Letters for the week of January 12-18, 2005 

How to buy the calendar from the Hotties of Harm Reduction. How to end our tragic national dependence on foreign petroleum.

"Gettin' Naked for Needles," East Side Story, 12/15/04


Is that your picture?
Thank you for covering the Hotties of Harm Reduction calendar event. It was very well written, informative, and accurate. However, information about where readers could go to obtain a copy of the calendar was not included. Calendars can be procured from our Web site: HottiesofHarmReduction.org

Interestingly, the FedEx guy recognized me at my door this afternoon from your article. How nice.
D. Russell Wagner, editor, Cactus and Succulent Journal, Berkeley

"Dude, Where's My Black Studies Department?," Feature Sidebar, 12/1/05


A brave piece of writing
Cecil! Phew, man, that was so brave of you to write that article.

I am from the Caribbean, and what you say is so true. I am so DISGUSTED at seeing family and friends of mine who come to the US either direct from the Caribbean or after the rebound from the mother country Britain and can't wait to sit at masser's table in the academic or corporate world with smiles all round. I am one of the few who gets involved with the homegrown brothers. This of course upset my parents, who wanted to see their offspring concentrate on raising their status and caste.

For example, I have known Caribbean women who will not get involved with an African American when there is his white counterpart available; Pappy would tell stories about seeing people from his island who NEVER considered themselves black suddenly becoming Black by Reaction when arriving in the States and finding that affirmative action allows them mobility.

My sista-in-arms is Ethiopian, and was basically disowned for marrying an African American. We would talk about how our two-faced families don't think twice about "playing black" to get their cheesy middle-class positions, but behind closed doors distance themselves from African Americans and their struggle. They are indeed faking the funk.

I grew up between the Caribbean, Europe, and the US, and everything I have said so far was the kind of talk we'd make behind closed doors. I hope other people of Caribbean descent who have spent time in the US and their mother/father island become a little less ashamed of this dirty secret we have ... Faking the Funk.

I do put responsibility with masser for playing us all. As my friend says, "No one likes their own niggers." So a black person from the Caribbean will get better treatment than brothers from here. Manthia Diawara (African) from NYU's Africana Studies department wrote a story about when he met African-American Ted Jones in Paris. Ted advised Manthia to come to the US, saying, "They hate us [coz we're their niggers] but they will love you"; of course, Ted was doing okay in France because his black ass was not local. I myself would change the atmosphere in a job interview/high-end store by opening my mouth and letting out my English boarding-school accent. You could see everyone's faces change: "Hey! He's NOT one of ours; he's okay, let that man through."

Again, thanks for a brave piece of writing.
Stacy L.H. Seecharan, New York City

"The Biodiesel Ruse," Letters, 12/15/04


Oil is the problem
We share many of the same values as stated in Ric Oberlink's letter -- sustainability, decreasing oil dependence, eliminating pollutants from our neighborhoods -- while disagreeing with his statements about biodiesel.

The amount of pollution diesel engines spew into the air is dependent on the kind of fuel they are burning. Petroleum-based diesel fuel is a horrible polluter. Biodiesel is far cleaner than conventional diesel, as is well documented, and is cleaner than gasoline in greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide emissions. Gasoline is cleaner than biodiesel in nitrous oxides and slightly in particulates. Sticking with gasoline over biodiesel does nothing for sustainability or to ease the geopolitical burden caused by our need for foreign oil.

Biodiesel slightly increases nitrous oxide emissions (NOx) compared to diesel. According to data published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, biodiesel increases NOx by 5.8 percent. NOx is part of a triad that causes photochemical smog. The other legs are sunlight and hydrocarbons, which biodiesel reduces by 55 percent. NOx is a problem, and the biodiesel community is not ducking it. Research is under way for additives to reduce NOx and other treatments, but one should examine the relative merits: a small increase in NOx helps eliminate oil wells, oil refineries, and oil wars. No one will have to evacuate the area around a biodiesel plant because of a leak, and using biodiesel on the truck traffic around the asthma clusters in West Oakland, Richmond, and elsewhere will help those areas.

Mr. Oberlink claims that the petroleum used in growing crops makes it unclear we come out ahead with biodiesel. In fact, it is very clear that we still come out ahead, compared to burning petroleum directly. Life Cycle Analyses are generally favorable to biodiesel. Biodiesel has a three-to-one net energy ratio; petrodiesel is about one-to-one. One reason for this is that making biodiesel does not require high temperatures and pressures for its manufacture, or high-energy extraction techniques. Not to mention that we would preferably see biodiesel made from oil crops grown organically, or come straight from once-used vegetable oil where feasible.

Generally we avoid debating whether one fossil fuel is better than another. Our world has one major problem: Oil. Oil is causing the oceans to rise, oil is changing the climate, oil compels us to go to war, oil encourages repressive regimes to abuse their people and even kill them, oil is the primary cause of our trade deficit, oil is poisoning our communities, oil is making our bodies cancerous, oil is choking our kids with asthma.

We need to eliminate oil, and biodiesel will only be a small piece. No one claims biodiesel from restaurant grease can replace all petrodiesel (but we would if we could!). Folks in the biodiesel movement advocate for a diversified energy portfolio that starts with conservation and includes solar and wind and a reduction in petroleum usage. Biofuels must be used in conjunction with efforts to obtain more energy productivity: rail, mass transit, and fuel-efficient trucks and cars such as hybrids.

We encourage Ric and others to come to one of the free monthly public presentations by the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, which are held in the evening of the first Monday of every month (except January). See our Web site for more details: www.berkeleybiodiesel.org
Jon Bauer, Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, Berkeley; Dave Williamson, recycling operations manager, Ecology Center, Berkeley


Would you like fries with that car?
Ric Oberlink's letter to the editor questions the wisdom of biodiesel as profiled in my article, "Powered by Veggies and Idealism." It is true that NOx emissions are increased when running biodiesel in the United States. In Europe, where diesel engines are the norm, the engines have a filter attached to their catalytic converter which removes the NOx from biodiesel. The reason the US doesn't have such filters? Our diesel fuel is substandard, sulfur-laced nastiness, the dirtiest diesel there is, and the sulfur would clog these filters. Until we get low-sulfur diesel, we will not be able to get these filters. Luckily, with tougher diesel standards, this low-sulfur diesel will soon be readily available in the States, and then every biodieselista will be able to add one of these filters to their engines.

Nobody has ever said biodiesel is the answer for everyone (I advocate bicycle riding as the purest of alternative transport); the hope would be that existing diesel engines like schoolbuses, garbage trucks, highway equipment, and, yes, passenger cars, could run on biodiesel, a switch that wouldn't require vehicles to be sent to the crusher, and more energy poured into making new CNG vehicles, for example. Consider also that the government only recognizes a handful of molecules which they consider toxic, but there are more likely hundreds of nonregulated, cancer-causing particles emitted from dino-diesel. To be reductionist, as a letter to the editor must: Which would you rather be exposed to, a burning vat of petroleum diesel, or a vat of french-fry oil?
Novella Carpenter, Oakland


National Science Writing Award for Express writer
Staff writer Kara Platoni has won the 2004 Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, a national prize given to young science writers. Her award was based on three articles that appeared in the Express: "The Making of a Martyr," about the tragic death of Holly Patterson and the abortion pill RU-486; "I, Robot," about the development of human exoskeletons by scientists at UC Berkeley; and "It's a Boy! We Make Sure of It," about the controversial but increasingly popular practice of preselecting the gender of babies. Kara will receive her prize, which also carries a $1,000 award, at next month's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.

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