Letters for February 11 

Readers sound off on plug-in hybrids, the Oakland riots, and security contractors in Iraq.

"Who's Killing the Plug-In Hybrid?" Feature, 1/14

Warranties In Our Interest

I think the tone of your article "Who's Killing the Plug-In Hybrid," is a little unfair to the State of California. In most cases, conversion to a plug-in hybrid will void the manufacturer warranty (see for instance http://www.toyota.com/html/hybridsynergyview/2006/fall/battery.html).

It is certainly in the interest of the State of California to ensure that our state-mandated ten years/150K miles warranty is not voided by vendors selling snake oil.

While a plug-in hybrid is a good idea, taking a conservative approach to modification to an emissions system, and requiring that the state-mandated warranty be preserved by warranty-voiding procedures (like conversion to plug-in hybrid) seems like a pretty reasonable thing for a state agency to do.

Charles Shiflett, Berkeley

Coal vs. Gasoline

I think it's specious and fallacious to refer to miles-per-gallon when liquid is not the only energy source put into the vehicle.

How much coal is burned during a four-hour charge?

How does the State of California figure out how much highway tax to add to your electric bill?

Bob Marsh, Berkeley

Smells Like Greed

Another California Air Resources Board scam. Your story made my blood boil. If we are to be a model state about green jobs, and a place that will steward triple bottom line businesses, why should we hamper the inventors of a better future? 3Prong Power should be included in a green bailout package.

Isn't it enough to have one's vehicle inspected at the SMOG check? Smells like greed to me.

Janet Pomeroy, Oakland

The Electric Car Myth

This article overlooks the enduring myth behind electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles — electricity has to come from somewhere, and if everyone drives an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle it will most likely be coming from coal-fired generation plants with considerable energy loss during transmission from the distant plants (NIMBY) to your driveway. Drive less (live closer to work, work closer to home, use public transit, walk and bike more). The article offers no analysis of how many miles per year one would have to drive to make this conversion cost effective over the life of the car (total life, not the four years before it's traded up for the next shiny object to come along). The catalytic converter issue could be fixed with a thermal electric "tea cozy" approach that should reduce or eliminate "cold starts." That these vehicles can't exceed 34 mph without the gas kicking on seems easily remedied. I rarely see anyone in the Bay Area driving below 35 mph outside of Berkeley.

Kenneth J. Craik, Oakland

An Important Topic

This is a great article!

It did seem to imply that all plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), or maybe just all conversions, are limited to 34 mph and modest acceleration without the engine, which is not true; converters have even managed to drive Prius conversions electrically to 52 mph despite Toyota's limiting software.

I believe that CARB wrote their proposed rules as if the PHEV conversion industry is a huge, mature industry like auto manufacturing, which has a billion-dollar cost of entry and five-year development cycles. In contrast, all conversion manufacturers, except Hymotion once it was bought by A123, are entrepreneurial, funded largely by sales of evolving, often one-of-a-kind conversions.

The proposed CARB rules would require all design, testing, and certification efforts to be done up front before selling any conversions. Because this conversion industry is so embryonic, the market hasn't been established and suppliers — especially smaller battery manufacturers without the cash to compete for auto manufacturer contracts — have no real-world automotive experience with their components for which CARB would require proof of longevity. This means sufficient venture capital is hard to come by, so innovators must for now remain largely self-funded, making cost of entry prohibitive with such rules.

As mentioned in the article, the rules would (for good reasons, but with draconian results) require converters to include SULEV-level warranties. Worse (and not mentioned), for vehicles six years old or newer at the time of conversion, conversion would reset the vehicle's mileage and date of manufacture back to zero for the warranty!

One more thing, Onboard Diagnostics (OBD), required of all vehicle manufacturers, would be required to be fully understood, modified as necessary, and extended by a converter. The problem is that OBD internals, including the information needed to be sure to avoid lessening the effectiveness of the OEM OBD, appears to be proprietary data not available to anyone but the original manufacturer and government entities.

For more specifics related to the original CARB proposed rules — though not the minor modifications that came as later amendments, please see my August 2008 formal comments to CARB at http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/977.html.

Ronald Gremban, CalCars Technical Lead, Corte Madera

No Support for Electric

I've been driving an all-electric car for the past seven years, but at this point there is no support infrastructure at all for EVs, thanks mostly to CARB's refusal to uphold the legislature's intent for ZEV's, which started way back in 1990. There is no justification for such rigid and uncompromising rules, which only stifle innovation and provide little actual consumer protection. Plug-in hybrid customers know what they are doing — we are adults, we don't need the state to mandate a ten-year warranty or require completely unnecessary testing.

