Letters for the Week of April 18, 2012 

Readers sound off on the shrinking stage, OPD and Occupy, Mary Hayashi, and AC Transit finally buying American.

"The Shrinking Stage," Feature, 4/4

Small Companies, Big Ambitions

I'd like to thank Rachel Swan for her thoughtful and thorough article on the current dearth of "plays of scope."

And I would be remiss if I did not bring your attention to the We Players production of The Odyssey on Angel Island, in which I am appearing as a generously-stipended but non-union performer May 12-July 1. We Players has embraced the classics — in this case, an original adaptation of Homer's epic poem — as well as large casts and huge, glorious productions. This one is a five-hour performance staged with twelve actors and seven musicians in travelling, site-specific style across Angel Island State Park.

As Swan notes, it is often the smaller companies that can, and do, take bold, adventurous risks that more established organizations with salaries to pay and facilities to maintain cannot. It's refreshing and welcome for an artistic director like Patrick Dooley to mention that he's simply not interested in running a company that doesn't take such risks. But we cannot rely on artists being willing to relegate themselves to poverty in order to provide the exhilarating, epic sort of theater that audiences seem to crave. Until we as an industry and a nation find a way to fund the arts sustainably, despite expansive bright spots like Shotgun and We Players, the Bay Area stage will continue to shrink.

Rebecca Longworth, San Francisco

Hire Local

Hiring local would be one of the boldest choices Bay Area theater companies could make, but sadly the Bay Area suffers from insecurity about the burgeoning talent pool it has. We have an embarrassment of riches in our local talent, but unfortunately, most of the theaters don't appreciate it. They fly in talent, which must be incredibly expensive and eat into a substantial amount of a theater company's budget. I hear the words "budget crisis" from so many theater companies in the Bay Area, and yet, when you look at the bios of the actors in their productions, you'll see that this actor works in New York, Chicago, LA. Why not cast locally? It makes no sense. It's not like this is the film industry, where producers hope to get "butts in the seats" by casting A-List actors with a huge draw. I just don't get it. We have so much talent right here, and yet, if you ask Berkeley Rep, ACT, TheatreWorks, etc., they cast out-of-town talent. My question is, why?

LeAnne Rumbel, San Francisco

Bigger Isn't Always Better

It's interesting to compare early-twentieth-century scripts to today's. They often have huge casts, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have a larger conceptual scope — tiny roles for butlers and maids seem to have been added just to give a company's minor contract players something to do. In those days, it seems, labor was the thing that was cheap (part of the reason for the foundation of Actor's Equity). It's good for writers to be aware of whether they're limiting their own freedom of thought to meet production requirements, but some limitations can lead to artistic success. For example, old Hollywood movies couldn't show explicit sex scenes, but not many films can match the onscreen heat of Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in Morocco. The four-person, one-set classic The Glass Menagerie is still a great, relevant play. But I can think of some recent local shows with big casts that I just didn't get the point of. So I don't agree that bigger is necessarily better, but I thought the article made some great points about how theater is funded, and how this affects what's presented.

Christine U'Ren, Berkeley


"OPD Sees Itself as a Victim of Occupy," News, 4/4

OPD Out of Control

The more we learn about the Oakland Police Department, the deeper it gets. This is a third-world military operation that's been preying on the people of Oakland for years. Yes, good cops get tarred with the same brush — but it is cops' responsibility to be the arbiters of each others' conduct, and they have failed miserably.

Equally culpable are the corporate financial forces that have taken over planning and directing the city with the help of the Oakland police. And responsible overall: the elected officials who won't do a thing about it, or who participate in the money-changing that goes on.

Occupy Oakland is powerful enough to affect the operations and outlook of this police department? Good. There are a lot of us who think that the best work we can do is to uncover its brutality and impunity. Maybe there will be a time that Occupy Oakland is seen as a strong factor in cleaning it up and forcing the City of Oakland to put its energies and resources into its people.

Cynthia Morse, Berkeley

A Lack of Leadership

The most telling thing in this report is the lack of leadership, both at the top of the police department, but also in its civilian oversight. Where was Mayor Quan in all of this? Oh yeah, she was in DC begging for money.

Sorry Jean, you should have delayed your trip or delayed the raid. Being out of town is unforgivable.

Tim Burgess, Castro Valley

Shocked — and Radicalized

I want to thank you for your detailed, critical, and informative coverage regarding Occupy Oakland, the Oakland Police Department, and the City of Oakland. Your recent article about possible conflicts of interest in the investigation into OPD abuses is well-written and brings up important points.

