Letters for the week of August 22-28, 2007 

Readers comments on the shame of pimping, principal Ben Chavis' retirement, and our critic's review of Mudd's.


"Darondo, Out of Cognito," Music, 7/25

Pimps not enticing
For the most part, I enjoyed the piece on Darondo and I appreciate this space for a legend born in the East Bay. However, the reference to Darondo's time as a pimp in the East Bay was irresponsibly written and edited. The author's tone reinforces the glamorization of pimping and thereby hurts women. Pimping is not "enticing"; it is an unfortunate part of society and should be addressed as such.
Jennifer Smith, Oakland

"Bye, Bye, Ben," Full Disclosure, 7/25

Chavis defied charter
Thank you for following this story, writing about it, and exposing the truth. I am one of the founding board members who started American Indian Public Charter School. I filed the charter, got the building and services started there, and served as the first director before the school opened and we hired. The school had many financial problems, and the community was divided about who should run the school. That was a time when we all wanted a Native philosophy and culturally relevant educational curriculum.

When Ben came along he changed the school into a nonnative population, culture was irrelevant, and he offended everyone. I feared for the students and the long-term damage caused by him.

For the past twelve years, I have been the Native American outreach coordinator at UC Berkeley; I used to provide higher education programs at the school. Once I invited the students to the Berkeley campus, years ago. An AIPCS teacher who accompanied the students was foul-mouthed and offended us greatly. Her behavior was totally supported by Ben, who told her to get the students out of there. We never had anything to do with him or the school after that.

Over the years, there have been many confrontations with other educational professionals from the college systems. There are many people who have not come forward to express their disgust and disapproval of his methods.

It was a grassroots group of caring people who started AIPCS to serve the needs of American Indian students, but the charter is not being followed; we wanted to change the name of the school, but just did not know how we could do it. So thank you. I commend the Mills College students who brought this forward and to any others who put pressure on the Oakland school district.
Bridget Wilson, San Pablo


Sick culture's cure
Ben's resignation has been planned for a while. He has a business and family in Arizona, and dealing with hippie wackos in Oakland education circles would wear anyone out. His legacy? He succeeded where all the do-nothing progressive fakes did not. He turned around a failing charter school when liberal thieves could not. And children under his tutelage will go on and succeed.

All this talk about how schools are failing children: You never hear how children are failing schools, and how their failure is reinforced by careless parents. Parents who expect a school to do EVERYTHING, yet won't make the kid study at home. Parents who let the kid get away with murder, then charge racism when the kid fails. Ben put a major dent into that sick culture. We will miss you, Ben. Be well and do well in Arizona.
Manuel DePiedra, Castro Valley

"Muddled No More," On Food, 7/25

Dish it straight
Your review of Mudd's made the place sound like a destination. I loved the idea of it: Long before Slow Food! Meandering garden! A new chef, offended by the operation, putting the place into order! To say nothing of "edgy" dishes, their "pure distillation of the season." (You like to write, don't you?)

Anyway, it sounded awesome, so I took my wife.

And the grounds, notwithstanding the neighboring strip malls, were indeed fantastic. We strolled through the garden with happy anticipation. We entered. (No wonder you fail to mention the decor in your article: The unappealing industrial-green carpet; the insipid chairs.) We started with a tomato appetizer — new to the menu, true, but the best of the bunch according to our server, who highly recommended it.

It came. Oh, regarding the decor, did you notice the dishware? My wife shared that at a former catering job where they used the same heavy porcelain, but before it had been discolored so that gray streaks showed in various locations, they would throw it out. The other thing this appetizer — which included a small cup of tomato soup and grilled-cheese sandwich, cherry tomato salad; and ricotta and tomato something — told us was: Don't expect much. And one more thing: No artistry!

In this region, at this time of year, one wonders about the necessary machinations to ruin a tomato dish. "I got there and I was offended," the 39-year-old executive chef said. Really?

John, it was a Friday night! The presentation of this appetizer and the subsequent dishes (halibut for me, a pasta dish for her — a substitute for the lemon pepper linguine on the menu containing oversize artichoke hearts, roma tomatoes, shell pasta, shell pasta!, and an overgenerous sprinkling of parsley) showed a dire need for a refresher in food presentation.

I will say this for the taste: The halibut was okay. The crust was nice. The succotash didn't offer the fulsome sweetness your article seemed to promise me, but it served as an acceptable meal. My wife's pasta did not. Shell pasta? In a soup of vegetable broth? With four oversize artichoke hearts (not especially flavorful ones) and roma tomatoes? No sense of proportion, bland taste — the sort of meal that makes me wonder why I'd ever spend $17 on the entrée when I could march into the kitchen and do better, or do better at home for under $3 and twenty minutes, thanks to six months as an assistant chef many years ago.

But you know the real kicker? When they brought the bill, they included a coupon (we had not complained) for $20 off our next visit. Our feeling was that they were perhaps trying to bribe us into returning. No, our feeling was that they were acknowledging that our meal was overpriced by at least twenty bucks. For the $80 we spent, we could have had a far better meal at any one of countless places in Oakland or San Francisco: The Wood Tavern, Dopo, Doña Tomás, Oliveto Cafe, Tamarindo, César, Sea Salt, O Chame, Cafe Rouge, Rivoli ...

I don't like to live by hard and fast rules like "Don't go to the suburbs to eat" because I know there can be good meals in suburban communities, too. And I understand the circumstantial nature of one meal — perhaps it was an off (Friday) night. But I can't say you gained my trust as a reader. As my wife said, reading your review, it sounded like you wanted to like the place. I can understand why. I wanted to like it too; the difference being, I wasn't writing about it.
Frank Marquardt, Oakland

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