And I support 3Prong also because they advocate using renewable PV power to fuel these plug-in hybrids, which reduces CO2 emissions even further!

Gary Gerber, President, Sun Light & Power Company, Berkeley

Speak Up

How can citizens send comments to the Air Resources Board about this? Now is the time to make our voices heard. We as individuals and as a state need to support people and organizations who are working hard to get us off petroleum.

Rachel Hollowgrass, Oakland

Electricity Isn't Free

Robert Gammon's fawning paean to the gods of cool, righteous cars is classic logic of omission. By driving one of those plug-in hybrids of his praise we can get as much as three times as many miles per gallon as the usual old but really already quite excellent Prius, no?

Well if you're counting miles but not gallons while the car is running on electricity, isn't that pretending like electricity is free and you don't have to be burning or tapping oil, dams, nuclear, wind, ­whatever ­ to produce the energy? In other words, isn't he kind of cheating to skip comment on the electricity and how much energy, money, and climate change that costs? Not to mention car accident deaths, paving farmland and paradise, filling up and spreading out cities with parking lots and parking structures, freeway interchanges, etc. Using his logic, driving a 100 percent electric car you'd be getting infinite miles per gallon and spending no money at all to drive your car.

The real issue besides why would someone defend cars so thoughtlessly is why spend $9,000 to $14,000 a year on a car at all, being about the USA average, and not instead walk, bike, and take transit? Well you can't walk, bike, and take transit everywhere because we've built our scattered, low-density cities around cars. So do what's possible, those of you close enough to what you need, and for those "structurally dependent" on cars, gradually changing city structure toward more compact development near transit is the real way to plug-in to energy and climate solutions.

Richard Register, Oakland

Editor's Note

As we reported in our January 28 issue, ("Saving the Plug-In Hybrid,") the California Air Resources Board voted late last month not to subject the plug-in hybrid industry to a series of proposed regulations that might have bankrupted small operators such as Berkeley's 3Prong Power.

"A Night of Anger," Seven Days, 1/14

Flaming the Fire

The Express is perpetuating falsehoods and irresponsible sensationalism with its uncritical repetition of the Chronicle's misquoting of Nia Sykes regarding the BART protests. Even a cursory fact-checking by the Express would have revealed Nia Sykes' January 9th letter to the Chronicle editor clarifying her position and explaining how she was misquoted. I doubt that the Express attempted to contact Nia Sykes for clarification. Instead, the Express chose to further inflame the situation by misquoting her, and even going further by characterizing her speech as a "snort." Such is not responsible journalism but rather irresponsible sensationalism.

Dave Abercrombie, Oakland

Editor's Note

In fact, Nia Sykes has not responded to several requests for an interview from this newspaper.

Oakland Deserves BART Love

Just what Oakland didn't need — to have to cover for BART cops screwing up on BART property that just happened to be in the O.

I hope Oakland gets some serious BART love (cleaner stations? cleaner bathrooms? brighter parking lots? station agents that care?) for covering their respective ... the last couple of weeks.

Early, decisive, thoughtful action by BART could have prevented much of this.

Doug Johnson, Oakland

No Black Progress

"Decades of progress?" Is he serious? What progress? Progress for black-owned businesses? For the majority, their situation is very tenuous. Many are being pushed to the brink, forced to survive as part-time, marginal businesses — for example, like some at the Ashby Flea Market. In truth, the majority of middle-class black families are on a down-wardly mobile path. And we're now witnessing an economic meltdown that has already stripped billions of dollars from black, Latino, white, and other home buyers in the subprime fiasco. While relatively small numbers of blacks have made real gains, today the majority of African Americans face pre-1960 levels of enforced segregation, high infant mortality rates, schools that resemble prisons, and the highest incarceration rate in the world — approaching one million people! In addition, the rise of fundamentalist religion has had terrible consequences. Evangelical literalist Christianists like Rick Warren are welcomed by the new president, while abortion has become an almost nonexistent "choice" for women without means. And on top of all this, many from poor and oppressed communities are being groomed (in large part through fundamentalist churches) to support reactionary, politically backward attacks on the people like Prop 8.

And then there is police brutality and murder. Over a hundred people are killed by police each year in California. Thousands of black people (and others) have been killed by police forces in this country since the 1990s. This trend is intensifying. And on New Year's Day, a horrific police execution of a young black man was carried out on a train platform on the eve of the Obama inauguration (the president-elect ignored this shooting). A murder whose aftermath is now reverberating across the country.