I have been a member of Occupy Oakland for the past several months. I am employed, have a place to live, and have a college-aged daughter whom I help support. I'm involved with Occupy in several ways, including attending marches and events. I have been at almost all the major events during the past few months, including the all-day conflicts of January 28.

There is nothing like being at an event firsthand and seeing it unfold with your own eyes when it comes to really understanding the truth of a situation. I have previously been somewhat balanced in my attitudes toward police, but I have been shocked by what I have seen during these conflicts with the Oakland Police Department, and it has radicalized me to some degree.

Diane Reiner, Oakland


"Replacing Mary Hayashi," News, 4/4

The Bright Side

Hayashi is termed out? Oh, what a shame. But look at the positive — more time for shopping!

Don Sandri, Hayward

Go Green

Excellent article — compares candidates accurately. Green is probably the most prepared for the seat. There will be a runoff in November, probably between Green and Quirk. I doubt money will be a major handicap for Green, as he has been around a long time and is well-known in the area.

Anthony Santos

Former mayor, San Leandro


"When Pizza Goes Bicoastal," Restaurant Review, 4/4

Lipstick on a Pig

Since you were able to detect the flaw in the basic dough, no makeup of good toppings can cover that problem. The best pizza is dough-centric, and all other additions should revolve around that.

But I also have to argue with your statement that putting crushed tomatoes causes a paste-like consistency. This is not true, as any good pizza cook can tell you. First of all, the tomatoes are cooked from the can. They are not raw. Secondly, almost all good pizza puts crushed tomatoes on the pie; it's twice-cooking that causes a paste-like texture, or maybe it's just a poor-quality sauce.

Jason Carey, Oakland


"AC Transit Finally Buys American," Seven Days, 4/4

Van Fools

"Van Fools" or "Van Hells": Enter this bus at your own risk! For those of us who ride them often enough or rely on them solely as our main source of transportation, we, both riders and drivers, have truly hated them from the very beginning. It took a decade to get them finally changed and that is too long to wait. I wonder how many of us have been injured by these buses? I hope the new buses will be better for riders and drivers than the spine-rattling boondoggles we now have. Those Van Hool buses have caused us more injuries, and at the same time wasted our taxpayer transit funds.

Plus, whoever on the AC Transit Board decided that riding backwards on a bus is better than riding forward did not have his or her head on straight at all. The lint-collecting fabric on the bus seats also rival BART's seats when it comes to sanitation levels.

We need better and safer buses and more services restored. The members of the AC Transit Board of Directors are the managers of the dwindling funds the agency receives from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). They need to be more proactive about getting more funding for services. Meanwhile, the MTC only gives bus agencies 8 percent each of its public subsidies, whereas 25 percent goes to BART and 53 percent goes to Caltrans. Yet fares keep rising and we continue to get fewer services for more money. MTC pays $53 million a year in swap fees to the big banks like Chase, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and others while bus services were cut $52 million annually since 2009. This, too, must change.

Kit Vaq

Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)

Riders for Transit Justice

Badly Designed and Here for Awhile

The Van Hools seem to have been designed by someone more interested in creating a bus with interesting nooks and crannies than someone interested in creating one that can safely transport passengers from Point A to Point B. The aisles are too narrow, there are too many steps and not enough overhead bars to hang on to, a bell situated immediately next to a seat gets rung whenever the occupant of said seat accidentally leans against it, and the ridiculous bit of upholstery at the front of the bus says "this is not a seat" even though it looks like one. Unfortunately it'll be many years before the last of the Van Hools is retired, so we will continue to hear drivers wearily telling folks not to sit on the forbidden upholstery for a long time to come.

John Seal, Oakland


"Biff Stands His Ground," This Modern World, 3/23

What Tom Tomorrow Got Wrong About Guns

Usually I am a big fan of Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World" and its hip, radical penguin behind the designer sunglasses who regularly throws accurate darts at the One Percent. But in his dig at so-called "Stand Your Ground Laws," the little fellow has plunked his webbed foot down on whatever "equipment" it is that penguins have. Simply put, Tom Tomorrow has been sucked in by one of the most interesting and elaborate tricks of the wealthy: the canard known as "gun control."

Ask any self-respecting conservative talk-show host the primary cause of crime and violence, and he or she will tell you, "the bad moral choices of criminals." None of them willingly would acknowledge that a fine, upstanding, successful fellow like Rush might have ended up differently if his father had been an LA Crip and his mother a crackwhore.

Conservatives notwithstanding, crime and violence are caused by sociological conditions: poverty, racism, poor educational and job opportunities, lack of quality health care, illegal drugs and the illegality of those drugs, etc.

