Against the Porn Industry," also in the Valentine's Day issue. It fails to really dive into the sex issue, instead focusing on business. The closest you came was the reader-submitted "Worst Date Ever" stories. My point is that pieces like "I Was Cougar Bait" and "Sex on Craigslist," which really get into the nitty-gritty of how to meet people in our modern world for the purposes of casual, even anonymous sex, are in a class all by themselves — a class I would really like to see more of. You could also think about putting more enticing men and women on your covers. More people would pick up your paper, even if the stories did not deal directly with sex. As a reader, this is something I'd love to see more of in the East Bay Express. And remember, for your own financial well-being, sex sells.

Russ Trated, Castro Valley

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