Speaking of the protests in Oakland: the mood at the demonstrations was in no way "dark," unless you're speaking of the actions of the mayor and the police, trying their best to smother, demoralize, and literally beat down the real and righteous anger of masses of people, an anger that has been way too long suppressed. The mood in the protests was actually: angry, defiant, liberating, determined — and all absolutely justified. The protestors seized the moral high-ground, and people like the mayor had no choice but to scurry away on the defensive (and can anyone believe the Oakland city council woman comparing the protestors to George Bush attacking Iraq — has the world gone crazy?). There would have been little notice taken to this murder if people hadn't done what they did on those nights.

This killing is nothing new. This happens all the time to African Americans. It is true that this blatant act was captured on cell phone and video, and people have not been in a mood to ignore this. Doesn't it seem like every time a video like this surfaces that the people being beaten or killed by the police are just trying to go about their lives? They didn't make any sudden move; they didn't go for their pocket; a gun (a "throw-down") didn't appear next to their lifeless body. I call this "the big lie." It's a lie that is manufactured. It comes from a system that cannot bring forward the love, humanity, and creativity of its people — it can only demoralize them and crush them.

Another lie: that all of the business people in Oakland condemned the vandalism. A number of them stated — in newspapers, on radio, on TV — that they empathized with the protestors — they shared their outrage and frustration. They were big-minded enough to put the life of a young African-American man above sweeping up some glass and filling out an insurance claim! What is it that makes us human? We are social beings. Should we give a damn that thousands of people's lives around the world (many right in our midst) are being cut short everyday — even in the time it takes you to read this letter — through malnutrition, disease, wars, state-sanctioned murder. These deaths are preventable — with human intervention. But most people don't intervene. In Oakland, people did intervene. Is it right to only care whether or not the gala at the Fox Theatre comes off without a hitch? No, it's not. A much better world is possible — let's struggle for and get clarity on what it will take to make that better world a reality. Let's not stop until this is accomplished. That's a goal worth caring about, and living for.

Leon Harper, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

A Bad Museum Trend

I am very discouraged to see this new trend in museum construction. At the end of the day, I filled out the online survey, and now I am left to muse about why I was asked to provide a rating on a 1 to 10 scale as to whether or not I was sufficiently entertained during my visit to the New Academy of Sciences Complex? 

I was recently in New Zealand working in Wellington for several months and visited the New National Te Papa Tongarewa. I came away with the same impressions: superficial, overdone, under-inspiring. I find it most disturbing that any museum now has to be a landmark first and foremost, a destination where the building is what matters, while the formal exhibits it contains are judged not upon their effectiveness in elevating consciousness, or in sufficiently informing or inspiring visitors to collective action in a deep and meaningful way, but rather on their ability to deliver a reflexive pop-cultural entertainment experience.  

I don't want a museum to feel like a video arcade. Massively arrayed electronic devices combine with this new tendency toward exhibits built out of fabulous high-tech materials in an environment of hyper-stimulation and pseudo-green "sustainable" design elements to overwhelm the senses and leave visitors stunned and under-informed. This type of museum space, I'll call it the "New Museum Model," tends to serve the purpose of further green-washing the bling bling "sustainable technology" overdose which is all the rage these days. 

I liked the exhibit of the $ 5,000.00 electric full-suspension carbon fiber mountain bike with the 24-or-so-mile range (just how many people can afford to get one of those when they're making Wal-Mart wages?)

Keeping the crowd jacked up on eye-candy has subsumed any notion of exhibit quality or basic resources which provide in-depth information.

Perhaps most offensive to me and my kids was the fact that, in my ten-year-old daughter's words, "Calling one of the gift shops the 'Junior Lab' makes zero sense, dad."

It is a truly obscene notion to suggest that a consumeristic approach to the museum experience has anything to do with a science lab, or that buying more useless "stuff" and contributing to the cultural imperatives of endless overconsumption serves the core mission of stewardship that should be the institution's top priority. 

My kids and I don't want to come to our public museum spaces and see an albino alligator in a glassed-in pit and then have the plush toy version of it — which, by the way, is loaded with volatile organic compounds, petroleum-based synthetic fibers, is constructed half-way around the world, and then shipped, warehoused, and handled at enormous hidden expense — ram-rodded at us for consumption in the museum's "Junior Lab." 

Come on now! Yes, we all know that you have to generate revenue, but this all-out assault on the very essence of the museum experience is revolting. No wonder we have a generation of under-informed consumer automatons who have attention spans which are only measurable in milliseconds.

