"The Great Graffiti War," Feature, 3/25
Don't Silence the Bake Sales
Thanks for covering this issue. I hope graffiti artists and "blight" warriors appreciate that what's being sacrificed in the middle of this expensive conflict is community information, not only newspapers but also fliers letting us all know about lost cats, bake sales to support schools, and district election events.
The city should take a more creative approach and make sure every neighborhood has walls dedicated to community bulletin boards and, yes, graffiti space. Laws which demonize public expression backfire, especially in punk/anarchist circles, and end up costing us all.
Community volunteers as dedicated as Jim Sharp are citywide, ready to step up and assist in the maintenance and upkeep of community kiosks so that vandalism, art, and information are no longer confused.
I want newspapers that I can hold in my hand over coffee, but I also want to know about the yard sales, middle-school talent shows, yoga classes, and other events which could never afford advertising. Fliers, legally posted, are an important part of a healthy community, and should be respected as free speech.
Carol Denney, Berkeley
Don't Silence the Bands
I've "caught" Buff's little actions while waiting for the bus more than a few times on my way to work. I commend his actions as far as graffiti goes because it is unattractive and a genuine defacement of public property. But the fact that he feels it necessary to remove the "illegal" posters and flyers for social causes, jobs, ads for bands and artists is ludicrous. The local bands and artists rely (albeit, not solely) on the posters for advertising and to help their own business. After playing in bands for over twenty years and putting up flyers for years, I have to say that if I saw him taking down even one of my flyers, I would slap a class-action suit with the other parties involved on him so fast for loss of business, he'd have a headache for years.
Igor Davis, Berkeley
Graffiti Tagging Is Lame
I read with interest your article "The Great Graffiti War" about Jim Sharp and the graffiti vandals in Berkeley. From time to time I pull down an illegally posted sign, mostly those posted on fences surrounding vacant properties, and I'm glad to read about another concerned citizen taking action against blight. Graffiti is a problem in many locales, but the City of Berkeley's weak response to blight complaints, which is well known by many neighborhood activists, compounds the problem. Evidence of the City of Berkeley's implication in continuing blight problems can be found on WeFightBlight.blogspot.com, a web site helping those concerned about blight in Berkeley. It is ridiculous of the City of Berkeley to contemplate fining newspapers for graffiti appearing on their boxes.
Some people, like Max Good and Nate Wollman, apparently believe with the graffiti writers that doing graffiti on other people's property constitutes "free speech." I've seen graffiti that could qualify as good art, placed in industrial wastelands, where it actually improves the landscape, and I'd want to leave that graffiti alone as it could be seen as a positive contribution to the neighborhood, even though it's an art contribution done in an illegal or "vigilante" style. However, most graffiti that I see around Berkeley and Oakland is not art, and beyond the signing of a "tag," does not appear to have anything to do with any "speech." Graffiti tagging is of the lame "Kilroy was here" variety, and so is at the same level of meaning as a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Police agree that the best way to deal with graffiti is to paint it over as soon as possible. If more neighbors were concerned about graffiti in their neighborhoods, and would clean it up right away, rather than leaving it up for days, weeks, and months, Jim Sharp wouldn't be scapegoated for having to take this on himself, and the "Pigface" graffitiers wouldn't be so excited to run out and up the ante on the only person who's apparently cleaning up the city after them.
Deborah Cloudwalker, Oakland
Where's the Police?
Your author, Robert Gammon, appears to be correct. The Berkeley police do little or, in some cases, ultimately nothing about graffiti.
In March 2008, I attempted on multiple occasions to get a follow-up on a case of graffiti sprayed on a sidewalk. After some initial good response, nothing happened. There was a witness less than fifty feet away in bright daylight who observed the vandal using a spray can. So the usual rationale for no following-up, namely the lack of a good witness, did not apply in this case. Perhaps the Berkeley Police Department could correct public perception by reporting the number of alleged graffiti vandals they have arrested in the past year.
