Letters for the week of February 5-11, 2003 

Egotists are remembered as egotists. Meaningless plus $500k is meaningless. Gamers need to get a new game. Theater needs help from theatergoers.

Who is Chris Thompson? What is his beef?
Who is Chris Thompson? What is his beef with Berkeley? For that matter, what is his beef with democratic committees and other public institutions? And, most importantly, by what does he assert his knowledge of art and art history? His writing reveals that his interest is ideological, not aesthetic or cultural ("Let's Take the Public Out of Public Art," January 22).

I am "nobody," the Berkeley resident who likes Po Shu Wang's tuning fork Earth Song just fine, and I find it a lot less vague or abstract than Chris Thompson's schizophrenic and obnoxious polemic. I only wish he would come right out as the reactionary libertarian that he is. Is it a coincidence that he chooses the architecture of the Standard Oil and Chevron buildings as his examples of how the priorities in the production of works of art have changed in the last century? His article is really offensive. Does he know he is writing for the East Bay Express? Why doesn't he go write for a free weekly in Dallas, or run off and join the Free State Project or something? Reading Chris Thompson in the Express is an unpleasant reminder of the effect the New Times takeover has had on the local weekly. Don't get me wrong, I respect and am all for dissent; even Berkeley needs a few journalists to dissent its dissent, but Chris Thompson is a mere ass. In case he was fooling himself, his article is not the least bit useful at comparing the democratic committees he abhors with the corporate commissions with their "smart managers" -- a dictating he adores. If he had the least bit of education in art history, he would know that, while the "dangerous egotists" of art get a lot of attention, almost none of them are remembered as artists; they are remembered as egotists. If you read his article closely, he goes back and forth between what he values in a work of art. To sum it up, Chris Thompson thinks that if a rich man, corporation, or otherwise government-appointed individualist paid for the art and it is meaningful to Chris Thompson, it's good. If it smacks of the "namby-pamby liberalism," the "Kumbaya" ethos of those who live in Berkeley, and/or it was approved by committee, it's bad. Chris Thompson is a really upsetting egotist, but he is neither clear nor interesting.
Kahlil Karn, Berkeley

Editor's note
Chris Thompson has been a staff writer at the Express since 1995.

The Blob that came from city hall
Excellent article from Chris Thompson on the sorry state of today's public art. I wonder now about the cost of these unfortunate projects. The only thing worse than a hideous, meaningless public sculpture is a hideous, meaningless public sculpture paid for by half a million dollars in public funds.
David Goldweber, Berkeley

The tuning fork's pitch is the sound of money
Chris Thompson misses the best part of the story. Downtown Berkeley Association property owners, whose influence on the City Council's agenda during Mayor Tom Bates' wife Loni Hancock's reign was never questioned, steered the public's money to upgrade their own property in the "Arts District." None of the council objected.

Thompson often seems more interested in his own opinion than in doing any actual digging.
Carol Denney, Berkeley

They're dead, alright
With regard to the kids playing Counter-Strike ("Baang! You're Dead," January 22), I don't know which is sadder -- that they invest so much time and energy in violence and killing, or that their egos are so identified with the game that losing is taken as a personal defeat. With all their capabilities, it is too bad that they are not doing something constructive with their lives.
Ernest Isaacs, Berkeley

Supporting the arts begins at home
Lisa Drostova's timely look at East Bay theater was right on the mark in regard to the dire impact on arts funding of triple hits: a weak economy, aftereffects of September 11, and talk of impending war.

Even in the best of times, the arts are essential to a healthy society as a means of individual enrichment and expression, and a place for building community. Times such as these, however, make the arts more necessary than ever as a place for communities to gather to experience old ideas in new forms, or new ideas that challenge the status quo.

As has been shown again and again, the arts are a deep and powerful way for us to talk to and with one another, a way to reframe ideas, a way to enrich our own lives as well as the lives of our children and others.

Sometimes it's difficult not to despair in the face of war, terrorism, greed, and environmental assaults. But then I think of those who kept Sarajevo theater alive during the worst of the attacks upon that city and I am comforted. Theaters in Berkeley may be struggling, but with our support, they will keep on doing what they do best: enlighten, entertain, surprise, puzzle, comfort, challenge, astonish, and engage. But we have to be there in the audience so that they can do it. So while funding and donations may be down, ticket sales and audiences can sustain the art form that sustains us.
Belinda Taylor, director, Arts Marketing Institute, California Arts Council, Berkeley

Is it the water or the machine?
I was confused about something in your article ("Attacking the Ads to Change the Product," January 15). In the paragraph that starts "According to the results of a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, the water in many Glacier machines exceeds state limitations on trihalomethanes, by-products of chlorination that have been linked with cancer, birth defects, and low birth weight." Earlier, you explain that the machines basically just filter tap water. Are readers to conclude that the tap water supplying these machines is somehow adding trihalomethanes? Or, that the tap water itself is out of compliance?
Jennifer Stanley, Oakland

Editor's note
As the article pointed out, there are two separate standards for trihalomethanes in water -- the federal standard for tap water, and a more stringent state standard for bottled or vended water. The study alleges that the water from some dispensers fails to meet state standards.

Clarification
The head chef of San Francisco's El Mansour has not left the restaurant, owner Houda Tanverakul says.

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