On our walk out of the museum my ten-year-old and I realized that the most intriguing exhibit of all was what we immediately dubbed the "Human Tank" — the unavoidable big glass and steel central atrium which serves as the main food court — after all that's the most accurate formal exhibit that the new Academy of Sciences offers to its visitors — a chance to see ourselves clearly as the central dominant force behind the coming systemic and cascading ecological collapses. 

Can someone, perhaps a CAS Staff Scientist or maybe a Nobel Laureate Statistician, please tell me and my children what the carbon footprint for the construction of the "living roof" was, and could you put it in readily accessible laypersons terms (you know, like how many as-yet-unidentified-tropical-rainforest-species were forced to the brink of extinction)? And how might it ever be possible for a "C-O-M-P-L-E-X" such as the New Academy of Sciences, a space that promotes the corporate food-court experience/entertainment model over a comprehensive understanding of the basic food-web and it's fundamental interplay with the planet's biospheres to possibly pay that concealed collective debt back, EVER?! For the love of the earth what are we doing here?

Yes, we've been there. Done that.

Andrew Carothers-Liske, Oakland

Don't Be Sheep

In light of the recent troubles what I write here is in many ways trivial, at least in a current context. I'll send it all the same, as it's an issue worthy of at least a momentary glimmer of illumination.

I've ridden BART for so long the application of the yellow pimpled strips along the edge of the platform seems a distant memory. Many riders likely assume the strips, and the black "Board Here" indicators resident therein have existed since the construction of the system. They haven't, but in the time following their pasting I've observed with sadness and frustration the pathologic behavior the black mark seems to evoke.

You know what I'm talking about. Late at night or on Sundays it's chilling to see riders lined up at the marks, waiting for stretches to board what is with certainty going to be an empty train. On workday mornings and afternoons the pathology is more manifest and simultaneously more troublesome.  Certainly, the train will be fuller; in fact, the seats will probably already all be taken. But it is never so full that there's no room for any of the hapless queued to board. And yet the line stretches from platform edge to the other side, complicating passage and blocking escalators. Woe to the poor soul who seeks to off-board Powell Street at 5 p.m.

By my measure, it seems no less than three-quarters of the passengers at the platform toe the mark or the back of the person before them. Are they sheep? Do they live in sheep-fear that a train will arrive too densely packed to allow them entry? Or are they simply Rule Abiding Citizens who have interpreted the mark to be their unbending instruction and consciously heed the command? Or, as dangerously, are they opportunists, living in a cramped dog-eat-dog zero-sum world where the only rule for survival is take, lest you be taken from?

Whatever the explanation, it reflects darkly on Bay Area society. To those milling about the structural columns or leaning near the elevators — take up your standard! Disrupt the queues! Perhaps by so doing the veil will fall from their eyes, and the line-standers will come to understand that there's room on the train for everybody and maybe if they weren't in such a fearful frantic hyper-protective rush they might actually enjoy living a bit more.

Which sure as shooting would make them more pleasant to be around.

Markus Niebanck, Oakland

Extend Shop Hours

Am I the only one frustrated by the 10-6 hours the East Bay? I appreciate our community's relaxed spirit, it's a lot of why I chose to locate here, but why do so many businesses operate on schedules that only serve these highly flexible people?

I work a regular 9-5 job, and have the disposable income to show for it. I want to buy local. Yet I can't even hope to patron a lot of stores around my neighborhood because they're closed when I leave for work and shut when I return. Even the Alameda County Food Bank is booked for any time I might be able to volunteer during the next two months.

Even in a recession, these establishments apparently don't want my money or my help.

Ruth Miller, Oakland

Corrections

In our October 8 art review ("Bush, Unbashed") we incorrectly spelled Tony Huynh's last name.

In our February 4 CD review of Go Home, we mistakenly listed the album as released by Cryptogramophone. The album was self-released.

In our January 28 story about the Oakland Unified School District's failure to provide heat for many of its students ("Too School for School"), we misquoted International School Principal Carmelita Reyes. She said "we're all running a school district as leanly as we can" — not "we're all running a school district as lamely as we can."

And in our January 28 article about the Best Sex Writing 2009 ("Return of the Lusty Lady"), we misquoted anthology editor Rachel Kramer Bussell. She said it's now acceptable for women to attend "Chippendale"-style strip clubs, not "Chip and Dale"-style strip clubs.

Q-Tips will be issued to our reporting staff at the next weekly editorial meeting.

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