Letters for the Week of June 6, 2012 

Readers sound off on Friendzone, biogas, and the Gill Tract.

"Inside the Friendzone," Music, 5/23

Imperialist and Privileged

I am writing to say that Rachel Swan's continued misappropriation of Main Attrakionz, and the local hip-hop scene in general, is not appreciated.

In this story she goes on about the "white privilege" dynamic and invokes a series of tropes that depict Friendzone as opportunists benefitting from Main Attrakionz in a predatory and imperialist fashion. Such a claim is not only plausible, but also expected, given the relationship between hip-hop and issues of race. However, the fact that Ms. Swan made no effort to ask Squadda or Mondre [the members of Main Attrakionz] what they thought is the only imperialist and privileged thing I see happening. She fails to value the most important input of all on the matter: that of the Main Attrakionz themselves.

Had this been an isolated incident it would be excusable, but at this point it is obvious that Ms. Swan does not have the best interest of Oakland's vibrant rap scene on her agenda. I personally contacted her no less than a dozen times pitching stories on the Main Attrakionz throughout 2011, and she only responded to me once. And her response was "admittedly sent in error." Ms. Swan should not be allowed to write about what we do. She is reckless, uneducated, and clearly harbors some kind of personal bent against Friendzone in the least — and perhaps more of us.

Zachary G. Moldof, San Francisco

"A New Vision for Alameda Point," Eco Watch, 5/23

The Traffic Question

I'm writing to explain more about how relocating the proposed VA facility somewhere else in Alameda Point could reduce traffic-related impacts. This is a fair question that merits a clearer response. The current proposed location for the VA facility would be in the middle of the open space expanses, where the wetlands and waterfowl are located and where there are currently proposals to create parkland and a wildlife refuge. The presence of high volumes of traffic cutting through these open space expanses (to reach the VA facility) would adversely impact (via noise and exhaust) the waterfowl that now use these open expanses as habitat and would fragment and visually degrade the parkland potential of these open expanses. In contrast, moving the proposed VA facility to where the Berkeley Labs had been proposed (near Seaplane Lagoon) would keep the road and traffic out of these open space expanses, thereby avoiding the traffic- and road-related adverse impacts on waterfowl and park usage. It is correct, however, that even with this alternative VA location, attention would still need to be given to the impacts of getting VA facility employees and users into Alameda and out to Alameda Point.

Paul Kibel, Co-Director

Center on Urban Environmental Law at Golden Gate University School of Law

"Pirate Radio Goes Legit," Feature, 5/16

What About 104.1?

The paper is called the East Bay Express! How could you not mention the pirate radio station in Berkeley? 104.1 FM serves the entire East Bay. Tune in on the airwaves or go to the website to catch the stream.

Melinda Zapata, Oakland

"Unclean Hands at the Gill Tract?," Eco Watch, 5/16

UC and Big Ag

I would like to bring up another point: If the university made $182 million dollars off of its patented technologies alone, why was an 82-percent student fee increase narrowly averted (by student protests) last year? The university claims that these funds are in some part put back into the general fund. However, with the continuous increases in tuition, my faith in the truth of this claim is quite withered.

In response to the question of intellectual responsibility, it is a tall and unfounded claim to say that basic research is wholly question- and not profit-driven. The fact that some of the researchers are cited as the inventors of the technology patented points directly to the profit motive.

For me, the real crux of the argument is that the researchers have repeatedly insisted that their research has nothing to do with genetic modification of organisms and the agendas of big agribusiness, despite the fact that they must know what their research has been applied to and helped create in the past. Whether or not they agree with the agendas of agribusiness is not really the pertinent question at hand. The pertinent question is whether or not what they create is used by big agribusiness, and while the researchers claim that what they create does not support big agribusiness, a look at the patents and invention rights shows a much different story.

Kelly Jewett, Berkeley&

"Boozing at the Ballpark," Last Call, 5/16

The Good Old Days

I gave up on the A's when Lew Wolff said he wanted to go to Fremont. I do attend every Raiders' game, though, and they have essentially priced alcohol out of the game-day equation. I'm forced to consume mass quantities before I go inside. If I'm not mistaken, the beer prices are about $8.75 and if you can find the Budweiser, I think it's $5, but why bother? The lines are hella long, you miss half the quarter, and they'll only sell you two at a time. I'll stick to the cocktail stand in section 106, where my seats are. Those ladies have been pouring there for over fifteen years and can they make a drink. Best bang for the buck. Ah, the good old days, when they served you beers at your seat and you could get buckets of beer at the concession stands for $3.75. Hey, wait a minute, these are the good old days!