It's not hard to figure out that solving those problems by providing poor folks, especially but not only poor children, with such game-changers as high-quality education, beginning with something like Head Start for three- and four-year-olds and excellent K-12 teachers with small class sizes, will cost a lot of money — money that can come from only one place, much higher taxes on the One Percent and others who make more than a million dollars a year. This would not provide equality of outcome, just equality of opportunity.

The rich are not stupid. They figured this out long ago, and they realized that if they did not distract the rest of us, their taxes were going way up right away. About 35 or 40 years ago some rich genius had a brilliant, if corrupt, idea: Blame crime and violence on guns and advocate gun control as the means to a peaceful society. It took some doing to snow the left on this because a century ago, Democratic Socialists recognized gun control for what it was: suppression of the rights of the working class, the poor, and minorities.

Even only fifty years ago, prominent liberals such as Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke out in favor of the right to keep and bear arms as a private and individual right that benefited all Americans. But the rich were tricky about it. They managed to convince a lot of thoughtless people that the murders of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were caused by guns so that if guns had been banned, the murders might not have happened.

The beauty of this from the point of view of the rich is that after each new and stricter law when crime and violence continue to rise, spokespersons for the rich could come forward and say that the problem is that even the new laws are not strict enough and that more, even more draconian laws are necessary to solve the problem. All the while foolish people who bought this nonsense were wasting their time advocating new gun laws instead of advocating higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for the solutions to the causes of our problems. That was the point. It could go on indefinitely protecting the rich from higher taxes because no gun law — even a total ban — would address the conditions that cause crime and violence.

I am not happy to say anything good about a Republican, but Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley, who wrote the Florida law in question, made the best point about this case in an interview on PBS. "This law has nothing to do with what [George] Zimmerman did. Nothing in this law entitles anyone to pursue someone over property, and it certainly does not allow anyone to shoot someone fleeing even if a crime was committed." All the law says is that if you are in a public place where you are entitled to be, and you reasonably fear someone is threatening you with imminent death or grievous bodily injury, you can shoot your assailant in self-defense. If your assailant flees, and you no longer are in danger, you no longer can shoot.

Fools who have bought into the rich peoples' trick of "guns cause crime so let's ban guns" have come to believe that a woman found raped and murdered in an alley is somehow morally superior to a woman sitting in a police station explaining how that serial rapist wound up with two bullets in his chest. That is what this law is about, allowing weaker members of society to defend themselves against stronger attackers.

One very interesting thing is that the laws allowing sane, law-abiding adult citizens to obtain concealed weapons permits after a serious fingerprint and background search as well as classes in the safe, legal, and proficient use of firearms are on the books in forty states, some of them for over thirty years. Anti-gunners have been looking for a case to use to attack these laws from the outset. There are now over six million of these sane, law-abiding adults with concealed-weapons permits carrying handguns daily for personal defense, and this is the first time a case like this has occurred. Over these thirty years, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people with permits have thwarted serious attacks, most without ever firing a shot. More than a few of them might have died without this means to defend themselves, but because one person may have screwed up, Tom Tomorrow and a vocal minority, a lot of whom are in the media, want us to abandon laws which have protected us for decades because they personally do not like guns. It is their right to dislike guns, but they want to deprive other sane, law-abiding adults of their right to make their own choice about this issue, and it should not be their right to deny people the right to freedom of choice.

As for the race issue, Otis McDonald — the plaintiff who sued the City of Chicago over its handgun ban in a lawsuit that ended in front of the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and led to the ruling that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms not only applied to the federal government as was ruled by the Heller decision in 2008 but also applied to the states and cities — is an elderly African American who wanted the right to legally own the best means of defense against a murderous attacker, and that best means is a handgun.

If Otis McDonald or some other elderly African American had been forced to shoot a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who had attacked him, Tom Tomorrow would not have based a comic strip on that event, and we all would be talking about what a great ruling it was by the Supreme Court that had enabled Otis McDonald to defend himself.

Eric King, Berkeley

Corrections

Our April 11 news story "Cop Identified in Kayvan Sabeghi Beating?" erroneously stated that Sabeghi is a co-owner of Elevation 66 Brewing Company in El Cerrito. He left the business a few months ago, according to co-owner Brian Kelly.

In our April 11 Culture Spy, "Books as Artifacts," we incorrectly stated that Ramsay Bell Breslin is a founder of Kelsey Street Press. She is an editor and a member of the collective.

In the same issue, we failed to credit the photographer whose work appeared alongside our event preview, "A Seriously Silly Parade." It's Fletcher Oakes.

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