Letters for February 18 

Readers sound off on Sunday brunch at Thai Temple and plug-in hybrids.

"Food-Free Zone?" News, 1/21

A Blessed Brunch

I live in Austin and my daughter lives in Berkeley close to Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple. A visit with my daughter is not complete without a Sunday morning visit to the Thai Temple. We love the food and the community. I also love their garden, which is so meticulously kept and is so spiritually evocative. Bless the hands that tend it. Sunday mornings at the Thai Temple breakfast are so special to our family and embody the true meaning of community. When my mother and sister came to visit my daughter all the way from Beirut, Lebanon we took them there. It was an experience like no other. We made some wonderful memories there and every visit to the Temple is an opportunity to create new memories and visit old remembrances of wonderful meals we had with loved ones who are no longer with us. I pray and hope that this tradition with all its wonderful blessings can be preserved. The neighbors are to be commended for their tolerance and I hope that they are able to share in the blessings. With love.

Diana HajAli, Austin, Texas

Neighborly Love for Thai Temple

I was disappointed by the subtly slanted story your reporter Rachel Swan recently published about the Thai Temple's Sunday gatherings. She implies that "neighbors" are opposed to the smell of their food, the people that gather there, and the fact that some of them park in the neighborhood, while only "devotees," mostly from far away, approve of and defend them. In fact, many near neighbors, few of them Buddhists, support their activities and have gone on record to confirm this, while only a small but vocal minority are opposed. I've lived two blocks from there for more than thirty years, and I've been delighted with this wonderful addition to our neighborhood. Sure, every once in a while the odors of exotic spices waft my way — their food smells great! I don't understand why diesel trucks can idle for hours in front of my house spewing toxic fumes with no consequences whatever, but if I can smell food cooking once a week it's a big issue.

In such a supposedly tolerant city, we should show a little more openness to other people's customs. I've travelled in Thailand, and restaurants as such don't exist, except in big cities. Instead, people gather outdoors and small food stands provide various things for them to eat, cooking them on the spot. The social space provided this way performs a vital function in Thai society, where families gather, friends meet, children play, and the life of the community is renewed. The Thai Temple, as the cultural as well as religious nexus of the local Thai community, attempts to recreate this important zone of communication on a weekly basis, and also provides an opening to the rest of us to join in. In this it has been fairly successful, despite a lack of encouragement from Berkeley officialdom and open hostility from a few xenophobes.

I hope that our municipal rulers can somehow be made to understand that regulations intended to suppress illegal business operations should not be applied to a nonprofit group that makes such an outstanding contribution to our city. The donations given for the food support a range of activities like dance classes, language lessons, music, and other cultural benefits that far outweigh any putative harm caused. There's little likelihood that the city will step in with funding to replace this donation stream, so stopping the Sunday brunch would likely result in their elimination. After all, even in the depths of Prohibition, churches were still allowed to serve wine to their congregants. It doesn't seem like nearly as big a deal to allow the Thai Temple to continue providing delicious and healthy food to people without harassment from officialdom. And while we're at it, we should let them build their spire — I'm sure it will be beautiful, like their front entrance, which amazes me every time I pass by.

Andrew Werby, Berkeley

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

Electric Isn't Clean

I haven't read the reports by the staff or board of the CARB. I also do not want to stand in the way of research and innovation. However, the notion of the cleanliness of electrically powered vehicles is misguided. While the car itself produces little pollution, the electrical energy does not grow on trees. Electrical energy must be created in a power plant. And in California, most of that energy is generated by burning coal, which produces a lot of pollution including carbon dioxide (in large quantities). If we use the electrical energy to power our cars, then we need to create more to power our lights, appliances, technological gadgets, electrical heaters etc. And in order to do that, we have to burn more fossil fuel.

Gabriel Ross, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Save the Arts

As Executive Director of the oldest youth orchestra in California, I am concerned about the negative portrayal of the value of the arts in discussions about government bailouts. The nonprofit arts sector employs many dedicated, hardworking people who earn very low wages for the level of work they produce. Nonprofit arts education organizations supplement programs which have been depleted by lack of support in the California schools. These programs are vital for our children, and for the health of our cultural heritage.

As Congress considers the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the arts and culture sector must be included. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers and builds a robust 21st-century workforce.

Nonprofit arts organizations are proud members of the business community — employing people locally, purchasing goods and services within the community, and involved in the marketing and promotion of their cities. In fact, there are more full-time jobs supported by the nonprofit arts than are in accounting, public safety officers, even lawyers and just slightly fewer than elementary school teachers.

According to Americans for the Arts, a $50 million investment to the National Endowment for the Arts will provide critical funding to save14,422 jobs from being lost in the US economy. This is based on the ability of the NEA to leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every $1 in NEA support.

There are approximately 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations, which spend $63.1 billion annually. Without an economic stimulus for the nonprofit arts industry, experts expect about 10 percent of these organizations (ranging from large arts institutions like museums and orchestras to small community-based organizations in suburban, urban, and rural areas) to shut their doors in 2009 — a loss of 260,000 jobs.

In a report released in mid-January, the National Governor's Association stated, "Arts and culture are important to state economies. Arts and culture-related industries, also known as 'creative industries,' provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases."

Then-NEA Chairman Dana Gioia issued the following statement prior to his departure, "Arts organizations have been hit enormously hard by the current recession. They've seen their support drop from corporations, foundations, and municipalities. This infusion of funds will help sustain them, their staffs, and the artists they employ. We are hopeful that Congress and the new administration will support this important investment."

Wendy Howe, Executive Director, Young People's Symphony Orchestra, Berkeley

Correction

In our February 11 music story "Nights of Death," we mistakenly stated that the Uptown club was starting a new goth night in response to the "Death Rock Dive Bar" at the Stork Club. According to Uptown owner Larry Trujillo, the new "Shadow Society" night was spawned from their "Black Widows Gothic Strip" review nights, which pre-date "Death Rock Dive Bar."

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