Jim Richardson, Cherryland

"Biogas Takes a Hit," Eco Watch, 5/2

Biogas Is Better

The Express is right to criticize the California Energy Commission's decision to suspend certification of new biogas suppliers. The commission's rationale is bizarre. Its concern about where the gas comes from should not hold us back on utilization of this resource. Virgin gas is "dirty gas," and therefore has to be measured and kept separate, providing the producer with some kind of "black mark" (like a detention slip)? Give me a break!

Instead of being concerned about reducing "greenhouse gas emissions," the commission should be embracing biogas, which, if not used, will be vented into the atmosphere as a pollutant. Of the alternative electric supply sources mentioned in the article, only biogas is truly renewable. Unless or until we stop putting organics into our garbage, landfills will be venting methane into the future. The gas is drawn off landfills continuously every passing second, at minimal cost. Wind turbines and solar collectors require expensive apparatus that will never pay for itself, due to extreme capital cost and the meager amount of electricity generated.

The commission's stance — not allowing companies to deliver virgin gas and biogas in the same pipeline — gives the lie to its commitment to improve our environment. The commission is more concerned with social engineering than reality. This must change.

Steve Tabor, Oakland

"Term-Limits Measure Could Give Jane Brunner an Unfair Advantage," Seven Days, 5/2

Pay to Play in the City Attorney's Office?

I wasn't going to respond to the Express column on my term-limits proposal until I learned that my opponent for Oakland city attorney [Barbara Parker] was telling people to read your column when she was asking them for money.

You argued that Oaklanders should not be able to vote on my proposal for term limits for Oakland city councilmembers, because it might give me an unfair advantage in the city attorney's race, in that I could appear on term-limits campaign literature.

Term limits were favored by 68 percent of Oakland voters in a recent poll. If term limits get on the ballot, they will pass easily without needing much of a campaign. As far as I know, no money has been raised for a term-limits initiative. No candidate for city attorney is even close to the cap on contributions. To paint a picture of my candidacy rolling in misbegotten dough is a fantasy.

I'm proud of my fifteen-year record as a city councilmember, including my recent proposal for term limits. And I certainly do hope that the people of Oakland will support me in my run for city attorney based on my qualifications and my accomplishments. Is there anything unfair about my continuing to work hard as a representative of the people of Oakland as long as I'm in office? Certainly not. Oaklanders should demand that of all of their elected representatives.

While your column is full of conspiracy theories and baseless assumptions, there is a substantial story on campaign contributions in the city attorney race that does involve real money. Most of the contributions to my opponent's campaign come from three sources: the 35 attorneys who are city attorney employees, the law firms that the city attorney's office hires as outside counsel to the tune of more than $6 million a year in taxpayers' money, and beneficiaries in large-scale settlements by the city that the city attorney's office has recommended.

This is clearly becoming a "Pay to Play" city attorney's office, something many have suspected for years.

This wouldn't be a hard story to write, since campaign contributions and city settlements are public information. A journalist who wanted to do an unbiased, fact-based story on campaign contributions could have a field day with it. Is that you?

Jane Brunner

Oakland city councilwoman and candidate for Oakland city attorney

Robert Gammon Responds

Ms. Brunner, as you know, no newspaper in the East Bay has followed campaign contributions in Oakland politics more closely than the Express during the past decade. As such, I'm fully aware that City Attorney Barbara Parker, your opponent in the city attorney's race this November, has received campaign donations from employees in the city attorney's office; from law firms hired by her office; and by lawyers who have won large settlements from the city. But what you fail to mention is that you also have received many similar campaign contributions that raise questions about pay-to-play politics.

Records show, for example, that in your campaign for city attorney you have received a total of $1,400 in donations from the owners of B&B Vehicle Processing, which has long owned the exclusive monopoly contract on towing and storing cars for the City of Oakland. It also should be noted that, during your fifteen years on the city council, you repeatedly voted to extend B&B's contract without putting it out to bid.

You also received $700, the maximum contribution allowed under city law, from Waste Management, which holds the city's garbage-collecting contract that you voted for. You also took a $500 donation from Douglas Parking, which operates city-owned garages. Plus, you received $1,300 from the Oakland First PAC, which is run by Ken Houston of Turner Group Construction, which has vied for a public contract at the old Army Base.

