Letters for February 11 

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

Page 3 of 4

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. 


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