Robert Gable, Berkeley
Newsrack Vandalism Blows
As the first distribution manager of the Berkeley Daily Planet (1999-2004), I dealt with newsrack vandalism in a big and totally frustrating way. We went through a LOT of paint, screws, solvents, and windows to repair our freestanders and green "pedmounts," and again, and again. My temps would crap about doing a few blocks' worth, only to find the first one re-wrecked by youth, the ignorant, or sociopathic "First Amendment" champions. Naturally, our city's finest never busted these phantoms, or the creeps who made a living stealing our — and yours, and others' — papers to sell to recyclers.
Worst of all, as always, were the well-oiled bureaucrats who seized our boxes for hefty fines, pointing to irrational and unrealistic ordinances rubber-stamped by the city council in a simpler day. There was no plan or discussion to deal with this now-intractable issue. As for the publishers of freebies, they were apparently asleep. This problem isn't universal; the racks of our once-sister paper, San Mateo Daily Journal, were in pristine shape but for normal weathering.
In this tragedy, Frank Miller's gang owns the town; Gary Cooper has left. Should legal redress be sought, please count on me as an expert witness.
Phil Allen, Berkeley
You Made Sharp a Target
Robert Gammon usually does a good job. It is shocking that he gave out the street name where anti-graffiti spray-painter Mr. Sharp lives, along with the model of his car. That was an invitation to the aggressive taggers mentioned in the story to find his home. The street name was not important to the story, nor the car model, nor the name of Mr. Sharp's live-in friend. I consider those disclosures irresponsible journalism.
But, Gammon provided a valuable community service by telling us that Max Good (quite the ironic Dickensian name) and Nate Wollman "view graffiti and stickers as political speech." Retrograde flapdoodle. PBS finances these guys? Help!! Graffiti is not "free speech" because it is SECRET. "Free speech" is that which would otherwise be suppressed for political reasons. The government suppresses graffiti to stop the truth from coming out? Please.
Graffiti on your neighbor's fence, or on the facade of the Fox Theatre, is latent aggression with fascist impact. In the 1980s TAKI 186, marker pen in hand, nearly took over New York City. He was, it turns out, just a jerk. Taggers do not accept their mortality. No intellect, just fear and loathing. Babies smearing their feces in the night.
Casting Mr. Sharp as a "vigilante" is intellectual thuggery. Better that PBS cast out Wollman and Good and spend the shrinking PBS budget on journalists who have actually learned something, somewhere, somehow. You boys want to examine political speech? Analyze the Dellums potholes.
Alexander van Broek, Oakland
I Applaud Sharp
Jim Sharp should be applauded, not attacked. He is performing a valuable service, abating visual blight. He picks up litter whenever he sees it, too. Yeah, H Jim.
Cherie Donahue, Oakland
"Soup to Go," Food, 4/8
Workers Make the Difference
Thank you for printing the article on the SF Soup Company. I live and work four blocks from the Downtown Oakland branch, and I'm a big fan of this local chain. However, I was disappointed to read that the owners do not have any restaurant industry background. I think it would have been a much more interesting article if you had included interviews of the chefs and staff to find out how they come up with such innovative recipes, and what the production system is like. I find that too often, reviews of local businesses fixate too much on ownership (even if they are absentee) rather than the people in the company who actually produce the value.
Ener Chiu, Oakland
"Berkeley's Patron Saint of Go," Events, 4/8
Rachel Swan didn't do her homework. A simple Wikipedia check on the CDC 6400 would have pointed out that the central memory of a CDC 6400 was measured in 60-bit words, and a minimum configuration was 32,768 words. The UC Berkeley 6400 was larger than that. A byte is 8 bits, so there is no direct comparison of words to bytes, but a character in the 6400 was 6 bits, so 10 characters per word. That said, the minimum memory of a 6400 was 327,680 characters, which is a whole lot more than 480 bytes. C'mon.
Somebody should have caught this!
Charles Stevenson, Berkeley
In the article "Surface Noise," (Music, 4/15), the band pictured in the photo is called Torso.
Introducing the Body & Soul Section
We are adding a new category of listings to our weekly print edition. Starting this week, our online listings dedicated to health, fitness, and spirituality will also appear in our Arts & Culture section. With next week's issue, we will expand upon this coverage to include weekly previews and picks like our other calendar sections.
We also are taking this opportunity to relocate our weekly astrology column, Aquarium Age, up to this new section. Advertising related to these themes, including our classified Mind, Body & Spirit listings, also will appear in this new section.
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