Among your other contributions was a $700 donation from the Tidewater Group, which is co-run by Ana Chretien, owner of ABC Security, which has maintained private security contracts with the city over the past two decades. Tidewater also is co-run by Oakland lobbyist Carlos Plazola, who represents numerous entities that seek special deals from the city. You've also received $700 from lobbyist Lily Hu.

Unfortunately, we don't know more about Plazola and Hu's clients and what they want from the city because you and the council have voted to gut the city's political watchdog — the Public Ethics Commission. It also should be noted that you have voted repeatedly over the years to slash the city attorney's office budget, forcing the office to lay off lawyers, thereby requiring taxpayers to hire expensive outside counsel to defend the city in litigation.

As such, your contention that Barbara Parker has done something untoward while your hands are clean is hypocritical. Moreover, as a longtime city councilmember, if you were truly worried about pay-to-play politics in Oakland, you could have easily introduced legislation to ban contributions from businesses and people who do business with the city. But you haven't.

As for the column in question, I stand by my opinion that the council should not vote to put the term-limits measure on the ballot unless you and your campaign manager Larry Tramutola (whom you have already paid at least $10,000) agree not to participate in or benefit from the ballot measure campaign.

Miscellaneous Letters

Steampunk Republicans?

When I first heard the phrase "Restore Our Future" on the radio, my mind did one of those time blips, causing a mental wormhole that sent me into oxymoronic deep space. How can one restore a future? "Highly illogical," Dr. Spock would say.

"Restore Our Future" is the name of a Super PAC (Political Action Committee) created to support Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election. As a Super PAC, "Restore our Future" is permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts of contributions under the terms of the Citizen United Supreme Court decision of 2010. As of April 2012, it had spent $40 million. (This same Supreme Court defined a corporation as a "person" [which makes about as much sense to me as the phrase "Restore Our Future"]. The dictionary definition of the word "person" is "an individual human being." I'd bet 99 percent of the American public would agree with that definition.)

But I finally figured it out. With "Restore Our Future," the Republican Party is actually going for the Steampunk vote. Yes, you heard it here first. 

Joking aside: For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "Steampunk" began as a literary genre and has developed into a popular subculture incorporating elements of speculative and science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and horror. (Special thanks to DeWitt Cheng's article on Steampunk "Forward to the Past" in a recent edition of the East Bay Monthly.)  

Steampunkers are identified by wearing whimsical Victorian clothing and accessories, recycling, and the invention of clockwork and alternative mechanisms. They are committed to the creative process and sharing information freely, not holding on tightly to their knowledge and processes.

So far, Steampunk is most visible on the Internet, at Burning Man, and at the Maker Faire here in the Bay Area. Inventors and tinkerers are the backbone of the movement; writers and artists are the mouthpieces. A soon-to-come documentary film entitled Vintage Tomorrows describes Steampunk as "retro-futurism." 

Steampunk sci-fi author Cherie Priest defines Steampunk as "the science fiction of a future that never happened." Sound familiar, "Restore Our Future"?

Steampunkers very consciously use contradictory temporal language — to make a point about what has happened in the past and what is happening now, and what can happen — differently — in the future.  

Here's the rub: If the Republicans are trying to restore a future, they need to explain the future they want to restore. And how in the hell do they intend to do it? Time travel?

This is what the Republicans don't get: The future isn't about repeating what went before; it's about learning from the past and pursuing different options. No wonder the Republicans are still bumbling on how to promote their candidates in cyberspace. No wonder Newt Gingrich wants colonies on the moon to "harvest" its riches.

Einstein said it best: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Much of Steampunk fiction is based on what every person age twelve (and up) realizes: Our human civilization is facing annihilation due to our own collective (corporate) technological greed, immorality, and arrogance.

Steampunk is based on the deep relationship of individual human beings (persons) with technology. It studies the past and considers alternative realities. It's about the "how," not the bottom line.

Sue Silva, Oakland


In our May 23 music story "Inside the Friendzone," we incorrectly stated that both James Laurence and Dylan Reznick left Destroy Tokyo before the band became Religious Girls. In fact, Reznick was part of the rechristened band.

A photo of Willow Rosenthal in our May 30 Lectures and Lit picks should have been credited to Sarah Henry of Berkeleyside.

In the May 30 installment of Last Call, "Pops on Hops," we erroneously stated that Beer Revolution has been open for three years. It has in fact been open since February 2010.

We had several errors in our May 30 music article "Speaking Tango with Trio Garufa." We incorrectly stated that the band formed in 2002; it actually formed in 2001. Also, we traced the origin of electro-tango to the Eighties, when it actually started around 2000. We also misspelled the venue name Peña Pachamama.


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